Concerted Cultivation: What Middle-Class Parents do for their Kids

Note: Using ‘middle-class’ is not my choice of word here. I use it as conceptualized by Annette Lareau in her explanation of the term, ‘Concerted Cultivation’.

If popular media, public commentary, and recent articles on parenting are to be believed,  middle-class parents are actively engaged in the lives of their children and nowhere is this more evident in my opinion, than in how we choose to insert ourselves into our kids’ educational experiences.

Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital refers to non-economic resources that we as individuals possess that make us culturally competent in society by way of say dress, style, following proper etiquette, language use, and observing implicit norms and rules, among others. Sociologist Annette Lareau built on this idea to introduce the ideology of concerted cultivation in her book Unequal Childhoods.

I believe I first heard this term on an NPR podcast and have been intrigued ever since. My understanding of the term is that as middle/upper class parents, we consciously work to empower our kids with the resources they need to raise their scholastic lot in life. Of course, these resources don’t necessarily have to be limited to scholastic achievement although that is a huge part of the whole cultivation process. By making concerted efforts in nudging our kids toward cultivating certain skills, us parents transmit cultural advantages and make our kids again, culturally competent. In other words, we as parents profoundly influence our kids’ cultural capital. Our child-rearing/parenting practices that effortfully and purposefully include cultural knowledge and skills imparted through concerted cultivation prepare our kids for their futures, academic or otherwise.

This concept and what it really does is articulated by Redford, Johnson, and Honnold (2009) thus:

Parents who “concertedly cultivate” their children take an active role in assessing and building their children’s skills, talents and opinions as well as actively volunteering, intervening an participating in their children’s educational activities. They reason and negotiate with their children and involve themselves and their children in multiple leisure and extra-curricular activities. Children’s lives are highly structured by this steady diet of organized activities, leaving them little time for leisure or free play. (pp. 27-28)

I have to admit that I do my fair share of concerted cultivation while carefully and consciously choosing to be wary of its negative consequences as observed in the last line. Here are some ways in which I have actively worked to cultivate TJ’s mind:

Encouraged his creativity by introducing him to the world of crafts: The first month that I got the car after Aaron chose to take the VTA to work, I drove TJ to a local Michael’s store and bought a bunch of crafty things we could do together. Granted this was more so we have things to do together than for his individual cultivation per se but he is the beneficiary of the activities I choose for him so it counts. I bought little pompoms, little wooden sticks, foam stickers, construction paper, child-friendly scissors with design cuts, glue, googly eyes, and fuzzy pipe cleaners among others.With these we have made flowers, Elmo, snakes, tunnels, and combined them with the art supplies I also bought him (see next).


Nurtured his artistic potential by providing the necessary tools: Saw a pack of 150 crayons for a very good deal online. Snagged it. Bought him two sets of different kinds of washable markers, colorful glitter pens, washable paints, art apron, white painting paper, the kind of markers that only appear on certain kinds of paper, white drawing/painting paper, brushes, and so on. We have made many a different kinds of artwork which were always fun. I even got to teach him how to hold a (color) pencil. Unfortunately, more recently he has taken to using a lot of his craft and art supplies as props (or dirt) for his dump truck so he never has the patience to sit through an activity. Hopefully, I have sown the seeds of interest which is the best I can do anyway and he’ll just pick up on them at a later date.

Together with the entire family, opened his mind to the wonderful world of books:

Dr. Seuss

When he got into Dr. Seuss’s books, that’s what I borrowed or bought; when he got into trains and trucks, those are the books I got for him to read and keep the reading flame ignited; when he got into the Llama Llama books, that’s what I borrowed…you get the drift. Of course, was the one who introduced him to all these books so there’s that part of the cultivation too. Reading to him since he was about 1 month old, starting with a few times a week to now reading multiple books throughout the day, seeing a passion for reading in him at this age of 2 where he picks books from the library, browses through them and hands them over to me to borrow, to watching him fall asleep while flipping the pages of the latest book that has caught his attention or watching him stand by the coffee table with pages of a book wide open intently looking at the pictures, turning the pages, and making sense of the content, seeing him recognize characters in contexts other than books…all of this has been extremely, deeply fulfilling.

