5.1 The Melting Pot, Salad Bowl, and Cultural Pluralism

The United States is a multicultural nation, much like Brazil and the countries of contemporary Europe. People came to the United States from all over the world and brought with them a rich diversity of languages, foods, customs, religions, and traditions. However, U.S. history also includes the persecution of Native Americans; discrimination against Mexican residents who lived legally in the Southwest before it became part of the country; slavery of Africans; discrimination against Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants; internment of Japanese people in camps during WWII; and persecution of the Irish. Both the rich cultural characteristics that immigrants brought to the United States and its history of racism and discrimination comprise the multicultural nature of this society.

The original European settlers to the United States wanted to make sure everyone who came to live there would become what they viewed as true Americans (Spickard, 1989). They viewed America as a radical experiment in democracy and religious freedom and did not want people bringing bad ideas, habits, and loyalties from their home countries. Thus, new immigrants were expected to become Americans—to reject their previous loyalties and melt into an overall American identity. Out of this belief developed the concept of the melting pot.

The United States became known as a melting pot. Immigrants came from Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and Eastern Europe; from China, Japan, and the Philippines; and from Ireland and the Scandinavian countries. After they arrived, they were expected to learn English, have their children attend public schools and learn about American history and values, and become loyal Americans. Many actually changed their names on entering America through Ellis Island. American thinkers and political leaders felt this shift to an American identity, and loyalty was critical for the very survival of the new country (Spickard, 1989). Americans observed other new countries and disapproved of what happened when immigrants maintained a loyalty and alliance to their old-world homelands (Ladle, 1999). The concept of all immigrants leaving behind their own culture to become Americans is assimilation. U.S. schools focused on teaching children of immigrants what it meant to be an American and how this new country superseded the countries and cultures from which they came (Wiles & Bondi, 1989).

These new Americans tended to gravitate to parts of the country and neighborhoods in large cities where people like them lived—Italians, Jews, Scandinavians, Germans, Chinese, Slavs, Irish—but they were still expected to become true Americans and to change their primary loyalty to their new country. However, this new America began to look very much like Northern Europe—white, male, and Protestant (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). Thus, what was thought to be a melting pot became instead a push to become Northern European—what we now call the dominant culture.

This also had a profound impact on minorities, including Mexicans and Native Americans. Many Native American children were taken away from their homes and tribes and placed in Christian mission boarding schools, and certain Native American customs—such as burial, worship, and dress—were outlawed as being uncivilized (un-American) (Wilson, 1992). Non-English languages were banned in public schools (Crawford, 2008; Crawford & Krashen, 2008). African slaves, of course, posed their own dilemma to a country that proudly professed equality and the right to individual happiness to people in the rest of the world.

The concept of the melting pot as a metaphor for the United States’ multicultural population and vision was perpetuated until the civil right movements of the 1960s.

Cultural Pluralism

Today, advocates of diversity and educational equality use the term salad bowl instead of melting pot. According to Nieto (2004), the salad bowl metaphor is “a model based on the premise that people of all backgrounds have a right to maintain their languages and cultures while combining with others to form a new society reflective of our differences” (p. 437). Another term that has the same meaning is cultural pluralism. The idea is that the United States is made up of distinct cultural groups that should be empowered to maintain their unique identity, customs, values, and languages. Individuals are expected to remain tied to their unique cultural groups (for identity, meaning, and belonging), while also identifying with U.S. society. They are then considered bicultural—functioning within two cultures simultaneously and effectively (U.S. HHS, 2010).

Thus, the trend today is for new immigrants to maintain their home language, culture, religion, and traditions; to celebrate their unique cultural identity; and to raise their children within this unique set of cultural attributes (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010; U.S. HHS, 2010). However, certain legislation, such as that supporting more rigid educational and early childhood standards, is making this difficult to achieve, especially within the early care and education program (DuBois, 2007).

Cultural Pluralism and Early Care and Education Programs

The public school was an important place where immigrant children and their families could be socialized into the American way—the melting pot (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). New immigrant students and their families intermixed with a wide variety of other families, and American traditional values and expectations were stressed in these schools. New families and members of existing minority groups were forced to learn the dominant ways of doing things as quickly as possible, from learning English to learning about school rules, athletics, cheerleading, and assemblies (Bang, 2009; Ngo, 2008).

Early care and education programs, while much more diverse than public schools (Neugebauer, 2008), still functioned as a place where new immigrant families and those not belonging to the dominant society were socialized with ideas about how to raise and educate their children. Licensing requirements required children to be immunized, child abuse laws set discipline expectations, and USDA food programs assumed everyone had the same food preferences. State licensing regulations supported a dominant cultural view; state health policies similarly perpetuated a Western concept of health. Head Start’s federal performance standards perpetuated a single, universal view of development and education, and teachers believed in the view of care and education taught to them in their college education classes (Dyson, 2003; Howard, 2007). Immigrant families were expected to learn the rules, policies, and norms of local early care and education programs (Bang, 2009).

Now, with the shift from the melting pot to cultural pluralism, the role of the early care and education program is changing. The programs are still community agencies responsible for disseminating information about raising children, from referrals to Child Find (the agency attached to the local public schools to identify children who may need special education services), to immunization information and advice about reading to children and limiting young children’s exposure to inappropriate media. But the challenge now is that there is no one agreed-upon way to raise and educate children in the United States; there is no universal approach. Early care and education programs are now expected to respond sensitively and effectively to the cultural diversity of all of the families who use the program and to address a range of cultural ideals about families, children, discipline, food, health care, and religion (Bang, 2009; Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010; Lee, 2005; Ngo, 2008). This new role of the early care and education program can result in conflicts, disagreements, and even arguments with local government agencies, which are still required to enforce a dominant view of how to care for and educate young children.

