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Supporting Dual Language Learners

Partnering with Families

· Family Engagement

All families, regardless of their background or the language they speak, want to support their children and help their children succeed. 

Some families have a clear idea of what this looks like and others turn to their child’s educators for guidance and direction. Families whose home language is different from English can sometimes feel unsure on how to best support their child because they communicate with their child in a language other than English. However, in reality, families’ native languages are powerful and unique tools. As educators, there are many ways we can encourage families to use their native language to support their child’s development.

The Importance of Oral Vocabulary

Research has shown that one critical area of development in early childhood is emergent literacy skills. Emergent literacy skills include phonological awareness, print knowledge, and oral language. For children that are learning multiple languages, oral language development - including their understanding of vocabulary as well as their ability to use those words accurately and intentionally - is especially important.

The classroom is filled with rich opportunities to expose children to vocabulary. From books to new materials in classroom areas, new experiences provide many authentic ways to build vocabulary. For example, let’s think about the water table. If two children are playing at the water table, words like float, sink, splash, stir, scoop, scrub, swim, or empty, can naturally be woven into conversations and defined in context.

Building Vocabulary at Home 

In my previous Kindergarten classrooms, it was important to me to not only create rich vocabulary experiences in the classroom but to partner with families and empower them to create similar experiences at home. Research is clear that when students are learning more than one language, their exposure and familiarity with words in one language can help transfer their understanding into the other language. Meaning, we can enhance children’s experiences in the classroom by deepening their understanding of those experiences in their home language. So, for example, if children have already experienced sinking and floating in their native language, they will have a deeper understanding of those same concepts when experiencing them for the first time in English.

Thus, in order to better support our children learning multiple languages, we need the support of our families. We rely on families to have rich conversations with their children in their native language around the same topics that we are learning about and discovering in school. As teachers, we can share the topics, the themes, the main ideas, and the vocabulary words with families and ask them to engage in conversation in their native language at home to help children transfer their knowledge back into the classroom. For example, to learn the vocabulary from the water table, we can:

  • Ask families to talk about what toys sink and float during bath time.

  • Ask families to talk about filling and emptying pots, pans, and containers as they cook.

  • Ask families to grab some toys that can be washed and talk about splashing and scrubbing them clean.

Communicating with Families

When communicating this information with your families, think about the best frequency and methods of communication. For example, depending on how frequently you change your themes, it might make more sense for you to share with families on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. This would give families additional time as well as the opportunity to engage in the activities or suggestions multiple times throughout the week or month.

You can share this information with families in creative ways. For example, you could add a section to your weekly or monthly newsletter that provides suggestions and examples. If you are using Kaymbu or COR Advantage, consider sharing through a visually compelling Storyboard or as a Message. And since Kaymbu has a built-in translation feature, families can automatically translate your content to their home language!

When we give families something tangible to work on, highlight how important their experiences are, and provide concrete examples – families are eager to support and children are more engaged.

About the Author

Kourtney Hallice is a former Inclusion Kindergarten Teacher in the Boston Public Schools. She served as an AmeriCorps member for different Education organizations such as Jumpstart and the Boston Teacher Residency. She continues to be an advocate for early education and is now a School Ambassador at Kaymbu.

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