Category Archives: Blog

Cultural diversity and inclusiveness. How to ensure that every child belongs?

Author: Pauline Slot, Utrecht University
Retrieved from

It is Monday morning. The children slowly arrive at the preschool in The Netherlands. Emin and Enes immediately dive into the house corner upon arrival. The girls always meet up and like to play together. They are completely absorbed in their pretend play and speak alternately Turkish and Dutch. They have a lot of fun together.

Cultural diversity

Every child wants to feel that they are seen and heard; that they belong. This applies to Dutch children and also, perhaps even more, to children from different cultural backgrounds or who speak a different language at home. How do you ensure that all children have the feeling that they belong in the group?

Looking at the example described above, what would be the best way to respond? Let the children keep on playing? Or show interest in their pretend play and their use of language (both Turkish and Dutch)? Maybe ask another, Dutch, child to play with Emin and Enes and see what happens? Or tell the children that speaking Dutch is mandatory? In order to answer this dilemma, we first have to find out why the children speak Turkish while playing.

From security to inclusiveness

People look for like-minded people and that also applies to children. Try to imagine being a Turkish child going to the preschool for the first time and only speak a few words of Dutch. Everything is new and exciting. You cannot completely comprehend what is happening. You look for support, familiarity and recognition and find this with a child who speaks the same language. Support, familiarity and recognition is essential for the well-being and sense of security of a child. Only when a child feels safe, he or she can develop and learn the Dutch language.

Four tips to promote inclusiveness:

    1. Acknowledge the home language of children as part of their identity. Be open and use other home languages when this is functional, for example to make a child feel safe, or to learn from each other, for example how to say “chicken, cow or sheep” in different languages. Also, explain that the majority language is the language of all of us.
    2. Talk to each other about differences and similarities between people. It can be about visible characteristics, such as hair or eye colour. Also, try to go a little further by talking about things that are not immediately visible, such as a hobby or something that a child likes to do. Do this with an open and gender-neutral attitude (avoid stereotyping based on gender or cultural background). This can improve and enhance empathy in children.
    3. Provide play or activities where children work together as a group and encourage children to help each other and work together. This way everyone can experience that they belong.
    4. Take a critical look at your materials and toys. Can all children from different backgrounds identify with this? Are there people from different backgrounds in the books you read? Are there multiple skin tones available for colouring or painting?

Mixed group

Many groups include children from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. To ensure that every child feels seen and heard, it is important not only to pay attention to the differences between children, but also to reflect on the similarities. It is important to give children the message that all (other) home languages ​​are important and contribute to who they are and where they come from. At the same time, Dutch is the language that connects all children in preschool. For this reason, it is also important that children speak Dutch with each other. Explain this to children and use the home language as support to learn from and with each other. Show interest in the different home languages ​​and use them while learning Dutch. For example, make a list of commonly used words in all different languages spoken by the children and display this on the wall at preschool (ask parents for help to make this list).

Diversity means acknowledging that there are differences between people. Inclusiveness means embracing those differences and ensuring that everyone belongs. As a pedagogical professional, be aware of this as and try to remember why children do what they do, so that you can support them even better.

I can always count on her. What migrant parents value in their relationships with the (pre)school.

Author: Melissa Be, Utrecht University
Retrieved from:


When I have something on my mind, I just walk to the teacher. Yes, I’ll ask for suggestions like ‘how do I need to do these things at home? Do you have suggestions?’ Yes, I can always count on her.” – Batoul, parent of Dahbi (4 years old).

Parental involvement

In the Netherlands, like in other countries, there is increasing attention for parent-(pre)school partnerships. Good collaboration and cooperation between parents and teachers are very important for the child’s development. It affects their school outcomes, work attitude, social-emotional functioning and their wellbeing.

Parental involvement is a difficult concept:
- Parental involvement is more than only active involvement of parents at the (pre)school, for example in assisting in (pre)school activities.
- It is also, maybe more importantly, about the contact and exchange of information with (pre)school teachers about the development and wellbeing of the child.
- Furthermore, it is about stimulating the child’s development at home. Parental involvement is a two-way street in which both parent and (pre)schools need to take responsibility.

How does your (pre)school encourage parental involvement? More information about the different types of parental involvement can be found in the article by Epstein [1].

Positive experiences of migrant parents

Yes, I can always count on her”, this is what Batoul likes about the relationship with her daughter’s teacher. Batoul is one of the participants of the parent-interview study of the ISOTIS project [2]. The main goal of the European ISOTIS project is to promote equality and inclusion in education and society. Besides Batoul, 41 other parents with a migrant-background participated in this study to share their experiences with the educational system in the Netherlands. This study looked more closely at what parents value in their contact with the (pre)school and the professionals working there. What do parents see as key ingredients that stimulate parental involvement?

