Lights, Cameras, Action...Engaging Parents with Learning Fun

With the title above, you may feel like you're heading to the movies, and sometimes, choosing something fun and inviting such as a movie night is just the thing to bring ALL of your parents in. We want our parents involved because we know it makes a difference in the learning of the child, right. Read on to learn about why their involvement matters and what you might try to bring them all in.
Research shows that children whose parents are involved in their education are more confident, more concerned with how they do, and more understanding of how important school is. Check out this post to see how you might engage your parents with fun, educational experiences that promote the teacher-student-parent connection.

I am Carla from Comprehension Connection, and many of my teaching years have been spent working as a Title 1 reading specialist. Parental involvement as we know is an important focus of the Title 1 program. So just why do parents need to be involved, what type of programs give students the biggest benefits, and how can we as educators increase parental involvement for our students?  
Before preparing this post, I decided to see what the research says related to parental involvement.  I was curious what evidence is available to support the need for parents getting into the classroom, working with students, and helping with school activities and whether all types of parental involvement results in increased student achievement. In Title 1, the focus is on "capacity building" which means involving parents in the support of learning at school and at home.  It begins with just bringing families in the front door. Keeping things light and family friendly helps form relationships and establishes trust that we are all on the same team working together for the child.  It's so important to begin that in the first week with phone calls home, a welcoming smile and positive comments. Eventually, your staff may consider doing events in the community as well.  After a long day at work, many parents would be happy to attend if the event was right next door as opposed to traveling across town with hungry children in tow. You might consider a neighborhood church or community building as the meeting location.  Food always helps whether you are at your school or off-site.  

Now that your schema about parental involvement is warmed up, how about a little research.  G. Olsen shared this information  in The Benefits of Parental Involvement:  What Research Has to Say on I love how the information shows that everyone wins when parents are involved, and I think most readers will find the information helpful.
Henderson and Berla (1994) reviewed and analyzed eighty-five studies that documented the comprehensive benefits of parent involvement in children's education. Here are a few they listed for the children, parents, teachers, and the school. 
Benefits for the Children
  • Children tend to achieve more, regardless of ethnic or racial background, socioeconomic status, or parents' education level. 
  • Children generally achieve better grades, test scores, and attendance. 
  • Children consistently complete their homework. 
  • Children have better self-esteem, are more self-disciplined, and show higher aspirations and motivation toward school. 
  • Children's positive attitude about school often results in improved behavior in school and less suspension for disciplinary reasons. 
Benefits for Parents
  • Parents increase their interaction and discussion with their children and are more responsive and sensitive to their children's social, emotional, and intellectual developmental needs. 
  • Parents have a better understanding of the teacher's job and school curriculum. 
  • When parents are aware of what their children are learning, they are more likely to help when they are requested by teachers to become more involved in their children's learning activities at home. 
  • Parents' perceptions of the school are improved and there are stronger ties and commitment to the school. 
Benefits for Educators
  • When schools have a high percentage of involved parents in and out of schools, teachers and principals are more likely to experience higher morale. 
  • Teachers and principals often earn greater respect for their profession from the parents. 
  • Consistent parent involvement leads to improved communication and relations between parents, teachers, and administrators. 
  • Teachers and principals acquire a better understanding of families' cultures and diversity, and they form deeper respect for parents' abilities and time. 
  • Teachers and principals report an increase in job satisfaction. 
Benefits for the School
  • Schools that actively involve parents and the community tend to establish better reputations in the community. 
  • Schools also experience better community support. 
  • School programs that encourage and involve parents usually do better and have higher quality programs than programs that do not involve parents.
In my school division last year, our school board and superintendent introduced Give Me Five as a way to address the need for parental involvement, and I love how this became not just parental involvement, but also student and community involvement as well. The graphic to the left is included on the Parent/Student Overview of our website and is advertised through newsletters and morning announcements at our school.  At the same time Give Me Five was rolled out, we also introduced our division motto, "Every Child, by Name and by Need, through Graduation". Together, I believe these symbols send the message that we care about your child, value your family, and want you to be involved.  
As I mentioned, parental involvement has been a focus for me for many years now. Some events have been more effective than other, but I learned long ago that even the events that seem ineffective at the time may work perfectly with a different age group, at a different time of year, or with a little more planning. Here are a few school-wide ideas you might give a try in your school setting.