5.2 Culture

Although culture can be defined in a variety of ways, there is no universally agreed-upon definition (see Chapter 2). In general, definitions point to the impact groups of people have on the values, behaviors, interactions, and symbols of individuals within those groups. One of the central ways cultures manifest in families is how children are raised (U.S. HHS, 2010). To understand culture and its impact on families and children, consider Bronfenbrenner’s (1979, 1995) ecological systems theory (see Chapter 1), and specifically the concept of macrosystem, which includes the cultural context, or broad cultural conditions, of a society. Cultural contexts can be the product of a vast variety of groups, including but not limited to geographic regions, ethnic and racial groups, national peoples, Native American nations, nation of origin, professional associations, and economic and religious groups (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010; U.S. HHS, 2010). Each one of us operates within a variety of cultural contexts at the same time. For example, a person may be a woman, a U.S. citizen, Jewish, and a member of a specific profession

However, cultures are not static—they are dynamic (Bang, 2009; Bhabha, 1994; S. Hall, 1989). In part, this is caused by cultures continually encountering other cultures and changing as a result. This is particularly true of diverse cultures such as Brazil and the United States, where different cultural groups coexist and continually interact with each other (Alves-Silva, et al., 2000; HHS 2010). Many factors have led to the creation of cultural groups. One of these was the need for people to band together to fend off hostility from dominant and powerful groups. In the United States, such groups have included Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, and women. While laws and progress have lessened discrimination, there is still prejudice in the United States, and some believe these groups still must band together for their survival and progress (Smedley, 2002; Tatum, 1997).

However, minority and majority groups differ from country to country. For example, while Latinos are considered a minority group in the United States, they are the ruling class in Guatemala and also part of the ruling class in Brazil and other countries in South America (Alves-Silva et al., 2000).

Some cultural contexts change over the lifespan. This includes age-based contexts, such as teenage culture and the specific cultures of young parents and of seniors. One’s cultural context can also change due to educational attainment, marriage, job advancement, and changing religion. Further, the influence of specific cultural contexts changes over historical time (Bronfenbrenner, 1967). For example, women in the United States today have more freedoms than they did 100 years ago. African-American cultural frameworks have radically changed since the 1960s (the civil rights movement), and everyone’s contexts have been affected by the advancement of technology during the last 20 years. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2040, whites in the United States will be a numerical minority, which will change cultural dynamics (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2011).

For the individual, contexts can change by traveling to different regions of the United States or the world. For example, when a biracial person who is considered black in the United States travels to Brazil, that person’s race changes to pardo (brown-mixed race) (Fish, 2002). When American minorities travel to Europe, Europeans tend to see them less as belonging to a minority group and more as an American. Some American multiracial children—those belonging to more than one racial category—who immigrate to Europe have discovered they are viewed differently by Europeans.

Cultural Contexts of Individuals

Each of us places differing weight on each of our cultural contexts due to a variety of factors, including upbringing, where we live, and our parents. For some, gender is the most important context; for others, it is family; and for still others, nationality, race, ethnicity, or disability is paramount. Some of this emphasis is determined by society in the 21st-century United States, but it also can be influenced by other cultural contexts and individual behaviors (West, 2001). Each cultural context affects all other cultural contexts. For example, religion influences the concept of gender roles, gender roles affect views of family, and professional education tends to change values. No cultural context operates in total isolation of all others. Further, any single cultural attribute—e.g., gender, religion, race, or nationality—has within it tremendous variability. Thus, while we are all products of a variety of cultural contexts, it is inappropriate to stereotype someone based on the cultural contexts to which they belong and adhere (Ngo, 2006, 2008).

All the different contexts we have experienced are integrated within our own unique identity (West, 2001). While some of these contexts are imposed from outside, each of us still continually negotiates our own unique view of how these contexts define who we are and how we view the world (Bowman, 1994; Root, 1996). Even the impact of contexts that are fairly stable—e.g., race and gender—change as society and individuals change. Other contexts, such as economic status, fluctuate radically due to a variety of factors (e.g., the economy, divorce, losing a job, marrying, and so on); still others can be manipulated by personal choice (e.g., changing one’s religion, marrying someone from another racial background, or moving to another country).

Values embedded within different cultural contexts often conflict with values in other cultural contexts. For example, some religious groups oppose gay marriage and believe in strict and sometimes unequal gender roles, and individuals in some racial and ethnic groups are prejudicial toward those in other groups. Colorism is also powerful for many members of minority groups. This is a hierarchy of color and facial features, with white skin and European features viewed as superior to dark skin and Indian or African features, a preference also prevalent in Latin American racial coding systems (Fish, 2002; Haizlip, 1994).

5.3 Various Cultural Contexts of Children

Families that attend early care and education programs throughout the United States come with a vast diversity of cultural contexts that interact differently, providing rich complexity within ECE programs. Here, a few of the main cultural contexts are described; however, it is critical to remember that no context operates by itself. Each family integrates a variety of contexts differently, and every person within a family, including the parents and children, are unique individuals (West, 2001).

Immigrant Status

Immigrants bring to early care and education programs a rich diversity of cultural contexts. First, they have not lived within the overall U.S. cultural framework for their entire lives and thus may have different views and behaviors regarding democracy, religion, education, and gender equality (Bang, 2009; Ngo, 2006). Immigrants may not subscribe to the official view of race and ethnicity codified by the U.S. Census categories (Bang, 2009; Ngo, 2006, 2008). For example, while Somalis living in the United States are African, they may or may not consider themselves African American (Fish, 2002). Mayan immigrants, categorized by the U.S. Census as Latinos, may consider themselves indigenous people of South Mexico and Central America (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004). In fact, when new immigrants settle in the United States, they tend to settle near others from their own national or religious groups, rather than in racial groups: Somalis with Somalis, West Africans with West Africans, Koreans with Koreans, and Brazilians with Brazilians (Bang, 2009; Ngo, 2006). Jewish immigrants from Eastern Russia and Eastern Europe are fully embraced within existing Jewish communities in cities throughout the country, and other groups settle within neighborhoods of similar national backgrounds.

Some of the cultural richness and possible challenges that some immigrant families bring to early care and education programs include the following:

Food preferences and rules about what their children can and cannot eat

Different religious traditions and practices

Differing views on gender roles, both for children and their parents

A variety of non-English languages

A range of expectations regarding appropriate behavioral and the academic skills to be taught (Ahmad & Szpara, 2003; Syed, 2007)

Differing views regarding the role of religion in education, which may conflict with traditional views of religious neutrality in schools

Conflicting views about teachers and toward female teachers (as opposed to male teachers) (Bang, 2009; Rodriguez, 2008)

Income Status

In the first two decades of the 21st century, the number of poor families has increased. Some of these are single, female-headed households; others are families in which both parents have lost their jobs. Poverty causes a variety of problems that can affect young children attending early care and education programs and their families. Poverty can have a dramatic impact on how families are able to provide necessities for their children, the choices they have for early care and education, and their ability to support their children’s programs (Engle & Black, 2008). Furthermore, many low-income families cannot access quality early care and education programs (Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain, 2009; Howard, 2007; Rothstein, 2008) and many cannot easily participate in quality parent-involvement programs (Hill & Craft, 2003).

