Engaging with Parents of Multilingual Children: Exploring Multilingual Parents’ Perceptions about Their Children’s Early Care and Education Program and Their Decision-Making about Enrollment and Attendance

Lorena Mancilla, PhD and Anna Rhoad-Drogalis, PhD

See the full summary and recommendations for the MMSD district (PDF)


This study was designed around two primary goals using a mixed-methods approach. The first goal was to examine the reliability and validity of a survey designed for parents of young multilingual children in early care and education (ECE) programs. The survey was administered in English or Spanish to parents of multilingual children enrolled in Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Four-Year-Old Kindergarten (4K) programs during the 2018-2019 school year. Survey results were used to address two research questions: (1) What is the dimensional (factor) structure of the Language Learning in your Child’s Program parent survey? and (2) How are parent responses on each survey dimension associated with children’s program attendance? Exploratory factor analysis was used to address the first research question and correlational analysis was used for the second.

The second goal of the study was to explore parents’ perceptions of children’s language learning and development and decision-making around enrollment and attendance in a MMSD 4K program. Survey and interview data were used to address the following two research questions: (3) What are parents’ perceptions about how their child’s ECE program: (a) supports language learning and development; (b) incorporates families’ cultures into classroom routines and practices; and (c) engages parents as partners in children’s language learning and development? and (4) In what ways, if any, do parents’ perceptions about their child’s ECE program appear to inform decisions about their child’s initial ECE enrollment and ongoing attendance? Semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents who had children enrolled in 4K during the 2019-2020 school year. Interview data and qualitative survey data were coded to identify themes.

Findings Icon

Key findings

  • Two reliable factors found: Relationships with Families and Utilizing Families’ Language, Culture, and Funds of Knowledge as Resource and Supportive Classroom Learning Environment
  • Parent perceptions of language development in programs was not associated with attendance rates.
  • Parents believe it is important to promote and support families’ home languages and cultures
  • 4K programs need more resources to better support home languages other than Spanish
  • 4K programs need to do more to promote and support cultural diversity
  • 4K programs need more two-way, home-school communication around language
  • Parents’ decision-making around enrollment in MMSD 4K was informed by a variety of factors.
  • Parents’ perceptions of the 4K program play little to no role in children’s ongoing attendance