If you want a high level of engagement, then this activity works 
beautifully.  It's one of  my all-time favorite events. Night for Family Literacy or NFL night has a football theme with a literacy twist. Yes, the children come dressed in their favorite sports team jersey, and we serve the families tailgating foods. With this event, we typically have a performer who incorporates literacy building ideas...using music to work on fluency, reading how-to literature to learn about magic, highlighting favorite books and characters, or singing about comprehension strategies. We've involved the local football team who share why it's important to be a strong student in order to play, and the evening is entertaining for the whole family.  
Last year, I had a great time planning a book club for our students. We called it The Magic of Reading Book Club. After all, what child isn't fascinated by magic? I loved this event because all levels of students could participate and learn from each other. The students ended up increasing the amount of reading they did during that period of time, and it involved parents in the running of the clubs. This was helpful to the parents as they were able to hear and see the types of questions that work well for discussion. We basically ran the clubs like literature circles. Students read to a predetermined point, discussed sections of the books, created projects related to the book themes, and enjoyed a guest speaker (magician of course!).  I hope to repeat this activity in the future with different themes and book options.

2012_0127fairreading0017Now for the last event I'd like to share.  Last summer, I was perusing Pinterest (Don't we all??), and I came across this amazing reading fair idea from Read.Write.Mom!, and I instantly thought of parental involvement.  The original idea I saw was this one of Chocolate Fever, a book many of my students love, but you can check out close to 30 more at Read.Write.Mom!. I emailed my principal right away with the pictures and link to see whether she thought it would work.  Well, it was a huge success.  I sent home [this packet of information] for the families to sign up.  Once the students returned their form, we sent home a trifold display board (and they can be reused in the future) and a direction sheet telling what to include on the board.  The projects were brought in and displayed during our book fair week, so the reviews were perfect for little shoppers looking for book ideas.  Each child received a book for participating. In the spring, we plan to do something similar with cereal boxes.  The beauty of this activity is that all ages can be involved to the level that fits them, and parents can participate at home which makes it easier on working parents.  The sharing time was very special though, and the children were very proud.
Now it is time for me to share a few ideas from our readers.  I asked my fans about this topic, and it received quite a few responses.  Here are a few of the ideas that were new to me.
1) Left-Rebecca suggests Family Game Night.  Board games involve many educational skills, and sometimes it's good to try them out with a friend or two.  Her local educational supply store donated games for families to try, and set up to sell them to those who were interested.  Use this as a theme and add your own reading game ideas that parents can make and take home to use.  2) Center-Michelle shared that teachers at her school model with a favorite read aloud skills such as visualizing, cause and effect, and text features and the night ends with milk and cookies to celebrate all of the learning that's gone on. 3) Right-Mary suggests Theme Nights.  This one came complete with Hawaiian fruit rays, beach music, and souvenirs as parents work through themed stations and fill out their punch cards for door prizes.  

For more parental involvement event ideas, check in tomorrow for Five on Friday.  We'll be highlighting other parental involvement events our team has offered to our parents.
As Henderson and Mapp report in A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement ,
"Regardless of family income or background, students whose parents are involved in their schooling are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school." 
I think these are all wonderful reasons to reach out, get your parents engaged in your classroom activities, grade-level functions, and school-wide events.

If you have had great success with a special reading or math event, please share it in the comments below.  We look forward to the feedback, and so do our fellow readers.


