Kingsville Kindergarten: Valuing home language for identity and learning
Kingsville Kindergarten is located in Melbourne’s inner west, in the culturally diverse suburb of Footscray West. It is co-located with the local Maternal Child and Health Service and adjacent to a playground and park.
Families attending the kindergarten speak approximately 25 languages including Bengali, Spanish, French, Indian, Urdu, Hindi, Nepalese, Turkish, Albanian, Italian, Macedonian, Amharic and Tigrinya (Ethiopia), Maltese, Fijian and Somali. Most families have some level of English, and some do not actually speak the language of their background.
The kindergarten offers two four-year-old groups and one three-year-old group. There are six staff, including a supervisor/curriculum leader and bilingual educator, who were interviewed for the case study.
The Kingsville Kindergarten philosophy is:
- Children are unique individuals, from a range of diverse cultures.
- The most powerful way that children learn is through play.
- Children need the opportunity to develop life skills which enable them to thrive in an ever changing world.
Along with many kindergartens in the western region, this one is part of
BPA Children’s Services (BPA). BPA is a not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with parent committees and community partnership groups to manage kindergartens and child care centres.
For Kingsville Kindergarten, building relationships with EAL families is about encouraging and facilitating participation in the service. Inviting families into the kindergarten, both informally and as part of formal occasions, builds connections as well as enabling a sharing of cultures and traditions.
Family days and other community involvement days
The kindergarten holds ‘family days’ where families are encouraged to bring food from their own cultures. These are held each term and involve grandparents and siblings. Specific events, such as Harmony Day, are also an opportunity to celebrate cultures.
‘Parents are invited to come in. One parent dressed up in a sari, and showed kids how to put it on. They come in and cook traditional food. One parent from a Maltese background volunteered to come in and do a music session with the children.’ (Supervisor)
The kindergarten engages families in discussion about how to celebrate the end of the year. This discussion is also assisting the kindergarten to gain an understanding about other celebrations families might have during the year and how best to acknowledge these.
The kindergarten builds and strengthens family connections through bilingual educators, including tertiary students. These students, who come from different cultures themselves, are able to connect with families through first-hand cultural knowledge.
Supporting home language
The kindergarten places great emphasis on children learning and maintaining home language. As part of Kingsville’s multi-layered approach to acquiring language, concepts learned in English are reinforced in the home language.
‘It’s my personal belief that children should be able to have a good grasp of their home language. It’s about more than language; it’s their background, history and why you do things the way you do.’ (Supervisor)
Benefits of home language use at home
Families may not be aware of the learning, social and cultural benefits of maintaining their home language. In fact, the kindergarten has been asked by some families to communicate with their children in English only.
This may reflect a lack of community understanding of the processes by which bilingual children acquire language and learn. It is also symptomatic of a broader need for valuing linguistic diversity within Australian society. Encouraging home language use helps foster a culturally inclusive environment.
Home language is used at the kindergarten
A multilingual environment exists within the kindergarten and diverse languages are valued. Children are encouraged to speak in their language and the kindergarten has resources such as books, songs and games in different languages.
Promoting home language is part of building a broader cultural awareness. This is also done through incursions. On one occasion an African drummer came to the kindergarten and children made shakers and played different drums and instruments. These practices promote appreciation of diverse cultures and awareness of other languages, traditions and customs.
Engagement with families is the key to valuing and supporting children’s home language use. A bilingual educator explains the type of conversation she has with families:
‘It’s an ongoing conversation. I explain it’s important for them to first keep on developing their first language for social reasons, for emotional reasons, and for keeping and strengthening relationships with their families. I give them an example - you grow up and go back to your country and you are able to communicate with your grandmother or cousins or uncle. Also it’s about the role-modelling of language - letting them understand that role-modelling is an important part of learning a language. Thirdly, the concepts that they need to learn at this stage mainly come from home, from their main language. So when they come and learn English here with their friends they are picking up words but not picking up all the learning they need to be doing.’
This includes encouraging families to reinforce the learning that is occurring at kindergarten, at home and in the home language:
‘What I try to do with the parents is to explain what sort of conversations I’m having with the children, if we are doing counting or building, so that they repeat the same kinds of conversations in their own language at home.’
There is an ongoing process of reassurance and confidence-building with families to maintain home language:
‘I explain that this takes time. It’s not that the children are being delayed or getting left behind, they are just developing two different systems of understanding of the world, their families, themselves and the communities they live in.’
A key message for the kindergarten community is that language diversity is valued. This message is strengthened by bilingual educators, who model linguistic diversity.
