Use eye contact, invitations, and your words to let adults know you want them to participate with their children.
Throughout the program, caregivers will constantly be negotiating their role in relation to the facilitator's - respect the family's agency and pre-existing relationships. Caregivers have their own personalities and parenting methods which will inform how they relate to you and their child during the program.
Tips & Takeaways
- Be welcoming and encouraging - the first 30 seconds are key to engagement.
- Consciously and continually engage adults, too. Make sure they're comfortable participating.
- Convey content in concise and accessible ways (but don't give it all away and don't define everything!).
- It takes a lot for families to get to your museum; have empathy for them.
Quick & Easy To-Dos
- Assess the greeting and introduction. Does it focus in on kids or adults? Brainstorm and try a few ways to make it more welcoming and inclusive for everyone.
- Practice making eye contact with everyone. This takes conscious effort and discipline.
- Give your facilitators the Family-Inclusive Language Chart.
No matter your signage, advertising, or set up, it's up to the facilitator to welcome the entire family to participate. Photo courtesy MetroWest Daily News.
Staff members should understand and appreciate the important role that many adults play in mediating family learning and remain aware of their own roles in relationship to those adults."
Scott A. Pattison and Lynn D. Dierking, “Staff-Mediated Learning in Museums: A Social Interaction Perspective,” 139.
Inviting Participation and Developing a Relationship with the Family
From the first point of contact, facilitators must work to overcome pre-conceived expectations of “family” programs being just for kids by continually cueing adults to participate. Make it clear that the program is meant for all ages and that you expect (and need) adult engagement. From eye contact to the carefully-chosen words you use, these first moments of interaction lay the foundation for a successfully engaging multigenerational program.
Beth Fredericks and Marianna Adams discuss the necessity of inviting adults to engage with their children during a program, as well as the facilitator's role in breaking down the barriers adults sometimes have to participating in playful activities: 
Developing Empathy for your Family Visitors
How often have we as facilitators sat in judgment of an adult caregiver who is drinking coffee, on their cell phone, sitting on a bench, or otherwise disengaged from their child's program experience? What facilitator hasn't been frustrated by this behavior? It is easy to judge, but harder to remember and empathize with how difficult it is to be a caregiver, to get up in the morning, make the choice to come to a museum or library, get the kids ready, and go! Facilitators have to be cognizant of and sympathetic to all the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Instead of judging, we should applaud the initiative caregivers show to bring children to an educational experience.
In their staff-training curriculum, "Learning Together," the Boston and Chicago Children's Museums devised a fun training game for frontline staff that will get them thinking about how hard it is to just arrive at an activity. 
In another similar game using blocks, staff build two towers: a family visitor tower and a staff-person tower. For each step it takes to get to the museum (brushing your teeth, driving, eating breakfast), a block is added to the appropriate tower. Pretty soon, the family visitor tower dwarfs the staff-person tower as the group enumerates all the extra (arguably harder) steps it takes families to get to the museum than it does most staff-people.
We never know what our family participants experienced before they walked through our door, so we need to respect their needs and put our own judgments aside.
Though we tried to get these adults involved in our program, they really just wanted to sit, watch, and chat. They were tired and hot, and that's ok.
Using Inclusionary Language
This language chart, excerpted from an Incluseum blog post by exhibit designer Margaret Middleton, guides our word choices so that we can be inclusive of all families and participants.
Copyright 2014 Margaret Middleton @magmidd
The First 30 Seconds - Setting Expectations
The first 30 seconds are the most important in your program. The invitation and welcome is the time for the facilitator to, in a myriad of ways, make clear the desire for adult involvement and set the stage for the challenge ahead.
- Eye contact:
- We tend to concentrate on the kids in the family. Remember that adults make the decision to stay or go. Look at them, too!
- The invitation: Invite adults, along with children, to participate (do, feel, discuss, think) -“It’s for everyone in the family to work together”
- Keep using key words, “together,” “teamwork,” “as a family,” “collaborate,” etc.
Engage adults early and often
- As you welcome families to your program, use the opportunity to tell caregivers that "this is for them too." Let them know that the program is designed for them to collaborate with their kids and other group members. In some cases, children might also need their help. You can't force adults to participate but make the expectations clear in a non-threatening, exciting way.
- The manner and method of your introduction sets a tone for the program. If you ignore the adults, they will quickly check out. Engage adults immediately and continually re-engage them throughout the program.
- If people are touching or examining something, make sure adults do so to even if you have to put the object in their hands or direct their attention to a particular detail.
- Give adults a role as soon as possible (beyond watching and photographing) to keep them involved and feeling essential. Continually look for opportunities to engage adults in activities or discussion preferably with the family but also with the facilitator.
Establishing Goals and Laying Out Challenges
Be concise and clear. Don’t give kids time for their attention to wander and don’t lose adult interest with an overly-simplistic explanation (you don't need to “dumb it down!"). Help adults work with the children in their group by specifically and, if necessary, repeatedly identifying the challenge.
We placed these Challenge Cards on the table during boat building for adults to refer to.
