Tag Archives: culture

Respecting Family Culture Is Respecting the Child


Early childhood educators must balance the culture of each child’s family, the classroom, the program and even the curriculum!

The word culture can mean different things to different people depending on the circumstances of its context and even setting. So what exactly is culture? When I think about culture the word values immediately pops into my head. If you read the Merriam-Webster definition of culture, it’s a pretty complex subject. In the field of early childhood education, we have many cultures to uphold and honor intertwined in our classrooms. We not only balance the culture of the family, but that of the classroom, the program, community, and even the curriculum—that’s a lot to balance! So what happens when conflicts occur between the family culture and the culture of your classroom?

When conflicts occur between the cultures, emotions typically are running at high speed with all parties involved. Not only do families hold their cultural beliefs very close to their hearts, but the majority of professionals in this field do as well, which can make it difficult to negotiate and problem solve. I think it’s important for us as educators to remember that not everything in early childhood education is black and white; there is a lot of GRAY area, especially when it comes to balancing cultures.

I feel that best practice points to individualizing as we navigate through the gray area. Individualizing for children is a huge part of our job; it’s how we help children become successful in many areas, from reaching those developmental milestones to writing or recognizing their name in print. In order to honor an individual child’s family culture, we must first try to understand the importance of the cultural discrepancy. Greenman and Stonehouse, co-authors of Primetimes encourage:

“Caregivers always need to remember that often there is a cultural logic to parental beliefs and practices. This logic may be based on cultural practices perceived as just as right as our own closely held truths. Because this is so, we have a responsibility to listen and respect, to adapt practices when possible, and to articulate clearly the logic of programs practices when adaptation is impossible.”

One way educators can do this is by being reflective and asking themselves or even the families, “Why?” One way to achieve understanding and to maintain positive relationships with families is for educators to demonstrate the ability to host respectful conversations around the topic. Hosting these types of conversations with an open mind will allow educators to use the families as a resource and can even strengthen relationships as you bridge the gap between home and school. It may also help educators detect what the family’s true needs are. Understanding the “why” factor is an important piece for educators during the problem solving and individualizing process.

As educators begin identifying what is causing the conflict between cultures, they will also discover what barriers exist. Once you isolate what the need is, you can pinpoint where the conflict between cultures occurs; then you can begin to strategize possible solutions for adaptation and individualization. Try asking yourself, “Why not?” Does it go against program policy, is it a licensing violation, or does it create management issues? Next ask yourself, is there room for ANY adaptation? Am I being flexible, and I am I viewing this with an open mind?

Chances are the topic in question is already something that the child has been exposed to; it’s familiar to them. Best practice in ECE would encourage the implementation of scaffolding techniques and adaptations for the child and family when appropriate and possible. When brainstorming solutions with families, it’s important for educators to respectfully articulate the “why” factor on your end too. Ideally, this will help guide you through compromise, foster the relationship, and allow you to begin advocating for what is best practice in early childhood education, while at the same time trying to honor the family culture. After all, respecting the family culture is respecting the child.

For Children, Family is Culture

After writing my blog on the tourist approach to holidays in the classroom and reading the comments, I was inspired to have a conversation with 4C’s Debra Chin. She had enough to say on the subject to write a blog of her own…

As a mom who is raising two American-born Taiwanese/Chinese children in the mid-west, I do my best to pass down my family’s traditions and partner with schools to enhance my boys’ exploration of their heritage.  When they were little, I fostered their learning with an environment where they could continue experiencing our family culture and language through many daily activities. They went to the weekend Chinese language school. They learned to play Kong-Fu and lion dance. I took them to all of the Chinese festivals, walking from stand to stand, hoping they would learn about the culture where they came from.

When my parents lived in Cincinnati, I took the boys to their home during the Chinese New Year,  following our family traditions to have them worship our ancestors. They would Kou-tou to dad and mom (juniors do a kou-tou to their elders to respectfully express their gratitude or wish elders happy new year; in our family, kou-tou consists of two bows in kneeling positions) and respectfully receive the red envelopes from them (red envelopes are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or on holidays. The color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to scare away evil spirits. Inside of the envelope, money is placed as a gift).

Despite my efforts to include aspects of Chinese culture in their lives, one of my boys wrote a poem about his family years later that shocked me. I thought for sure he was going to mention something about the Chinese New Year, but I was so surprised to read of the many other experiences that he had embraced! He wrote, “ I am from a kitchen with awesome smells of big, juicy watermelon slipping in my throat, and cheesy, sausage pizzas… I am from a family full of laughing Thanksgivings ripping turkey from each other… I am from a family with terrific Christmases with lots of presents in enchanting wrapping paper….”

What children have experienced about their family culture could be very different from what we might expect.  My boys have not witnessed a so-called real life Chinese New Year. The loud sounds of firecrackers and dragon dance are foreign to them, as are many of the other things that we have seen in the media about the Chinese New Year.  Having a theme about Chinese New Year in their preschool program based on what we might learn from books or media, thinking that would support their family’s culture, would not be relevant to their experiences. Other preschool children might develop misconceptions about the cultures that are foreign to them . As Kim stated in her blog, a celebration that is merely a “generic understanding of a culture communicates to children that all Jewish people must do this, or there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa. It’s not accurate, and it’s not developmentally appropriate.”

What my boys remember about the holidays is what we have been doing here in Cincinnati.  We gathered together with our friends who came here as foreign students; they had no family around, so they joined my husband and I and our children. We took turns hosting potluck parties. That’s what the boys remember, these holidays with friends. Chinese New Year is just another school day for them.

Some first generation families celebrate differently than families in their homeland, and every family is different.  I agree with Kim that “a better way to enrich your program with culture is to find out what holidays the families of the children in your program celebrate.” In a comment, Jenni suggested that  “you might include a book whose primary topic is not the holiday celebration, but in which the celebration occurs.” This is a meaningful way to integrate cultures into everyday experiences for young children. Through this type of learning environment, children are encouraged to share and explore their family’s culture as well as those of their friends.

What an honor to learn from each of you. Have a great new year!