An abundance of research shows that early, rich linguistic experiences are crucial to later academic success for all children—whether they grow up using only one language or several. With COVID-19 still affecting in-person education across the country, early childhood educators have had to find new ways to give students, especially those who are dual-language learners (DLLs), these experiences. Despite the disruptions COVID-19 has caused to in-person education, the pandemic may present an unexpected opportunity. Educators can help foster DLLs’ language and literacy development by partnering with families to build on the rich cultural and linguistic resources of these young learners’ home languages.
Rich, early language experiences for dual language learners are wide-ranging. Critically, though, children who speak a language other than English at home can meet and often exceed expectations for both languages’ development. And when their home-language skills include (emergent) literacy skills, dual language learners have even better odds of academic success: the knowledge and skills they bring from their earlier linguistic experiences in many cases transfer to their later learning in English. Because so many DLLs are learning at home this school year, they can observe or participate in family activities and routines that they otherwise wouldn’t—cooking or household chores, for example—and this exposes them to new vocabulary and language practices. Older siblings can play a role, too, serving as both a model and a partner in English-language use and literacy practices, as well as in their shared home language.
With all of this in mind, there are a number of ways early childhood educators can help families foster their children’s home language development, while also preparing them to succeed when they’re back in the classroom—whatever language(s) may be used there.
To be sure, these approaches applied well before the current COVID-19 environment. But now perhaps more than ever, early childhood educators can take this time as an opportunity to empower linguistically diverse families. By supporting their engagement in these and other creative ways, educators and caregivers can help DLLs continue to learn both of their languages, while also forging lasting school-family partnerships that will long outlive these challenging times.
This In the Field piece is part of a content series developed for the Innovation Hub at AIR. The Innovation Hub is a central platform that connects AIR experts, communities of practice (CoPs), and resources to support educators and members of the general public as they navigate instructional challenges related to the COVID-19 global pandemic. See more here
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