Participation Lite - Providing an Easy Entre for Adults
Many adults are not used to actively participating, even in "family" programs, so they may be uncomfortable at first. In order to keep it safe, especially for adults who are not used to participating in programs alongside their kids, start out easy. Instill an immediate culture of engagement and make everyone feel safe with an easy entre into engagement and content:
- Ask a straightforward question (opinion questions work well or a question about a family experience).
- Have everyone do an easy task (lift a cannonball to feel the weight).
- Let everyone explore an object (pass something around but give it to the adults first).
- Build up content from familiar and comfortable to new and maybe a bit intimating.
We call this Participation-Lite, an easy way into the type of hands-on, minds-on, interactive program we have in store for the family.
Identifying Caregiver Behaviors - Getting to Know the Adults in the Family
By studying families, the Boston Children's Museum and Chicago Children's Museum discovered that most adult caregivers can be categorized into one of seven types based on observable behaviors during activities with their children. Each behavior type looks different and has its own value or benefit to the family and the child.
Identifying a caregiver's behavior type can help facilitators understand the adult's unstated goals for the experience and allow the facilitator to introduce or make visible the benefits of a certain interaction to the caregiver.
This chart, excerpted from "Learning Together: Museum Staff Training Curriculum," includes the characteristics of each behavior and its benefit. "Learning Together" also includes tools for conducting your own observations of caregiver behavior. 
Excerpted from Learning Together: Museum Staff Training Curriculum, 89.
Mallary I. Swartz and Kevin Crowley conducted a similar study at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. They found 5 categories of "teaching beliefs" that adult caregivers fall under:
- Explanations everywhere
- Focus on fun
- Individual discovery
- Back to basics
- Learning together
Excerpted from Swatz, Mallary I. and Crowley, Kevin. "Parent Beliefs about Teaching and Learning in a Children’s Museum." Visitor Studies Today. Summer 2004, VII:II [p. 1-16].
Interactions between families and staff members involved an ongoing process of role and goal negotiation, with staff members working to establish themselves as meaningful participants in family interactions and attempting to influence the nature and goals of those interactions."
Scott A. Pattison and Lynn D. Dierking, “Exploring Staff Facilitation That Supports Family Learning," 72.
We know that families come in all shapes and sizes with various goals and interests. As family program facilitators, it is our job to engage all the family members in our activities. In order to do so successfully, facilitators must negotiate their role with the goals and existing roles of each family's adults. Scott Pattison and Lynn Dierking explored the nature of these role negotiations at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Here's some of what they found and the implications for facilitators:
Excerpted from Pattison, Scott A., and Lynn D. Dierking. “Exploring Staff Facilitation That Supports Family Learning.” Journal of Museum Education 37.3 (2012): 73.
What does this mean for facilitators?
"Front-line museum educators should adopt facilitation approaches that recognize and support the unique role that adults play in family learning in museums. These approaches should leverage the deep understanding parents and caregivers often have of their families’ knowledge, interests, and prior learning experiences, as well as adult family members’ natural inclination to facilitate successful learning experiences for their families." 
Read more specific descriptions and examples in their articles:
Pattison, Scott A., and Lynn D. Dierking. “Exploring Staff Facilitation That Supports Family Learning.” Journal of Museum Education 37.3 (2012): 69-80.
Pattison, Scott A., and Lynn D. Dierking. “Staff-Mediated Learning in Museums: A Social Interaction Perspective.” Visitor Studies 16.2 (2013): 117-43.
1. See also Adams, Marianna. “Barriers to Family Engagement in Museums.” Art Museum Teaching. Web. 22 July 2014. Adams provides examples of museums that have successfully achieved family engagement, and offers practical advice for museum educators who facilitate intergenerational family programs to combat some common challenges.
2. "Kids in Museums Manifesto." Web. 15 March 2016.
3. Porter, Tim, and Tsivia Cohen. "Learning Together: Families in Museums." Boston Children’s Museum and Chicago Children’s Museum, 2012: 78-80. Staff training curriculum was designed for other museums to train their front-line staff to successfully facilitate family experiences that engage both children and adults.
5. Pattison, Scott A., and Lynn D. Dierking. “Exploring Staff Facilitation That Supports Family Learning.” Journal of Museum Education 37.3 (2012): 69-80: 77. This article focuses on the important role that adult family members play in unstructured interactions with museum staff and offers some tips for front-line staff who facilitate family programs.
Kids in Museums
The UK's "Kids in Museums Manifesto," a list of practical and actionable tools to help historic and cultural sites engage families, includes the following in its list of 20 points:
-Be positive and do away with the word ‘No’. Tell visitors what they can do at the door, don’t pin up a list of things they can’t.
-Don’t say ssshhhush! If kids are being noisy, ask yourself ‘Why?’ Is it because they’re excited? Great! Then capture that excitement. Is it because they’re bored? Then give them something meaningful to do.
-Say ‘Please touch!’ as often as you can. Everyone finds real objects awesome. Direct kids to things that can be handled, teach respect and explain why others can’t.
-Give a hand to grown-ups as well as children. Sometimes it isn’t the kids who are shy – parents need your support too. Produce guides, trails and activities so everyone can join in."