Happy Fall! The changing seasons always seem to capture the wonder and excitement of the children in our kindergarten program. This year, I’ve made it a point to really listen to and observe the children’s interests before ‘making centres’, and create opportunities for exploring our changing landscape that reflect our local environment.
This is especially important for newcomer and English Langauge Learner (ELL) children as they may have not experienced the same seasons in their home countries, are participating in ‘Canadian’/host country traditions for the first time (Halloween, visiting a pumpkin patch, going apple picking, etc) and may not have the vocabulary to express their thinking just yet. As my work in early years continues to evolve, and my interest in supporting ELL learners grows, I decided I would write a blog post to share some strategies I’ve found helpful in my own teaching practice relating to supporting ELL children in the classroom.
- The importance of open-ended learning opportunities:
Our open-ended play and learning opportunities provided multiple entry points for children of all abilities and interests (Rinaldi, 2001; Siraj-Blachford, 2009); and to be quite honest, I learned quite a bit more about who our learners were through open-ended activities as opposed to rote paper and pen learning tasks. For example, K.F., a young child who came into our classroom last year as a shy, ELL learner blossomed as he explained to me that he “like the colours” in his garden at home. We found a photo of a garden similar to the one he planted at home with his family, and as he painted a drawing of his garden, I was amazed at his creativity and use of colour.
2. Access children’s funds of knowledge by moving beyond ‘one art activity’ or a one size fits all activity:
It is important to recognize the individuality, unique home lives, cultural experiences and multiple identities children bring with them to school (Hedges, Cullen, & Jordan, 2011; Rinaldi, 2001). They engage in roles and experiences such as being a brother or sister, cousin, having a pet, taking part in outside of school activities such as language school, sports, dance, etc – all of which make up their understanding of the world around them. These multiple identities are fluid and are the lens with which young children not only see themselves, but how they relate to each other (Hedges, Cullen, & Jordan, 2011; Rinaldi, 2001).
We recognized the importance of co-planning with the children to create learning as unique as our classroom community. Our learning environment, rich in funds of knowledge, is now a wonderful platform for the children to share more about their lives outside of school. This, in turn, lets us get to know each child on a meaningful and personal level while ensuring that they are able to access learning in authentic ways.
3. Think local (look to the school + community outside environment for inspiration):
In order for learning and knowledge building to be accessible for all children – including newcomer and ELL children, its content needs to be relevant to their daily lives (Hedges, Cullen, & Jordan, 2011; Rinaldi, 2001). For us, this means exploring our local parks, farms, the schoolyard and encouraging the children to bring in items of interest that they have collected outside of school.
I hope you’ve found the strategies in my post useful to help support the children and ELL learners in your early childhood setting. Having experienced what it is like to be an ELL learner in Kindergarten/grade one myself, I truly believe that open-ended play and learning makes all the difference in a newcomer child’s success in learning curriculum expectations.
As a kindergarten teacher, I recognize that it may not be the easiest to create a variety of activities and art experiences and manage the busy-ness of classroom responsibilities, I can assure you, however, that the children in your class will truly benefit from being able to share their unique identities as learners, community members and citizens.
If you would like some more inspiration for fall activities, you can read my previous blog post Changing Seasons: Reggio Inspired Fall Explorations
sets you in
a corridor for life.
open every door
along the way.
August, D., Carlo, M., Dressler, C., & Snow, C. (2005). The critical role of vocabulary development for English language learners. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20(1), 50-57.
Hedges, H., Cullen, J., & Jordan, B. (2011). Early years curriculum: Funds of knowledge as a conceptual framework for children’s interests. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(2), 185-205.
Rinaldi, C. (2001). Reggio Emilia: The image of the child and the child’s environment as a fundamental principle. Bambini: The Italian approach to infant/toddler care, 49-54.
Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2009). Conceptualising progression in the pedagogy of play and sustained shared thinking in early childhood education: A Vygotskian perspective.