Preschool and Im/migrants in Five Countries

England, France, Germany, Italy and United States of America

by Joseph Tobin (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 223 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Section I: Research Methods
  • Chapter 2. Research Methods Overview
  • Chapter 3. Videotaping
  • Chapter 4. Focus groups
  • Chapter 5. Coding
  • Chapter 6. Researchers as Insiders and Outsiders
  • Section II: Findings
  • Chapter 7. Parent and Teacher Perspectives on Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Chapter 8. Cultural and Political Influences on Preschool Pedagogy. The Case of the French école maternelle
  • Chapter 9. Curriculum Perspectives of Turkish Parents in Germany and France
  • Chapter 10. Language
  • Chapter 11. Migration, Identity and Prejudice
  • Chapter 12. “I’m Not from Here or There”. Cultural Citizenship of Mexican Immigrant Parents and Children in the US
  • Chapter 13. Italian Immigrant Parents’ and Teachers’ Views of Immigrant Children’s Identity
  • Chapter 14. How Immigrant Parents and Teachers in Italy Talk about Each Other
  • Chapter 15. Asymmetries in Relationships Between Teachers and Immigrant Parents
  • Chapter 16. Stories of Interventions. Bringing Parents and Teachers Together
  • Chapter 17. Conclusion
  • References
  • Series index

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Professor of Pedagogia generale e sociale, Department of Scienze Umane per la Formazione “R. Massa”, University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy)

Joseph TOBIN

Professor, College of Education, The University of Georgia (United States)

Immigration and Early Childhood Education

A significant and growing percentage of the children enrolled in preschools in the United States and in many countries in Europe are children of recent immigrants. For most young children of parents who have come from other countries and cultures, preschools are the first context in which they come face to face with differences between the culture of home and the public culture of their new country. For parents who have recently migrated to a new country, enrolling their child in an early childhood program is the paradigmatic moment where cultural values of their home and adopted culture come into contact and, often, conflict. For countries with high rates of im/migration, preschool programs are key sites for enacting national goals for social inclusion and the creation of new citizens. And yet the field of early childhood education and care has conducted too little research on the experience of immigrant children and their families. There has been very little research that focuses on understanding the perspectives of immigrant parents and of the teachers who work with their children.

Immigration is a challenging social issue in today’s world. It is a key political domain that connects domestic to international policies, that is closely linked with urban poverty, and that reflects core concerns about what it means to be a nation, a people, and a union. The treatment of immigrants has become even more salient in the contemporary era of terrorist attacks, heightened concerns about national security, rising xenophobia, and high rates of unemployment and growing economic ← 9 | 10 → uncertainty. As our nations struggle to develop a coherent immigration policy, directors and teachers of early childhood education and care centers are left with the task of figuring out how to best serve the immigrant children and families that come through their doors. As our preschools struggle to develop a coherent approach to serving immigrant children and their families, three- and four-year old children are left with the task of being border crossers, who move back and forth each day between the often discordant cultural worlds of home and school. Immigrant parents must figure out on their own what is expected of them, what role, if any, they can play in their child’s preschool, and how they might voice their wishes and concerns.

This study has been guided by four research questions: what do recently arrived immigrant parents want for their children in early childhood education and care programs? How are the perspectives of immigrant parents like and unalike the perspectives of their children’s preschool teachers and of native-born parents? How are England, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States using ECEC settings to incorporate immigrant children and their families into their new society? And what are the implications of our research findings for practice and policy for serving immigrant children and their families in ECEC programs?

In addition to these questions, our study has at its core the ethical, political, and epistemological question of whether new immigrant parents can speak in a way that they can be heard and understood by researchers, practitioners, and policy makers. This is a version of the question the post-colonial critic Gayatri Spivak (1988) posed as “Can the subaltern speak?” In our project this took the form of the question: Could we develop structures for inviting participation from immigrant parents that would allow them to speak openly and honestly and once they did, could we develop interpretive structures that would allow us to understand what they were saying to us and to reflect these perspectives back to practitioners and to the research and policy communities?