1000 books copy

Furthering his love for books by mindful direction in related activities: The San Jose Public Library launched the 1000 books before Kindergarten program recently. He has already completed over 2000 books since signing up in November last year and got their prize twice at two different libraries (we decided not to keep track for prizes anymore). While his grandfather enrolled him in the program during one of our storytime visits, all of us regularly read to him and still do.

This is in addition to the libraries’ storytime I take him to twice a week at the libraries. I did this every week before Baby E was born even up until the 39th week of pregnancy. Then, he started part-time daycare and now with early preschool, he can only go to one of them so that is what we do. I have currently enrolled him in the library’s summer reading program.

TJ went right up to the librarian when she started reading one of his favorite books: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Fostering a love for music by enrolling him in Music Together:

I have previously written about my ambivalence toward this program which I felt after the first day of classes but I proactively enrolled TJ for Music Together so he can learn to appreciate music, engage a different side of his brain, enjoy the fun of socializing or at least being around other kids (he didn’t go to daycare or preschool then), and in general know what holding and playing different instruments feels like.

In addition, we have toured preschools, bought him toys to further specific interests, taken him to events like Breakfast with Santa, lighting of the Christmas Tree, museums, zoos, aquariums, beaches, play spaces, and many many others. The wonderful thing is that most of you reading this also do the same or similar things for your kids. Most of us do. There is nothing unique about what my husband and I do. We are one couple in millions who want the best for our kids and would do anything we can to give our children the early cultivation they need and that we can afford. As I write this, I understand the privilege that comes with being able to provide these opportunities for one’s kids. There are more intervening and cultivating activities that a parent can do for their kid and that I will invariably do too as they grow up. For example, if a study abroad opportunity comes up, TJ and E will both be encouraged to take it. How we raise our kids is related to our own upbringing, irrespective of whether we choose to repeat our own parents’ parenting approaches toward us or do something diametrically opposite of that.

As for now, knowing that I am a middle-class stereotype as identified in the discussion above, I can find comfort that despite meeting most of the prescriptions for Lareau’s concerted cultivation, my version of the same remains opposed to incorporating too many structured activities. I wish my children a bountiful of self-directed, crafted, produced, and envisioned creativity and play that they can freely engage in and if that means stuffing pompoms, crayons, and foam stickers into a dump truck instead of using them as intended and pretending they are dirt to be dumped on our coffee table (wish I had a picture of this!), so be it. I am sure there is a lesson in that somewhere.


Published by Suchitra

I am a former Communication Studies professor turned stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) to two multiracial kids. I write about my adventures in parenting and living a multicultural life with my family. Blogger at: Follow me: @thephdmama

18 thoughts on “Concerted Cultivation: What Middle-Class Parents do for their Kids

  1. I got the intent of your post Suchitra. I am Mother of a 2 year old and try to engage my Kiddo in painting and creative activities which does not extend to more than 15-20 mins. Rest of the time, he is free for free play. I agree we should not structure their playing activities too much that they loose interest. A nice post for all new-age Parents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found it problematic too – the use of middle-class. Without getting into the politics of it, the distinction was made to separate the uber privileged who may have others do the cultivation for their kids (not denying that the 1% may be cultivating in their own way by their own definition) and those who may not have the time, resources, or awareness for and of the need to engage in the cultivation for any number of reasons. I know my conceptualization needs more complexity but leaving it simple here for an easy read. Also, people can self-define their class, if needed, for the purposes of this post.


  2. Oh I hadn’t heard of this before. I guess I too fall into it, I am forever trying to entertain my kids with days out, places to visit, play groups etc and when the weathers bad indoor activities that can be done from our house. I guess I hadn’t thoughts about there being a need for them to have free time to themselves too to entertain and play in a way they wish. Although I do believe they have this time too as I cannot physically have an activity planned for every second of the day, no matter how hard I try. I must say I do find parenting two small people easier when we are all doing something! Thanks for sharing this with us at #familyfun

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting to have an actual label for it. We do lots of these things too – song and story time at the library, educational toys, museum trips, castle trips, etc. I think it’s also important to balance the academic activities with creative ones (like craft sessions) and physical ones (going swimming, playing in the park) because you just don’t know where their interests and skills will lie. It’s about giving them OPPORTUNITIES.

