As ECE professionals, we have the pleasure of working with children and families who come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and home languages. In fact, according to Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL), it is estimated that close to half of the children entering kindergarten in California live in homes in which languages other than English are spoken. Supporting these children requires a high-quality curriculum based upon engaged, trusting adult-child relationships. Also important are strong family partnerships that honor the unique expertise each parent brings to the table.
The Power of Relationships
In an article for NAEYC, Laura Latta MEd, an educator, community school coordinator, and ECE graduate research assistant, explains, “The process of language acquisition is deeply relational, requiring the development of trust between child and teacher.” It is important to meet children where they are, which requires knowing each child personally, recognizing their strengths, and supporting areas where there is room for growth. As educators, we can invite children to share where they could use more support, by engaging them in conversations and listening carefully to what they have to say. Note how children in your care respond to new and language-oriented activities like writing or counting.
Children’s relationships with each other can also be powerful sources of learning. Invite children to work together on activities and projects that involve writing and conversation. You might even consider pairing children who can help to support one another’s skill-building. These interactions invite conversations that incorporate important language and literacy skills.
Parents are their children’s first teachers, and they hold a wealth of knowledge that we can learn from to support their children. The article, Powerful, Joyful, Rigorous Language and Literacy Learning from SEAL, reminds us that “strong relationships between home and school are a cornerstone of powerful early education…linguistic and cultural congruity between home and school supports children’s development (social, emotional, cognitive and language) and learning.”
Partnering with parents requires ongoing relationship building. When parents first enter your program, show them that they are welcome by asking them about their home language. When possible, provide handouts, flyers, and other paperwork in the family’s home language. If you have a staff member, or someone on your team who speaks the language, they can help translate. If not, Google Translate is another option that is free and easy to use. When using this option, it can be helpful to put a note that the paperwork was “Translated by Google Translate,” just in case there are any translation mistakes.
Language is closely related to culture, so it is important to learn not just about the family’s home language, but also about their values, practices, and special celebrations. When possible, these can be incorporated into the classroom or curriculum through books and activities. This shows families that they are valued in your community, while also providing rich learning opportunities for the whole classroom! For more information, consider visiting G2K’s article from the archives: Creating Culturally Inclusive Classrooms to Support Children and Families.
Incorporating Home Language
SEAL explains that “development of the home language in addition to English is critical because it contributes to growth in both English and the child’s home language and provides life-long benefits…A child’s home language is a crucial foundation for cognitive development, learning about the world, and emerging literacy. The use and development of a student’s home language and culture increases academic achievement, promotes a sense of belonging and connection to school, positively affects family relationships and inter-generational communication, and increases confidence and motivation.”
Ask parents about what languages are spoken at home, and if there are any specific words or phrases that you might be able to integrate into your routine. Songs and children’s books are great ways to incorporate diverse language into your curriculum. For example, this website has a variety of children’s songs in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and French.
You can also share with parents what kinds of learning you are working on in your classroom so that they can discuss it in their home language with their children after school. This creates connections between home and school and helps to reinforce and strengthen children’s emerging language skills.