ERIC Identifier: ED405398
Publication Date: 1996-07-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Hispanic Preschool Education: An Important Opportunity.
ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 113.
Young children learn many language, social, and practical skills in preschool
that benefit them immediately and also enhance their chances for future
achievement. For poor children, preschool helps to offset the social, emotional,
physical, and cognitive burdens that can result from their living situation. For
those who speak little or no English, preschool can provide a valuable bilingual
education (Kagan, 1995). In recognition of the benefits of early childhood
education, increased Federal funds have recently become available for preschool
programs and for incorporating transition-to-school activities into them (Kagan
& Garcia, 1995).
Nevertheless, Hispanic parents have been slow to overcome their historical
reluctance to turn their young children over to non-family members for care.
Nearly half of Hispanic mothers stay at home to raise their children. Even
parents who need child care frequently prefer using relatives rather than a
preschool, given the size and strength of extended Hispanic families and
traditional deep concerns about child safety (Fuller et al., 1994).
The educational boost that preschool provides is particularly important for
the one-quarter of Hispanic families that are poor by Federal guidelines. While
Hispanic families are like others in that they want their children to succeed in
school, poverty can seriously impede children's academic success and their
parents' ability to actively foster high achievement.
This digest describes strategies and programs specially designed to meet the
early education needs of Hispanic children, particularly those whose families
suffer from poverty. It also reviews efforts to recruit the children; to involve
their parents in activities that will enhance their children's learning; and to
provide parents with literacy, job, and other skills training, and a range of
social services. Hundreds of such programs, developed by community leaders and
educators around the country, are now operating.
The review here examines preschool experiences in situations where the vast
majority of families are Hispanic, but it offers insights applicable to
preschools in communities with only a small Hispanic population. It is limited
to programs committed to strengthening children's knowledge of the various
Hispanic cultures and the Spanish language as they teach English, although not
all preschool programs use a bilingual strategy to teaching English literacy.
OUTREACH AND PARENT INVOLVEMENT STRATEGIES
initial reluctance of Hispanic families to send their children to preschool,
many do ultimately decide on enrolling them as a result of persuasive and
culturally sensitive recruitment strategies. Similar strategies also promote
parent involvement during their children's school attendance. In fact, parent
involvement is frequently the only common denominator among successful education
programs for all children (Lewis, 1993).
Preschool recruiters in the Hispanic community are not necessarily associated
with a particular school. They may be church leaders, members of community-based
organizations (CBOs) or job training staffs, social service providers, or even
pediatricians, but they share the goal of ensuring that young children receive
an effective early education (Lewis, 1993).
It is best for recruiters to communicate with parents about the benefits of
preschool using the parents' native language if their English language skills
are limited, in person, on the telephone, and in notes. Using their native
language, even when parents are bilingual, promotes trust as well as better
communication. Meetings should be held in conveniently located and neutral
locations (i.e., not schools or other possibly intimidating environs), and child
care, transportation, and snacks should be provided. Scheduling should take
parents' work schedules into account. Face-to-face contact is most effective,
and home visits can be useful ("Considering Ethnic Culture," 1993;
Blakes-Greenway, 1994; Landerholm, Rubenstein, & Losch, 1994; Espinosa,
It is important for recruiters to recognize that some parents, particularly
immigrant and poor parents, may not agree that children will benefit
academically from early childhood education. Rather than try to change parents'
beliefs, recruiters can initially emphasize advantages of preschool that respond
to the way parents actually think about child behavior (Zepeda & Espinosa,
1988). The Hispanic Development Project has produced parent materials on
cognitive development in English and Spanish that offer useful suggestions for
ways to help their children learn while they are engaging in everyday activities
with them (Nicolau, Ramos, & Palombo, 1990).
