Supporting School Readiness of Young African American Boys

Strengthen Home-Program Partnerships

A man helps a young boy read a book.Head Start programs are strongly rooted in family engagement. The Parent, Family, and Community Engagement (PFCE) Framework provides guidance for education staff (e.g., teachers, home visitors, family child care providers) engagement, or partnership, efforts that support children’s school readiness and family well-being. By partnering with families, early childhood programs can help make sure African American boys are ready for school. School readiness is based on the collective efforts of program staff and parents. These connections allow families to grow as their children’s first teachers and strengthen their children’s identities, relationships, skills, and knowledge.

Programs are successful when they view early childhood education as a partnership between families and education staff. This partnership works best when the education staff gathers cultural information from children’s families and communities. That cultural information is known as funds of knowledge. Education staff can use funds of knowledge to build meaningful relationships and create culturally and linguistically appropriate curricula. Programs that value family engagement and partnerships are in the best position to support children’s development. They can successfully combine all environments, materials, and learning activities with a child’s knowledge and experience.

Why the Home-Program Relationship Matters

  • Many teachers’ beliefs about African American families are through a deficit view, affecting their ability to see families with a strengths-based focus. This deficit view gets in the way of strengthening home-program partnerships.
  • African American preschoolers who lived in homes that placed high importance on African American culture showed more factual knowledge, better problem-solving skills, and fewer behavior problems according to their parents. When teachers, family child care providers, and home visitors learn about the family culture of African American boys in their programs, their deficit view may turn toward a strengths-based attitude.
  • Many African American families are and want to be involved in their child’s education. However, parents have expressed frustration with not being recognized for their efforts to help their children and experiencing barriers when they try to get involved or advocate for their children’s needs.
  • Social networks, faith networks, community members, and community organizations for African Americans are key resources for many African American families. Learning ways of family engagement and ending comparison to other standards can create pathways to creating home-program partnerships.
  • Culturally responsive education practices and professional development can help educators replace beliefs they hold about family involvement with more accurate, complete, and genuine approaches to engaging families.

Creating a support system for young African American boys starts with the family. Education staff can help children get ready for school by partnering with children’s families.


Adults and child gathered around a table.Take a few minutes to think about how your views of home-program partnerships influence what you do and how you interact with African American families.

  • What are your program’s philosophies and guidelines about home-program partnerships?
  • What are your expectations and why do you consider the home-program partnership important, especially when engaging families of African American boys?
  • Are your expectations different from how the African American families in your programs partner? If so, how are these different?
  • Does your approach build on the strengths of the family? If so, how?
  • Does your approach create a shared power structure between you and the families or is your way the “right” way? How?
  • How can you learn more about collaboration and partnerships between African American families and your program?

Reflect on your experiences and expectations and consider ways you can adjust how you engage with families.

Practices to Strengthen Home-Program Partnerships

Teacher and two young boys reading together.Use funds of knowledge.

  • Watch this video to hear Luis Moll explain funds of knowledge as a strengths-based approach to home-program partnerships. This approach helps education staff use the cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs of families to create education settings that are more relevant and meaningful for each child and family.
  • Use the funds of knowledge worksheet to learn more about yourself and the families of African American boys in your program.
  • Consider the unique qualities of the African American boys’ families in your program. For example, are there specific parenting practices or activities that are important to the family?
  • Encourage African American families to share how they are teaching their sons to navigate in society.
  • Decide which assets and strengths to incorporate into your group care setting.
  • Talk with families about how their child takes part in activities that strengthen their connection to their family and cultural identity. Home visitors can discuss with families how their cultural strengths are visible in their homes.

Create a shared vision with families about their role in supporting their child and their goals for their children. Use the shared vision to plan how to facilitate school readiness in your group or home-based curriculum.

Join in! Knowing that African American families sometimes choose family engagement practices outside of your Early Head Start or Head Start program, take part in community events that are meaningful to the families of African American boys in your program.

Communicate regularly and openly.

Put a system in place to encourage frequent, two-way communication that works best for the families. Figure out the best way to communicate (e.g., phone call, text, email, app). Confirm families’ availability and work out a shared understanding of communication and expectations.

  • Share regular observations of strengths and successes with the family. Encourage families to share their child’s strengths and successes with you.

Create opportunities for African American families to participate in classroom and program activities, especially in the play-based approaches designed for young children and boys.

Engage fathers and male caregivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that African American men spend more time with their children than other ethnicities and races. Review these strategies to support the participation of fathers and male caregivers:

  • Encourage staff to plan father-focused interactions and activities.
  • Prioritize father and male caregiver participation in staff development and programming. Emphasize the importance of developing positive staff relationships with fathers and male caregivers, especially relationships that focus on their goals for their children, their families, and themselves.
  • Show respect for the diversity of fathers’ experiences and their goals.
  • Develop networks, peer-to-peer groups, and volunteer opportunities that support fathers’ goals and strengthen connections to other fathers and community resources.
  • Groups of only father and male caregivers, led by a male facilitator, are an effective engagement tool. Fathers and male caregivers report that such groups support open discussion of ideas and concerns.
  • Print wall posters that celebrate the ways fathers engage.
  • Listen actively to what parents say and summarize it in your own words. This shows the family you hear and understand what’s important to them.

Try It!

Download the Try It! worksheet and choose one practice to focus on for one month. Use the prompts in the worksheet to thoughtfully plan how you will use the practice. The worksheet includes prompts for reflection after using the practice for one month.

Deepen Your Learning

A man looks on as a young boy handles a large toy.Use these resources to inform your practices on building partnerships with families to strengthen their parenting and engagement.

Connections to Head Start Standards, Frameworks, and Principles

Learn about Head Start practices that support the school readiness and success of young African American boys. Think about your program and your learning setting and consider ways you already do these practices and ways you can more closely align to improve your teaching practice.

Head Start Program Performance Standards

Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework

Families can foster learning and development goals for their children in all ELOF domains. Understanding the development of a skill will help families and you be aware of what to expect of children, birth to 5.

Check out the ELOF Effective Practice Guides for information about domain-specific teaching practices that support development and learning.

Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders

Implementation of the multicultural principles honors the cultural diversity of children, families, and communities served in Head Start programs.