This guide is for those who are just starting out on their teaching journey, through to experienced teachers seeking a few tips on how Storypark can help build community and work towards stronger partnerships with parents.
If you prefer to learn by watching rather than reading, then our family engagement online workshop covers similar information.
In this guide, you’ll explore:
Why family engagement is important
What to do when new children start
Who’s in a child’s community and how engaged they are
Creating engaging stories
Becoming partners in planning
Having conversations with families
Other ways to engage families
Storypark "builds community and trust between families and centres, which in turn builds relationships between children and parents.”
– Kerrie Llewellyn, Parkside Pre-school
Why is family engagement important?
At Storypark, we believe that creating strong relationships with families is key to creating quality outcomes for children. Family engagement is woven into the curriculum and is a core principle in national standards and service licensing criteria:
"Collaborative relationships with families are fundamental to achieving quality outcomes for children, and community partnerships that are based on active communication, consultation and collaboration are also essential." National Quality Standard Area 6 (Australia)
"Positive steps should be taken to respect and acknowledge the aspirations held by families for their children. Regular opportunities (formal and informal) should be provided for families to communicate with education providers about their child, to share specific evidence of the child’s learning, and be involved in decision-making concerning their child’s learning." Licensing Criteria for ECE (NZ)
Activity: How well are you currently engaging families?
Generate an activity report on family invites and comments.
Go to your community area and count the number of parent comments.
Count the number of times a teacher has asked family a question in a story or in a response.
What do you/your service regard as quality engagement and what would that look like in Storypark?
Do the results of the above activities align with what you regard as quality engagement? Write down what you should now be aiming for.
What are the barriers you face when trying to engage families?
Further reflective questions can be found on the Ministry of Education (NZ) site.
When new children start
There are a few things you can do to make a family’s introduction to Storypark an engaging experience:
Welcome families to Storypark
Create a story prior to, or shortly after inviting the family so that they will have something to view when they log in. Even if it’s simply a ‘Welcome to Storypark’, or a photo of their child.
Create a good first impression
Building a relationship is harder to do if you can’t picture a person. Take a look at your service’s teacher profile photos, do they all have one? Ensure each child has a profile photo to personalise their account.
Build a child's community
Encourage the family admin to invite those who are important to the child, i.e. the other parent, grandparents etc.
"Encourage the family to add as many family members to the child’s profile as they can. Storypark works really well when there are lots of people adding their insights."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Explain to families the benefits of responding to stories
Provide them with tips on how to respond in a way that will help extend the child's learning.
Ask families to download the Families app
"Show them the app on your centre iPad. Help them sign in, show them how easy it is to make a story... Ask them to send you a picture from home, like their cat."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
"As part of the transition process into your centre, invite parents in and talk to them about Storypark. Explain WHY you use it and how THEY manage it and can invite their extended families. Make sure there’s something in there from the second they sign in. A photo of their child or a 'Welcome to our centre' intro from the teaching team is a way to get them engaged before the child actually starts.” – Michela Homer, Regional Professional Services Manager LNI, BestStart
“I encourage families to ensure that both parents are made admin on their child's profile. This means that they both receive the community posts and allows me to link them both into private conversations.” – Kerrie Llewellyn, Parkside Pre-school
“We often have tears from both the parents and child at drop off. But it has been great to be able to send parents a photo of their child happily playing just minutes after they have left. It always puts their mind at ease.”
Who’s in a child’s community?
We believe it takes a community to raise a child, so for every child there should be a close community around them that are involved in their Storypark community, i.e. parents, grandparents, relatives, perhaps even a few close family friends – potentially four or more people. How many do your children have?
To find out, go into your Reports page. Choose Children activity and scroll down. Next to each child you'll see how many family members can access their profile. A good goal to set the team is to encourage the family admin to invite those closest to the child.
To see who has been invited to date, go to your Children tab, tap on the dropdown arrow on a child’s tile and select View profile. Tap on the child’s Family tab to see all invited family members and who has been given admin rights.
How engaged is this community?
Within the Reports area you can see activity statistics for children, family and teachers. This lets you to compare how well comments are responded to. Under the family and teacher comments you can see for example the number of Family comments verses Teacher comments over the last month.
What we’ve found is that if you take the time to respond to family comments at the beginning of the family's Storypark journey they’ll continue to comment. If you don’t make this a priority, the number of family comments drops quickly. Responding shows you are reading and appreciating the time they are taking to comment. If families don’t receive a response often they can think ‘What’s the point?’. Think of this as similar to a Facebook post, if you post something and nobody looks at it or comments, how do you feel? Would you post again?
If you’re an admin you’ll be able to access the teachers statistics to see who is making and responding to comments, over a selected period of time. Do this every few months to gauge how well your service and teachers are responding to comments.
