May 18, 2023

Teacher outside gardening with studentsLocal organizations, people, and places can be tremendous assets in helping your program provide meaningful student experiences. But how can you attract these untapped resources? Sometimes, all you need to do is send out the bat signal!

Give It a Break!

It’s no secret that you and your team work tirelessly throughout the year to provide fun, enriching activities for your students. Have you thought about community outreach as a way to give yourselves a much-needed break? Engaging others is a win-win situation: You get a breather, and your students get a chance to explore new interests while building valuable relationships within their community. Not sure where to start? Y4Y’s Community Asset Mapping QPQ module gives you a rundown on how to engage businesses, organizations, individuals, and resources from your own community. Explore these fresh ideas for involving potential partners into your program:

  • Many local libraries would be thrilled to host a book club with your students. Arrange for a field trip, explore different book genres, and vote on one book for each month.
  • Museums are an engaging way to learn about science, art, local history, or other topics, and some offer free tours or events for students.
  • See if your students have a green thumb by bringing in a local Master Gardner to help start a garden at your program site. Students will “dig” learning about the role of earthworms and pollinators in the food chain!
  • Ask a local carpentry shop if they’d be interested in making your students “carpenters for the day.” Are there safe, age-appropriate ways that students can make something lasting with their own hands?
  • Create an exercise club by partnering with a local gym. Host a morning run during the summer or ask a trainer for a boxing class.
  • For some delicious fun, turn to a nearby restaurant! An on-staff chef could lead your students in learning about nutrition, practicing sequencing and fractions, and acquiring cooking skills to last a lifetime.

Use the Y4Y Collaborative Partner Request Letter for a guide on reaching out to professionals and organizations within your community!

Tip: Be sure to provide accommodations or modifications as needed to ensure that all students can participate in the activities you offer.

Let’s Follow Up

Community outreach is important, but how do you take a lesson learned and run with it? How can newly forged relationships with partners carry on, even after an event or site visit is over? Not everyone you meet will turn into a partner, but the following ideas can inspire you to make sure the meaningful ones last:

  • A strong interest can easily turn into a job shadowing opportunity, an internship, or maybe even a part-time summer job! Are a couple of your older students particularly fond of that local museum your program visited? Don’t be afraid to ask what opportunities are available.
  • A Career Day is a fun way to bring students, program partners, and stakeholders (including families and schools) together. Your students can present a project or skill based on what they learned from program partners, and you can honor the local businesses and organizations that made it possible. For example, a student might try their hand at constructing a birdhouse with skills learned at the local carpentry shop and present the finished product.
  • Parent nights cohosted with that local library can bring families to the library (maybe for the first time), get students signed up for free library cards, show students and families how to access databases and reference materials for school projects, and more.


May 18, 2023

Looking down on parent on laptop and child on tablet sitting on the floorIn a world where everyone’s “9 to 5” looks different, you may have to get creative about ways to engage families. Let’s explore some avenues beyond the classic face-to-face!

Desperate Times, Innovative Measures

The pandemic was a time of uncertainty, but it was also a time of innovation, especially for teachers and families as they learned new ways to communicate virtually. In out-of-school time, too, technology emerged as the top tool for connecting with families. It quickly replaced older methods like sending information home with students — and hoping your handwritten notes and printed newsletters didn’t sink to the bottom of their backpacks, never to be seen again. It’s no secret that humanity can adapt like nobody’s business, and this adaptation is certainly leaps and bounds above its predecessor:

  • New technologies allow for more convenient ways to meet and communicate. Families who are unable to get off work at a certain time or find childcare can now be much more involved.
  • It allows instructors to be more up to date with sharing student progress. Many platforms give instructors the ability to analyze student progress and allow families to access this progress at any time.
  • Not every family member wants to — or is able to — communicate in the same way. Giving families the choice of how they’d like to communicate lets them feel in control, which in turn increases their likelihood of engaging.
  • Many translation features can remove language barriers. From social media to texting software, it’s easier than ever for people who speak different languages to communicate.

There are many reasons why this “new normal” should definitely be here to stay.

Let’s Get Social

For better or worse, social media has found its way into most aspects of our lives. Why not benefit from this by using it to communicate with families in a much more efficient manner? Creating a social media presence has never been easier, and there are a multitude of free resources right at your fingertips. Take a cue from our Marketing and Outreach QPQ for some free tools to get you on your way to becoming a Social Media Master! Our Social Media Editorial Calendar tool allows you to plan your posts in advance with a breakdown of your posting date, topic, image, and more, so you can take it step by step. Let’s explore some ways to optimize social media for the greatest family engagement results:

  • Has your program hosted an event you’d like to brag about? With family permission, create an album on social media specifically for the event. Share photos and videos of every step in the creation and execution process. Families who attended the event can be encouraged to share some of their own, and families who couldn’t be there can feel as if they were!
  • Is your program looking for new team members? Bring families into the conversation by posting recruitment videos. Who knows: You might already know the next greatest team member.
  • Use social media to open a dialogue around how families can support their child’s learning at home and in your program. Share ideas for activities, ask families for their input around upcoming activities, and let them know what’s happening in your program. Families want to be in the know, so keep them updated!

