Incentives for family involvement
September 12, 2010 8:15 AM   Subscribe

What sorts of incentives can we offer to boost parent involvement?

I'm looking for relatively inexpensive ($5-$10/family) incentives to encourage parents to attend monthly parent meetings. Our program serves children 3-5 in a low-income/underserved area.

Current ideas include gift cards, passes to the local children's museum, bags of books and school supplies.

Past practice was to raffle off "big-ticket" items (microwaves, TVs, etc.), but I'd rather use our funds to give every family a gift for attending. I'd like these gifts to enhance their lives in some way and encourage home-school connections (i.e. books encouraging home literacy).

What other incentives might we offer? Dinner and childcare is already offered at meetings. Also, this is in Chicago.

posted by nayrb5 to Education (14 answers total)
Sorry to wander a bit off-topic, but is transportation and issue that is preventing parents from attending? Maybe you could offer fare cards as an incentive, to cover part of the cost of using CTA?
posted by puritycontrol at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The biggest carrot you can offer is the kids themselves.

Pick a few kids to "showcase" in the first 10 minutes of each meeting. e.g. Our art class is doing xyz right now — and their drawings will be on display for you! Bobby is our star reader in our Grade 1 class, and this week he's going to read a story to us! (Easier since you offer childcare for the rest of the meeting.)

Plus it leads well into a discussion of what's actually going on at the school on a day-to-day basis and how your parents group can help with that. If there's a big issue (e.g. schoolyard equipment), you could have the kids write something about "I like the schoolyard because..." and "I wish our schoolyard had..." and open the meeting with that.
posted by heatherann at 8:31 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think purity is on to something. You need to know (not guess) what is keeping most parents from attending. Are they working when you have these hours? Can't afford transport? Disengaged?

Before you offer incentives that might be irrelevant or actively harmful to young children's education (TVs) you need to reach out to them and understand why they don't come.
posted by canine epigram at 9:15 AM on September 12, 2010

Response by poster: I should probably offer some clarification:

-Raffles of TVs/Microwaves were the previous practice -- we're moving beyond that (hence the question)

-The meetings are held at night, about 30 minutes before the center closes, so we know that very few parents are still working at that time.

-We plan to offer CTA cards to families who need them -- I forgot to mention this earlier.

-We have a chunk of money that has to be spent on parent involvement every year -- that's why the question is about tangible incentives. We want to spend the money as effectively as possible to benefit as many parents as possible.

Thanks for the ideas so far!
posted by nayrb5 at 9:44 AM on September 12, 2010

Put names of the parents/kids in the newsletter. Not like "yay these parents showed up" but find a way to get the parents to participate in the meeting and then put that in there, like "Timmy's mom helped with the snacks and Susie's dad helped us set up the tables" or whatever. Team up the parents with their kids to do these things and others, like read the opening poem or say the pledge of allegiance, then put that in the newsletter.
posted by CathyG at 10:03 AM on September 12, 2010

I work on a research study of low income Hispanic women, and the incentives that seem to keep them coming are both tangible and intangible. They seem to like Walmart gift cards, branded t-shirts, and other small trinkets, but I think what really keeps them coming back is the social aspect of the group. Can you sponsor a parent get-together or social group where childcare is provided? Something that is fun, where they can make friends with other parents. These social connections might then drive them to attend your official events so they can catch up with their friends too.
posted by LyndsayMW at 10:45 AM on September 12, 2010

Can you offfer food/drinks along the lines of a "family dinner?" Not having to cook would give me a great incentive. Would local businesses donate food to supplement?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is the purpose of the meetings? Maybe the parents don't know what "parent involvement" means?

I would send an agenda home with the kids a few days in advance so the parents will know what's going on.

Use the money in the budget for putting on a nice meeting, not for bribing parents to attend. Showing up and not paying attention isn't the goal, I don't think.
posted by gjc at 1:21 PM on September 12, 2010

We have this issue with school events at our inner-city school that is in a gentrifying neighbourhood, but also serves a nearby shelter and still has a huge contingent of low-income families, and we have attendance issues which we're finally beginning to solve (I'm talking about the Parent Council, whose directive is to engage with parents, not to merely fundraise).

