Magic Questions To Spark Parent Engagement in ECE

Using Conversational Intelligence & Inclusive Messaging To Build Authentic Relationships With Families

“My research shows 9 out of 10 communications with parents miss the mark.”

Judith Glaser, Author of Conversational Intelligence

Review of Educa Webinar by author, Cassandra O’Neill and education consultant, Mike McEwan.


View the webinar replay here.

Cassandra O’Neill

Think about the first communication home to a family after their child had enrolled in your early learning service. Maybe that child had a rough day, perhaps had pushed another student on the play equipment or swore at a teacher.

And you make the call to their home to tell their parents.

Next time you call, those parents will go “Oh, no, what happened today?”.

That’s an anecdote Mike MacEwan shared on a recent Educa webinar, How to Increase Parent Engagement at Your ECE Center. Along with co-presenter Cassandra O’Neill, he delved into the magic questions which help boost and build great communication between service staff, families and children.

Magic Questions Build Engagement

“How do we invite parents, welcome them and get them engaged? How do we start a relationship with parents who may not be used to being engaged with a service,” he suggested as thinking prompts.

Conversational Intelligence, talks about how most communication misses the mark – in fact, in nine out of 10 circumstances. A scary statistic.

“I like to have various options of how to phrase questions. Sometimes one word lands one way with somebody and a completely opposite way with someone else,” she said.

It can be a tricky space to negotiate.

So, with tailored phrasing in mind, what questions can ‘magically’ start a great relationship between your service and parents?

Magic Questions

The magic questions are key to creating the relationships – to get them in your door, engaged and feel valued. How you do it for children isn’t necessarily the same for parents, here are questions to better connect with the latter.

  • What’s important that we should know about your child?
  • What can we do to ensure your children’s success in our program?
  • How can we be respectful of your family’s culture and language with our communication with you?
  • Any more to add?

You can also leverage off what a parent had told you last time you saw them to link to that conversation and let them know you were listening.

The Power Of Intentional Questions

 Magic questions help regulate good feeling chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, said O’Neill.

“If you don’t think about intentionally designing ways of having these kinds of conversations with parents, you’re actually missing out on activating that part of your and their brains that highlights aspirational thinking. The more explicit you make it, the better for everyone,” she said.

“We should be designing to create a space for aspirations and dreams to grow through conversations.”

O’Neill spoke about creating an environment where parents can be their authentic selves, feel safe and trust the service.

“You can develop that in the physical layout of the room, how people are set up, where they stand. Many of us know this intuitively especially in early childhood services, how the brain works and how it affects children’s learning. The more you can do to create conditions of safety, trust and respect, the better off for children and parents. It’s about building a sense of community.”

Rethinking Your Current Communications

As well as your face-to-face contact with parents, consider how your other communications might be missing the mark … or not. What’s the tone of your text – is it too formal rather than inclusive? How’s the design and format working to build your brand and service’s professionalism?

“Posting a flier on a wall and hoping everyone can see it doesn’t really work. The days of just sending a flier home are over as parent engagement portals such as Educa allow more real-time communication.”

Michael MacEwan

Think about if your marketing material makes parents feel represented and welcome at your service. If diverse populations from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities are represented among your parents, should your text to them only be in English?

Developing The Skills Of Your Staff

MacEwan suggested that when you onboard new recruits, you tell them ‘parent engagement is what we do’. Ask them how they can support that.

“It’s a multi-step process to encourage educators to celebrate parent engagement. The first step is modelling, setting up that expectation when you have staff meetings and talk about it there. You have an opportune time at the beginning of the year – that’s when family engagement should be a priority. Give your staff as many examples of great parental engagement as you can,” he said.

“Tell your staff that if they’re struggling with that, to ask you for help as you want them to get better. Organise peer mentoring or coaching – some people will naturally excel at this, so tap into their skills.”

You want staff to take heed of great modelling of parent engagement and to put their own spin on it building on their own skills.

Reflections From Webinar Participants on How They Are Building Engagement

Here what educators attending the webinar shared about what’s happening in their services:

    • Monthly café hour to create a friendly environment, invite a local agency to visit, too
    • Have another child from the service accompany you as you welcome or farewell another child
  • Allow parents 15 minutes to transition their child to the service so they can find out about what they’ve been working on
  • Art show or science project night where learners are the guides for parent and community visitors
  • Wine and cheese evening for parents new to the service
  • Date night for parents (with their children)
  • Encourage family participation whenever they can an allow them to stay at the centre as long as they wish 

Parent Engagement Webinar Replay & Contact Info

Cassandra O’Neil – Contact her through her website.

Mike MacEwan – Learn more at

> To see a replay click here

> To see our upcoming webinar schedule click here