Immigrant Parents and Children in Transitions: Cultural Models and U.S. Early Childhood Education

Children of immigrants constitute the most racially and ethnically diverse age group in America. Their successful acculturation is of growing interest to researchers, amid concerns that becoming American places them at academic and developmental risk. Yet researchers rarely focus on immigrant parents of children. This project involves a longitudinal ethnographic study of Chinese and Mexican immigrant parents of young children. The study is informed by research on cultural models of child care and learning in which cultural values and parental goals are instantiated in routinized practices and children’s guided participation in socio-cultural contexts, including “priming” for school transitions. Immigrant parenting is hypothesized as a dynamic process of cultural models-in-transition, and children’s transitions (preK to K to 1st grade) as compelling “elicitations” of cultural belief systems. Research methods are drawn from anthropology, interpretative sociology, and socio-cultural scholarship on parenting and child development, immigrant school achievement in literacy and mathematics, parent involvement and early childhood transitions. Research questions focus on: (1) Chinese and Mexican immigrants’ cultural models of early learning and development; (2) instantiation of cultural models in routinized parenting practices, home-school relationships, and “priming” for school transitions; (3) changes in cultural models in response to children’s transitions; and (4) the roles of SES and family constellations in differentiating immigrant parents’ cultural models. This study will contribute more nuanced interpretations of (a) the “immigrant paradox” by including populations at extreme ends of the school achievement continuum; (b) the collective nature of acculturation as immigrant parents and children jointly participate in transitions to U.S. schools and society; and (c) the role of cultural models in parenting, transitions and forms of family engagement in early childhood. 

FPG Project Staff:
Rebecca S. New, Principal Investigator
Funding Agency: Spencer Foundation
Funding Period: 06/01/2014 - 05/31/2018
Award Amount: $521,245