Learn how to lead online parent meetings and groups as an alternative to leading in person. It can be an effective way to support and engage families in Head Start and Early Head Start programs when meeting in person is not possible. Find tips to plan, facilitate, and evaluate online parent groups.
Parent groups offer parents an opportunity to learn together about parenting and to connect with other parents and family members. Facilitating parent groups online requires planning, preparation, practice, and access to technology. This resource offers examples to consider before, during, or after leading online parent activities, such as:
- Parenting groups, curricula, or interventions
- Parent meetings, support groups, and trainings
- Policy Council meetings
Research shows that connections with and between parents are essential for family well-being and child outcomes (Newland, 2015). These connections are especially meaningful during public health emergencies and times of physical distancing.
To learn more about how to lead online parent meetings and groups, explore the following topics:
- Planning: Technology and Design
- Establishing and Creating a Supportive Group
- Facilitating Online Sessions: Getting the Most Out of Your Online Platform
- Reflecting on and Evaluating the Online Parent Group
- Resources for Supporting Online Parent Groups
In this resource, "parent" and "family" refer to all adults who interact with early childhood systems to support their child, including biological, adoptive, and foster parents, pregnant women and expectant families, grandparents, legal and informal guardians, and adult siblings. "Parent groups" may include meetings, support groups, and/or more structured groups with sequenced parenting curricula.
Planning: Technology and Design
Designing the Approach
Consider the interests and needs of parents in your program. Review your program goals, community assessment, and family partnership data. Consider how you will include ALL parents in the decision-making process when choosing the type of parenting group(s) to offer.
Curriculum Changes During Uncertain Times
Programs are encouraged to coordinate their virtual adaptations with the parenting curriculum developers. During the public health emergency, the Office of Head Start is easing the requirement to work with developers when making temporary adaptations to curricula. Programs that plan to continue offering virtual parenting groups for the long term are encouraged to reach out to developers to coordinate their virtual adaptations.
Decide what type and how many sessions to offer and what to discuss in each session. Decide the size of your parent group. Will your parent group focus on all parents or groups of parents, such as fathers, young parents, or grandparents? What languages do participants speak? Consider how you will recruit parents for a new group.
If you are using a parenting curriculum, consider whether it is appropriate for online delivery. Find out if there is any guidance available from the developers. In many cases, there are adaptations and suggestions for leading the curriculum online.
See Resources for Supporting Online Parent Groups and References for more information.
Choosing a Platform
Consider platforms for web or phone conferencing that are easy to access and use. Look for features that support how you plan to lead your parent group (e.g., webcams, breakout rooms, screen sharing). Become familiar with the platform's functions and features. Practice leading group conversations using the platform. Explore tutorials as you learn how to use the platform most effectively.
Review the technology required to use the online platform. Make sure parents have access to the required technology and internet connections. Some early childhood programs offer tablets or other computer devices to families to help them stay connected. Plug-in headphones are recommended to ensure high-quality audio.
Choose meeting times that are convenient for parents in your group. Survey all invited parents to find the best times. In the case of online groups, you may have more scheduling options than with face-to-face groups. On the other hand, there may be barriers to scheduling, such as parents juggling multiple priorities at home. Other barriers common to in-person meetings, such as transportation, may not be relevant for online groups.
Setting Up Online Access
Connecting with parents via computer or tablet is ideal but it may not always be an option. For some families, accessing the online platform by phone may be best, especially if it is free. Access to ongoing, stable, and reliable technology (e.g., phones, phone minutes, charging capacity, Wi-Fi) is critical during uncertain times. This access may not be readily available for all families.
Helping Families Connect Online
Work with families to access discounted, free, or low-cost internet and Wi-Fi services and plans through the Lifeline program and the National Digital Inclusiveness Alliance.
Keep in mind that relying on phones to hold parent groups may mean:
- Less stable connections than other formats
- More use of phone-plan minutes, leading to unexpected costs for parents
- Smaller screens
- Limited access to features of an online platform
Evaluating the Sessions
Develop a plan to evaluate the parent group. Think about how you will know if your efforts were effective. Consider the following questions:
- How will you evaluate parents' experiences and what they learned? Will it be anonymous, an electronic survey, or through a formal or informal conversation?
- How will you ask parents to provide feedback about the group sessions? Will you use pre- and post- assessment surveys? Polls? Mid-session check-ins?
- What methods will you use to ensure confidentiality is maintained?
