Monday, November 30, 2015

POP! Parents of Preschoolers: A Caregiver Engagement Program

My library has a pretty strong history of parent engagement programs, and these programs have been directed at caregivers of children from newborns through high schoolers. And while we've offered a solid variety of these programs in the past, attendance has varied. In assessing the successes and shortcomings of our previous programs, my colleagues and I hypothesized that a possible culprit of the varying attendance could be the fact that, month to month, programs were geared toward parents of kids of different ages--that is, there wasn't necessarily a consistency in target audience. Cut to this year, when we wanted to be a bit more intentional about targeting a specific group of caregivers: specifically, those with children ages 2-5.

The resulting revamped program is a series we've called POP! Parents of Preschoolers. All programs (of which there will be 4-5 total this school year) are intended as a series, as one of our goals is to bring in a consistent audience. That is, we'd love for caregivers who attend one program to attend subsequent ones, in effect building on their parenting skills and confidence from topic to topic. More on the topics in a minute.

Each POP! Parents of Preschoolers program follows a common format. First, there is some low-key social time. The library provides coffee, tea, and cookies, and the program facilitator--who may be a library staffer or a paid expert presenter--encourages friendly chatter with a goal of parents building a support network with other parents via their shared use of the library. Social time is about 15-20 minutes of the 60-minute program, and so far, after two programs, parents are expressing that they really enjoy getting to talk with other parents who have kids the same age as they do.

The second part of the program is the parenting topic of the program. This is the bulk of the program, the part in which the facilitator shares information and expertise on the topic of the day. This isn't really a lecture--rather, it's a guided conversation, with hands-on examples highly encouraged. We want attending parents to build their confidence in applying what they know and learn to their parenting, and we're finding this model is a good one for what we aim to accomplish.

In putting together the initial slate of topics for the inaugural season of POP! Parents of Preschoolers, I looked at preschool parenting/development topics in which we have staff expertise and/or need expressed by parents who use the library. We've been offering one POP! program in each of our two-month calendar cycles, which means we've covered two topics so far, with two (maybe three) after the new year:
  • October: Reading to Succeed (all about early literacy)
  • November: Screen Time (all about media use)
  • February: Boredom Busters (engaging activities to have on hand)
  • March: name tbd (an expert is coming to speak on nutrition and food habits)

I'm also considering a fifth program based on an area of need expressed by parents who've attended so far: sleep and bedtime routines. I've got a local sleep specialist in mind to talk to in the next few weeks to see if/how we can make that topic work.

So that's POP! Parents of Preschoolers. To reiterate, we've got a few core goals for the program:
  1. Parents will build skills and confidence in their abilities as parents of young children.
  2. Parents will develop a social support network with other parents of young children.
  3. Parents will consider the library a place that supports their role as parents of young children.

I plan to write again in the next few weeks to cover some additional aspects of the program, including how we're trying to incentivize repeat attendance and a recap of the recent Screen Time program, which I facilitated. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what others are doing in the realm of caregiver engagement programs, and I'm also always happy to answer questions.


  1. Wow! Thank you for sharing this in such detail! I love for you so clearly focus on the parents and their needs.

    Can I ask how the storytime is planned? 60 minutes for parentless children ages 2-6 sounds a little daunting TBH :)

    1. The storytime is EXTREMELY free-form, with a big jumble of books, songs, rhymes, etc. available for use in response to whatever the group looks like. Since we limit the number of attendees on the adult side to 16, we've been prepared for up to about 30 kids--similar to our preschool storytime, which is also kids-only. We also keep the option of having a craft or coloring activity as the final 10-15 minutes of the storytime. When I've led the storytime, though, the kids are into the personal attention and happily bounce between stories, songs, time to chat, etc. I guess the big takeaway for me would be to have a staffer who is very flexible with their storytimes leading it, otherwise it could be rough for all involved.

  2. Amy, I tweeted a question to you, but I can ask it here too/instead. I offer a parent workshop on early literacy (both ECRR 1 and 2) at one of the preschools where we do outreach. It was successful the first time, so we're trying it again this year. At another preschool, they want me to do a version of one of my staff in-services on the latest and greatest picture books. But I absolutely adore the idea of hosting a series of these workshops AT the library....just not sure how it would go over here! Have you ever held these at the preschools?

    1. Kary, my response has a lot to do with the organizational structure here at my library. In general, the youth department runs programs in the library, while youth-focused staff in the community engagement department run events at schools and preschools. Our preschool-focused person in community engagement arranges these types of events--in particular early literacy-focused programs--for interested preschools and elementary school communities, and she and her staff go out and run the events. Internal and external caregiver events aren't identical, but they certainly could have overlap in future once we've been up and running for a bit longer.