1. Low level of engagement
"Thanks for sharing this story, the photo of Beth drawing is sooo cute."
As families are familiarising themselves with Storypark they often begin by making positive comments – generally thanks and appreciation. To support further commenting try to respond to each comment to show you're reading and appreciating their comments. You could also refer to their comment in the next story you write for their child.
If families don’t respond, it doesn’t mean they don’t value what is being shared. It can take time to build confidence and try something new.
2. Moving to a level of trust and sharing
“We see similar things happening at home. She especially loves her hot wheels cars.”
To encourage moving to a level of trust and sharing, try asking open ended questions within the story or in the comments area. Ask families questions such as Have you seen this at home? or Where did this interest come from?
Refer to their comments in future stories to show you appreciate and utilise their input and sharing.
3. Engaged and involved in the learning
“Just like in your story we've been modelling asking for "more" during mealtimes, playtimes and storytime. Last night she said a very clear "more" when her Dad had finished reading her bedtime story. We were both so excited that we read her two extra stories. Where do we go from here?"
The ultimate goal is working together to support children’s learning pathways. The teachers’ and families’ comments or feedback becomes a conduit for further learning. A strategy to support this happening is to share possible ways families can involve themselves in furthering or extending the learning or interest at home. And on the flip side, ask families for ideas or strategies they use so you can build on these. Asking for their ideas shows them that they know their child best and teachers are not the sole experts.
Once a story is published you can record comments using the voice recording option in the Teachers app. The tone and emotion you hear through recorded voice makes audio comments a very rich tool. It’s quick and easy to use and especially useful when writing is difficult at that time. The app also enables children’s comments, involving them in their own assessment.
Where would you place the comments you have been receiving: 1. Low level of engagement? 2. Trust level of engagement? 3. Engaged and involved in the learning?
What goals will you set to strengthen engagement?
Creating engaging stories
Not everything needs to be a story of assessment. Families report that they would rather have regular short updates than irregular updates or just one well crafted learning story infrequently, by which time a child’s interest may have moved on. A magic moment, anecdote, video or child’s voice can be just as engaging, and posting these regularly gives families the opportunity to respond and provide feedback, which can ultimately be incorporated into richer learning stories.
Ask parents open-ended questions. What did you think of the story? What have you seen at home? How did you do this when you were their age? Questions should empower family, positioning them as knowledgeable and experts in the child’s development. Not every post needs a question though, think about creating a balance between strengthening engagement and over-burdening busy families.
Don’t get discouraged. You may pose a question in a story and the family sees it but doesn’t respond. Many families don’t know what a useful comment should be. Some families prefer face-to-face interactions. You can hover over the little eye icon at the bottom of a story card on your stories page to see who has viewed it. Look at who has read stories so you can start a conversation at pickup/drop-off time.
Don’t forget video. Video is a rich and accurate way of sharing what occurred – the interactions, language, emotion, gestures, and physicality. Video has been shown to encourage more family engagement than any other media. A couple of minutes of video can showcase a lot of learning.
Try to use the language of your audience. Think about who you are creating these stories for. Families are generally not versed in the language of pedagogy. There’s a chance families may disengage if they don’t understand the words you use. Make sure your learning tags have family-friendly descriptions so that everyone understands what they mean. "Use a snappy interesting title to draw in families."
Involve children. "Have direct quotes from the child in the story. If the child is able to, then encourage the child to take a photo and ask parents to write a story about the photo." – Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Bridge the gap between your service and home. Provide ideas to support children's current interests that can be followed through at home. Ask families to post what they did so you can respond with further potential extensions.
Turn on spell check. Everyone makes mistakes. Turning on spell check helps to reduce spelling and grammar errors. If you are writing on your phone, you can save it to a draft, then check the spelling on a computer.
Encourage families to share stories from home. Families can record their child’s moments through the Families app or add a story on the web app. They can choose to share moments with you and any family they’ve invited. Ask to see learning that is happening at home or to share a story/moment after the child has had big experiences such as a holiday.
Always respond when family share something. When a parent leaves a response or shares something, acknowledge this by responding in Storypark or face-to-face. This lets them know you value their contribution, big or small and encourages them to do it more. Consider utilising the voice recording comments function in the app.
Respond to other teachers' stories. Encourage all teachers to add their views and observations to other teacher's stories, providing a fuller picture of learning.
“I have found that my families delight in seeing their child successfully engaged in group experiences. Usually a video of the children singing a song they have mastered with actions can result in over 100 viewings for my group of 22 children. These stories also prompt a written response and comment. At the beginning of the year, I let families know that I will read their comments out to their child during sessions if they take the time to write something. The children are delighted to hear Mum or Dad's comment and are starting to ask for me to upload some of their thoughts, creations and comments to Storypark.”
