Culturally Responsive & Relevant Teaching & Learning

Learning & Teaching Partnerships | Culturally Responsive Learning Environment | Example Activities



The above six minute video provides an
overview of how to incorporate culturally
responsive and relevant teaching and
learning into your schools and TK classrooms

TK is the first opportunity to create a school culture that captivates children, inspires them to dream and supports them to be successful life-long learners. Your TK students enter your classroom with knowledge from their home experiences that can be used to expand their learning.1 The positive learning outcomes you cultivate in your classroom are exponentially greater when children feel the respect and appreciation you have for the rich cultural capital that their family contributes to the educational environment.2   

Click here to find our two-part webinar series on Culture & Language in TK
(April and May 2013)

Culturally responsive and relevant teaching and learning is grounded in educational research which recognizes that “young children learn best in an interactive, relational mode rather than through in an education model that focuses on rote instruction.3 Integration of current brain research into teaching strategies supports positive learning outcomes for all children,4 where children’s strengths are nurtured and used to connect them to new knowledge,5 and their culture and home languages are recognized as essential elements of learning.6

To bring proven results into your classroom, play and movement should be integrated into the curriculum. In fact, according to the Academy of Pediatrics, “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.” 7 The following key resources can help you create a learning environment that nurtures the healthy development of all your students: How Early Experiences Get into the Body; Foundations of Lifelong Health; The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty; School Readiness; and Focus on Children’s Mental Health Research at the NICHD.

This section offers many research-based suggestions for culturally responsive teaching so you can see the best learning results in your students.

The Teacher, Parent & Child Learning & Teaching Partnership

Culturally responsive relationships with your students contribute significantly to their academic language acquisition.8  Integrating family participation, through family at-home learning activities, classroom participatory visits and school volunteerism, allows you to support children’s family relationships and healthy development.9 Mutually respected, supportive roles create effective partnerships. Co-constructing your learning community with families enables you to create thriving multicultural classroom learning environments.10  Welcoming and engaging your families as co-educators of their children creates spaces for you to be more creative in curriculum design, integrating children’s cultural experiences.

Role of the Classroom Teacher – Teacher, learner and child advocate who makes knowledge accessible in a variety of ways; welcomes participation from families in their children’s education; provides opportunities for parents to co-construct the learning community; develops culturally relevant curriculum that includes extended learning through family at-home activities, in-class participation and school volunteerism.11

Role of the Parent/Family – Home teacher, learner, child advocate and partner to the classroom teacher in the education of their child; cultivates child’s cultural linguistic capital/knowledge through family-child experiences.

Role of the Child – Engaged learner, valued contributor to his/her learning process; teaches educators and peers about his/her language and culture.

Creating a Culturally Relevant & Responsive Learning Environment

Culturally responsive and relevant teaching and learning creates a space in which the teaching and learning relationships build on strengths of the teacher, child and family, where children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development is enthusiastically supported daily.12 Ongoing brain research is an important foundation for best practices13 and can provide a great deal of insight in teaching your young learners.

As part of your efforts to work with the experiences and assets your students bring into your TK classroom, you can:

  • work in partnership with families to demonstrate high expectations and advocate for young learners;
  • demonstrate to children that you perceive them to be exuberant, capable learners and communicators who learn through scaffolding, guidance, nurturance, structured lessons and play;
  • integrate cultural capital of children carefully, thoughtfully into the curriculum,14 and value and cultivate all home languages to support positive learning experiences;15
  • ensure curriculum content is engaging and relevant to your student’s lives and cultures;16
  • integrate art, music and movement; making learning visible through photographs and children’s work and overall accessible in multiple ways;
  • create a classroom community that is welcoming to all children and families, where teacher- family-child relationships are characterized by warm, caring two-way respectful communication; and
  • build your classroom to reflect the beauty, strength and full capacities of all children throughout all learning centers.

Resources you may find useful:

Build on Family Assets in the Classroom

Below are some examples of activities teachers can incorporate in the classroom that honor what children and families bring to school, from Saint Paul Public Schools.

Celebrating Me and My Family

Star Of Day/Week – Parents help children fill out a questionnaire 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 the other children in class 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 more possibilities for dramatic play such as a restaurant, community helpers and ideas related to the children’s interests, strengths and other areas of their culture.

Family Of 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 a relationship 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 that children come up with throughout the day. Have clipboards available in all areas and model how the children can record through drawing or writing what they do. Take time to write down what the 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.

For a list of ideas for culturally relevant teaching practices from Saint Paul Public Schools, click here

1 Gay, G. (2003). Becoming multicultural educators. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; Valdes, G. (2001). Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.          

2 National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRES). (Fall, 2005). Cultural considerations and challenges in response-to-intervention models: An NCCRES position statement

3 National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2009) Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Center on the Developing  Child. Harvard University. Working paper 1.

4 Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE). (2002). The Standards for Effective Pedagogy and Learning. Retrieved from

5 National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems. (Fall, 2005). Cultural considerations and challenges in response-to-intervention models: An NCCRESt position statement;   Tucker, C. M., Porter, T., Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., Ivery, P. D., Mack, C. E., et al.(2005). Promoting teacher efficacy for working with culturally diverse students. Preventing School Failure, 50(1), 29.

6 Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dream- keepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; Brisk, M.E. (Ed) (2008). Language, culture, and community in teacher education. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

7 The Academy of Pediatrics (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent- child bonds.  Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychological Aspects of Child and Family Health. Pediatrics;119;182 DOI: 10:1542/peds2006-2697

8 Siegler, R. S., & Alibali, M.W. (2005). Children’s Thinking (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

9 Reyes, P., Scribner, J. & Scribner, A. P. (Eds.) (1999). Lessons from high performing Hispanic schools: Creating learning communities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press; Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

10 Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press; Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

11 Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE). (2002). The Standards for Effective Pedagogy and Learning. Retrieved from

12 Iacoboni, M., Molnar-Szakacs, I., Gallese, V., Buccino, G., Mazziotta, J. C., & Rizzolatti, G. (2005). Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system. PLoS Biology, 3(3), e79;   Rushton, S., & Larkin, E. (2001). Shaping the Learning Environment: Connecting Developmentally Appropriate Practices to Brain Research . Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(1), 25-33.

13 Rushton, S. (2011). Neuroscience, Early Childhood Education and Play: We are Doing it Right!. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39, 89-94.

14 Lee, J-S. and Bowen, N.K. (2006). Parent involvement, cultural capital, and the achievement gap among elementary school children. American Educational Research Journal, 43(2), 193-218; Sleeter, C, & Cornbleth, C. (2011). Teaching with vision: Culturally responsive teaching in standards-based classrooms. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

15 Tabors, P. O. (2008). One child, two languages: a guide for early childhood educators of children learning English as a second language (2nd ed.). Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.

16 Taylor, P. (2011). Counter-storying the grand narrative of science (teacher) education: towards culturally responsive teaching. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 6(4), 795-801.