Culturally Relevant Teaching Practices - Ideas from the Field

Culturally relevant teaching helps students retain cultural integrity.

“One error has been to try to insert culture into education rather than provide education within the framework of the culture.  Both the students and the teacher must create dynamic, safe, fluid culture in the classroom, and the objective of this culture should be to engage in learning and professional development, not simply to fulfill the requirements of a job.”   - Gaffney, 2005

How do we honor what children and families bring to school?

  • Observe the different ways children/parents express themselves that reflect their diversity.
  • Honor families' home language (cultural language) and diverse experiences.
  • Expand on the classroom diversity to build skill and language.

The following activities and experiences are a culmination of ideas shared by teachers, coaches, assistants and parent educators...  just a beginning of the ways to bring students' and their families' diversity into the Pre-Kindergarten classroom.  The categories include Celebrating Me and My Family, Using Technology to Bring Families into the Classroom, School-Home Exchange and References.

Celebrating Me and My Family

Star of the Day/Week:  Parents help children fill out a questionaire about their life, likes and dislikes.  They may also send pictures of the child/family for the Star of the Week bulletin board.  When it’s Star of the Week time in class, children can talk about themselves, their family and customs of their family.  To enhance discourse and language opportunities, an interview format could be structured so other children in class can ask the Star of the Week Child questions.

Family Treasure Box:  Each child has the opportunity to bring a shoebox filled with examples of favorite things, family artifacts and family celebrations.  The family can be invited into class when the children share them.  Turn the dramatic play area into a museum to store the boxes.  The class plays museum with advertising, tickets, openings, events, jobs etc.  Parents are invited to be experts and to participate.  This can branch off into other possibilities for dramatic play such as a restaurant, community helpers, and other ideas related to the children’s interests, strengths and other areas of their culture.

Family of the Week:  Invite any/all family members to come and share a family album or a favorite book with the class.  This activity highlights the customs and traditions of the family that enhances extended conversations.  The family is encouraged to volunteer in the room as much as they can that week.  This time provides an opportunity for the family to create relationships with the teacher and other students that builds community.  Families who feel welcome and comfortable are more likely to come to school for other occasions.

Sharing Time/Sharing Basket:  Children can bring items from home that were made for them or that they made.  Items are placed in the sharing basket for large group time.  During sharing time, one or two children can share what they brought.  This often leads to family and child's real life experience out of school.  To enhance discourse and language opportunities, the child with the sharing item could give one clue and the other children can ask him/her questions about the item.

In Their Own Words:  Document the stories children come up with throughout the day.  Have clipboards available in all areas and model how children can record through drawing or writing what they do.  Take time to write down what children say or have them draw/write about their play activities.  Their stories can be reflective of what is going on both in and outside of school.

Families Share "Beautiful Stuff":  Invite families to contribute to the learning environment by bringing in materials for classroom use (art, dramatic play, etc.).  This encourages connectedness to classroom lessons/centers and honors that families can contribute resources from home.  It also acts as a vehicle for raising awareness about community consciousness around the bigger world -- that we are raising children to be good citizens and good environmental stewards (i.e. send items for recycling, which would allow teachers to learn new things about the home life).

Family Experiences Link to Area Of Study:  Weave diversity into the Area of Study by selecting topics that relate directly to students’ lives and interests.  Think about the differences and similarities each family brings.  Keep in mind that some of the typical things we do in America might be unfamiliar to others.  Children can gain additional information about the selected play environment by:

  • Taking a field trip to a parents' work or hobby relating to the topic.
  • An Artist or Craftsperson in-Residence Program:  Invite an expert who may be a parent, relative or community person to the classroom.  Students learn from one another’s parents/families and affirm cultural knowledge.  Parents/adults are invited into the classroom for 1 or 2 hours at a time.  The parents, in consultation with the teaching staff, demonstrate skills which the classroom staff later build upon.  Enlist the help of parents to share their areas of expertise and to build and extend these projects to maximize the learning and contributions of families, for example, having a parent come to school to teach how to make a sweet potato pie.
  • Using books and other related materials.

Consider your population of children and your environment to expand the background knowledge of our learners.

  • Transportation Area of Study:  Gather pictures of children and their families using different forms of transportation.  The children could chart ‘What form of transportation does your family use?’  Maybe a parent is a bus driver who could come and talk about the job.
  • Community Helpers Area of Study:  The concept of a mailbox is new to some children, especially new immigrants.  Word of mouth may have been the primary way messages were relayed to friends and families.  Some villages may not use house numbers, mailboxes or post offices.   Some people may have mailboxes in the master post office in the big cities.  The teaching staff can explicitly teach and model that in the United States every house has a mailbox, addresses correlate with the numbers on their house, mail is delivered in the mailbox.  