    As you say, though, it’s also an important life skill to know how to switch off and relax, and also how to entertain yourself rather than being constantly stimulated.

    A very interesting read that has made me reflect on my own parenting choices. Thank you! #FamilyFun

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am further along in high school and I’m reading studies that show all this incorporated ‘learning’ programs from toddler age is producing a mass of anxiety, depression and stressed out kids (obviously there’s a whole book on it and the education system but that is the start of it). However, as we just moved into senior school (last 2 years of high school) the note with enrolment forms said children did better if parents took an active interest in their child’s education. Which is almost the opposite of what all the studies I’ve been reading said. It’s evidently a VERY fine line to tread.


    1. I can understand where you are coming from. With regard to the first part, just speaking from personal experience, I know I have this urge to constantly engage my child even though, thankfully, I do know the importance of independent or free time to allow him to do as he pleases with unstructured time. I watch with admiration over how he constructs themes and stories around his toys without any interference from me.
      I also understand both sides of the argument that you present. Too much of parental interference, I believe, can impede independent thought and creativity in kids. On the other hand, complete disengagement will cause its own concerns. Here is an article that you may find interesting – The Activity Gap


  5. It’s funny, i’ve seen so many posts about certain activities being seen as a special, privileged or ‘above and beyond’ kinda deal. But like you, we class ourselves as a normal family, and i’d probably say we fall short of ‘middle-class’ in the traditional sense and sit in the ‘upper-working-class’ bracket. Yet doing things with your kids like reading and crafting, isn’t that just what everyone does? How else are you supposed to fill time ith and bond with and nurture your child? Great post x #stayclassymama


    1. I would like to think everyone engages in toddler activities but you’ll be surprised by how these things and the level of engagement vary depending on one’s membership into certain social classes. For example, recent studies indicate that middle-class and upper class parents who have the resources to support their kids’ extra-curricular and co-curricular activities participate in active cultivation whereas working-class parents, due to their own inflexible work schedules, lack of resources, or abilities to do so, allow greater independence and unstructured play for their kids. Here is an article from The New York Times that speaks more about this. Here’s is another from The Atlantic that discusses the rising Activity Gap among people of different classes.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  6. Well I must be middle class too! Such an odd label. I’ve never overly considered the class system before and I dare say people have very different views on it. not one for labels though… I’m just having fun with my son, it beats sitting at home getting bored! Thanks for linking up to #familyfun


    1. Just to let you know, using ‘middle-class’ wasn’t a “label” of my choice. I use it as conceptualized by the sociologist Annette Lareau in explaining ‘Concerted Cultivation’. I completely understand that the definition is relative and not without controversy.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have far too many kids to try and entertain! 🙂 If I had to do that, I would be forever structuring play! My kids love making up their own games using their imagination. Whether outdoors or in. I guess both have an important role and managing that is the key! Great reading! #globalblogging


    1. You are absolutely right in that it is so important for kids to be allowed to use their imagination and creativity in their own ways. I also think structuring kids’ lives to the extent we do now is more of a recent phenomenon. I don’t remember my parents ever structuring any activities for me whatsoever. Thanks for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is so interesting, I would love to read this book. I completely agree that parents now are too involved, we aren’t giving our children space to just be. I read this article the other day that they did a study on kids who did a mindfulness class everyday where they would meditate, yes everyday. They had a control group (kids who don’t meditate everyday or at all) and compared the two and found that meditation made a massive difference in terms of happiness, alertness, emotionally open and accepting of other children and more patient. It was nuts! I think if we are going to put our kids in any activities this should definitely be one of them. I know it’s slightly off topic from your post but in a way it’s related, we need to give our children to think for themselves : ). Thanks for sharing with #GlobalBlogging!

    Liked by 1 person

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