4 key ingredients for enhancing parental involvement

Based on what the parents expressed in the interview study, we have some suggestions:

Invest in personal one-on-one contact with the parent. Parents appreciate that they can always talk and reach out to the teacher. One parent mentioned that she received suggestions about how she could deal with her child’s behavior. It is important to give parents the feeling that you are standing on the same side. So, respond to their questions seriously and acknowledge that raising a child is not always easy and that you can find a good solution together.

Show interest and take initiative in the communication with the parent. When parents bring or pick up their child are good opportunities to start an (informal) conversation. Express an interest in parents’ background and explore whether you have some shared interests.

Share positive experiences and express positive expectations about the child’s development. What went well today? Share these experiences and explain why these contribute to the development of the child. Parents appreciate being informed about the activities of the child at (pre)school, for example through photos or a group app. ‘then I can show the picture and my child responds with ‘I was too afraid to come close to the animals’. Then you have a conversation with your child about it, about school. Because if you ask your child ‘how was school?’ ‘Yes mom, good, it was nice’, then you’ll get a short answer. Parents like to hear when things are going well with their child, so do not only communicate with them when there are problems.

Create a meeting place within a (pre)school where parents can come together and meet each other. A good initiative in Rotterdam and Utrecht is the ‘parent room’. This is a place in the school where parents can drink coffee with each other and also learn about current educational projects in the school. Parents did mention the importance of a coordinator (‘parent broker’) who is able to enhance a safe environment and make sure that all parents are able to ask their questions.

What to do as a (pre)school?

To stimulate parental involvement, it is important to position yourself at an equal level as the parent and collaborate as a team to foster the child’s development at (pre)school and at home. Make sure your (pre)school is a ‘safe haven’, a meeting place for parents and teachers. Welcome different (cultural) backgrounds and start a conversation when you have the feeling that you and the parent are not on the same page. Collaborate and think of a solution in the best interest of the child. A principal can be very valuable here, because he/she can make sure that all professionals are aligned in their practices, for example in the communication with parents. Which norms and values are important? Which needs do parents have? And what is expected of parents? How do you create an open, safe and positive (pre)school environment? Talk with parents about these issues to create a good relationship that will support children’s prosperous development and wellbeing.

[1] Epstein – 6 types of parental involvement

[2] More about ISOTIS: ISOTIS

Making family outreach a priority to tackle social inequalities in Europe

Authors: Sofia Guichard, Gil Nata, & Joana Cadima, University of Porto

Ensuring outreach and making it a priority is one of the central recommendations of the recent inventory of proven or potentially effective approaches to family and parenting support in tackling social inequalities, developed by members of the ISOTIS teams from Czech Republic, England, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Portugal.

The inventory defines parenting support as all services aimed at improving how parents approach and fulfil their role as parents. Parenting support also includes services that are designed to increase resources and competencies that parents employ in child rearing, including information, knowledge, skills and social support. Therefore, parenting support measures can include both direct support to parents and families, but also wider policies such as parental leaves, health care services or Early Childhood Education and Care measures. Parenting support services developed for and with children and families with a migrant background (or non-native speakers), Roma/ethnic minority background, or who were in a situation of final hardship or general social risk were selected for the inventory.

The inventory suggest that although it is visible in the 7 participating countries that family and parenting support includes a broad range of services across several sectors (such as education, social/welfare, and health), there are important differences in how services are implemented across countries. In four countries, parenting support is part of a clear strategic framework that integrates a broad range of early intervention and prevention universal services for families. This is the case for England, Germany, Netherlands, and Norway. In the three other countries - Czech Republic and Portugal, and up to a certain extent in Poland, particularly for children under 3 -, the main approach taken in parenting support is focused on the most vulnerable families, through targeted specialist support. The aim in these targeted programs is to address the most basic needs first with a focus on child protection and families in adverse social circumstances. Countries also show differing priorities and approaches to parental leaves and ECEC services for children under three.

In addition to a broad investment in outreach, other recommendations to existing challenges include:
• Be adapted to the country needs and existing services;
• Be designed and adapted to the target-group characteristics and degree of disaffection and distrust in the country’s institutions;
• Address parents’ specific needs while maintaining high-quality standards;
• Be continuously monitored and evaluated against its aims;
• Target the needs of multicultural groups, fostering multicultural beliefs;
• Address and promote the first languages of migrants;
• Take advantage of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools to build communities of trust, overcome challenges, foster outreach and integrate first language of migrants.

Read the full inventory:

How do educational achievements relate to socioeconomic and migration background?

