The Developmental Niches of Young Children from Central Americna Immigrant Families: Links between Their Early Social Environments and Social Skills
Denmark, Nicole Marie
Jones Harden, Brenda P
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National studies reveal early gaps in the language and literacy skills of children from low-income Central American (CA) immigrant families, yet also indicate strengths in the social development of these children (Galindo & Fuller, 2010). Using the framework of the developmental niche, the aim of this mixed-methods study was to explore how cultural goals, the physical and social settings, and customs of childrearing conspire to affect the social skills of children from CA immigrant families. I sought to learn about the "developmental niches" of children from CA immigrant families by 1) exploring themes in mothers' goals for their children; 2) exploring the persons and activities available to children; and 3) exploring the types of activities that parents engage in with their children. The next goal was to analyze the quantitative connections between children's developmental niches and their social skills. Forty-eight mothers who had emigrated from a CA country and whose children were enrolled in Head Start classrooms participated in this study. Most children's early environments were characterized by mothers goals' for <italic>bien educado<italic> (e.g., proper comportment) and <italic>buenas relaciones<italic> (sociability, getting along with family), multi-family households, and free play with other children. Salient parenting activities included purposeful conversations, children's co- participation in household tasks, and "going out" as a family. These aspects of children's developmental niches were largely unrelated to maternal characteristics or child gender. Further, there were few relations between mothers' parenting goals, the persons present in the household and parenting activities. Mothers' and teachers' reports of children's social skills were unrelated. Parental participation in play, conversation, and household tasks were positive predictors of children's social cooperation according to mothers but not teachers. This study reveals a potential disconnect between skills and types of activities valued in children's homes versus at school. The findings also highlight the challenges that immigrant families face in structuring children's environments to be consistent with their childrearing norms and goals. Future research should explore parenting and education practices that help promote social skills valued in the multiple contexts of CA children's lives.