As Memphis Becomes More Diverse, Effective Early Interventions Become More Important

Children under five are the most diverse group of Americans. In fact, the Census Bureau tells us that within the next fifteen years, the majority of this age group is expected to be from minority racial and ethnic groups. Following national trends, the cohort of young children in Memphis is becoming much more racially and ethnically diverse as well.

Over the last decade, the share of Memphians who describe themselves as Hispanic or Latino has doubled, making them the fastest growing minority groups. (Today, 41,000 Latinos call Memphis home, accounting for close to 7% of our population.)1,2 Effective early childhood programs can play a key role in helping to promote the optimal early social, emotional and cognitive development of immigrant children.

Latino families in the US face a range of common challenges: overcoming fears of the unknown; language confusion, navigating unfamiliar work, school, and neighborhood environments; encountering racism; and losing family connections and other forms of social capital. In addition, Latino parents are more likely to be unfamiliar with community services and often are afraid of the stigma of accessing them.3

Early Childhood Programs Play a Key Role

The National Association for the Education of Young Children tells us that early childhood programs can play a key role in helping to promote the optimal early social, emotional and cognitive development of immigrant children. For many of these children, early childhood education represents their first introduction to the language and culture of their new home. Effective early education for immigrant children needs – not only – to create a welcoming environment, but also needs to promote both English language learning and the preservation of children’s home languages and cultural identities.4

Culture and family ties are a fundamental part of a young child’s earliest identity. As a result, children bring their culturally-influenced perspectives into the classroom. As the population of young children becomes more diverse, early childhood education and preschool classrooms must constantly adapt to ensure a comfortable and culturally respectful learning experience.

Ideally, early childhood educations not only work to overcome cultural differences between teachers and students, but they also work to foster a partnership with the child’s parents and create a link between the school and home environments. Teachers depend upon information from the caregivers about the child’s home life as an indicator of school behavior. Similarly, parents can reinforce and support knowledge taught in school at home.

Cultural Differences Inhibit Partnership Between Parents and Teachers

Cultural differences and language barriers, however, inhibit this critical school-home partnership. If this partnership does not exist, teachers feel uncomfortable interacting with parents while parents feel disconnected from their child’s education.5 Therefore, if the partnership does not exist, the child’s overall educational experience is lessened.

Across the United States, childhood programs have been effective at bridging the culture gap by addressing the feelings of isolation that immigrant parents might have from their child’s education.5 Certain early childhood education programs utilized community spaces, like public parks or community centers, for outreach play groups and recruitment campaigns.

Bringing Programs Into Neighborhoods Helps

By bringing the outreach program into the neighborhood, immigrant parents felt more comfortable interacting with teachers and the schools. Additionally, teachers have been able to help immigrant parents find housing, employment, and healthcare, as well as translate class notes, label classroom supplies in multiple languages, and incorporate diverse customs and traditions into daily classroom activities. The more comfortable parents feel in interacting with teachers and schools, the more their children will benefit in its development and educational experience.


Perreira, K., Chapman, M. & Stein, G. (2006). Becoming an American Parent: Overcoming Challenges and Finding Strength in a New Immigrant Latino Community. Journal of Family Issues, 27, 1383-1414.