Project Goals

Our project has been guided by multiple goals. Our first goal is to give voice to the hopes, beliefs, and concerns of immigrant parents about the education and care of their young children. ECEC programs that serve children of migrants, though generally run by staff who are well intended, are often hampered by policy-makers’ and practitioners’ lack of knowledge of, and consideration for, parental perspectives (Riojas-Cortez, 2001; Chrispeels and Rivero, 2001; Rueda and Monzó, 2002; Fred Ramirez, 2003; Carreon, Drake and Barton, 2005; Souto-Manning and Swick, 2006; De Gaetano, 2007; Lopez, 2009; Doucet, 2011; Favaro, Mantovani, Musatti, 2008). ← 10 | 11 → Immigrant parents’ voices introduce perspectives on the social, emotional, cognitive, and academic dimensions of early childhood education and care that broaden, and in some cases challenge, Western European/US theory and best practice. The notions of normative child development and of best practice that guide early childhood education in Europe and North America are insufficiently attentive to culture difference and reflective of implicit middle-class Western values and assumptions.

A second goal is to identify and explicate five models of working with children of immigrants in the hope that the countries participating in the study (as well as other countries) can learn from each other, not necessarily by directly borrowing so much as by being exposed to approaches that will expand the repertoire of the possible and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions. The countries participating in this study have much to gain from being exposed to a range of approaches. There is a critical shortage of studies on the experiences of children of immigrants in preschool settings and on what immigrants from different cultures want from their children’s preschool programs. Within each of the countries in our study discussions of immigration policy and more specifically about how programs should serve children of immigrants tend to become stuck in acrimonious debates, debates in which there is little new to say and little chance for changes of opinion. By introducing an appreciation for the differences in how the five countries in our study are approaching this question, we hope to break down the overly binary, adversarial thinking that characterizes debate on this topic and in this way to contribute to the possibility of more imaginative, helpful practices and approaches to dealing with diversity. We hope that our study will influence policy makers, funders, and academics in a position to reconceptualize current practices in the education and care of young children.

Our third goal is to offer the parents and staff of preschool programs a process to engage in dialogue about what is best for young children. It is our hope that the videotapes we produced for this study will be used as tools for stimulating discussion among practitioners and parents about the means and ends of early childhood education and care. By strengthening understanding between parents and teachers, our project aims to build greater articulation between the young child’s worlds of home and school, and thereby make it easier for young children to negotiate the differences they encounter in these two contexts.

From Parent Participation to Cultural Negotiation

A core assumption that has guided our project is that in order for early childhood education and care programs to promote diversity and social inclusion, they need to reflect a greater understanding of the cultural ← 11 | 12 → backgrounds and social worlds of the families of the children they serve and create improved communication between practitioners and parents. Too often programmatic reforms for young children are initiated without input from parents, and this is particularly true when the parents are recent immigrants. When there is an absence of dialogue between parents and practitioners, young children of immigrant parents are caught in the middle between the cultures of home and of school and immigrant parents feel alienated from their child’s preschool experience and thus from engagement with the larger society; and preschool staff are frustrated with immigrant parents, who they may perceive as not understanding or even resisting what they are doing for children.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2016 (September)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 223 pp.

Biographical notes

Joseph Tobin (Volume editor)

Joseph Tobin, the Hall Professor of Education at the University of Georgia, is an anthropologist who studies early childhood education and care. His books include Preschool in Three Cultures, Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon, Good Guys Don’t Wear Hats: Children’s Talk about the Media, and Teaching Embodied: Japanese Preschool Teaching as Cultural Practice. He has led research projects including Children Crossing Borders: Immigrant Parent and Teacher Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Deaf Kindergartens in France, Japan, and the USA.


Title: Preschool and Im/migrants in Five Countries