Author: Jesper Rözer

Achievements in mathematics, science, and literacy skills are related to educational attainment and success on the labor market, resulting, for instance, in more desirable jobs and higher wages later in life. Yet, we know that the education of one’s parents as well as whether one’s parents or oneself is born in the country in which one attends school matters a lot for one’s educational achievement. In this ISOTIS report, we seek to answer: how do these differences in achievement by socioeconomic and migration background vary between countries over time and across the life course?

Therefore, we combined information from more than 5.6 million individuals from 103 regions. The findings indicated:

• There are substantial differences in test-scores between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, with children from higher educated parents performing better. Smaller differences are found between children with and without a migrant background in Europe.
• Socioeconomic inequalities are particularly large in Central-Eastern European countries, while inequalities by migration background are particularly large in North-Western Continental European countries.
• Socioeconomic inequalities seem to be stable over time, but may have slightly increased between 1995 and 2015. Inequalities by migration background fluctuate more, and were observed to increase again, especially in later stages of the school career, in recent years.
• Inequalities by socioeconomic and migration background seem to evolve similarly over the life course: being already large at grade 4 (approximately age 10), remaining stable or even declining while children follow primary and secondary education, and increasing again around age 21 when children leave secondary and tertiary education.

Thus, high quality environments and the promotion of equality in primary and secondary schools may reduce the inequality trends by socioeconomic and migration background, and work as equalizers. In addition, there are large differences between countries in how large the inequalities are. In our next ISOTIS report, we will address the question: Are some national policies more effective in tackling inequalities than others?

What characterizes promising professional development interventions related to inclusiveness?

Author: Pauline Slot

In view of life-long learning there is a lot of attention for on-going and continuous professional development (PD) that can contribute to changing professionals’ competences and behaviour. For the current purpose, professionals include a wide range of practitioners working with children and families, such as teachers, social workers, paraprofessionals and volunteers, in formal and informal settings. PD concerns all actions aimed at changing professionals’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs or behaviour. Although there are abundant PD studies, there are two drawbacks in this literature. The first is that the majority of studies published in scientific journals come from Anglo-Saxon countries. Secondly, these studies do not always provide detailed information on the different components of professionalization, thus providing limited details on its key. The ISOTIS inventory aimed to address both gaps by exploring aspects of promising European PD interventions.

Based on the inventory, we propose a new framework to view PD.

The outer layer situates the professional within a larger (organizational) context, which is likely to impact the effectiveness of PD. inside there are three main PD components related to the who, the what, and the how of PD.

  1. The characteristics of the learners and the context are important to consider when thinking about PD. For instance, the results of the inventory showed that the majority of the programmes in the inventory could be considered as general interventions, rather than aimed at professionals working with a specific target group. In some cases the programmes were aimed at professionals working with disadvantaged children or second language learners.
  2. Different content areas can be addressed in PD. The results of the inventory showed that 69% of the interventions were specifically focused on cultural diversity, multilingualism or inclusiveness. Further, different focus domains can be distinguished, such as knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes. The findings of the inventory revealed that the majority of PD interventions emphasized knowledge and skills or knowledge, skills and attitudes.
  3. Broadly speaking, three different types of PD strategies can be distinguished: training or courses, coaching and reflection. The inventory highlighted that the combination of all three strategies was the most common across interventions, followed by a combination of training and reflection. The preferred delivery mode was face-to-face and the PD was targeted either at an individual or at both the individual and the team level.

Mechanism of change

The inner circle reflects the two main processes hypothesized to change professionals’ behaviour and practices. Enactment concerns the translation of newly acquired beliefs into practice and illustrates the on-going exchange between professionals’ knowledge, beliefs and skills in changing actual behaviour and practices. The results of the inventory showed that the majority of PD interventions was both theory- and practice based, which could support enactment as underlying mechanism of changing professionals’ practices.

Reflection is the other key facilitator of change as it allows professionals to use (daily) experiences to critically consider, (re)evaluate and reconstruct knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, skills, and behaviour. Indeed the results supported the importance of reflection, as this was part of the majority of PD interventions included in the inventory. In order to be effective, reflection needs to be critical and constructive. Moreover, there are some indications that reflection involving the team as a whole, rather than a single professional, and that incorporate a focus on attitudes besides knowledge and skills can be more effective in changing professionals’ behaviour and practices.

Recommendations for practice

  1. Reflection is an important aspect of PD and should have a prominent role in professionals’ (everyday) practices, as part of continuous professional development within the organisation, and in specific interventions aimed at changings professionals’ knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes.
  2. A comprehensive approach to PD involves a combination of theory and practice with interplay of face-to-face and online delivery using different PD strategies, including training, reflection and coaching, targeting professionals’ knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes.
  3. Online PD can include e-learning activities, video-based reflection, online exchange of practices and online tools for self reflection.