Fostering informal family mentoring relationships

Think back to when you first began your work in education and family literacy. Who were the people that supported you? Who did you turn to when you had a question that needed an answer? As practitioners, we often have colleagues who support us in our journeys as we learn how to best serve the children and families that we work with each day. These people understand our challenges and help us work through them while also cheering us on and celebrating our successes. Our mentors share their knowledge and experience with us.

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Similarly, families can benefit from building mentoring relationships. These relationships can develop organically as parents and caregivers take part in school and program activities. They naturally share ideas for helping children with homework, recipes for healthy kid-friendly meals, or suggestions for affordable community outings. One goal, as practitioners, should be to foster these informal mentoring relationships. We want families to engage in this process more easily and to recognize when they are doing it.  

NCFL has developed the following tips for fostering informal family mentoring relationships:  

  • Point out the positive: When individuals are engaged in informal mentoring, recognize their positive interactions with the group. Be careful not to mention the family’s name or specific details without their permission.
  • Model it: Create a lesson, or presentation, to explain the concept of Family Mentoring. It might be presented in your Parent Time or during a PTA meeting.  Have parents discuss times that they have helped someone with a problem or asked for help from someone else. Model what this relationship might look and sound like.  
  • Provide opportunities: Families need informal spaces to meet and interact with one another. Create comfortable places where parents will want to gather. Encourage families to come early to school or program events so that they can mingle and talk to one another.  
  • Make it routine: In Family Learning Programs, plan for informal mentoring activities during Parent Time. Allow parents and caregivers to share their successes and ask for suggestions related to their challenges.
  • Use technology: Social media is a great way to help parents connect with one another. A Facebook group can give parents a space where they can ask questions, share successes, and seek recommendations.

Successful Family Mentoring has benefits for both the youth and adults involved. With our deliberate and ongoing training and support, Family Mentoring builds confidence and develops social capital. Additionally, participants can improve soft skills, such as working collaboratively and solving problems, through their mentoring relationships.

As practitioners, you may have other tips as a result of your work in the field. What suggestions for successful mentoring relationships do you have to share with our community? Please share your comments below.