Many programs serve low-income families. The best known is Head Start and Early Head Start. Most states also have some form of low-income state-funded preschool program (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2006); young children with disabilities can receive free and reduced-cost educational services. The federal government provides free and reduced child care. While Head Start and state-funded programs are mostly part time, subsidized child care is full day. Some programs provide wrap-around care and education, with a child attending Head Start and state-funded or disability programs for part of the day and then subsidized child care for the remainder of the day. Other services for low-income families include free and reduced fee lunches, commodity foods, food banks, child health insurance, and mental health services. Early care and educational programs usually can provide information regarding these agencies and programs.

Religion is an important cultural context for many families (Lippy, 2004). Religion determines a person’s values, religious traditions, behaviors, and attitudes. Further, a person’s religion tends to determine the kinds of people one interacts with socially, through churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, both for religious services and for important community and even political activities. Some people attend colleges and universities supported by their religious faith. Many parents have their children attend religious early care and education programs.

Historically, the United States has recognized a variety of mostly Christian religions, including Protestant, Quaker, Catholic, and Jehovah’s Witness, in addition to the Jewish religion and some Native American practices. Now, with more recent immigrants, this list includes Confucian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, Sikh, Taoist, and other religions. Further, as mentioned earlier, some new immigrants do not believe religion and the state (e.g., schools and early childhood programs) should be separate. This includes people from Brazil and other parts of South America, whose Catholic faith intertwines with the practices of their local and national governments and public schools (Ladle, 1999).

As noted by Neugebauer (2005), nearly 1.5 million children attend early care and education programs housed in religious facilities; almost one in four early childhood centers is operated in a religious facility, and the largest providers of child care services in the United States are the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. While many of these programs accept children from other faiths, program practices reflect the religious values, traditions, and rituals of the particular faith (Neugebauer, 2005).

Depending on how devoted parents are, religion can have a very strong influence on how they raise their children, from educational goals and gender expectations, to moral values and beliefs. These parents’ values can have a dramatic influence on the early care and education program.

Race and Ethnicity

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is the federal agency that determines employment, school entry, and the U.S. Census’s racial and ethnic categories, specifies five racial categories and one ethnic category. The racial categories are American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, black or African American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and white. A person can also select more than one race or “some other race.” The ethnic category is Hispanic or Latino (which can be any race) (U.S. Census, 2011). The U.S. Census categories are unique to the history, politics, and social dynamics of the United States. Every country collects demographic information on its citizens using its own unique system of categories (Fish, 2002).

Further, wide diversity exists within each of these very broad U.S. Census categories. Whites include Germans, English, Irish, Eastern Russians, French, Italians, European Jews, and so on. Hispanics include Cubans, Puerto Ricans, people from Argentina and Mexico, and Hispanics who have lived in the Southwest of the United States of America for generations. African Americans include people from the rural south, the Caribbean, and South America. Asians include people from China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, and the Philippines, along with Asians from South America. Native Americans include all of the tribes/nations recognized by the federal government, along with native peoples from Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. Each of these groups has a very different history and culture (and often language). Some countries that exist within the same broad racial category have long histories of animosity (for example, Korea and Japan, or Japan and China) (Lee, 2005; Ngo, 2006).

Two trends are blurring views of race and ethnicity in the United States. The first has already been mentioned: increasing numbers of immigrants who view race from the perspective of their own nation and culture, and not that of the U.S. government or society. The second is an increasing number of interracial marriages, resulting in children who do not identify with a single racial or ethnic group. According to Hodgkinson (2000-2001), it is estimated that 40% of American citizens have some racial mixing in the last three generations. Of this group, young people are the fastest-growing segment.

Many argue that the broad terms so popular in U.S. parlance, such as black and Hispanic, are over-generalizations that obscure real diversity, variation, and deep cultural understanding (Fish, 2002; Ngo, 2006, 2008; West, 2001). Further, these terms do not recognize the number of immigrants and multiracial children who do not fit neatly into these broad groups (Baxley, 2008).


According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 400 languages are spoken in K-12 schools (U.S. Census, 2007). According to David et al. (2005), the average Head Start program has 10 different languages spoken by families served. Language diversity in early care and education programs can be very challenging, with the most difficult part being communication. Most curricular materials are not produced in all of the languages used by children attending a program, and communication and language issues greatly confound a program’s ability to accurately assess a child who may have a developmental delay and needs targeted services, because assessment instruments for young children are available in very few languages (NAEYC, 1996). Some suggestions to address language diversity in early care and education programs include the following:

Teach English language classes to parents who wish to learn. Make sure to teach functional language (for example, teach the language needed to function in the program and to communicate with teachers) (Bang, 2009).

Recruit people who can help translate in parents’ home languages. These may be people associated with local churches or businesses where the same language is spoken, members of language clubs, or international students attending local colleges.

Make your own curricular materials. With the availability of computers, digital cameras, and printers, it is now easy to make classroom materials (see Think About it: Materials and Activities Checklist).

Use parents to help teach caregivers and teachers some basic words and phrases in the child’s language.

View non-English language use in the program as an asset to the English-speaking students. Research is clear regarding the positive impact of second-language learning; it is also a wonderful multicultural tool (NAEYC, 1996).

Listen to parents’ wishes concerning whether they want their children to learn English. The kind of language learning provided in the program depends on the program and its curriculum.


A direct result of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an increased effort to provide equality for everyone in the United States. This effort included voting rights, antidiscrimination laws in housing and employment, racial and ethnic equality, integration of public schools, and gender equality. Through multicultural education, this effort spread to K-12 schools. In the 1980s and 1990s, with the publication of the Anti-Bias Curriculum (Derman-Sparks and the ABC Task Force, 1989), Roots and Wings (York, 1991), Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World (Ramsey, 1987), and Diversity in the Classroom (Kendall, 1996), the movement came to the early childhood community (Copple, 2001).

One of the areas that multicultural education is concerned with is gender equality (Boldt, 1996; Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). Early childhood programs seek to make sure girls have the same opportunity to succeed that boys do and that no limitations are placed on girls’ potential and their view of success. Both boys and girls are expected to play in the block area and in the dramatic play areas, girls are expected to do well in math and science, and boys are encouraged in art and music (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).

