From The Field: The Power in Family Engagement

I've been thinking about how to bridge the school to home connection a lot lately and how it can be a missing link for educators and parents.  Developing deeper relationships with families has become part of my mission at school this year.  It's a big hope of mine that my students bring the life skills they learn in yoga and mindfulness class to their life beyond school walls.  Because of this, I am always paying attention to how I engage families in the practices children are doing with me at school.

Students report daily how they integrate the practices into their school life but also how they utilize the strategies we teach to manage their emotional lives outside of school. Families tell me that their children enthusiastically teach them what they learn. A six year old at my school recently taught her cousin who suffers from ADHD to calm down with the mind jar during a melt down. I hear stories like this all of the time from students and parents. Kids do explain the practices well….for the most part but I believe that we can be there to offer a stronger foundation in bridging this gap. 

Often, a parent will come to me at school and say “what's that thing my daughter was telling me about?” and then I'll describe the practice and it's benefits and the next thing the parent will say is, “Yes! She does that all the time at home.” This is both inspiring and problematic.

Yoga and mindfulness both are inherently a sensory experience. When the parent doesn't have background knowledge about the yoga or mindfulness practice, or even if she or he does have prior experience, but without the same languaging we use at school, the practice becomes muddled during communication. The potential for powerful and clear home support from parents can become lost. This is why I think it's important to think beyond our students, as school based yoga and mindfulness educators, and to think of how we can bring the practices to parents as much as possible. It's not that our students aren't naturally inclined to apply the skills and transform their everyday life, but imagine the amazing conversation starters if parents had the common language for home that is already established at school. Imagine the reciprocity, connection and understanding that could come from children consistently using tools for emotional balance both at home and at school. 

I've found that when reaching out to families about the work we do at school, it's important to use similar language as I use with students (which is why I don't change the language of yoga and mindfulness with students very much from the ways I speak about them with adults. I just simplify.  I've found that both students and parents appreciate this. In this way, child and parent can have meaningful conversations about the practices we do at school and begin a home practice together if they are motivated to do so. Out of all of the below ideas, I've found that family yoga night is the most helpful for connection around the practices because it is experiential. However, taking the time to build relationships with parents in as many opportunities as possible with allow them to trust you as a resource. Deeply listening to parents and being willing to show up in their world is crucial to building the bridge.  

Here are a few (tried and true) excellent ways to engage families in the practice:
•    Communication: send home a monthly family letter explaining lesson focus; this includes explaining practical skills families can use right away with pictures
•    Community Building: have a family yoga night and include a write up on one of the practices done that evening to reinforce the practice at home 
•    Experience: offer a separate time to teach practices to parents at school when they'll already be there. For example, this could be done at monthly parent meetings like PTA.
•    Have a Presence: Lastly, rather than expecting parents to come to you, look for ways you can meet them in their world. Show up where they are – board meetings, special school events, or at parent conferences.

The more you have a presence in the school building, the more relationships you will be building. You and what you are passionate about teaching will be on the radar of students and families. 

Please enjoy reading comments from parents who recently attended a Family Yoga Night.  And if you are looking for inspiration on family engagement, watch Aliza and the Mind Jar, a short film about a parent and her 6 year old daughter's transformational experience of the pioneering yoga and mindfulness program at Girls Prep Bronx Elementary. 



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