Strategies to Virtually Support and Engage Families of Young Children during COVID-19 (and Beyond)

Research BriefFamiliesJan 15 2021

In March 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic deeply affected our professional and personal lives and resulted in major disruptions in services for children and families. These disruptions impact children of all ages but are particularly problematic for children from birth to age 5a given that this is a critical time period for children’s learning and development. Children’s early experiences shape brain development, and strong, healthy relationships with adults are pivotal to children’s development and learning. Early care and education settings (e.g., child care centers, Head Start, home-based care) offer a space for children to prepare for school, which includes monitoring and developing their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical skills and abilities.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) 2020 Preschool Learning Activities Survey provided information on a national sample of households with preschool-aged children to describe the consequences of the pandemic.1 Notable shifts included the following: preschool participation fell from 61 percent to 8 percent due to classroom closures or parents’ decisions not to have their children attend; as a result of center closures, available supports for children’s learning and development were significantly reduced, with only 47 percent of closed programs continuing to provide remote learning opportunities; and while family engagement in home learning activities continued, the amount of at-home learning experiences did not compensate for active learning time lost in preschool centers.1

As preschools and schools continue to reopen, caregivers (e.g., child care providers and teachers) are quickly pivoting to using virtual platforms to support and engage families in children’s learning. This rapid transition has left little time to assess what we know (and do not know) about family engagement best practices within the virtual space. This brief offers an overview of four best practices and lessons learned from research and practice to assist caregivers and teachers with the transition to engaging families virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.



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