However, some of the new immigrant families served in early care and education programs have a very different view of gender separation and equality. For example, some cultures and religions hold the belief that education for boys is more important than for girls. Because of religious and cultural views regarding gender, some families believe that the genders should be kept separate in early childhood programs and schools. Parents from other cultures support stereotypical gender differences, with males expected to be assertive, dominant, strong, and protective, and women expected to be docile, gentle, nurturing, and employed in the home (Ahmad & Szpara, 2003). These gender distinctions include different gender role behaviors by parents, with only mothers expected to work closely with the early care and education program (Bang, 2009).

Gender role expectations of children in ECE programs, and distinctly different gender behaviors of the parents of children they serve, can pose a challenge to programs that have worked hard to address gender equality and stereotypes in curriculum, learning materials, and teacher behaviors and that are committed to working closely with all adults involved in a family, including men.

Family Structure

Throughout this book, we have discussed the vast variety of forms of contemporary families. These include interracial and interethnic families, extended families, blended families, foster and adoptive families that include transracially adopted children (adopted children who are of a different race or ethnicity from their adoptive parents), homeless families, families in which more than one language is spoken, grandparent families, and teen parents. Gay and lesbian families, in which children have two fathers or two mothers, are another example of the family diversity discussed throughout this book. These families may also be any of the above forms (e.g., dual language or interracial).

According to Clay (2004), gay and lesbian parents want the same for their children as all parents and want to make sure their children do not experience homophobia, either direct discrimination or exclusion. Further, lesbian and gay parents would like for their children to have teachers and caregivers with experience working with gay- and lesbian-headed households. These families also would like their children to feel they are a part of the school and not outsiders. It is instructive to note this desire is the same for any family in a minority position in the program, be it through race, language, adoption, or immigration.

Interracial families, in which parents each belong to different racial categories, challenge the single-race idea prevalent in American society (Root, 1996). As such, they provide a place where there is an emphasis on racial unity and harmony (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004). These families often have to educate others in the community, including the early care and education program, about their children’s mixed heritage and the way they are raising them to embrace it. Interracial and interethnic families must be very proactive in helping their children withstand indirect and direct harassment from single-race children and adults (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004). Transracial foster and adoptive families have similar issues. Additionally, these families must struggle with the child’s feelings about their biological parents and being adopted. In foster homes, there are often tensions between the foster family and biological family. Geographic dislocation is often an issue for children in foster homes that can affect the child’s relationship with the early care and education program.

Children being raised in blended homes face a special kind of challenge, as do the parents in these homes. Early care and education programs need to be especially sensitive to these families as they try to create a new culture from their two combined families. As families blend, there can be role confusion, loyalty conflicts, step-parent/step-child discipline problems, and conflict between step-parents and step-children (Sailor, 2004).

Single-parent families have their own set of challenges. While our society has broadened its definition of a family, single-parent families are still viewed by many as incomplete and flawed. Parents often feel isolated and need advice and assistance in raising their children (Sailor, 2004). They also often have extreme financial challenges, and relationships with the noncustodial parent can often be difficult.

Homeless families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and teen parent families all bring unique issues to raising children and require early care and education programs to be sensitive to family diversity and to find ways to serve children within these various family structures. The vast diversity of family structures poses challenges for early care and education programs. They can no longer assume a child comes from a two-parent, single-race family; the program’s communication, procedures, policies, and problem-solving approaches with families need to reflect this diversity.

5.4 Responding to a Child’s Diversity in the Early Childhood Program

Our early care and education programs are becoming more and more diverse. This requires program staff to be able to respond appropriately and supportively to many different situations, issues, and challenges. Because children exist within the various ecological contexts of family, community, religion, and culture, staff members need to understand these contexts to meet the developmental and learning needs of each child in their care. Here are some ideas for professionals who work with young children from diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds.

Start with the Child

Teachers and caregivers should first get to know the individual child. They should avoid focusing on the racial, ethnic, or cultural groups they think the child belongs to. Further, a child should not automatically be assigned to a group because the child has characteristics or attributes that are assumed to be stereotypical of a group, be they racial, disability, gender, or income (West, 2001). We should carefully and authentically learn about individual children, their families, their communities, and their other important ecological contexts.

Early childhood professionals often focus on children primarily as individuals. We carefully observe children to determine their strengths and areas in which they need extra assistance.

Emergent curriculum approaches require that we carefully observe children in natural settings—play, peer interactions, private speech—to discover their interests, language skills, past experiences, and dispositions. Further, with the focus on early identification of children with developmental delays, early childhood staff members are encouraged to use a variety of developmental checklists and other screening tools with their children (Barerra, 1994). While it is important to use these skills to assist with the development and learning of individual children, teachers and caregivers should consult with the family regarding the child’s race, ethnicity, culture, and language.

Let the Child and the Child’s Family Inform You

Staff members also need to allow the child and the child’s family to inform them about the values, behaviors, and beliefs important to the family:

How does the child acknowledge and celebrate his/her skin color and nation of origin?

How do parents want their child’s first language to be acknowledged and supported?

How does the family support the child’s race and ethnicity outside the early care and education program?

How does the family want children to respond to older people outside their community and to people in authority at the program?

How important is religion in the lives of the family, and how important is religion in how and what the family wants the program to teach their child?

Further, the child and the child’s family can inform staff about their culture and community: religion, food, traditions, male and female roles, importance of grandparents, role of the child in the home, and so on. A variety of methods can be used to collect this information:


Questions on application forms

Open discussions at parent- (and other adult) teacher conferences

Input from parents or other significant adults during parent-education activities

Casual, informal discussions between teachers and parents or other significant adults

Visits to the communities where families and children live, both through field trips and by teachers and caregivers frequenting local stores, restaurants, museums, cultural centers, and activities

View the Whole Child

All of the ecological contexts that make up a child’s identity—race, ethnicity, language, personality, income, gender, culture, disability, family structure—should be integrated throughout the curriculum. We should not use a tourist approach to multicultural education or a curriculum by celebration approach either (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004). When tourists visit other countries, they often sample the local foods, attend performances of authentic dances and songs, visit stores that sell crafts and artifacts made by the locals, and maybe explore native villages, reservations, or other tourist spots. Then the tourists come home. In a similar vein, a tourist approach to the curriculum views cultural diversity only in terms of food, costumes, songs, and dances, rather than also examining the rich, lived experiences of the diversity of the family and the country (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010; U.S. HHS, 2010).