  1. Wow, you've really done your research on this topic! Increasing parent involvement has been a focus for our elementary school over the past few years. We merged two schools together, and the transition was a little rocky. Parents are slowly being won over with the change, and their attendance at school events has improved dramatically. I love a happy ending!

    1. I am so glad things are moving in the right direction, Wendy. I loved your suggestions of just making things fun, providing food, and transportation.

  2. I am the kindergarten Title I teacher at my school. To involve parents at home, I send home games with students to play with their family and will start that next week. This year our school went to schoolwide Title I so every student is a "Title I student" and we will have to invite all students (K-5) to our Family Nights. Any suggestions on how to manage a schoolwide Family Night? There are 6 Title I teachers in our district, one for each grade (K-5) . We've done Family Nights in the past, but we find the parents of the older students (grades 3-5) sit and chat while their children go off and do the activities. How do you have parents join their children? We also work with those students whose parents don't get involved and don't attend conferences. How do you encourage them? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lee Ann! I am so glad you commented. When I first began in Title 1, I recall feeling a little frustrated when our attendance was not as I expected or engagement was not as high as I thought it'd be, but our director and my principal were always so good about reminding me that it's not the # of attendees that matters, but the connections you make with those that do attend. Focus on the difference you make for the children who were able to come because their parents brought them and on those that truly enjoyed the time with their children there. I know for many working parents night time activities are difficult. You get off at 5:00, race home to get kids from the babysitter, get them fed, and try to make that 7:00 meeting. We've always been told to provide food, transportation, and childcare. It allows that burden to be lifted from the parent and frees them to focus on the meeting. The other suggestion is to make it fun, fun, fun and have a few door prizes. Hope this helps, but if not, perhaps other readers will have ideas to share too.

    2. Thanks for the response. We always have food, usually pizza and popcorn and door prizes, and that gets the whole family to come for supper. Our district is very small so we don't have funding for transportation or childcare. We (Title I teachers) are all part-time due to limited funding. Families of our younger students do well with family participation. I'll be sharing this post with my colleagues.

    3. I'm so glad, Lee Ann. Take a look at Five for Friday today too. We continued the topic through today because I thought the information was too much for one post. I hope you like the ideas. I think in the future, I'll focus on during school involvement too. It's such an important topic, so stay tuned.

  3. Such wonderful ideas! I've pinned your post to my READ TO SUCCEED IDEAS board! I am the chair of our building staff/parent literacy initiative and we are always looking for new ways to increase parent engagement! Thanks so much for your research and wealth of ideas! We are in the midst of planning our SEUSS-A-PA-LOOZA week for Dr. Seuss' birthday!

    1. Oh I love that Jennifer! I'm sharing that one with our librarian. We were just chatting about this two days ago!

  4. Carla,

    Wow ! I found a few new ideas to take away and share with my colleagues.
    What a wonderful post ! Thank you so much !

    Wendy D.
    Ms. D's Literacy Lab

    1. Thanks Wendy! This topic has always been important to me, so I'm glad I got the chance to put it together. I love getting the ideas from readers too.

  5. I am so impressed by the wide variety of creative ideas to bring in parental involvement! Having worked in two VERY different socioeconomic school climates, I've seen sparse to no involvement to an overabundance. I think these events strike the perfect balance and get families super excited about helping their kids out. Bravo to you!
    Emily, TRT/OG

    1. What I've loved about the three I shared is that the focus is on student enjoyment and creativity. I loved that all levels of learners could participate and build upon each others strengths (book club and projects). Thanks for your sweet note, Emily!

  6. I can't tell you how happy I am that I came across your ideas for parent involvement. I am a parent coordinator at my school and a big part of my job this year is monthly meetings on different topics to get parents involved. I have experienced over the last two years that parents are afraid to get involved because either they don't know how or in my state a language barrier. Again thank you so much!!

    1. Thanks Amy! Parental involvement is so, so important. Please feel free to email me at if you need specifics on anything.
      Carla @ Comprehension Connection