Showing parents how the whole family can benefit from their children's
preschool attendance is also an effective recruiting strategy. Providing English
language or other skills development classes for adults can bolster parents'
belief in the value of the entire program, of which preschool is but one part,
and can provide them with an education that can significantly improve the
quality of their lives (McCollum & Russo, 1993). Project FLAME, a
Federally-funded urban program for Mexican American families, not only teaches
literacy skills to the parents and preschoolers, but encourages parents to draw
on these skills for personal empowerment when dealing with the various public
agencies in their lives. Other attractive parent programs include workshops on
topics of great relevance, such as parenting skills, gang awareness,
communication and study skills, and vocational training (McLeod, 1996; Espinosa,
Offering comprehensive services, including case management, can be an
important inducement to parents to enroll their children (McCollum & Russo,
1993). Even simply providing parents with information about community medical
and social services and with forms they need (i.e., food stamp applications) can
promote interest in preschool programs.
More general recruiting strategies, usually undertaken by preschools
themselves, are media releases (in English and Spanish) and brightly colored
leaflets distributed to churches, CBOs, and other places where parents can be
The term "preschool" is used to define a wide variety of programs in centers
for young children. Some have educational components that consist of just a few
minutes a day of direct instruction in skills building of any kind (sometimes
delivered by a video presentation). Others use a carefully constructed
age-appropriate academic curriculum that fills the day. Some have staffs with
degrees in early childhood education and with state certification; others employ
community members whose experience is limited to what they learned from rearing
their own children.
While certain locally-funded preschools in poorer communities may suffer from
a lack of resources of all types, those with Head Start, Even Start, and other
government funding may provide a better education than even the most expensive
private preschools (Kagan, 1995). Head Start, the largest public preschool
program, provides free services to poor children through CBOs, and sets
standards for required educational and social and health service components.
Staff must help the children meet specific school readiness goals, although each
Head Start school is free to design its own program. For example, one goal is to
help students develop English literacy skills, but it is left to the individual
school to decide whether to provide bilingual or monolingual instruction.
Similarly, the local projects that comprise Even Start, a Federally-funded
intergenerational literacy program, have a mandate to work with Head Start, but
each is free to choose its own instructional strategy.
The most important goal of preschool programs is to develop "the whole
child," but most programs are also concerned with serving families. A corollary
aim is to prepare teachers and other care givers to work sensitively and
effectively with children from diverse backgrounds (Villarreal, 1993).
FOR CHILDREN. Goal 1 of the National Education Goals Panel established a set
of domains related to the school-readiness of young children that emphasizes
overall development but also recommends the early acquisition of literacy skills
and some general knowledge. The approach taken by programs to meet the goals may
differ considerably in their emphasis, however. Some programs use the
developmental approach advocated by the National Association for the Education
of Young Children, focusing on personal, social, and intellectual development,
rather than on academics or school readiness (Pequenitos en Accion, 1991). Other
programs are more concerned with ensuring that minority and Limited English
Speaking students acquire the skills and knowledge that many other students have
when entering school (Williams, De Gaetano, Sutherland, & Harrington, 1985).
Regardless of emphasis, most aim to develop many of the following
characteristics and competencies in their students (Pequenitos en Accion, 1991;
Villarreal, 1993; Kagan, 1995):
and emotional growth.
and language development.
of early concepts, independent thinking, and problem-solving skills.
and general knowledge.
in the natural world, and aesthetic appreciation and expression.
for human dignity, cultural and linguistic diversity, and the rights of others.
FOR FAMILIES. Helping families learn how to help their children is universal
among programs, but limited resources frequently force educators to choose among
possible activities. As a result, staff is likely to believe that its first
responsibility is to the children, not parents, when choices must be made. Also,
intensive family programs that respond to the needs of parents challenged by
poverty and other problems may simply be beyond the ability, and even the will,
of most preschool staff. Nevertheless, early childhood educators and policy
makers believe that preschool is the obvious place for two-generation service
programs. Therefore, preschool programs are increasingly seeking partnerships
with other community programs and additional public and private funds (Kagan,
It is generally agreed that young children learn most readily when
instruction builds on what they already know from experience. Therefore,
preschools that serve bilingual and multicultural students draw on the
children's native cultures and languages. The philosophy of Project ALERTA,
designed for use in a variety of preschool settings, is representative of many
other programs in that it "rejects the notion that bilingual perspectives or
perspectives that are multicultural are simple additions to a preconceived
program. Instead, it maintains that the development of such perspectives
pervades the total process of human growth and development... multiculturalism
and bilingualism must be interwoven with the entire structure of the program in
order to have real meaning for the persons--children or adults--participating in
it" (Williams et al., 1985, p. ix). For example, in Hispanic families there are
roles for children of all ages, siblings are not separated by age, and they are
used to taking care of each other. Therefore, multicultural preschools can
create opportunities for multi-age groupings where older children can develop
caring skills for younger children and younger children can become accustomed to
looking up to role models ("Considering Ethnic Culture," 1993).