A curriculum by celebration approach uses monthly themes based on celebrations or festivals. December’s curriculum is all about Christmas, February centers on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, March focuses on St. Patrick’s Day, and May is dedicated to Cinco de Mayo activities. This approach teaches young children that the important cultural and religious differences are food, drink, and celebration; it also tends to reinforce the idea that everyone who belongs to a large cultural group is the same. Clearly, there is a place for celebrations in early childhood programs. However, additional care must be taken to make sure these celebrations do not contribute to the United States’ problem with childhood obesity (U.S. HHS, 2000) and that these celebrations are authentic culminations of meaningful, focused projects and community activities (Katz & Chard, 2000).

Avoid Imposing Your Views

A child should never be prejudged based on racial, ethnic, or cultural identity, including behaviors, academic expectations, and specific skills or dispositions. We all have preconceived ways in which we see the world, based on our own cultural and other experiences, and while these allow us to make sense of our world, they are not necessarily accurate from another person’s cultural perspective (Copple, 2001; West, 2001). Allow children—and their families—to define their race and ethnicity, language they prefer to use, important values, likes and dislikes, and behaviors. Avoid filling out the federal racial categories required for programs such as free lunches without first consulting with the family. This is especially important when considering children with complex and unique identities—multiracial and multiethnic children, transracially adopted children, and immigrant children who do not fit into the typical U.S. Census categories.

One of the best ways to encourage children to be everything they can be is through modeling. Modeling includes images in books, pictures, posters and curricular materials, videos and computer programs, visitors to the classroom, and visits to the community—workplaces, museums, stores, and so on (Davidman & Davidman, 1999).

Finally, all policies, procedures, curricular content, and curricular materials and activities used in the program should be evaluated carefully to determine if they are good for all children, and not just for specific groups of children. Criteria to consider include the use of all of Gardner’s eight intelligences, cooperative and individual activities and projects, and enactive, iconic, and abstract-symbolic learning. While we have traditionally viewed the ability to learn and solve problems using a single construct known as an intelligence quotient (IQ), Howard Gardner has proposed that people think and learn using preferred approaches, what he calls intelligences or learning styles (Gardner, 1983). He has proposed eight distinct learning styles:

Logical/Mathematical. This intelligence involves the ability to reason logically and think in a linear fashion, and it is most associated with math and science.

Verbal/Linguistic. This includes the mastery of the use of language—spoken and written. It enables children to be proficient at the many literacy requirements that dominate most public school education today.

Visual/Spatial. This is the ability to create, use, and remember iconic mental images to solve problems and to engage in projects: artistic, geometric, and architectural.

Musical. This is the ability to hold a pitch, recognize musical rhythms and melodies, compose, and harmonize.

Bodily Kinesthetic. This intelligence is exhibited by children who learn through movement: dance, athletics, hands-on learning, and tactile as opposed to visual or auditory stimulation.

Interpersonal. This intelligence is shown by children who are in tune with the emotions and feelings of others and who can work effectively in a variety of groups. They are often classroom leaders.

Intrapersonal. This is the ability to look inward for motivation and direction. These children are very attuned to their own feelings and wishes and tend to be introspective.

Naturalist. This intelligence is exhibited by those with a heighted sensitivity to the natural world—gardeners, observers of birds and animals, children who like to raise animals, and so on (Gardner, 1983).

Gardner (1983) states that all children have one or more preferred ways of learning and processing information. Information and activities should be provided so that children can learn by using their preferred intelligences, while also being helped to be able to use other learning styles to learn and solve problems.

5.5 Child-Rearing Practices: An Expression of Culture

A family’s culture has a marked impact on the way children are raised and socialized. One of these cultural factors is in the area of independence versus interdependence. According to Gonzalez-Mena (2008), most parents place an emphasis on independence or interdependence in raising their children, based on the cultures to which the parents belong. By viewing cultural child-raising differences within a contrasting dichotomy, such as independence versus interdependence, it is easier to study cultural differences.


According to E. T. Hall (1976), Western Europe, North America, and Australia are cultures that value independence and individual success. Thus, families in the United States who originated from these countries value individualism, independence, and success as the highest possible virtues. That the United States Declaration of Independence declares “all men are created equal” and have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is one example of this idea. Parents in independent cultures believe in developing independence in young children. Parents expect children to feed themselves and dress themselves; they also expect children to sleep alone in a crib in a separate room from them. They focus on independence, raising children to do things for themselves, and teaching each child to learn to care for his or her own needs and wants (Rogoff, 2003). Further, parents and teachers with this cultural perspective emphasize individuality and the building of individual self-esteem by focusing on the individual child’s behaviors and accomplishments.

These parents and caregivers also expect children to learn to be toilet trained, but they understand that there are important maturational and individual factors involved in this difficult task and are therefore willing to wait until the child is able to control his bladder and bowels and is ready to go to the potty on his own. Finally, these parents and caregivers are very concerned that young children learn to cope with separation and consider learning healthy separation a good thing to achieve (Erikson, 1963).

According to Delpit (1995) and Raeff (2010), parents and caregivers with an independent orientation to child care and education belong to the dominant culture in the United States, have their roots in Northern Europe, and are powerful in the political, business, and professional world. And the child-care program matches this view, by focusing on the individual needs of each child, providing a private space for children, and protecting each child’s private property (Raeff, 2010; Raeff, Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2000). Further, this dominant culture is the architect of our educational institutions, including colleges where child-care providers and teachers are educated, and the guiding principle behind early care and education philosophies and policies. Thus, it is the source of our body of knowledge and best practices in working with young children (Boykin & Toms, 1985; Gilligan, Brown, & Rogers, 1999; Price-Williams, Gordon, & Ramirez, 1969).


On the other hand, in cultures that value interdependence, a person’s value is based on the individual’s positive contribution to the group and group consensus. Individual achievement and desires, especially when they conflict with the group needs and values, are devalued (Kaiser & Raminsky, 2003). According to Hall (1976), people with this orientation come from Asia, Africa, Southern Europe, and Latin America. They consider the individual an important member of a group—family, extended family, community, racial group, ethnic group, religious group, and so on. Parents from these cultures are focused on interdependent relationships such as co-sleeping with infants and giving their children time to be babies, and they do not focus on children becoming independent. They pamper their children and teach them how to care for the needs of others. They teach them that their needs are dependent on others and that they need to learn how to help and care for others (Stewart, 1972).

