Birds, Bees, Butterflies, and Children!

Birds, bees, and butterflies fly busily from one flower to another, unintentionally pollinating, making  plants healthier, stronger, and a little more resilient to environmental factors. In the same way, children flit busily through the many contexts of their lives – family, school, and community – unknowingly sharing energy, enthusiasm, and excitement wherever they go. As adults who plant and nurture their gardens, we play both a lead and supporting role in what they share and how they share. Active listening and intentional action make all the difference in the world and will, ultimately, produce stronger family-school engagements that can weather the storms of life.

A Note to School

Before I was even in the door of the house, I was talking about our classroom menagerie: I am so excited about Lovey and the other hatchlings, the cocooned caterpillars, and the tadpoles that are growing legs. When I play outside, I look for evidence of other life cycles. I’ve even created a habitat for ants, ladybugs, spiders, and worms. I’m supposed to keep it outside, but sometimes it makes its way in – at home and at school.

Thank you for the inspiration,

An energized child

P.S., I enjoyed last week’s ‘surprise’ teacher when you were absent.


The energy, excitement, and enthusiasm of a child that are carried spontaneously and naturally between family, school, and community just might be one of the most authentic solutions to the disconnect experienced by some as a result of previous negative experiences. This, however, will not occur without both intention and attention on everyone’s part.

  • Do we recognize children as a critical component of family-school engagement?
  • How do we ensure that children do not bear the weight of perceived lack of family-school engagement?
  • How do we ensure that children, families, schools, and communities share the good along with the bad, recognizing that it is all engagement?

Children are more than capable informants, reporters, even directors of their own lives, if they have the comfort and support of a “more knowledgeable other” (Vygotsky, 1978). Without even realizing it, they contribute, in a very powerful way, to family-school engagement. It’s hard to not share in a child’s excitement, or a child’s sadness, about something that happened at home, school, or in the community. While so much of this is child-centred and spontaneous, there are some practices that increase the likelihood of these connections.

Give them something concrete to talk about. Grow a plant. Plant a community garden. Hatch a chick. Catch pollywogs at the creek. Listen to bees as they buzz from one plant to the next. Climb a tree. Watch a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Plant a tree. Pitch in. Do a food drive. Engage in a community service project. Create a minor crisis that needs to be solved. Take them on a trip. Show them pictures of their ancestors. Tell them a story that is so outrageous they just have to repeat it.

Make time to listen. In a very busy world, we are often trying to accomplish multiple tasks at the same time, and often our time to listen, and therefore learn, is compromised. Set aside dedicated storytelling and story listening time at home and at school. Be ready with prompts when spontaneity is elusive. Recognize that children, like adults, simply want to be heard and seen without outside interference. Not surprisingly, my 28 year old daughter still tells me to shut down my computer when she calls home!

Listen with sensitivity as children share. As teacher or family, recognize that spontaneous sharing and excitement of a child, even sadness, come from a place of security, contentment, and/or excitement about family, school, and learning. Listen to all they are communicating in words, thoughts, and actions. It might not always be positive, but the more they carry back and forth, the stronger they perceive the connection and the support they will receive from you as their more knowledgeable other.

Invite talk about learning and goal setting. Engage in joint projects such as family-school journals, scrapbooks, photo albums or memory boxes that focus on what is happening in their lives at home and school (including strengths, needs, hopes dreams and struggles). This Week At School (TWAS) or Friday letters are a good stimulus to open these critical conversations about learning. Host three-way conferences to discuss goal-setting and learning.

Accentuate the positive. Always look for the best of what is being transferred between family, school, and community – this is how children learn about the interrelatedness of life and how to get along in this world. This is not to say that there is never negative, because there will be – that’s life. But, we can catch a whole lot more flies, that is to say engaged families and schools, with a spoonful of honey than with a spoonful of vinegar.

Thanks for listening, and thanks to the families and schools that create these memories!

Too Much, Too Little, or Just the Right Amount of Struggle: What Do Butterflies Have to Do With Engagement?

