A few weeks ago, I was working with E.K. (5 years old) on learning some letter sounds and I became concerned about ‘how long’ he was taking to learn his letters. The stressors of teaching and having our Year Two (SK) children get ready for reading took over for a moment, and I began to worry about his progress. And then I had an ‘aha’ moment:
Before I get into my ‘aha’ moment, I’ll provide a little context about E.K.
E.K. is language diverse – meaning, he is learning English and speaks another language at home. His family is new to Canada and from the interactions I have had with his parents, it is clear that there is a language barrier, so E.K. in his limited English often has to try and translate classroom routines to them.
My ‘aha’ moment: Back to working on letter sounds with E.K. – what if his parents can’t help him with learning letter sounds at home because they don’t know how to read/write/speak English?
That stopped me in my tracks. My thoughts went from focusing on E.K.’s ‘slow’ progress to thinking about what it might be like for his family to adapt to life in a new country, school community, and neighbourhood. I began to wonder:
Do they have support? Do they have friends or family that can translate school letters and procedures for them?
Was their migration to Canada planned or forced? Did they have time to prepare to come to Canada, or did circumstances in their home country make it imperative they leave quickly?
What supports do they need from the school/classroom teacher to help them with their transition?
By asking myself some ‘bigger’ questions, my focus began to shift from E.K.’s academic abilities to the wellbeing of his family and taking a closer look at their needs. For many newcomer families like E.K.’s schools, and in particular, early childhood education institutions play a very important role in the settlement process; they are often the first point of contact with the education system (Massing, Kirova & Hennig, 2013). Educational institutions provide opportunities for support, social and cultural interactions and structure – all of which can contribute to a sense of belonging. At the same time, newcomer families often find participating in school life difficult due to several factors such as language barrier, transportation, economic opportunities and a lack of sense of belonging (Massing, Kirova & Hennig, 2013; Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2010).
The settlement experience is complex. Each newcomer family has their own unique experience based on the social, cultural and economic capital they bring with them to their host country, the social networks they have access to, and whether or not their migration was planned or forced (Ali, 2008; Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2010). Newcomer families often feel a loss of parenting self-efficacy as a result of their migration to Canada (Ali, 2008), and experience feelings of isolation and marginalization. It is important for educators to recognize those newcomer families that are in the early stages of settlement (the first five years of migration) may initially be at a disadvantage in terms of employment, social relations and access to resources (Ali, 2008) – directly impacting their ability to participate in their child’s classroom/school life.
It is also important to note that each family has a unique experience of settlement – it may seem that the needs of newcomer families and children may be similar, but that perception perpetuates normative discourse of a one-size-fits-all settlement experience (Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2007).
This leads me to wonder: what can we do to support newcomer families and children in our classrooms? What are their individual stories? What are their individual needs?
I hope this post has inspired you to become a little more curious about the stories of newcomer families in your classroom/school. I know that for me, I will be spending the rest of the school year really trying to get to know the newcomer families and children in our classroom – without any predetermined outcomes of where they need to be.
Ali, M. A. (2008). Loss of parenting self-efficacy among immigrant parents. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 9(2), 148-160.
Massing, C., Kirova, A., & Hennig, K. (2013). The role of first language facilitators in redefining parent involvement: Newcomer families’ funds of knowledge in an intercultural preschool program. Journal of Childhood Studies, 38(2), 4-13.
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2010). Introduction: Resituating Canadian early childhood education. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 56(3).
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2007). Child care and multiculturalism: A site of governance marked by flexibility and openness. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 8(3), 222-232.