What is Parent Engagement in Early Learning? Depends Who You Ask

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: Parent engagement in early learning has historically been defined quite broadly and it is unclear whether those designing, implementing, evaluating, or participating in parent engagement initiatives conceptualize parent engagement in the same way. Lack of consensus could contribute to poor quality of parent-school partnerships and reliance on parent engagement measures and strategies that lack meaning and utility. We explored and compared definitions and characteristics of parent engagement in early learning across multiple stakeholders in one urban school district serving predominantly low-income, African American, and Latinx families. Methods: Using a qualitative descriptive design, we individually interviewed 63 parents (n = 23), teachers (n = 8), early childhood staff (n = 8), district leaders (n = 7), and community leaders (n = 8) to understand how each defined parent engagement in early learning and the characteristics they believed were indicative of an engaged parent. Results: Nine different definitions were described; the majority centering on parents’ responsibilities for ensuring engagement. We found wide differences within and across stakeholder groups in how parent engagement is defined and operationalized. Conclusions: There was little consensus in how parent engagement was conceptualized, suggesting there may be different working models for how stakeholders believe parent engagement supports early learning. Three potential parent engagement models are discussed in relation to the qualitative findings. This is the first study to directly compare different stakeholders’ perspectives about parent engagement in early learning in an urban school system serving a large number of low income families and families of color.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)747-760
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Early childhood education
  • Early learning
  • Family engagement
  • Parent engagement
  • Parent involvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'What is Parent Engagement in Early Learning? Depends Who You Ask'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this