Keep the Conversation Going

Besides social media, there are other tools you can use to keep the family engagement conversation going. For example:

  • You can use a communication platform to reach anyone who agrees to receive text messages. On most platforms, you can use lists to send content to certain groups. Translation features are also common. Got a quick change or bit of information you need to share immediately? Send it out here!
  • Virtual classroom platforms are an easy way to show families exactly what students are learning in your program. You can upload materials, send updates, and schedule one-on-one conferences.

It’s a good idea to check with your colleagues, school-day teachers, and the school or district instructional technology (IT) staff for suggestions on which LMS tools your program might want to implement. Often it makes sense to align your technology with what the school day is using.

The bottom line? No matter what your program families’ schedules look like, the common denominator is that they want to be connected, so be sure you make it easy for them to do so!


May 18, 2023

clip art of adults in different careers in their uniformsI was raised by a single mom who traveled frequently for work and by a grandmother who graciously filled in the gaps when necessary. Although school plays and science fairs often took place during times when most adult family members were working, most of my classmates had a stay-at-home parent who could attend. As a result, I was one of the only students with no arms to run to when the final curtain fell or the best science experiment was announced.

There’s one experience from my afterschool program that I’ll never forget. Once a month, they’d have a movie night. We’d all make a fun snack, with each student contributing an ingredient, and we’d get to watch a movie. One time, because my mom was on a business trip, I couldn’t contribute bananas for the fruit salad, so I wasn’t allowed to eat the snack, and I had to sit at a table in the corner of the classroom facing away from the movie. I wish I were kidding! Looking back, I have a few questions: Why were school functions always held at the most inconvenient times for the average working parent? Why were my mother and I penalized or “left out” just because my mother needed to work extra hours since she was the sole provider?

Setting the Stage

Even if my mother couldn’t offer her time during normal working hours, there were many other ways she could’ve contributed, if given the chance. And while there’s no doubt that your out-of-school time program is leaps and bounds better than the one I attended as a child, the message still rings true: It’s easy to overlook the resources we have yet to uncover, even when they’re staring us right in the face! It’s important for all families to know that their experiences are valued. Rather than always telling them what you can offer them, strike a balance, and look for ways to use their life experience to your and your students’ advantage. In creating this two-way street, make sure the pavement is strong by using the Y4Y Knowing Families and Cultures tool, which encourages your program staff to become familiar with the different cultures of your students’ families. There are many ways to involve family members in your program events even if they can’t be there in person. Let’s explore some possibilities!

Give Them the Script

For the next Science Fair, perhaps a student’s dad, stepdad, or aunt who works in construction could help construct booths. Or they could help build set pieces for an afterschool performance. If a parent or guardian has experience in instructional technology (IT), could they participate prior to the event by helping set up a live stream? Or if you time it right, could they attend an event in person to run sound and lights? Hosting a Career Day is a stellar way to use families as a resource! Maybe your students who are interested in journalism could spend the weeks leading up to the event interviewing family members about their careers. They could then present their findings to their classmates. That way, families who can’t be there in person can contribute and get their stories told. In all these instances, it would also be beneficial to record the event and include photos and videos (with appropriate permissions, of course) in a newsletter or email. It’s an easy way to make families who can’t attend feel included.

An Everyday Performance

Even outside of one-time events, there are endless opportunities to tap the resource of family engagement! Check out the Y4Y Family Engagement Activity Types tool and the Family Activity Guide for inspiration. These tools explore different activities that families can do with their children, but how can we take that a step further by using their expertise to guide lessons and activities? Let’s brainstorm:

  • If a family member works at or owns a restaurant, have them lead a cooking session.
  • Does a parent, aunt, or cousin work in accounting? Ask them for some real-world applications for the math that your students are learning.
  • Perhaps a relative who works in the healthcare industry can share age-appropriate tips for administering first aid.

Don’t forget that you’re not only there to serve your program’s families, but the families can serve you and your students. Consider the wealth of knowledge and life experiences that your students’ parents, guardians, and other family members have to offer. By inviting the contributions of people with diverse knowledge, skills, and cultures, you can make them feel valued and respected. And your students will get to see their families in a new light. So don’t be afraid to invite families onto the stage. Break a leg!