Funds of Knowledge: Learning to Recognize and
Value the Expertise of all Families
Last month, we discussed family engagement as an issue of equity and social justice. Family engagement is not a practice of one-size-fits-all “Back to School” nights and literacy events. This month, we focus on understanding the importance of accessing the funds of knowledge that each family carries with them. Moving towards a more equitable approach to engaging families involves shifting one’s perspective and commonly held beliefs about the ways in which families can contribute to a program. Tapping into each family’s lived experiences and expertise (their funds of knowledge) allows you to do just that.
What are funds of knowledge?
The research defines funds of knowledge are the “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). Put into practice, it consists of the everyday knowledge and skills that contribute to the overall success of the family, which are passed down from generation to generation. It is knowledge that does not reside in a textbook, nor is it information that families typically acquire through their years in school.
To tap into a family’s funds of knowledge is to bring to light the story of that child and their family. It is a method of gathering information that creates a space for learning more about your families in some of the following areas:
- Family Values and Traditions
- Educational Activities and Values
- Family Occupations
- Culture and Religion
- Caregiving (i.e. taking care of children/others, cooking, housekeeping, etc.)
- Health and safety practices
It is important to note that tapping into a family’s funds of knowledge goes beyond a “getting to know you” questionnaire or implementing a “culturally sensitive or informed curriculum”. It is a method of gathering information that seeks to challenges the deficit perspective, which “tends to blame the person or group of people from a specific culture for their perceived failure” (Sebolt, 2018) and instead recognizes families as capable, willing and strong.
Seeking out families’ funds of knowledge challenges professionals to learn all about a family’s capacities and how those strengths can be interwoven into the educational program or curriculum.
Why tap into a family’s funds of knowledge?
Part of the role of an early educator is to develop an understanding of the children in one’s classroom to be able to best support their needs. Learning about a child’s home life, particularly from the perspective of the families that spend the majority of time with the child, is the key to doing just that.
By adopting this perspective of family as true expert, we:
- Recognize that building a relationship with, and learning from, families is an honor rather than a chore.
- Appreciate that families have insights and information about their children that we’ll probably never have a chance to access simply by conducting observations or assessments in the classroom.
- Recognize “households as containing ample cultural and cognitive resources with great, potential utility for classroom instruction” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992, p. 134). In order to truly serve “the whole child”, you need the knowledge and expertise of the families in your program.
- Take a strength-based approach to collaborating with families.
The connection between funds of knowledge and family engagement
Traditionally, family engagement has been defined by the on-site opportunities afforded to families by a school, such as activities, workshops, and events that require a family to be physically present in a school setting as one of the only means of engagement. Those families that can’t attend have often been classified as “unwilling to engage” or “not caring about their child”.
The funds of knowledge approach focuses on going beyond this limited definition of engagement and seeks to identify the ways in which individual families understand their role in their child’s education and recognizes them as the experts of their own lives and their children’s lives. The saying “the parent is a child’s first teacher, and the home is a child’s first school” comes from this concept of funds of knowledge.
According to the research:
- “Drawing from a family’s funds of knowledge is important for nurturing relationships between the school and the family” (Sebolt, 2018)
- “This practice serves to build stronger home-school connections, which in turn can foster increased parental and family engagement” (Sebolt, 2018)
- “The approach creates a platform for co-creating knowledge from school to home and home to school” (Global Family Research Project, 2019)
- “Teachers assume the role of the learner, and in doing so, help establish a fundamentally new, more symmetrical relationship with the parents of the students” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992, p. 139)
Using funds of knowledge to enhance practice
As you reflect on this information and make connections to your current work with families, consider the following:
- You have your own fund of knowledge that influence the way you live your life outside of the workplace. The way in which you connect with your family, give and receive advice, cook, shop, view education, etc. all contribute to who you are and how you see the world. To get to know all about you, just like the families you serve, someone has to take the time to learn about the intricacies of your way of life.
- This might make you uncomfortable. Tapping into a family’s funds of knowledge means that you might learn things about families that are sensitive, emotional, and vulnerable. Being comfortable with this level of sharing and being able to validate and learn from each person’s experience, without judgement, takes some getting used to.
- Tapping into funds of knowledge takes time and intentionality. Building relationships that lead to strong and lasting partnerships takes time and requires that you specifically seek to create opportunities where this exchange of information can occur. Such opportunities might include:
- Family Cafes-listen to families as they share about their experiences to learn more about the skills they utilize in their daily lives to support themselves and their families.
- Family-Teacher Conferences-make sure to listen as much as your share about the child you are discussing. Take the opportunity to ask questions about the child’s experiences at home, such as favorite activities, foods, family members, and find out how the family engages in educational activities outside of the early learning program.
- Family Survey Follow Up-if you do a “getting to know you survey” at the beginning of the year, don’t put it in a drawer. Follow up on some of the responses to build relationships and learn more about the families in your program.
- Recognize Strengths: Tell a parent/caregiver when you see them doing something really well and figure out ways to integrate it into your program. For example: If one parent packs amazing lunches, ask him/her to share her tips with other parents. If another parent is always on time, recognize and applaud that. Ask more about their morning routines that might be useful to share.
- Home Visits-there is no better way to learn about a family than by seeing them in their own home. Just a 30 minute visit will help you build a relationship and learn more about the children and families you serve, their experiences and their expertise.
Remember, it is the quality of time that you spend while creating trusting relationships and sharing of information that is most important. Taking the time to identify the funds of knowledge in the families you serve will go a long way to improving the relationships and engagement in your program as well as helping you to fully supporting the children in your class.
Interested in putting this concept into practice? Here is an activity that you can do with teaching staff or with families:
Global Family Research Project. (2019, April 01). Funds of knowledge. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from https://medium.com/familyengagementplaybook/gfrp-funds-of-knowledge-4d193579c60f
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141. doi:10.1080/00405849209543534
Sebolt, S. (2018). Capitalizing on funds of knowledge to support family engagement. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54(3), 130-134. doi:10.1080/00228958.2018.1481660
Wendolly’s professional career began over 10 years ago as a lead teacher for a classroom of energetic preschoolers. In her current role, Wendolly is proud to support Quality Start Los Angeles by being an advocate for building authentic and supportive relationships with families of young children. She believes that by creating family-focused systems, early learning programs have the capacity to uplift and empower families and ensure the best outcomes for LA’s youngest learners.