Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

Effective Steps to Meet your Non-Federal Match After Discontinuation of the COVID Waiver

In March 2020, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak. With this declaration also came certain administrative and fiscal flexibilities for the Head Start Program, such as administrative cost waivers, governing body approvals, and Non-Federal Match waivers.

The PHE has been periodically extended over the last two years. Its last extension was effective on April 16th, 2022, and it is expected to end on July 15th, 2022. As these administrative and fiscal flexibilities are coming to an end, it is fundamental that each agency is prepared to take on the challenge of completing their Non-Federal Match again after two years, and that they have all the resources needed to accomplish this goal.

Determine The Correct Value for Every In-Kind Contribution.

As an agency, you have different ways to collect in-kind contributions that allow you to meet your Non-Federal Match over the year. From buildings and space, to volunteer services and at-home family activities, all of these are allowable contributions that will lead you to meet your goals over the year.

Valuing these contributions correctly is essential to your agency for them to be counted as in-kind. Concepts such as fair market value or value based on similar services are key to determining the correct amount of funding for every contribution. 

For example, volunteer services must be valued based on the cost of a similar service provided by someone within your organization or in your community. Therefore, if parents are spending time with their children completing at-home activities, you must value that time based on the pay rate of a Teacher Assistant.

Although it might seem tricky at the beginning, after establishing your process and putting it into practice, it will become easier. You can go to Non-Federal Share: How To Determine Your Match And Value Your Donations?, where we outline the most important aspects of the valuation process and give you the tools needed to make sure it is done correctly.

Creating And Assigning At-home Activities.

As the primary caregivers, parents and guardians should be encouraged to have an active role in their children’s development by contributing their time to achieve program goals. 

By creating and assigning enjoyable and fun activities that make every room in their home a positive space to learn and develop, you can get parents to actively participate in their children’s growth. This will allow them to feel their time is valued and that they are contributing to their child’s education.

The first step is to create a solid base of activities to assign to parents. During this process, take into account that at-home activities need to be based on the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) and be related to your curriculum and what children are learning at school.

The components of the Early Learning Framework: Ages Birth to 5, describes the skills, behaviors, and knowledge that programs must foster in all children and includes five domains. 

These five domains are:

The ELOF has been built based on thorough research about what young children should know and be able to do to succeed in school. It outlines how children progress across key areas of learning and development, and provides specific learning outcomes in these areas.

The Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC) has developed an interactive guide where you can explore each of the domains, and understand the specific goals and outcomes of both infant/toddlers and preschool children. This could be a very useful tool for you to use and determine at-home activities that align with the frameworks established and your curriculum.

Source can be found here

Now that you have a clear framework to work with, it is time to design with at-home activities that help you and parents accomplish these goals. At this point, you can think about indoor and outdoor activities, and imagine the entire household as a playground that is perfect for learning.

For example, the living room can be a generous space to work on social and emotional skills, as it is a space in which children can learn how to understand themselves as a part of a family group, how to handle their emotions in a family setting, and how to reach for emotional help from familiar adults. This space can also be used as a gym for children; a place where they can explore the use of gross motor skills through dancing and playing, and fine motor skills through the use of tools such as scissors and paint brushes.

In the same way, it is possible to think about the kitchen as a great place for cognition development. Infants and toddlers use their senses to examine objects and people. Preschoolers can work with numbers and amounts needed for a recipe. The kitchen is an ideal lab to apply mathematical concepts and adopt an approach towards scientific reasoning.

Nevertheless, it can be a difficult task to come up with creative ideas for at-home activities, so it is important that you have other options to help you build a solid bank of activities to cover the school year. For example, there are some useful guidelines provided by ECLKC to have a better understanding of how to harness all the spaces available at home for different activities.

You also have the possibility to acquire digital tools and platforms that provide a Family Engagement platform, with features that allow you to upload templates for all the at-home activities you have created based on your curriculum. You would only need to upload the activities once, and they would be ready to be assigned any time your teachers need them, with clear instructions and ways to report the activities.

An additional benefit of using a digital platform is how easy it will become to assign activities to parents. Traditionally, assigning at-home activities requires the teachers to send home an activity sheet, and provide information about how to report those activities for them to be counted as in-kind. Normally there is a trail of paperwork involved that needs to be collected and documented by your agency and, as it is usually a manual process, there is room for mistakes that need to be corrected and can delay the in-kind collection.

Transitioning to digital tools opens the door to assigning at-home activities through digital applications that teachers and parents can access from their phones at any time. These apps have all the activities ready to go and have a value previously assigned to them, which makes the reporting process easier, and allows the in-kind collection to be efficient and accurate.