Most early education programs emphasize literacy development--monolingual in
English or Spanish, or bilingual--in the belief that it is the key to overall
cognitive development. Thus, the most effective instructional programs consist
of a high level of functional communication between teachers and students, and
collaborative learning where small groups of children work together on a project
or to solve a problem. These programs discourage lecturing by teachers and
individualized work tasks that limit student speech (Garcia, 1995). Some
preschool programs integrate teaching skills to children and parents together in
the belief that both will learn more readily when doing so together.
One effective literacy activity for children and adults is story telling and
writing. Students create stories based on their culture and experiences with
words, and illustrate them by drawing and cutting and pasting pictures from
magazines. For parents unaccustomed to reading to their children, this lesson
provides a way to ease them into an unfamiliar but important home learning
activity (Landerholm et al., 1994). At a Chicago preschool, family science
lessons are planned around food so that Limited English Speaking students can
see the items being discussed, learn their English names through multiple
repetitions by the teacher, and learn the lesson even though much of it may be
in an unfamiliar language (Landerholm et al., 1994).
The primary goal of bilingual preschool programs is to help children develop
their first language skills as fully as possible, and to help them learn a
second language, which they may not know at all upon entering preschool or may
already be using to some extent. An example of this approach is Un Marco
Abierto, which operates according to the belief that teaching in a child's first
language builds esteem and pride in family and community (Pequenitos en Accion,
1991). The National Association of the Education of Young Children has a
particularly strong position on the importance of strengthening children's
native language; a recent position paper asserts that "loss of their home
language may result in the disruption of family communication patterns, which
may lead to the loss of intergenerational wisdom; damage to individual and
community esteem; and the children's potential nonmastery of their home language
or English " ("NAEYC Position Statement," 1996, p.5). A common philosophy,
exemplified by Project ALERTA, is that language learning is never taught
separately from the content of learning activities.
QUALIFICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT
Preschool staff members may vary widely in their education level, training,
and experience, although schools that receive public funding may have to employ
teachers who meet certain credentialing criteria. Small preschools in poor areas
serving predominantly minority children are more likely than others to have
inadequately trained staff because they have access to fewer community resources
and parents can pay only minimal amounts for enrollment. Their staffs are likely
to be comprised of female community members, some of whom do not have even a
high school diploma and many of whom receive neither general child care training
nor direction about curriculum or learning activities (Reginatto, 1993). Some
staff without formal teacher education training do complete a special preschool
education program, however.
Educators agree that, regardless of other competencies, teachers of
non-native English speaking children should be able to communicate in the
children's home language and must be sensitive to their cultural background
because adults' cultural background affects the ways they communicate with
children (Lewis, 1993; "NAEYC Position Paper," 1996). Most educators also
believe that at least some members of the staff must share the native cultures
of the students.
Since it is inevitable that some teachers have misconceptions about the
characteristics of particular population groups, and even prejudices, it is
useful to confront such beliefs directly in training in order to dispel them
(Nicolau & Ramos, 1990). Becoming a role model for the celebration of
cultural diversity, and establishing a classroom climate of acceptance, respect,
and self-appreciation, should be key functions of teachers (Reginatto, 1993).
Along with more traditional preschool coursework, pre- and inservice training
should include strategies to improve family literacy (Mulhern, Rodriguez-Brown,
& Shanahan, 1994). Some specific training areas for working with children
include (Pequenitos en Accion, 1991; McLaughlin, Blanchard, & Osanai, 1995;
"NAEYC Position Paper," 1996):
with young children.
with diverse families.
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