- How will you and your program use what is learned for continuous program improvement?
Establishing and Creating a Supportive Group
Choosing an Effective Online Facilitator
Online facilitation requires many of the same skills as facilitation of an in-person group. An effective facilitator can make the experience seamless and positive for the parents. A facilitator should:
- Use technology to the fullest for group interaction
- Provide a respectful virtual environment that supports relationship building
- Develop and maintain a confidential and safe space, especially when children and other family members may be present unexpectedly
- Monitor the participation of all group members
- Encourage dialogue
- Move the conversation forward
- Follow the stated curriculum (if relevant)
Plan to co-lead the session with other staff or parents. One facilitator can lead the discussion. The other can support parents who have technology issues and monitor the chat. Consider breakout out rooms for smaller, in-depth discussions. Decide who will facilitate breakout rooms before each session. Consider ways to build on the strengths of parents and invite them to lead conversations.
Creating a Welcoming Environment
Consider how you will create a welcoming and respectful setting. Set the expectation for a warm and productive group experience. Some participants may already know each other. Try to create opportunities for parents to feel connected to the facilitator at the beginning of the group. The way the group starts is important to its success.
Think about how to:
- Contact each participant before starting the sessions
- Start and end each session on time
- Create an opening and closing ritual (such as a special greeting, a picture, reading a quote, or a moment of silence)
- Review the purpose and goal for each session at the beginning
- Explain key takeaway messages and the next steps in the last five minutes of each session
Providing Technical Assistance
Plan to help parents who are unfamiliar with online technology learn to use the controls. Invite participants to join early or make time during the first few sessions to practice using the platform. Be patient and have fun. Some participants may need more time than others to become familiar with these tools, especially the mute and camera functions. Check in with parents about their environment. Do they have a private space for the session for full participation? If they are on camera, do they want to use a virtual background?
Help build connections among the group members. Welcome family members as they join. Ask participants to introduce themselves. Ask the group an icebreaker question such as, "What do you already know about the topic?" "What experience can you use to tailor the sessions to meet group members' needs and interests?"
Forming Group Agreements
Form a group agreement (also called norms or ground rules) with participants about how the group will function. Address topics like respect for diverse opinions and confidentiality.
- How will participants let you know when they would like to speak?
- Will participants be required to have their video cameras on so that they can be seen?
- Are children and both caregivers invited to participate in all or some sessions?
- Will sessions be recorded so that parents who miss a session can catch up with the discussion? If recorded, how will confidentiality be maintained?
Facilitating Online Sessions: Getting the Most Out of Your Online Platform
Using Online Functions
Use the virtual platform's functions to help the group's members feel connected. It can be helpful to see all of the participants at once in a gallery view using your webcam (video camera). Some platforms allow you to choose a background or mute details in your background for privacy. Other visual tools, such as word clouds or polls, can engage the group. Think about how you want to set up online conversations.
Decide ahead of time:
- How participants will enter the room (whether you will have a waiting room)
- Whether participants will be muted when they are not speaking
- Whether you will enable or disable the chat feature
- Whether or not a video connection is necessary for full participation
- Whether participants can join by phone only
Promoting Consistency and Establishing Community Agreements
Set up the online room consistently to help create a sense of predictability and trust, similar to what you would do to set up the physical space for an in-person parent group. Creating a group agreement may be one way to promote optimal sharing and ensure participants feel safe. On your home screen, you may start with a picture or quote that you use for each session as part of a group ritual. To start the next session, you might share something a participant said in the previous meeting to tie the sessions together. Be sure to ask for permission.
Encourage participants to use chat and other features. Facilitators can use the chat and reaction functions to promote discussion. Of course, if those are used, the facilitator must pay attention and use them in the group process. Show participants how to use these tools early in the process.
Offer Time for Breaks
Some people find looking at a screen for a long time exhausting. Consider how to break up sessions with short videos or even physical breaks for stretching or movement. Online participation may require more breaks than an in-person group. Set clear start and end times for breaks.
Reflecting on and Evaluating the Online Parent Group
Reflect on the Sessions
Reflection is essential to the facilitation of any parent group. Consider questions like these:
- How did individuals participate in the group?
- Was participation equitable? Was there a balance among the speakers? Did anyone appear to retreat from the conversation?
- Were all eligible families invited to participate?
- What concerns were shared, and how can they be addressed in future sessions?
