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June 28, 2012
Joining Forces: Families and Out-of-School Programs as Partners in Supporting Children’s Learning and Development
Heidi Rosenberg, Erin Harris, Shani Wilkes
In this Commentary, Harvard Family Research Project’s Senior Research Analysts Heidi Rosenberg, Erin Harris, and Shani Wilkes explore the increasing importance of family engagement in afterschool programs.
Family engagement in afterschool learning can contribute to children’s education in significant ways. For example, children who receive support from parents or other caregivers in using library resources during the summer spend more time reading and using computers for learning activities than those without such support.1 In addition, low-income children whose parents or other caregivers expose them to enrichment experiences through “community bridging” strategies with other adults or programs outside their community have a considerable advantage over children who are not able to have such experiences.2
Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) has long been a leader in the family engagement and afterschool fields, championing each as key components of children’s learning and development. We are intensifying our focus on the intersection of these two sectors to address a growing recognition among afterschool providers of the importance of family engagement. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative, the only federal funding source for afterschool, is building the capacity of afterschool intermediaries and programs to engage families. In addition, the Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project, a national network of expanded learning and afterschool stakeholders, has family engagement in children’s learning as a central principle.
This increasing focus on family engagement in afterschool has also led to a shift in the relationship between parents and afterschool programs, from a focus on increasing afterschool program participation (program-centered) toward a focus on parents’ supporting children’s learning and development in afterschool settings (learning-centered). Likewise, whereas afterschool programs used to take the lead in supporting children’s learning in their programming, they are now working with families as equal partners in this effort. This FINE Newsletter issue highlights HFRP’s recent brief, Families and Expanded Learning Opportunities: Working Together to Support Children’s Learning. Completed in collaboration with the National Conference of State Legislatures, the brief explores this learning-centered concept and offers examples of program approaches and strategies. Learning-centered partnerships are still in the developmental stages, but both families and afterschool programs can take steps to ensure that children have the most positive learning experience possible.
Specifically, parents can best support afterschool learning experiences by developing a solid understanding of their children’s specific interests, strengths, and areas requiring attention; identifying high-quality afterschool programming and other educational opportunities that can best promote their children’s whole development; and brokering a network of learning supports for their children—including peers, family members, afterschool programs, libraries, museums, parks, books, and digital learning media—that build on children’s interest areas and support their learning needs.
Similarly, afterschool programs can partner with families through such means as supporting regular, two-way communication about children’s learning progress and ways in which families can extend afterschool learning at home and in the larger community; facilitating parents’ communication with other settings (e.g., schools) in order to link and enhance children’s learning experiences; and sharing key data and results with families regarding children’s learning progress.
This FINE Newsletter provides a fresh perspective on the relationship between families and afterschool programs as that relationship continues to evolve. The articles in this issue highlight several key themes that support strong connections between families and afterschool programs:
Finally, this issue features new resources from HFRP, including our Afterschool Evaluation 101: How to Evaluate an Expanded Learning Program, which assists afterschool programs in evaluating their work, and the most recent Research Update from HFRP’s OST Program Bibliography and Database, 21st Century Community Learning Centers—Stable Funding for Innovation and Continuous Improvement, which showcases innovations in afterschool programs supported by the 21st CCLC initiative.
1 Neuman, S., & Celano, D. (2006). The knowledge gap: Implications of leveling the playing field for low-income and middle-income children. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(2), 176–201.
2 Jarrett, R. L. (1999). Successful parenting in high-risk neighborhoods. The Future of Children, 9(2), 45–50.
3 Barron, B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecology perspective. Human Development, 49(4), 193–224; and Barron, B. Martin, C. K., Takeuchi, L. & Fithian, R. (2009). Parents as learning partners in the development of technological fluency. International Journal of Learning and Media, 1(2), 55–77.
4 Seely Brown, J. (2011, October). Information & Learning for the Future. Opening Keynote at the Internet Conference and Exhibition for Librarians and Information Managers, Monterey CA. Retrieved from http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/2011/10/ilopeningkeynote.html
This resource is part of the June 2012 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the archive of past issues, please visit www.hfrp.org/FINENewsletter