For today’s young diverse children, the home environment plays a
critical role in their cultural and linguistic development. Every
family, including both native-born or newcomers to the country, has
varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds and holds unique
experiences, values, and beliefs towards early learning and family
interactions. Home visits are an important way for understanding and
connecting with culturally and linguistically diverse families. Home
visits can be a vehicle for educators to learn about family households
and to expand their own knowledge of their students’ lives and cultural
backgrounds (Ginsberg, 2007; Sanders, 2008).
For many mainstream educators, working with families whose home
language is not English can provide an exceptional challenge: they have
to effectively teach students who have diverse and largely opaque
literacy practices that might differ from the mainstream culture. The
classroom teacher will often turn to the English Language Learner (ELL)
teacher for instructional advice to gain a better understanding of the
students/families. Visiting homes is an effective way for the ELL
teacher to learn more about the families and their cultures. This
information can be shared with other faculty and staff members to help
them reach out to families. Because of this, knowledge about conducting
home visits should be part of English Language Teaching (ELT) training
It is essential that we begin to learn about the families’
lives so that meaningful connections between everyday and school
learning can occur. Families can share their personal perspectives and
their funds of knowledge that they bring to any learning situation.
Moll, Armanti, Neff, and Gonzalez (1992) describe funds of
knowledge as the rich and untapped intellectual resources that
students, particularly those who are culturally or linguistically
diverse, bring to school or any situation. This unique information
gained during a home visit by the ELL teacher can be recognized and then
used to extend, enrich, and infuse meaning into the school-classroom
environment and curriculum for the students.
Considerations for Conducting Home Visits
When conducting a home visit where the culture environment is
different than one’s own, the ELL educator will want to reflect on
his/her own cultural heritage and established knowledge base. This
allows the person to realize what influences his/her own beliefs and if
there is a match or mismatch with cultural and linguistically diverse
families. If there is a mismatch, this mismatch is often interpreted
through the lens of a deficiency and is not realized as an inherent
strength of the family (Heath, 1983; Compton-Lilly, Rogers &
Lewis, 2012). Home visits allow people to challenge their own
assumptions and learn from others. By examining one’s own cultural
background, an educator can realize how a student’s culture and language
can influence his/her interactions and how s/he approaches learning
situations (NAYEC, 2009).
Home visits can help to establish and build relationships
between families and educators (Bradley & Schalk, 2013). When
interacting with the parents, it is important to consider that most
culturally and linguistically diverse families hold educators in very
high regard. During the home visit, the family’s questions and
conversation about their children’s education may hold different
perceptions and expectations. For example, Chavkin and Gonzalez (1995)
found that Latino parents perceived educating their children through
nurturing, teaching values, and instilling good behavior and
characteristics, whereas school and educators were expected to handle
the actual academic learning. Through home visits, closer cooperation
between home and school can be achieved which can limit
misunderstandings (Valdez, 1996).
Culturally and linguistically diverse parents tend to have low
school participation rate at school events (Floyd, 1998). There is an
urgent need for increased parental involvement among Latino parents who
do not speak English as a first language and for them to participate in
the decision making process of their children’s education (Chavkin
& Gonzalez, 1995). Research has shown that parent involvement
tends to help student attendance and academic achievement (Epstein
& Sheldon, 2002). An increase in academic performance can result
when the parents, the school, and the community create a partnership for
the benefit of the children (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001). A recent research
study showed that the children whose families took part in a
home-visiting program showed positive benefits once they enrolled in
school, compared with their peers who did not receive regular home
visits (Samuels, 2013). Home visits are a way for ELL teachers to reach
out to the families and help them feel welcome when entering the
Suggestions for Conducting Home Visits
The following suggestions have been culled from the conducting
of home visits with culturally and linguistically diverse
- Make appointments in advance and follow up with reminders.
Try to schedule visits when key family members (primary caregivers) will
be home. It sends an important message of respect to arrive on
- Let partners know the purpose of the visits. Assure parents
that they do not need to make any special preparations for the
- Offer interpreter services if needed.
- Plan on brief visits, but follow the family’s lead on how long to stay.
- Take something (e.g., books, crayons/paper, etc.) to provide
an opening for sharing information and opportunities for observations
(Johnston & Mermin, 1994).
- Expect the unexpected (e.g., cancellations, unfamiliar
situations and surroundings, sharing of emotional and troubling
information) (Kyle & McIntyre, 2000).
- If the parent offers you something to eat or drink, politely
accept because the parents are observing you as well.
- Do not make quick judgments about the home environment. Every
household has its own cultural values and beliefs.
- Focus on families’ cultural norms when visiting. For example,
where people sit in proximity to you during the visit can mean different
things in different cultures.
Remember that parents and family members are experts about their children, so observe, listen and learn.
Home visits allow ELL educators to learn more about culturally
and linguistically diverse families’ interactions and experiences and
build on those activities in the educational setting. The visits can
provide an amazing source of information regarding the socio-cultural
processes, academic, and linguistic development of students. Home visits
are a start to relationship building between teachers and parents where
everyone benefits. ELL teachers benefit from learning more about their
students’ interests and cultural experiences. Parents benefit from the
teachers showing how much they care and value what the parents have to
offer to the educational process. Students benefit the most from knowing
how much their teachers and their parents care about them.
Bradley, J.F., Schalk, D. (2013). Greater than great: A
teacher’s home visit changes a young child’s life. Young
Children, 68(3), 70-75.
Chavkin, N., & Gonzalez, D. L. (1995). Forging
partnerships between Mexican American parents and
the schools. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research
and Improvement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 388
Compton-Lilly, C., Rogers, R., & Lewis, T. Y. (2012).
Analyzing epistemological considerations related to diversity: An
integrative critical literature review of family literacy scholarship. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(1),
Delgado-Gaitan, C., (2001). The power of community:
Mobilizing for family and schooling. Boulder, CO: Riwman
Epstein, L., & Sheldon, S.B. (2002). Present and
accounted for: Improving student attendance through family and community
involvement. Journal of Educational Research, 95,
Floyd, L. (1998). Joining hands: A parental involvement
program. Urban Education, 33(1), 123-135.
Ginsberg, M.B. (2007). Lessons from the kitchen table. Educational Leadership, 64(6),
Heath, S.B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life,
and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press.
Johnston, L., & Mermin, J. (1994). Easing children’s
entry to school: Home visits help. Young Children, 49, 62-68.
Kyle, D.& McIntyre, E. (2000), Family visits
benefit teachers and families-and students most of all.. Santa
Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity, &
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N.
(1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to
connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice,
NAYEC, 2009. Where we stand on responding to linguistic and
cultural diversity. Retrieved May 26, 2010 from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/diversity.pdf
Samuels, C., (2013). Study says early home visits show school
benefits. Education Week. Retrieved on from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/early_years/2013/02/study_says_early_home_visits_show_school_benefits.html
Sanders, M. (2008). How parent liaisons can help the
home-school gap. Journal of Educational Research,
Valdez, G. (1996). Con respect: Building the bridges
between culturally diverse families and schools. New York:
Teachers College Press.
Stephanie Wessels is an assistant professor in the
Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education at the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her teaching experience includes working with ELL
students in the classroom. Her current research focuses on bilingual