ERIC Identifier: ED355836
Publication Date: 1993-04-00
Author: Nissani, Helen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Early Childhood Programs for Language Minority Students. ERIC
Parents are the primary teachers of young children. Bowman (1989) points out
that "children are taught to act, believe and feel in ways that are consistent
with the mores of their communities" (p.119). To promote the healthy self-esteem
of each and every young child, early childhood education programs must be
thoughtfully designed to serve both parents and children--all the more so for
those who speak a language other than English at home.
Kagan (1989) suggests that we should design programs that serve the whole
child's development--social/emotional, physical, and cognitive--within the
context of the family and community. These programs must employ developmentally
appropriate practices that respect individual differences and choices and that
recognize the individual child's development. They must also incorporate the
family and home culture and make the parents an integral part of the program. To
achieve these goals, programs must develop staff who are thoroughly familiar
with early childhood development, skilled at interacting with parents and the
community, and sensitive to the cultural and linguistic needs of children from
This Digest will discuss the following components of effective early
childhood programs for language minority children: developmentally and
culturally appropriate practices, parent involvement, and staff training and
DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICES
cognitive/developmental approach." Current research in early childhood education
clearly points to the benefits of a cognitive/developmental approach, which
assumes that young children "learn naturally and casually as they live their
lives, and that play...is valuable learning" (Greenberg, 1990, p. 72). This
learning goes on developmentally as the child matures. Intellectual learning is
fostered but not given priority over physical, social, and emotional learning.
Self-discipline is encouraged as is self-esteem. In a cognitive/developmental
approach, children are encouraged to become involved in purposeful and creative
activities with other children, to make major choices among hands-on learning
activities, to initiate and accomplish self-motivated tasks within a rich
environment, and to construct knowledge at their own individual pace by
discovering and engaging in open-ended activities that reflect all areas of
their development while dialoguing with supportive adults. Developmental
programs are designed to meet all the needs of young children and provide
programming that is personally meaningful to each and every child within the
context of the child's culture, primary language, and family.
The developmental approach to planning programs for young children is
especially appropriate for language minority children. There are no preconceived
notions as to the correct method of interaction with materials. Experiences in
art, music, small and gross motor activities, along with language arts, are
provided in environments that accept each child's individual development and
encourage each child to interact purposefully with and extract meaning from
these experiences. Each child is valued as an individual learner. All children
are regarded as capable of learning, and each child's learning style, cultural
point of reference, and language are valued. Well designed developmental early
childhood programs enhance the self-esteem of the young language minority child.
"Serving the whole child within the context of the family and community." To
ensure the success of all young language minority children in developmental
settings, educators need to create learning environments that are culturally and
linguistically relevant. The Head Start Multicultural Task Force (1989) notes
that "multicultural programming incorporates approaches that validate and build
upon the culture and strengths of the child and family" (p. 1). This approach
requires that educators examine their own expectations and biases as well as
incorporate materials and activities that have special relevance to the
children. According to Ramsey (1982), "the goal is not to teach children about
[different] cultures but rather to help children become accustomed to the idea
that there may be many life styles, languages, and points of view" (p. 200). The
family is the group of greatest importance to young children (Derman-Sparks et
al., 1989). Multicultural educational experiences validate each child's family
and thus promote healthy self-concepts.
Differences in culture between home and school are not the only issue in the
case of children from homes where English is not spoken. Ideally, educators
should speak the home language of the children in order to assist more
effectively in their development. As Bowman (1989) points out, "Learning a
primary language is a developmental milestone for young children and is,
therefore, a 'developmentally appropriate' educational objective."
CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICES
Cultural diversity makes
it difficult to assess each child's developmental status in each area of
development. Recent research (e.g., Edwards & Gandini, 1989) has shown that
developmental milestones and expectations vary from culture to culture. In order
to design appropriate programs for language minority children, educators need to
understand not only the values of a specific culture but the goals for
socialization, beliefs about the nature of the child, and various child-rearing
Bowman (1989) asks whether it is possible to design a developmentally
appropriate curriculum for a program that includes children from diverse
cultures who do not speak the same language. Given that children do not all
develop in the same way, Bowman concludes that the same curriculum cannot be
used for all children. However, it is possible to develop a conceptual framework
that a culturally sensitive teacher might follow. Bowman (1990) suggests the
following points that teachers should consider.
