Acceptance, Knowledgment, and Adaptability Selecting Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Early Childhood Materials

By Santos, Rosa Milagros; Fowler, Susan A. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview

Acceptance, Knowledgment, and Adaptability Selecting Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Early Childhood Materials


Santos, Rosa Milagros, Fowler, Susan A., Corso, Robert M., Bruns, Deborah A., Teaching Exceptional Children


A preschool teacher wants to know if the prereading curriculum that was developed in San Francisco will be useful for his migrant students in Ocotillo Wells, California.

A Detroit speech therapist wants to hold a workshop on how to enhance young children's language development. How will she know if the information she plans to share will be useful to the inner-city families attending the workshop?

A student teacher at the University of Florida found a booklet on the U.S. special education system that was translated into Korean. She wants to know if the booklet is appropriate for the Korean-speaking family with whom she works.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, teachers in an early childhood program want to adapt some of the Child Find materials used in St. Paul, Minnesota. What can they do to ensure that the Child find materials will match the families they serve in Fairbanks?

For years, researchers have predicted that by the turn of the 20th century, U.S. public schools will be serving more and more children from a variety of backgrounds (Cruz, 1997; Hanson, 1998; Kagan & Garcia, 1991). By most forecasts, early childhood programs alone will experience dramatic changes in the configuration, structure, and composition of the families of children receiving special education services (Children's Defense Fund, 1998). Consequently, more and more service providers will be working with children and families whose background, beliefs, traditions, and values are different from their own (Hanson) .

Working with children and families from various backgrounds comes with the rewards of experiencing and celebrating the richness of diversity. It also presents challenges to service providers when serving children and families whose lifeways are unfamiliar to them (Gonzalez-Mena, 1997; Lynch & Hanson, 1998). For example, service providers' beliefs or values regarding communication patterns between children and adults may differ from those of some of the families they serve. Providers may recommend that adults establish direct eye contact with their children when talking with them to enhance their child's language development. Although this belief may be consistent with the practice of many families, it may conflict with some families who teach their young children to keep a bowed head or to not make eye contact when conversing as a way to show respect to adults. Understanding that the family's approach is based on a different value or tradition may help the provider to choose other opportunities to teach the underlying skills and to avoid labeling practices as right or wrong (Gonzalez-Mena). Other common areas of difference include feeding, sleeping arrangements, toileting, and play.

Another challenge service providers face is finding quality early childhood materials to use and share with children, families, and their communities. Today, many materials are available for families with children with special needs. Many of these materials, however, are not appropriate or useful for families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In fact, some materials may be offensive to families or their communities. If we as service providers do not recognize and acknowledge differences in values, attitudes, beliefs, and traditions, we may inadvertently contribute to families' underuse of early childhood special education services and in the process disempower families.

This article discusses ways service providers can enhance their working relationship with families of children with special needs. We offer practical guidelines to service providers when selecting materials they plan to use and share with children and their families, such as curriculum packages, information packets, brochures, CD-ROMs, videotapes, and audiotapes. These guidelines are based on our work at the CLAS Early Childhood Research Institute (see box, "What Is CLAS?"). We use the term service providers to refer to practitioners-including teachers, child development specialists, therapists, social workers, and program administrators-serving children ages birth through 5 years with disabilities or at risk for having disabilities, and their families. …

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