People who belong to interdependent cultures—historically underrepresented groups in the United States—are more concerned with the welfare of the group than with the individual. Individualism is valued only as it enhances and supports the group; children are taught to blend in, and they see their identity and worth as defined by the group. Mutual dependence and obedience are stressed (Harwood, Miller, & Irizarry, 1995; Lynch & Hanson, 2004). Parents of these children focus on keeping children within the family and group, rather than encouraging independence. Because groups collectively care for young children, teaching group belonging and interdependence is more important than teaching separation and independence.

From Cultural Dichotomies to Cultural Complexities

The aforementioned discussion presents a clear cultural contrast between independence and interdependence (individual and collectivistic orientations), represented in child-raising practices between the dominant, mainstream European culture and minority cultures within the United States: Native Americans, Asians, African Americans, Latinos, and people from the Middle East (Hofstede, 2001). Recently, however, several researchers have argued that labeling cultures as either individualistic (independent) or collectivist (interdependent) is not a valid way of looking at cultures and cultural practices of child rearing and child care. According to Raeff (2010), reasons for this view include the following:

Research shows that both independence and interdependence are valued in diverse cultures (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002).

All cultures are dynamic, heterogeneous, and complex. Cultures change historically; viewing cultures as either independent or interdependent reflects a static view of culture.

Independence and interdependence can be viewed as compatible and co-existing aspects of child rearing (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2008).

A view is emerging that independence and interdependence should not be viewed in opposition; diverse cultures value both. Further, it is not always appropriate to assign independence and dependence to people based on their cultural and geographic backgrounds. For example, the Amish and Hutterite religious groups in the United States and Canada comprise homogeneous peoples of direct European heritage, yet both groups shun individuality and independence, focusing rather on the communal and collective good and on interdependence. The collective Amish barn-raising activity is a well-known example of this orientation. An increasing number of middle-class American parents are also adopting the practice of co-sleeping, and more middle-class, white mothers breastfeed than do minority mothers in the United States (Sloan, Sneddon, Stewart, & Iwaniec, 2006). Breastfeeding is an interdependent relationship between the mother and child (like co-sleeping); use of milk banks is extending this idea to the community of breastfeeding mothers.

Sleeping Arrangements

One example of this dual independence-interdependence argument is the sleeping arrangements of parents and young children. Studies show Western children sleep independently, thus fostering the development of independence, a behavior considered important in Western societies (Keller, 2007; Rogoff, 2003). Alternatively, co-sleeping fosters close family relationships and is practiced around the world—especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Rogoff, 2003). Nevertheless, at about 5 years old, Mayan children can choose where, for how long, and with whom they sleep (Gaskins, 1999), allowing individual choices. Research also shows that European-American parents support separate sleeping arrangements mainly to improve their own sleep (to be ready for the typical high-intensity, 8-hour Western work day) and improve their intimate relationships (Shweder, Jensen, & Goldstein, 1995). Structuring children’s sleeping practices to meet adult sleep needs means that children are often put to bed before the child is ready, thus forcing individual children to conform to parent authority and the needs of others. In both cases, there is a clear balance between independence and interdependence; thus, there are cultural differences in how behaviors are structured within the context of children’s sleeping practices (Raeff, 2010).

The increased use of co-sleeping by many American families, including recent immigrants, has caused many in the medical and child-care fields to become concerned about safety issues. While co-sleeping is the norm in many countries where Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is considerably lower than in the United States, it is associated with higher SIDS in U.S. families (Nelson, Schiefenhoevel, & Haimerl, 2000; Nakamura, Winds, & Danello, 1999). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the death of a young child during sleep (before age 2), due to unknown causes. SIDS is one of the leading causes of infant death during the first few months of life.

Contexts of Early Care and Education Programs

Many practices and expectations in American early care and education programs and schools reinforce independent, competitive cultural values (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010; Dyson, 2003; Rogoff, 2003). Practices and activities in early care and education programs that support independence include developing activities to develop individual self-esteem, providing private cubbies for each child, teaching children to feed themselves, and licensing requirements that require children to sleep separately during nap time and a focus on individual child assessment. Other typical practices and activities in early care and education programs support interdependence, such as everyone having to nap at the same time, universal rules for all students, supporting the authority of the teacher, family-style meals that many programs promote, teaching sharing and social skills, and programs that use multiage groups (Katz, 1998).

Other ways early care and education programs support interdependence and cooperation include creating a classroom community, working closely with families and extended families, teaching children prosocial skills and group norms, and using curricula that focus on group projects in which children must work together collaboratively. Even our discussion of cooperative play (Parten, 1932, 1933) noted that cooperative play succeeds only when children suppress their individual desires for the needs of the group (Johnson, Christie, & Wardle, 2005).

Two cautions must be addressed in relationship to any discussion of independent and interdependent cultural contexts. The first is a reminder that all families and children served in ECE programs exist within several dynamic, interacting cultural contexts (Bhabha, 1994; S. Hall, 1989). One of these is the greater U.S. culture—even for families who have only recently come to the country. And, while the family may come from an interdependent culture, they are exposed to many aspects of the independent, overall American culture: laws that protect individual rights, TV commercials that focus on individual needs and desires, employment rules and regulations. In fact, this greater American culture causes considerable generational conflict in new immigrant families (Bang 2009; Ngo, 2006; Podeschi & Xiong, 1994). Secondly, while children develop within a variety of cultural contexts that have a profound influence on development and learning, their development is also driven by maturation (Erikson, 1963; Piaget, 1952). Maturation is the understanding that the development of children in all areas, from physical and emotional to linguistic and cognitive, is greatly affected by the child’s age. This means that developmental stages such as Piaget’s cognitive stages and Erikson’s psychosocial stages function for all children, regardless of the context in which they develop and learn (Siegler & Alibali, 2005).

Thus, while it is important that early care and education teachers and caregivers are aware of different cultural aspects of raising children, they must be sensitive to the complexities of cultural difference and adhere to the above cautions regarding communicating with parents about parents’ desires and wishes for their children.

