Strategies for Retaining Families and Building Community

retaining families

Families are a fundamental component of any early childhood learning center or school. The process of reaching, onboarding, acclimating, and creating relationships with new families takes time, energy, and resources from schools and school staff. A school or childcare center that has a high family retention rate benefits all stakeholders: morale among families, teachers, and staff is often high; relationships among families transcend school years; and connections between families and school staff deepen over time. In short, it feels like a true learning community. 

And as families recommit year after year to the same school or center, they are invested in its success and can even serve as ambassadors for connecting new families to the school community. Preschools and childcare centers can take active steps to make families feel welcomed, connected, and valued in order to cultivate a multi-year relationship with families. 

Foster Connections: When families feel connected to the school, staff, and fellow families, they are more likely to choose to return year after year. It is important for schools to create opportunities for families to form relationships to facilitate this mutually supportive community. 

  • Create opportunities for families to connect with one another throughout the year. You might have a family picnic, host an ice cream social, or plan a Thanksgiving event for the school community. Oftentimes, families look forward to these celebrations and traditions each year, and they can serve as important points of connection among classmates, families, and school staff.  
  • Showcase important growth and development happening at school. Invite families to school plays, musical performances, and other events where they can see the learning in action. Giving families opportunities to see their child happy, comfortable, and learning at school reinforces their appreciation for the positive environment.  
  • Encourage teachers and staff to communicate regularly with families, especially to highlight a positive experience or joyful moment. A short email or note that includes a picture or personal anecdote about a child shows a parent how much the school staff cares about each individual student. 

Offer Benefits for Current Families: Childcare is a central component of a family’s organizational structure. It is often one of a family’s biggest expenses, and it impacts many additional planning decisions. When a childcare center can offer some incentives or programmatic offerings that support a family’s priorities and needs throughout the entire calendar year, families are likely to stay committed to that school community.  

  • Offer financial incentives for families who stay at your school or center. You might offer returning families a tuition-free week for vacation each summer or a sibling discount if families enroll more than one child at a time. As a PreK.com Member School, you can share that the 13th month of enrollment is sponsored by PreK.com for our families. This helps encourage retention at your school for the next year, and offers substantial savings for families who stay enrolled. 
  • Include programming for the summer months that can meet a variety of scheduling needs. Some families will still require full-time care in the summer while others might wish to enroll in a few hours a day or a few days per week. By offering a variety of options, families are likely to stick with the center they know, rather than seeking out other offerings. And the continuity between school years eases transitions for students, families, and staff.
  • Consider offering enrichment or extracurricular opportunities for students. You might have themed lunch bunch groups or before- and after-school classes or clubs for an additional fee. These might include art lessons, drama classes, or science exploration. Parents are often seeking out these kinds of opportunities for their child and would likely prefer a familiar setting for these new experiences—with the added benefit of no additional pick-ups or drop-offs.  

Ease Logistical Challenges for Families: As the needs of families change over time with additional children, changes to schedules, or other shifts to work and life dynamics, schools that provide a spectrum of offerings and create efficient processes naturally evolve with families from year to year.   

  • Offer a range of childcare options including full-time and part-time schedules with as much choice as possible for families to choose what works best for them. If a family is able to shift between options when needed without penalty, they are more likely to remain at a school or center as their scheduling needs change. 
  • Consider providing after-school care for elementary-aged students. This allows families to have a seamless transition of care for their older children and a single point of pick-up if they have multiple children. This type of offering often connects families to a particular childcare center for many years. 
  • Ensure that the registration and financial transactions are as easy as possible for families. Consider waiving registration fees for returning families, and make sure that tuition payments can be automated. PreK.com has a built-in mechanism for families to register and for centers to bill and receive payments from families. When these processes are easy and frustration-free, families are likely to re-enroll from year to year.