In order for children to grow up healthy, it's important they adopt healthy habits at child care, school, home and in their community. Families are children's first and most important teachers. Repetition of healthy behaviors in multiple contexts helps those behaviors "stick" as children grow older. Because you build relationships with families over time, you are in the position of being able to engage them as partners to support healthy habits.
This section provides tips and ideas on engaging families as partners, learning more about the hopes they have for their children and getting their support for the positive changes you're making at your center or home. You can do this by utilizing their skills and opinions in the same way you do with your staff. Listening and exchanging ideas in a respectful way can help families understand that you're working together to help their children grow up healthy! Here are some ideas for educating and engaging families:
- Provide information in your family handbook on the importance of a strong partnership, why you value their involvement and what you can do to work together. Be sure to address nutrition policies and how to work together to adhere to them.
- The Healthy Eating Choices Letter is an example of how you can passively open the door of communication to parents about providing healthy eating choices.
- Taking a proactive approach in letting parents know what is occurring at your center regarding nutrition education can help motivate parents to engage in similar practices and even buy and prepare similar food items for the child to eat at home.
- If you have a parent or guardian that is sending food from home that doesn't meet the Leap of Taste Standards, you can address it by sending them a form letter (see example) that explains why you are sending that food back home with the child.
- Distribute weekly, monthly or quarterly newsletters to update families on special events, positive changes at your center or home and the subject matter their children are learning.
- Invite families to give suggestions and ask questions in any way that works for them: by e-mail, conversation at the end of the day, a comment/suggestion box or at regular "Family Feedback" meetings.
- Use electronic methods such as a website, e-mail list serves, blogging or Facebook® so families can give and receive information in a quick and convenient way.
- Create a family committee, such as a PTA or Family Nutrition Board. Give them a voice in menu planning, ask for healthy recipe contributions, and get their suggestions on how to best communicate with and engage other families.
- Bulletin boards are a great activity for kids, but they can also provide families with useful information and tips, as well as updates on center activities, menus and family events.
- Encourage staff to develop strong relationships with families through interactions at the beginning and/or end of the day.
- Extend an open invitation to families to visit their child's classroom whenever they like.
- Encourage families to form a community by volunteering or attending cooking, self-defense or fitness classes together!
- Invite families to a cooking class. Teach them ways to make foods healthy, tasty and fun!
- Invite families to join you on a walk around your community. Focus on exploring nearby places where families can be active together like parks, playgrounds and walking paths.
- Invite families to a luncheon where they get to eat the same meal as the kids in your child care center or home. Use this as an opportunity to educate families on healthy choices.
- Have an "Adventure Week," where pick-up or drop-off is at a community location like a park or library to show families local resources they can visit with children.
- Work with local farmers to teach families the basics on how to start their own garden.
- Include families in relevant training: health, safety, healthy eating/physical activity, social-emotional development, etc.
- Ask families how they would like to get involved - you may discover valuable resources and advocates in the family members of the children at your center or home!
- Have kids pack a family member's lunch. Parents/guardians may be surprised by what children choose!
- Create a scavenger hunt around the house or neighborhood: Can you find three things that make it easy to be healthy and three things that make it hard?
- Prepare healthy snacks and meals as a family.
- Conduct simple science experiments that involve food and are edible.
- Have the entire family log each person's daily physical activity.
- Encourage family field trips to a local orchard, park, museum or farm and link these suggestions to activities that kids have done in child care.