– Kerrie Llewellyn, Parkside Pre-school
“Individual child stories are the most effective. Instead of asking parents what their child does or likes at home, try this strategy: Ask them to share the story with their child when they’re at home and capture how their child responds. Not only does this take pressure off the parent, but it creates magical moments to connect the parent and child to the learning. It also tells the child 'we see you as a competent learner who can tell and share your own stories'.”
– Michela Homer, Regional Professional Services Manager LNI, BestStart
"The most engaging stories are ones that follow on from another, so parents can see a progression of learning, and can understand why the learning is valid."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Partners in planning
The Planning area is a versatile tool that can support the way you plan in your service.
Planning is often a collaborative undertaking, so once a teacher has created a plan they have the option to then share it with the team, individual teachers, or their room/service, so they can all contribute.
Plans can also be shared with parents. Parents can’t edit plans but they can contribute by using the comments area to add ideas, aspirations and photos. This provides a true collaborative sharing space. (The family will need to view the plan via the Storypark website, not the Families App.)
Family can add photos and important information about the child providing you with valuable insights into the child and family. Encourage teachers and families to continually add to the plan while the child attends your service so it evolves with the child. It’s also useful to make reference to some of this shared information in stories showing how you are using and valuing the families contributions.
How can you inspire the sharing of information, ideas and involvement?
Once a family member shares their thoughts and comments what do you do with that information?
“Face-to-face with them in the initial meet up works well. Ask what’s important for them and develop a plan together. Once parents see that you USE this information, they’re more likely to share and engage in the process.”
– Michela Homer, Regional Professional Services Manager LNI, BestStart
Introducing your new planning area
Create a plan
Working with planning templates
Sharing plans, who can access a plan and its links
Linking plans and stories together
Managing and finding your plans
Print a plan
Use the Community area to post what’s been happening at your service as well as events, news and information that may be of interest to the community, e.g. enrolling for school. It’s a place to build community so remember not to just use it as a reminder area. Here are some ideas:
Introduce new staff. Consider uploading a video introduction which can be more powerful than words alone.
Encourage parents to invite immediate family. Encourage both parents of a child to be family admins so they both have access and can contribute to the community area.
Share ideas and activities that families can do at home. Share activities, literacy development, physical games, recipes and challenges. Storypark has an entire TeachMe YouTube channel dedicated to quick and easy ideas families can use to engage with their children (especially good during holiday breaks). Ask families to share their own activity ideas, and invite them in to your service to share their skills and knowledge.
Ask for parents' input. A question or a survey can give parents the opportunity to feel invested in decision-making at your service. An example of this might be asking for feedback on a policy review.
Daily or weekly diaries. Share what's been happening via a few photos and a couple of sentences regularly. This type of post is a quick and an easy way to keep families informed about what's been happening. Parents may not receive a personalised story every week but by sharing what their child may have been involved in and your service's current interests keeps families informed. It provides parents a great conversation starter with their child. Consider allocating one teacher each week to create this post. Try also to involve children, supporting them in choosing the photos, and what they'd like to share.
Send an announcement. Selecting the Announcement checkbox means all family admins receive the post, even those who may have turned off their notifications. As they override parent's settings we recommend only using announcements for very urgent or time sensitive matters.
Have conversations with parents
Use the conversations feature for individual or small groups of families who have children with similar interests or development, i.e. groups of children who are teething, toilet training, or are about to transition to school. These are topics that may be relevant to some but not others. Check out more ways to use conversations.
Note: Conversations should support the way you already communicate. They are not intended to replace face-to-face discussions.
Other ways to engage
Understand your families: What is their perspective? How would they prefer to respond? Don't assume no comments means no engagement. Some parents may prefer face-to-face, or perhaps they want to contribute but don't know what to write. Encourage parents to respond in any way they wish:
Invite parents to write a note at drop off and pick up
Using printed portfolios or wall displays as conversation starters
Provide access to those who don't have it. If a family doesn't have a computer, smartphone or internet, have a place at your service where they can sign in to view Storypark.
In what ways do you foster a sense of belonging and partnership across all families and cultures within your setting?
How well are you valuing and making use of the families' knowledge of their children, their aspirations, cultural identity and beliefs?
As a team, create a list of questions that have generated useful responses from families.
Is your whole team involved? If not how can you support them in this area?
Set a goal for yourself and a goal for your service that will help you strengthen family engagement.
Ask about our Getting the most out of Storypark professional learning and development training package which covers engaging families
Blog post: Amanda Higgins’ thesis on Electronic portfolios in early childhood education: Parent-teacher communication (Amanda is a Storypark professional learning and development trainer)