Writing is one way we stay connected to families and friends.  Provide children with different types of paper, pencils/pens/writing utensils, envelopes, and stamps.  Model how to write letters with pictures and/or words, as well as how to address the envelope.  Children can write letters to their family at home and/or to each other in class.

Provide pictures of places that your students visit in their neighborhood (restaurants, stores, gas stations, etc.).  Take field trips going by students' homes and take pictures of their doors, addresses, parking lots, streets, etc.

Music:  Choose music representing the cultures of the children in your classroom.  Ask families to share their favorite music.  Play music that is universal to many cultures: One teacher played a drumming CD (Sacred Spirit Drums by David and Steve Gordon) and families from all over the world said this was like their music at home.  This CD also calms and focuses people with the drumming.

Create Family Stories/Books:  Make or author books with children to supplement the curriculum, incorporate digital photographs from children's home life.  Ask families to send in digital pictures via email or send camera home with family to take pictures of student and parents, siblings, extended family doing daily activities (eating, sleeping, playing, reading, etc.)  Download the photographs and route the camera home with other students.  Use My Own Bookshelf (software on most Pre-Kindergarten computers) or similar program to create books in English or other languages (ask parents to help with non-English words).  Print multiple copies of the booklet for the classroom, and for the family to keep at home.

Using Technology to Bring Families into the Classroom

Computer Software such as My Own Bookshelf (available on most Pre-Kindergarten computers)

Visual Supports such as BoardMaker with language adaptations (available through Pre-K coaches)

Digital Cameras to:

  • Take pictures of children’s home and make a community map.  When children see where others live, they gain a greater sense of community and their role in that community.
  • Take photos of community places.   Gather, post and talk about pictures of real places the children and their families go to in the community.

School-Home Exchange

Encourage Parent Involvement in Your Class:  List ideas of what parents can help do at school (read stories, cook, document stories that children come up with during the day).  Communicate these needs to the parents in a variety of ways such as newsletters, posting sign-up sheets, personal invitations, etc.

Newsletter to Families:  Teachers are strongly encouraged to communicate in the form of a newsletter that serves as a link between school and home.  Parents value newsletters that help them stay in touch with the daily activities in their child's classroom and what they might do to support their child's learning.  Teachers use newsletters to keep families informed of events and dates in the school and classroom.  It can also be a two-way communication tool when a tear-off section is included for parent comments.

A newsletter template (with separate instructions) can be a starting point for teachers to provide information about the classroom and invite families to share their concerns and questions. 

Family Journals:  Use journals after field trips or special events at school to help children share what they saw, heard or learned with their families at home.  Photos can also be attached to the journal with the words of the student written by the teacher.  A Family Journal consists of the cover sheet, family letter that explains the process and as many student journal pages as the teacher would like to use.  An optional insert of the family letter in four languages (English, Hmong, Somali and Spanish) is also available.


Allen, JoBeth (2007).   Creating Welcoming Schools: A Practical Guide to Home-School Partnerships with Perse Families; Teachers College Press & International Reading Association

Cobble, Carol (2003).   A World Of Difference:  Readings on Teaching Young Children in a Perse Society, NAEYC

Derman-Sparks, D. & the A.B.C. Task Force (1989).   Anti-Bias Curriculum:  Tools for Empowering Young Children, NAEYC

Smith, M.W., Brady,J.P., Anastasopoulos, M.P.P. (2008).   Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO) Pre-K Tool Kit

Families All Matter Project:
Through the themes (self, family and community), this anti-bias, diversity affirming curriculum features year-long literacy-based stories and activities for all areas of preschool classrooms with at home extensions for families.

Fisher, Bobbi (1991).   Joyful Learning: A Whole Language Kindergarten, Heinemann, NH

Gaffney, Jon (2005).   Responding to Diversity,

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995).   “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Theory Into Practice", 34 (3), 159-163.

Milord, Susan (1992).   Hands Around the World:  365 Creative Ways to Build Cultural Awareness & Global Request, Williamson Publishing, Vermont

Schlank, CH & Metzger, B  (1997).   Together and Equal:  Fostering Cooperative Play and Promoting Gender Equity in Early Childhood Programs,  Allyn & Bacon

Weisman Topal, Cathy  & Lella Gandini (1999).   Beautiful Stuff!: Learning with Found Materials, Sterling Publishers

Wollman-Bonilla, Julie (2000).   Family Message Journals:  Teaching Writing through Family Involvement, National Council of Teachers

York, Stacey (1998).   Big as Life, Volume 1: The Everyday Inclusive Curriculum, Redleaf Press

York, Stacey (1998).   Big as Life, Volume 2: The Everyday Inclusive Curriculum, Redleaf Press

York, Stacey (2003).   Roots and Wings: Affirming Culture in Early Childhood Settings, Redleaf Press