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Christine McWayne and Gigliana Melzi from New York University’s Department of Applied Psychology discuss their investigation of Latino family involvement in early childhood education.

The evaluation and development of family involvement programs for young children, particularly young Latino children, depend on quality family involvement measurement for the Latino community. Right now, few culturally responsive and valid instruments exist to capture adequately the family involvement attitudes, behaviors, and practices among diverse Latino families. This is problematic, given the growing numbers of Latino children enrolled in early childhood programs and programs’ consequent need to conceptualize new ways of encouraging and gauging parental support of young children's educational success.

Supported by generous funding from both the Administration for Children and Families Head Start University Partnership Research Grants and the National Institute of Child Health and Development, our mixed-methods study, presently underway, investigates the specific and unique ways that Latino families support children’s school readiness through their involvement behaviors. Our research recognizes the impact of both the home and school environments on children’s development and attempts to improve the connections and links between them.

Specifically, the overall objectives of our work—within a diverse Latino community of families and children participating in Head Start—are to (a) understand parents' conceptualizations of family involvement in their children's early educational experiences; (b) develop and validate a culturally relevant, multidimensional measure of family involvement; and (c) examine the culturally relevant, multidimensional construct of family involvement in relation to school readiness. This work is necessary to report sufficiently on educational policies and practices for this community.

The study integrates both qualitative and quantitative research methods within an emic approach to social science research.1 An emic perspective allows us to analyze family processes from within the cultural system privileging what members of the cultural group themselves value as meaningful and important. Thus, the project begins with collection and analyses of qualitative, focus group data to identify core concepts and beliefs among Latino families regarding child development and the specific practices that families engage to support children’s early educational experiences.2

After relevant categories are derived from the qualitative analyses, we will then focus on instrument development. First, representative behaviors will be sampled from each of the identified domains to create a pool of items for a multidimensional scale. Using quantitative methods, participants’ responses to these items will be subjected to common factor analytic and Rasch procedures to ensure that reliable dimensions are identified across and within Latino subgroups. Constructs will be confirmed with an independent sample using confirmatory factor analysis.

Findings from this study will contribute to our understanding of culturally situated practices and fill a void within the scientific knowledge base. This work will also help to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the various ways that Latino parents support their young children's early education and help to promote reciprocal dialogue among evaluators, early childhood educators, and families regarding effective ways to promote and measure involvement. Our results will have a direct impact on the Head Start programs in New York City, as well as suggest implications for early childhood programs serving Latino families and children across the nation.

1 Hitchcock, J. H., Nastasi, B. K., Dai, D. Y., Newman, J., Jayasena, A., Bernstein-Moore, R., et al. (2005). Illustrating a mixed-method approach for validating culturally specific constructs. Journal of School Psychology, 43, 259–278.

2 Gaskins, S. (1994). Integrating interpretive and quantitative methods in socialization research. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 40, 313–333.

Christine McWayne, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Gigliana Melzi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Applied Psychology

New York University
Department of Applied Psychology
239 Greene Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10003

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