Over the past two years that I've volunteered (and was VP last year), and watched initiatives and programs come and go, I've found that what most helps is my knowledge of retail and marketing from my old life! I always end up going back to The Science of Shopping, whether we're running a fundraising rummage sale, movie night or a literacy night or trying to start a lunch program. Actually, now I'm employed as a Lunchroom Supervisor, so I now have an even more enhanced perspective, and can't wait to bring that to the table this year. Without knowing the purpose of your meetings, or where they're held or anything, I've got one thing I'm pretty sure is part of the deal:

Aside from disinterest, you may have issues of timing and traffic flow - you said "... at night... about 30 minutes before the center closes, so we know that very few parents are still working at that time." -- but when is that? You see, we learned the tail at the end of the day is a terrible time for anything for parents, even with dinner and childcare offered, whether working or not. And most people attending our school are within five blocks and can walk easily. Once people get home, especially with tired kids, they don't want to go back out, no matter what the incentive. You might need to work with natural rhythms and flow. Can you hold the meeting closer to them so they don't have to travel at all? Can you hold it at a time when they'd naturally congregate, like after-school or daycare pick-up? Our biggest events take place between 3:15 and 7:15, when we catch the pick-ups from school and daycare, and even the neighbourhood drop-in located in the school.

And knowing the agenda would help to help you - but advertising it? I'm not sure it would help people come out. Among the other things we've learned: We can get 150 out of 192 students with at least one parent in tow to a free movie night in the gym starting at 6:30. The kids were excited, the begged the parents. That's good old "Pester Power". But for a free Literacy Night with a children's book editor in to speak to parents about engaging children with reading, at the same time on the same day of the week the next month, we had five people show - one of them me, and two others were organizers and one was a teacher, and none of us was one of those who most needed to attend. We've come to realize many of our parents are having enough of a daily struggle, they don't want to be instructed (or feel they're being told anything) on their free time, and that they don't attend events that make them feel poor. And busy parents don't like to feel guilty for not attending, so we have to watch that too. It's a fine balance.

I've also heard from some parents that they don't feel they need to attend certain meetings or events - they felt they were informed enough by the playground scuttle or chatting with other parents. So, we're going to work on a "buddy system" this year, where we spend time talking up events on the playground instead of sending notes home in backpacks, and asking parents or caregivers we know are attending to specifically invite someone that's not known to participate. We realized that's sometimes part of the problem - there are cliques and loners and everything just like when we were in school. ESL is part of our issue - through the board, we can offer translators, but it's easier when either the kids or the more fluent parents help. So, maybe you can have people who regularly attend your program be "ambassadors" for it?
posted by peagood at 2:40 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nthng Dinner -- with food they'll like and with your staff serving the parents. (Sit down meal served -- not buffet).

Have a few parents tell you what the agenda should look like.

At the end of the program/meeting, have remaining parents box up and take home the leftovers (not before -- just at the end of the meeting for those who are able to stay)
posted by vitabellosi at 3:09 PM on September 12, 2010

Find out what kind of meetings/activities would interest the parents and what time or day would be most inviting. If the parents have other children at home who need dinner, homework help, etc. you aren't going to get them back out to the school. Maybe meetings on Sat. would be better than during the week. Make sure the your meeting is relevant to the families, especially if they are struggling to provide the basic needs for their child. Guest speakers on parenting issues, getting services at the health clinics, cooking healthy meals for little money, etc. might draw them out but you won't know until you ask.

As for the incentives, ask some of the parents who are involved, what would entice the other families to come. The families who are part of the culture you serve will know much more about what you need to do to get the other families to attend.
posted by Flacka at 5:24 PM on September 12, 2010

I need some clarification. Is this a school? Preschool? Childcare?

1. Trap the kids - I'm not sure if you meet with all the parents at once. If so, just have the meetings right after regular programming hours. This was a method my principal used in inner city Cincinnati. If we were having a convocation, students would not go home. We wouldn't run buses. The only way for kids to get home was for parents to get them. And provide food.

2. Make the meetings more meaningful - If you're having a hard time getting parents to come out, then you're not communicating the importance and/or the actual meetings are not meeting the needs of the parents. Why are you having the meetings? What exactly do you do there? Why do you need to have them once a month? Are these individual meetings or large group? Small group?

I'm in the field of education, work in inner city Chicago so this question is relevant and necessary in order to answer your questions.

You might want to rethink why you're having them at all.
posted by allthewhile at 5:55 PM on September 12, 2010

How about having someone call and personally remind/invite the parents to the meeting?
posted by mmascolino at 6:43 PM on September 12, 2010

Response by poster: It seems that I was pretty unclear with my question -- I'll try to clarify a bit.

This is a Head Start program, so children are picked up at different times of the day.

We're examining what sorts of resources parents want at parent meetings and working to provide them. The meetings are divided between resources and updates about the center/upcoming events.

I'd like to focus this question specifically on things that we can use our parent involvement funds for that will both encourage parents to attend meetings and enrich their lives in some small way. The idea is for every family to get something beneficial at every meeting -- not as the sole incentive, but as another benefit of attending.

We already provide food and childcare for families, so we're looking for something beyond that.

Thanks for the ideas so far -- please keep them coming!
posted by nayrb5 at 9:13 PM on September 12, 2010

« Older Widescreen monitor woes. Please help.   |   Ambien for my computer? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.