- Did the content of the conversation meet the interests and needs of participants? Did participants feel included?
- Would it help to have a co-facilitator to discuss certain topics, such as how men and women may parent differently?
- Did you manage the group process effectively? What worked well? What can be improved? What lessons did you learn to enhance future participation?
- What did you learn about recruitment efforts? What worked well? What can be improved? What lessons did you learn for the future?
Reflect on Technology Considerations
Reflect on the role of technology in the parenting sessions. Consider questions such as:
- Was the use of technology helpful or challenging for the group? Were there any significant technology issues that kept families from participating?
- Did participants have clear and steady Wi-Fi connections?
- Did technology affect how individual parents participated? You may need to follow up with individual participants to address these issues between sessions.
- Did any participants seem to have difficulty using the mute or chat functions or other features?
- Were the visuals engaging? For example, were the images clear and easy to read and understand?
Request Participant Feedback
Work with your program to evaluate the parent group. Consider whether evaluations will be in writing, an electronic survey, or formal or informal conversations (see above). Use participants' feedback to enhance the parent group.
- How did the sessions go?
- What worked well? What were the challenges?
- What did the participants find valuable?
- What would they like to continue or stop doing?
As with all discussion groups, creating a safe, respectful environment is essential for positive outcomes. Facilitators work to ensure both the individual and the group experience are welcoming and affirming.
Parent groups are a powerful and effective way for parents to connect with other parents, develop or enhance parenting skills, and support parent-child relationships. Making a shift from in-person to online parent groups involves intentional planning and consideration. Facilitated online parent groups promote effective learning experiences for both the participant and facilitator (Nunn, 2020).
As you lead parent groups online, we encourage you to share your tips and ideas with us.
Resources for Supporting Online Parent Groups
Explore the following resources on the Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) website.
Parenting Curricula Review Databases
Programs looking for a parenting curriculum for group-based or one-on-one, home-based delivery can review these databases:
Programs looking for parenting curricula that target specific parent groups or that can be fully integrated into a Head Start or Early Head Start program can explore these new databases:
- Parenting Curricula for Specific Groups of Parents: Find research-based curricula for groups of parents, including mothers, fathers, and young parents.
- Embedded Parenting Curricula for Group-Based Delivery: Learn more about parenting curricula that are part of a broad, program-wide approach, such as classroom curricula, family engagement activities, professional development for educators, and administrative support.
Resources for Implementing a Parenting Curriculum
- Choosing a Parenting Curriculum for Your Program: Explore the decision-making checklist to find out what to look for when choosing your program's parenting curricula.
- Implementing a Parenting Curriculum: Review the steps and best practices for selecting and implementing a parenting intervention using implementation science with this easy-to-use tool for programs, states, and child care network leaders.
- Implementing a Parenting Curriculum Webinar Series: Watch these four webinars to learn how to select and implement a parenting curriculum using implementation science.
Working Remotely with Families
- Tips for Family Services Staff Working Remotely with Families: Find tips for family services staff and other direct service professionals who are teleworking with Head Start and Early Head Start families.
Resources to Help Families Access Internet and Wi-Fi Services
- Lifeline Program: This federal benefit lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet service for families.
- National Digital Inclusiveness Alliance: Explore a list of internet service providers that will help low-income households acquire service at low or no cost.
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Great Lakes Equity Center. "Five Big Equity Ideas for Designing Distance Learning Opportunities." https://greatlakesequity.org/sites/default/files/2020_03_27_five_big_equity_ideas_for_distance_learning.pdf
Halle, T., D. Paulsell, S. Daily, A. Douglass, S. Moodie, & A. Metz. Implementing Parenting Interventions in Early Care and Education Settings: A Guidebook for Implementation (OPRE 2015–94). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, 2015.
Newland, Lisa. "Family Well-Being, Parenting, and Child Well-Being: Pathways to Healthy Adjustment." Clinical Psychologist 19, no. 1 (March 2015). n/a-n/a. 10.1111/cp.12059.
Nunn, Alex. "How to Facilitate Online Groups: A Rough Guide to Holding Space Online." 2020. https://www.actionforhappiness.org/media/878523/how_to_facilitate_online_groups.pdf
Stachenfeld, Bethany. "Video Recording Best Practice." Nov. 28, 2018. https://www.vidgrid.com/blog/video-selling-playbook/video-recording-best-practices/
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Parent, Family and Community Engagement
Last Updated: December 28, 2022