5.6 Conflicts Between Parents’ Values and Program Practices

As has been discussed throughout this chapter, the United States is becoming more and more culturally diverse, and our early care and education programs reflect this increased diversity. Most people who work in early care and education programs—directors, teachers, and caregivers—are women (Neugebauer, 2008), and, because of the very poor benefits of the field, many are poor, minority women, especially African American and Latina (Neugebauer, 2004). However, our body of knowledge and best practices tend to be grounded in European theories and ideas about child development, learning, education, and how to raise children; professionals who work with young children and their families are also trained with this particular cultural perspective (Delpit, 1995; S. Hall, 1989).

But, regardless of the cultural orientation of the early care and education program and the increasing diversity of cultural backgrounds of families using these programs, conflicts will arise. Some families do not want their children to take naps during the day, as this makes it more difficult to put them to sleep at night. Other families do not want their children to watch TV and other media while in the program, due to the increasing evidence of the negative effect of technology on brain development in young children (American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education, 2001). Conflicts can also often arise around children getting sand in their hair, paint on their clothes, mud on their shoes, and in clashes with other children. Most of these conflicts have to do with typical daily issues or lack of communication between parents and staff. But some are also a result of cultural expectations and behaviors.

Communication is the secret to developing and maintaining a healthy relationship between the family and early care and education program. There are more effective and less effective ways to communicate. One effective way is to use dialoguing and the RERUN process.


When a conflict between a parent or other caregiver and someone at the early care and education center arises, it can be resolved in a variety of ways. According to Janet Gonzalez-Mena (2008), the best approach to addressing these conflicts is to move away from the traditional argument approach, in which someone wins and someone loses, to a dialoguing approach, in which both parties come away satisfied. The differences between an argument and dialogue are the following:

The objective of an argument is to win; the objective of a dialogue is to gather information.

The arguer tells; the dialoguer asks.

The arguer tries to persuade; the dialoguer seeks to learn.

The arguer sees two opposing views and considers the most valid or best one; the dialoguer is willing to consider and understand multiple viewpoints.

A person committed to dialoguing is interested in the other person’s reasons for his or her position and wishes to listen to and understand the reasons for the conflict. There can be—and often are—many reasons for a conflict, including a misunderstanding of what was read, seen, said, or overheard.

The RERUN Problem-Solving Process

One approach to solving problems through dialoguing is to use the RERUN Problem-Solving Process (Gonzalez-Mena, 2008). While the conflict might involve a parent or any other member of the family, including a grandparent raising a child, the term parent will be used to simplify the explanation of the process. This process involves five steps:

Reflect. In this step, caregivers and directors seek to understand the reasons for the parent’s emotional response and disagreement. Expressions such as “I see you are really upset” or “I can see why you look at it that way” show the person that you have heard his or her concern and understand where it is coming from. Reflect also means that the caregiver, teacher, or director needs to reflect on his or her own position and emotional response to the conflict. Why is he or she upset? Why is he or she unwilling to change the rule or agree with the parent?

Explain. In this step, the caregiver, teacher, or director needs to focus on listening to the parent to understand the parent’s point of view and the parent’s reaction to the situation or issue. Only when the parent’s view has been understood should the teacher or caregiver try to explain her side of the story.

Reason. Part of the discussion must include a specific reason for the teacher’s or director’s point of view—a rule, licensing regulation, best practice, or acknowledgement that that is the way it has always been done in the program. An attempt should be made to separate the rational reasons from emotional responses. And the teacher or director should try to determine why she has the emotional responses she does. It may have little to do with the issue or event and more to do with the parent, other problems in the program or with a fellow teacher, or a frustration in life outside of the program.

Understand. In this step, the goal is for both people involved to understand the other person’s point of view rationally and emotionally. This step does not require any action or communication; it requires clarity of purpose and reason. This necessitates an understanding of both the parent’s and the staff person’s point of view and emotional response. Self-reflecting is a critical part of this process—to understand the parent’s viewpoint and the staff person’s viewpoint.

Negotiate. In this final step, a solution to the conflict is sought. Both parties should look for a mutually satisfying solution. Do not take an either-or position: either my way or your way. An either-or approach prevents communication and a mutually acceptable solution. Instead, try to find a win-win solution that combines both views or a totally different solution that satisfies both of you. Often, a creative solution exists that neither one originally considered. According to Gonzalez-Mena (2009), the kind of solution sought “goes beyond compromise and includes both positions. It’s not a meeting in the middle, but finding a different space altogether” (p. 144).

Often, a solution is not found the first time this process is used. On these occasions, parties should return to the beginning of the process and redo the steps until a solution is found.

The RERUN process can be used to resolve any conflicts that arise between families and the early care and education program. These can include simple disagreements around common issues such as student conflicts, misunderstandings about what teachers did and said, or discipline. But it can also be used for conflicts that arise from cultural differences between the family and the early care and education program. This is particularly true when the program and family clearly come from different cultural contexts. The process can also be used to address conflicts within programs, such as between teachers or a teacher and director.

5.7 The Anti-Bias and Ecological Model

Early care and education programs—and people who work in these programs—need to be able to work effectively and constructively with people of ever-more diverse backgrounds. This ability is known as culturally responsive teaching. For culturally responsive teachers, any aspect of a child’s context is important to consider in planning instruction, working with the family, addressing discipline issues, and other program policies and instructions. However, people working with young children and their families must be careful to avoid the temptation of thinking in terms of broad, stereotypical diversity categories, and worse yet, responding to children and families based on these broad stereotypes (Wardle, 2011b).

To assist teachers in positively and accurately responding to diversity in early care and education programs, the anti-bias and ecological model was developed (Wardle, 1996). This model takes Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems model as its starting point (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; 1995). As with Bronfenbrenner’s model, the child is placed in the center. However, unlike Bronfenbrenner’s concentric circles expanding out from the center, this model uses seven overlapping circles in a Venn diagram (see Figure 5.1). These circles represent seven factors: race/ethnicity, culture, gender, ability/disability, family, socioeconomic status, and community. Note that these circles overlap each other, encompassing the other six factors, and all influencing the child’s unique identity.

Before each of the seven factors is described in detail, a little more needs to be mentioned about the model:

While each circle is shown to be the same size, in reality they will be different sizes for each child. For example, for one child, art ability may be very important to his or her sense of identity, and thus the ability/disability circle will be large; for another child, the largest circle might be the cultural factor, due to his or her identity as belonging to a family that practices Islam in a predominantly Christian community.

Each child processes his or her reality differently. As West (2001) reminds us, humans construct their own reality, and as such create their own ideas about the world. Thus, each child will respond differently to each factor; even children in the same family will have different impressions of their complex cultural contexts.

