Archived — Supporting the Language Lives of Young Children and Families in Our Early Childhood Classrooms
Ryerson University School of Early Childhood Studies Early Learning Centre
Type of setting: Laboratory childcare centre for 1.5 to 6 years
"Our classroom door is open to all languages. Knowing how important languages are, we support and promote bilingualism."– Chumak-Horbatsch (2012, p.91)
In my experience in working with young children (four months to six years), families and student teachers, I interact with many people who are immigrants to Canada and who have language lives beyond our classrooms. I strive for a classroom that is inclusive for all, where my colleagues and I establish a warm and welcoming environment where everyone comes to play, learn, care and have mutual respect. We work with the families to understand their children's language and literacy needs in order to help them feel included and supported in our early childhood classrooms.
I can relate as I am an immigrant to Canada and a bilingual speaker of Dutch and English. At the beginning of my early childhood career, I used to interact mainly in English and then I began including different languages in my classroom practice starting with my heritage language of Dutch. I noticed the children were fascinated with hearing another language spoken or signed, and having stories read or signed in a different language. We started having fun with languages as we promoted multilingualism.
Each day, I communicate with the children and families as they arrive in and depart from our centre, often trying to say hello and goodbye in their home language and English. As I continue to explore how to use different languages in my classroom practice over many years, I seek fun and creative ways throughout the day to include the children's home languages, such as singing songs, counting, making up word games and reading stories in different languages, often in partnership with the children's families.
I have always had a curiosity for languages and with the help of a new approach called LAP (Linguistically Appropriate Practice) it continues to shift my practice from a monolingual approach to a multilingual approach. In 2011, I was introduced to LAP through a study conducted in our laboratory child care centre. LAP not only provides an overview of the language and literacy needs of young immigrant children, it also provides a new classroom practice for how to support these needs through a series of language activities. My colleagues and I have been including many of the LAP activities in our classrooms and our centre.
The children are excited to participate in the different LAP activities as they learn new ways to express themselves while having fun with languages. All children "will affirm their language identities, discover new worlds, and perhaps express an interest in learning a new language" (Chumak-Horbatsch, 2012, 100) while engaging in the LAP activities. They are showing a sense of confidence and pride when they share or when they hear and see their languages represented in their classrooms. Often we hear, "That's me. That's my language." Or "My daddy speaks that." Other times it is the smile on a child's face when a story is read in their home language that speaks volumes.
Our centre and my classroom is a place where languages are celebrated whether it is English, French, Sign or other home languages that the children, families, teachers and student teachers bring into the centre and classroom. Another example is our hallway Home Language Tree which celebrates each season with our community adding leaves with the word of the season in their home language. I am enthusiastic in continuing this linguistic journey together with our community to support our language lives as we strive for a multilingual, multi-literate and multicultural environment.
Chumak-Horbatsch, R. (2012) Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Working with Young Immigrant Children
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