This preliminary study of parental participation in curricular and extra-curricular activities was conducted in the general framework of the healthy heart project in St. Louis du Parc, an underprivileged and multiethnic neighbourhood in Montreal. A general understanding of this type of participation is essential in order to adapt the role parents play in health programs developed in conjunction with the school. A conceptual framework was developed to help understand how and why parents of primary school children participate in school activities. Qualitative analysis of 15 semi-directed interviews conducted with various schools and other organizations revealed those obstacles to parental involvement, and the factors that encourage parents to participate. It was clear that there were wide social and cultural gaps between parents and schools. An important factor is how people perceive those barriers. Teachers stressed organizational and language communications difficulties. Others pointed to the lack of knowledge of the community, to poor communications skills and the parents' lack of those skills that would allow them to participate actively. A more open-minded attitude by school authorities and a more proactive and positive attitude of teachers toward parents are essential requirements, but not the only ones. Further interviews with parents should help provide more details and information.