Create Volunteer Activities and Find Volunteers

Volunteer services are another great way to achieve your Non-Federal Match as members from your community are involved with providing service to your program. This community service contributes to the growth and development of the children in your program.

Almost anyone in your community can volunteer and assist with implementing ongoing program activities on a regular basis under staff supervision in areas such as health, education, nutrition, and management. This gives you a wide range of different volunteer activities and more opportunities to get volunteers to support your program.

There are volunteer activities needed in every agency that can be used as a starting point in creating activities. These activities can be completed at different times, such as the arrival to school, meal times, and in the classroom, among others. Here are some examples of how you can use different types of activities for volunteers to participate and contribute with your in-kind collection.

Volunteers who babysit children of parents attending the Policy Council meetings or Parent Committee meetings are also providing a service that otherwise would need to be compensated. Other community members can provide staff members with training and informational sessions regarding their specific area of expertise. Even time spent by volunteers on training in service areas such as education, nutrition, health, disabilities and mental health services is considered an allowable in-kind activity you can use to increase your Non-Federal Share.

However, having the activities alone is not enough to complete your Non-Federal Share, you also need the volunteers! It is important to get as many people as possible, and you should consider different recruitment strategies that can help you attract more volunteers.

Create a recruitment message that is compelling and attracts members of your community to participate. When you create this message, encourage people to become involved with your organization by specifying your needs and pointing out how their service could alleviate those needs. In the same way, show them all the benefits that volunteering can give to them.

Depending on what you need, you can use two main strategies to recruit volunteers. You could use a Non-Targeted Strategy, which consists of looking for people with general skills that could be helpful in community clean-up projects or stocking shelves at a food pantry. On the other hand, if you are looking for a set of specific talents or professions, such as lawyers, graphic artists and so on, you should go with a Targeted Strategy directed for the skills you are seeking.

You should combine these strategies and recruit for diversity. Including different groups of people, based on ethnicity, age, gender, education, income levels, religious beliefs and abilities will enrich your program with different perspectives and will provide volunteers who reflect the community of children being served.

Some techniques to recruit volunteers

These recruitment efforts should not be considered as a one-time exercise during the year, but as a frequent effort that has to happen several times so you can have a constant and solid base of volunteers contributing to your goals and the community growth.

Source can be found here

Train Your Staff on In-Kind Collection Procedures

A fundamental part of completing your Non-Federal Match is to have all your staff trained and aligned with the procedures your agency has established regarding In-Kind: activities to be done, documentation and communication with families, volunteers and colleagues. Additionally, there should be frequent evaluation periods that help you identify any gaps in knowledge about procedures that need to be corrected to prevent any impact on your Non-Federal Match.

The efficiency of your staff training relies on the methods that you use. It is very likely that your agency has personnel with years of experience in Head Start and within your organization. Use that experience to learn from your employees’ insights and ideas about your procedures and possible improvements. Instead of developing training sessions based on what you believe is needed, take time to survey your staff and find out what their needs are. Also, you can use the expertise on staff to assist those who are new to the team or struggling with the task at hand.

A good way to train staff is through on-the-job training. Instead of using traditional methods, such as PowerPoint presentations or reading material, that can be boring and overload your staff with information, short and targeted on-the-job training sessions with expert staff are dynamic, allow you to identify specific improvement areas in the moment they happen and to provide accurate feedback that is easy to retain and implement.

Finally, after the training has concluded, make sure there is an evaluation process that shows how effective the training was and if there are still any improvement opportunities. As this is an efficient way to train your staff, it will be easier for you to develop more sessions that are targeted to the necessities you have identified.

Monitor Your Progress

Completing your Non-Federal Share is a continuous process that requires frequent attention and monitoring. All the efforts you make towards meeting your goals should be sustained by a weekly evaluation of your progress. Constantly tracking your agency’s performance will allow you to identify your strengths and opportunities as well as making the changes needed to improve in time.

An effective evaluation process relies on implementing best practices such as designing good strategies to acquire all the donations needed, the proper documentation of all in-kind activity, having a system to store all the information and data collected and the capability to adjust your objectives after determined periods of time so you can achieve your yearly goals.

Technological advances have introduced the possibility to implement digital tools that can make this a simple and straightforward process. You have the possibility to use a platform to accurately document all your in-kind contributions and directly upload the information to a database that stores the information and provides real-time data with the information separated into the different types of in-kind you are collecting.

Using these tools reduces the number of steps and people involved in the process and the risk of inaccuracies. At the same time the information is presented in a way that is easy to analyze, so you can have a clear view of where to focus your efforts and which aspects to prioritize in order to complete your Non-Federal Match.

Digital In-Kind collection is a great way to make sure all the hard work your agency does is leading you to the desired results and to continue benefiting from it.