The bilingual educator teaches the children that not all people speak English, that different countries use different words. She uses a small globe to point out to children where people speak another language and what that language is. This enables children to be more accepting of difference.
Supporting English language learning
Incorporating games that have symbols and storytelling, such as an Indigenous game called Spin a Yarn, encourages English language use and uptake. Boardmaker (software using symbol adapted activities) is also used to promote language.
Children are prompted to make choices. The correct use of language is modelled, rather than the children being corrected. This is done using full sentences so that children hear the correct language, including the connecting words, which are often forgotten.
Families are encouraged to read with their children. There is a lending library at the kindergarten and families are encouraged to borrow books. The book does not have to be read; pictures can be discussed, a story can be created and told in the home language – it’s a learning experience to turn the pages, share the time and just look.
Professional training and skills
Kingsville Kindergarten understands the ongoing need to improve knowledge and skills about how children acquire a second language. Educators have been supported to attend relevant professional development provided by
. Educators also hear speakers from relevant networks who provide cultural contexts.
‘With BPA they’ve had workers from VICSEG come out to our educators meetings. A few years ago Indian women came to talk about the education processes over there, which helps us to understand where some of the families are coming from. Especially when they say my child can write from one to one hundred - it is a formal learning they have had, different from our play-based learning. Last year we had some refugees talk about their situations, how they’d been upended, how their father takes multiple wives, and that it’s a sign of disrespect to look in someone in the eye.’ (Supervisor).
Establishing competency in the home language, as well as in English, and assessing learning is challenging. Kingsville Kindergarten uses a range of strategies including bilingual educators, accessing interpreters (for more formal occasions) and using families who speak English well to interpret/communicate.
Educators also work collaboratively with other health professionals such as speech therapists and maternal child and health nurses in order to best support families with additional needs.
Additional year of kindergarten
Assessments may lead to conversations about an additional year of kindergarten being required and these can be sensitive. There can be a negative perception attached to repeating kindergarten.
While English as an additional language is a consideration in determining whether a child needs an additional year, other social, emotional and developmental capabilities are assessed and are the key factors in recommending school readiness.
‘...there’s social play, can they take turns, if something doesn’t go their way, are they emotionally ready? With their communication and fine motor skills, can they draw representatively? Even though they might not have a grasp of English, we still look at their ability to communicate nonverbally, whether they can hold a pen and emotional/social skills separate from parents. English as a second language is not a reason in itself but just an extra thing that I would add on - in “other”’. (Supervisor)
Supporting transition to school
Supporting transition to school at Kingsville Kindergarten involves supporting children to be more independent within the learning environment and communicating this objective to families. Fundamental to this is confidence in language, both the home language and English, and working with families to build on this learning at home.
Connections have been developed with teachers and transition coordinators at local schools. Challenges to this include the fact that Kingsville children go on to attend up to 12 schools in the area, and some schools have intakes of up to 100 Prep students. Matching up Kingsville pupils with Prep lists at the schools helps ensure families are not missed.
Displaying the schools children are going to on a list at the kindergarten assists families to make connections with others going to the same school.
Families are supported to write their section of the transition statement in English, however this may not always be possible.
‘In the past I’ve had families write it in their own language and then the school translates it.’ (Supervisor)
Transition statements are more likely to be used when they are handed over to the school in person.
‘Last year Maribyrnong had a transition handover session where you could hand over your transitions statements and talk about them. They had a number of teachers and kindergartens attending.’ (Supervisor)
The following outlines the lessons that Kingston Kindergarten has learnt through its work with children and families as they acquire English language skills.
Modelling language and cultural diversity
The kindergarten models diversity by inviting families to regularly participate - celebrating multicultural events and engaging bilingual workers and students.
Supporting home language at home and in class
Supporting home language while teaching in English is achieved by encouraging children to speak their home language and by supporting parents to reinforce concepts being learned at kindergarten in their home language at home. This results in a multilingual environment in the kindergarten.
The use of diverse methods to teach English and to assess
English language learning is facilitated through a range of visual and/or narrative-based resources, as well as by working with educators and parents to build an understanding of how an additional language is acquired.
The kindergarten uses a range of methods to assess children for whom English is an additional language. This is an acknowledgement of the complexity of assessment. Methods include the use of interpreters who are bilingual, staff and parents for whom English is good. Recommendation for an additional year of kindergarten is not solely based on language skills but this is a consideration among other factors such as social and emotional development.
Supporting transition through working with families and schools
Supporting the school transition involves building confidence and independence in children through the EYS, working with schools to build connections for transition, supporting families to write transition statements, and working with Prep teachers to promote their future use.