As a family, a school, and a community, we want what is best for our children; we want them to be successful, to have a world of opportunities, to be comfortable, and to be confident. For some, this means finding the right balance between guiding and supporting without an overemphasis on doing, problem-solving, decision-making, and shielding from negative experiences or natural consequences. Perhaps I’m pushing the season a bit, hoping for Spring to finally arrive, but… when I think about the consequences of over-engagement, I think about the butterfly, who needs to struggle, to fail, and to try again and again to work its way out of the safety of its cocoon; if we free it too soon, it doesn’t develop the necessary strength, independence, and resilience to fly into the world. Continue reading

Family-School Engagement with Simplicity in Mind

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Our current culture sets us up to approach life with a want more, need more stance that keeps families and schools filling children’s spaces and times with many activities. But does it really need to be that way? And do all those activities really make a difference in the grand scheme of academic success and well-being? Or can we aim for a more simplistic view that places understanding, relationship-building, and communication as our core goals? Shouldn’t engagement aim to recognize, celebrate, and enhance what we already have as families and as school communities? And how do we set our school communities on a path toward simplicity amidst the chaos and complexity of life? Continue reading

A Warm and Safe Welcome

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First impressions are often lasting impressions, especially at a time when schools, in order to keep students safe, are required to lock their doors, often leaving families feeling like they are out in the cold. But that was never the intent as indicated by Dalton McGuinty, former premier of Ontario: When parents send their kids off to school they are putting their trust in us, and we have to get it right. That’s why our government is committed to providing safe, welcoming places to learn for all our kids. It’s up to us to take all reasonable steps available to us to protect our kids. Locking school doors is a reasonable step.  Continue reading

A New Year’s Resolutions: Tips for Attaining Family-School Engagement Goals

week 1The start of a new year (regardless of whether it is a calendar year or an academic year) is a fresh opportunity, a clean palette, and a time to go exploring. It is a perfect time to establish new routines and try new strategies that will bring family and school closer together. It is a time to take a close look at what we do well, what we need to work on, and perhaps what we need to start or even stop doing. Families and schools need to engage in collaborative goal-setting in order to move forward in mutually respectful ways. Continue reading

Engaging Families, Engaging Schools: The Year in Review

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As we near the end of 2014, it is a good time to look backward and forward. Looking backward allows us to celebrate the many successes we’ve experienced over the year, particularly as they are reflected in the connections between families and schools. Looking forward, I know that 2015 will be even better. Join me as we take a quick meander through the highlights of 2014. Continue reading

ABCs of Engaged Families in the 21st Century


The sheer bombardment of information about parenting and raising a family is intimidating, particularly for those who are looking for a simple answer to what they feel is a simple question. How can schools, school councils, school boards, community agencies, or even other families help families to weed through all this stuff in a way that does not imply judgment, influence, interference, or thinking that we know best? Sharing an ABCs of families, or getting families to construct their own, might be a great place to start. Continue reading

Family-School Ways to Well-Being – We’re All in This Together!


Student well-being is an increasing concern for home and school. Many children and youth experience bouts of anxiety, stress, and isolation at some point over the course of their educational careers. Families and schools that make well-being a priority emphasize strong relationships, positive communication, risk-taking, self-confidence, and management of physical health and emotions. This can seem like a daunting task, but with a systematic plan that emphasizes what we already do, families and schools can work together in an ongoing and seamless manner. Continue reading

Family-School Math Adventures


questionsNo matter where you turn today, mathematics is a hot topic – in school, in media, in the world, and in the homes of families and children. Changes to the mathematics curriculum over the years from skill and drill-based activities to problem-solving and process work leave many families scratching their heads about the new math. What’s a family to do? What’s a school to do? Continue reading

Special Forks, Broken Lamps, and Lullabies: Engaging Families Through Story


Family stories allow school communities to connect with families in ways they had not thought possible – with those who have come before, those who are here, and those who are yet to be.

Stories . . . provide all the vital instruction we need to live a useful, necessary, and unbounded life – a life of meaning, a life worth      remembering. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

We all have family stories. Some long, some short; some happy, some sad; some full of struggle, some full of success; some outrageously unbelievable and some extraordinarily funny. What better way to connect with families than to share a story or two? Continue reading