Each of the factors has been discussed in detail in this chapter. Here, they are presented within a model to help teachers and other caregivers respond sensitively to each child in their care. Thus, each factor will be reviewed as a way to structure information from our previous discussion into a usable framework (see Figure 5.1).


While race and ethnicity are social and political constructs with no biological basis, they are still important ways children and their families are categorized in America. As such, programs need to be aware of the racial groups children and parents belong to and how parents instill in their children racial pride and identity (U.S. HHS, 2010). However, we must also be sensitive to diversity within diversity and, because many immigrant families come from countries where race and ethnicity are defined differently than in the United States, it is important to find out carefully how families identify themselves and how they wish us to fill out federal racial forms.


Providing a separate factor for culture in this model enables us to view the tremendous variability that exists within any large racial/ethnic group. Some of the characteristics that interact to create a family’s culture include the following:




Location, which includes the geographic region of the United States, part of the world, and area of a continent a person or family is from. For example, Guarani Indians from Paraguay have a very different culture from that of Chickasaw Indians from Oklahoma. African Americans from the Caribbean have a very different culture from that of fifth-generation African Americans from Louisiana.

Parents’ education and profession

How long the family has lived in the United States

Immigration status

Social and political activities and advocacy in which family members participate

Small-group affiliations

Additionally, it is critical to remember that cultures—and cultural groups—are constantly changing (Raeff, 2010).


In this model, gender is not so much about whether a child is a boy or a girl as it is about how families, communities, and early care and education programs respond to the child’s gender. There is an increase in the number of same-sex families—both two men and two women—who have children attending ECE programs (Clay, 2004). There is also an increase in the number of families from cultures that view genders very differently (Syed, 2007). Additionally, more than 97% of staff members in early care and education programs are women (Neugebauer, 2008). Do parents have different behavioral expectations for boys and girls, and do they discipline them differently? Do teachers and caregivers treat boys and girls differently when they are upset, hurt, or angry, and do they encourage outdoor activities and rough and tumble play for all the children? Further, do official communications from the center to the home recognize that in some families there are no mothers, and in others there are no fathers? Do curricula activities for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other family activities take into consideration the current diversity of American families?

This category is also critical in combination with other factors, and because views of gender differences and practices used to raise children are so closely tied to religion, culture, and ethnicity, gender is often an area in which conflict between the home and the program can arise.


Ability/disability has not been covered in detail in this chapter and will be covered in Chapter 7. However, we know that everyone is good at something and struggles with other things. And, according to Erikson’s first three stages, trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame and doubt, and initiative versus guilt, children must be encouraged to develop trust, autonomy, and initiative. Children’s abilities and confidence in those abilities will help in this process; what they struggle with can hinder them. These characteristics include developmental delays and accepted abilities such as a talent in art or a diagnosis of being gifted. But they also include strengths and challenges that are not labeled but that affect a child’s home, community, and program life. Some children are easygoing and make friends effortlessly, while others struggle socially (Thomas & Chess, 1977). Some are very good at physical activities and master playground behaviors and skills, but they struggle academically. There are a few things to keep in mind regarding this factor:

All children have strengths and challenges.

All children need to feel successful in some things (Erikson, 1963).

Children should never be denied access to what they can do well as a punishment for what they struggle with, such as being denied outdoor play time as a punishment for not completing a math activity.

Both boys and girls should be encouraged to engage in all kinds of activities, including those that challenge gender stereotypes.


Communities include segregated religious communities, small rural towns, Indian reservations, segregated and integrated neighborhoods, suburban communities, military bases, and distinct neighborhoods within larger cities. Some families stay in one place for several generations; others—such as military families—are very mobile. And some families, for example Maya immigrants in Houston, have essentially two communities—their home community in Guatemala or Southern Mexico, and their new community in the United States (West, 2001).

A community contains elements that directly influence families: mental health centers and hospitals; libraries, museums, and stores; churches, synagogues, and mosques; parks, schools, and early childhood programs; or youth recreation leagues. Some communities have more agencies that directly and indirectly affect children and families, while other communities have few. Communities in rural areas, inner cities, and Indian reservations have fewer services for children and families, and those they do have are often of poor quality and limited effectiveness (Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain, 2009; Engle & Black, 2008).


During a child’s first five years of life, the family is the first and most important influence (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1989; Shore, 1997). However, the term family comprises a vast diversity of structures, including teen parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, various kinds of extended families, blended families, foster and adoptive families, multiracial and multiethnic families, new immigrant families, families in which more than one language is spoken, and families in which more than one religion is practiced (Wardle & Cruz-Janzen, 2004). The family also includes the home in which the family lives—an apartment, single-family home, farm, trailer, military housing, condominium, welfare hotel, or even homeless shelter. Also included in this factor is the family’s use of the media—TVs, computers, video games, cell phones, and so on.

None of these different family structures and contexts is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. Family stress, due to alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, family conflicts, or economic hardships, can exist in any family. Finally, when we discuss families, we are also talking about parenting styles—authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive (introduced in Chapter 4).

Socioeconomic Status

A family’s socioeconomic status has a huge impact on young children (Engle & Black, 2008). We know that poverty produces stress that can have a devastating influence on a child’s development—including brain development and preparation for school success. Lack of health insurance, poor nutrition, crime, and inadequate opportunities for outdoor play and recreation are often associated with poverty (Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain, 2009; Howard, 2007; Rothstein, 2008). While poor families can access subsidized nonprofit early care and education programs, such as Head Start and Early Head Start, because of anti-immigrant laws passed in some states and the reduction of many safety-net programs due to the bad economy, it is difficult for some families to get these services. In the past, middle-class and wealthy parents could choose to have one parent stay home, nannies, campus early childhood programs, child-care chains, employee-based programs, suburban school early childhood programs, and private/religious preschools (Neugebauer, 2008). With the worsening of the economy, and more single-parent homes, many middle-class families with children are also struggling.

Lack of adequate transportation, living in a low-income neighborhood or rural community, and poor recreational options can pose challenges for families with children. Schools in low-income areas tend to be of lesser quality, and parent involvement programs less effective (Hill & Taylor, 2004; Epstein & Dauber, 1991). Libraries, museums, and other resources are often located in middle-class communities, some distance from poor families (Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain, 2009).

Wardle, F.  (2013).   Collaboration with families and communities  [Electronic version]. Retrieved from

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