Archived Information

Tried and True: September 1997--The information in this publication was current as of September 1997, and has not been updated since. Some services described in the publication may no longer be available.
[Early Childhood Education]

Family Connections

A Set of Guides for Parent Involvement in the Education of Young Children

Developed and tested by the Appalachia Educational Laboratory (AEL)

What is the idea behind Family Connections?

Family Connections is designed to help schools involve families in the education of their young children. The materials are packaged as a set of 30 colorful, four-page guides that appeal to a broad range of parents. Developed for parents with children in preschool or kindergarten programs, the guides make it easy for parents and children to spend time together at home in ways that are appropriate to children's ages and stages of development.

The front page of each guide is a message to parents that emphasizes such topics as the importance of reading aloud, how children learn through play, and how effective discipline teaches self-control. Suggested learning activities are simple, fun to do, and use materials commonly found in the home. Each guide also includes at least one read-aloud selection, and all contain original illustrations. A front-page Sunshine Gram, found in several issues, provides space for teachers to send parents frequent positive messages. The handbook that accompanies the guides includes suggestions for stimulating and sustaining parent interest in using Family Connections.

AEL developed the materials to respond to needs expressed by early childhood specialists who wanted to help all children start school ready to learn. They result from an earlier research and development effort undertaken by AEL that focused on materials and activities to involve parents as both teachers and learners. The program was based on the premise that parents want to be involved in their children's education, but many do not know how to be helpful. While teachers may know how, their workloads often preclude their providing as much assistance as parents want. Family Connections was designed to be useful to both parents and teachers.

The Family Connections program addresses three objectives: to improve communication between school and home, to enable families to spend time with their young children in ways that enhance their early learning, and to increase parental understanding of early childhood education. Although Family Connections was intended for at-risk families, field test findings revealed that the guides are suitable for families without regard to social or economic status.

Family Connections 1, for preschool children (and now in its fourth printing after initially being available for school year 1992-93), was so successful that second and third sets were developed: Family Connections 2 for kindergarten children is in its second printing; and a Spanish-language version of Family Connections 1, titled Relaciones Familiares 1, was published in 1996.

What does research say about how this idea can help teaching and learning?

Research of more than a quarter-century validates the importance of family involvement in education. Contemporary studies have found consistent evidence that when parents encourage children, show interest in children's learning at home, and participate at school, they affect their children's achievement, even after student ability and family socioeconomic status are taken into account.

The development of Family Connections was informed by AEL's work of nearly three decades ago with HOPE--Home-Oriented Preschool Education. A novel preschool program, HOPE was designed to prepare 3- through 5-year-olds for school by involving both the children and their parents in daily television lessons, home visitation, and a weekly group experience. An extensive, five-stage follow-up study conducted from 1976-1986, after children in the original experiment graduated from high school, showed enduring positive effects. These persistent gains are attributed to the enhanced parenting skills learned through the HOPE experience. More than 50 technical and evaluation reports document the program's development and long-term benefits. HOPE's rich research base was used throughout the development of Family Connections.

How was this program tested?

Prototype issues of the guides were reviewed by a panel drawn by AEL that included potential users from the four-state region--preschool coordinators including Head Start Coordinators and Title I Directors, teachers, and PTA leaders. They rated very high such variables as developmental appropriateness, interest, understandability, and usefulness to parents. The prototypes became Family Connections 1, which was pilot tested with 13 teachers in 10 Kentucky schools. Staff collected pretest and post test data on the amount and kind of school-to-home communication. Teachers sent the guides home with children weekly, and collected reaction forms from parents every month. Parent reaction was almost unanimously positive, as was that of teachers. Both groups' reactions were incorporated into the revision process.

Three months after the pilot test, a random sample of parents was surveyed by telephone. They reported that children were excited when they brought Family Connections home and were eager to use them; parents found the front-page messages useful; the guides provided families with opportunities to spend time together and learn; and activities, read-alouds, and illustrations engaged the children. Parents said they found the guides helpful, informative, and easy to use, and perceived that using Family Connections enhanced their children's learning.

Impressed with the results, the Kentucky Department of Education made 20,000 sets available at no cost to all the state's programs for at-risk 4-year-olds. Results of a second random survey--this time of preschool teachers in Kentucky who had used Family Connections for a year--were equally positive. Without exception, teachers reported the activities to be developmentally appropriate for their students. Almost 100 percent said parents liked using the guides, and nearly as many believed that parents' use of Family Connections made a difference in children's learning. Virtually all teachers said they would recommend the guides to other teachers.

An advisory group of teachers, principals, and state department of education staff was involved in the development of Family Connections 2. Early childhood specialists from all four states in AEL's region coordinated an effort of 34 teachers and more than 714 students in 10 schools to pilot test the guides. Findings were nearly identical to those in the Family Connections 1 test. Kindergarten teachers in Putnam County, West Virginia, subsequently field tested the guides (during school year 1994-95) and elected to use them countywide the following year. Evaluators of both the pilot test and field tests reached almost identical conclusions to those of Family Connections 1.

A geographically diverse panel of practitioners reviewed selected issues of the Spanish-language edition of the guides and found them culturally appropriate as well as easy to read and use. AEL worked with the Early Childhood Division of WestEd Laboratory, the Regional Laboratory in San Francisco, to produce Relaciones Familiares 1, which became available in 1996.

What communities and states are using this program?

Many programs in AEL's four states--Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia--use the guides: in Head Start, Even Start, Title I, kindergarten, and teacher-training programs. Programs in 47 other states, including both Alaska and Hawaii, have ordered Family Connections. New Jersey's Rural Advisory Council supported workshops for teacher-principal-parent teams to introduce the guides. A number of districts have since put Family Connections at the center of parent involvement programs that have attracted foundation grants. A West Virginia elementary school principal whose district had no preschool program enrolled families to receive Family Connections 1 by mail for the year preceding their children's kindergarten enrollment. He also purchased Family Connections 2 for his kindergarten classrooms. A number of Head Start programs have used the guides since they first became available. Some use them as a curriculum for home-based programs.

What's involved in using this program in my school and community?

Family Connections requires no training or technical assistance from the developer. Prospective users purchase the guides which are packaged to provide each of 25 children and their families a set of 30 issues. A user handbook included with each package offers numerous suggestions for distribution and use and simplifies implementation for school and program staff.

In school programs, most teachers distribute the guides on a weekly basis. The guides are written at a fifth-grade or lower reading level so they are readily understandable by virtually everyone; parents need no outside help. Issues are numbered for user convenience, but need not be used in any particular order after the first one. They are not seasonal, so use can start at any time of the year. Some programs mail the guides to families.

Costs associated with implementing this program vary, depending on the components of the program being used.


Robert Childers
P.O. Box 1348
Charleston, WV 25325
Phone: (800) 624-9120
Fax: (304) 347-0487

[Introduction] [Table of Contents] [Program for Infant and Toddler Caregivers]