"Developmentally equivalent patterns of behavior should be recognized." All
children learn similar things: for example, language, systems of categorization,
and interpersonal communication styles. Although these accomplishments may
appear quite different, they can also be seen as developmentally equivalent.
"All equivalent developmental milestones should be given the same value." For
example, how well a young child speaks her own language may be more important
than how well she speaks English.
"Interactive styles familiar to the child should be used, including using the
child's home language." Many educators see preschool programs as an opportunity
to promote rapid acquisition of English. This is at variance with the whole idea
of developmentally appropriate practices. Children at the age of 3 and 4 are
still in the process of developing their first language. Wong-Fillmore (in
press) suggests that young children who rapidly learn their second language may
do so at the cost of losing interest and ability in their first or home
language. The first language is the primary mode of communication between young
children and their parents. Children are socialized to take part in their home
and community through the home language.
"Family values that promote learning should be reinforced." Program goals
should be explained to parents so they can cooperate and foster a positive
attitude toward achievement in school.
"Differences between home and school cultural patterns must be dealt with
directly." Teachers, as well as parents, have to become aware of possible
discrepancies between home and school cultures. Language minority children may
often find themselves trying to respond to conflicting home and school cultural
expectations. Young Hispanic children may be expected to be quiet around adults
at home but to "speak up" to the teacher in the classroom.
"It should be recognized that the same content may have different meaning to
different groups of children." Bears are often portrayed as benign creatures in
stories for children, but in Navajo culture, bears are usually depicted as
wicked creatures. A story about Smokey the Bear might be understood by Navajo
children differently from the way non-Navajo children understand it. This can
result in confusion for the Navajo children and frustration on the part of the
teacher. Alternate stories might have to be considered.
THE ROLE OF PARENTS
According to leading researchers in
school and family issues, the key factor in a child's academic success is the
parent (Olsen, 1990). "Many kinds of development in social, psychological,
emotional, moral, linguistic, and cognitive areas are critical to academic
learning. The attitudes, values, and behavior of the family and its social
network strongly affect such development" (Comer, 1980, p. 22). Therefore, the
home and school should work together and support one another in the job of
nurturing and educating young children. The family should not only be consulted
as programs for young children are designed, but provisions to involve the
parents in every aspect of these programs should be mandatory.
The importance of good cross-cultural communication cannot be overemphasized.
The goals, aspirations, cultural mores, and values of each family must be
respected by early childhood practitioners. Language assessments, developmental
screenings, and other evaluations and planning sessions should not be carried
out without input from the parents. Through both informal and formal contacts
with parents, educators can become familiar with individual cultures, values,
STAFF TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT
All early childhood
educators need to be thoroughly familiar with early childhood practices and
philosophy to implement effective programs. In addition, educators working with
young language minority children need to be sensitive to the cultural and
linguistic needs of these children.
Staff development training should include hands-on experiences with
appropriate practices, concrete examples illustrating the design of various
models of early childhood programs, and imaginative activities designed to
assist teachers in the creation of the program, curriculum, and learning
environment. Strategies to promote positive home-school-community relationships
should be included in inservice training for all early childhood educators.
Also, training in cross-cultural communication will help practitioners interact
with language minority children and their families.
The language minority family requires services
that strengthen the family so that it may nurture and support the development of
healthy, competent young children. Comprehensive developmental early childhood
programs can be designed to meet these family needs. Programs can and should be
developed in such a manner that parents are respected and are actively involved.
Bowman, B.T. (1989, October). Educating language
minority children: Challenges and opportunities. "Phi Delta Kappan," 71(2),
Comer, J.P. (1980). "School power: Implications of an intervention project."
New York: The Free Press.
Derman-Sparks, L., & A.B.C. Task Force. (1989). "Anti-bias curriculum:
Tools for empowering young children." Washington, DC: National Association for
the Education of Young Children.
Edwards, C.P., & Gandini, L. (1989). Teacher expectations about the
timing of developmental skills: A cross-cultural study. "Young Children," 44(4),
Greenberg, P. (1990). Ideas that work with young children. Why not academic
preschool? Part 1. "Young Children," 45(4), 70-80. Head Start Multicultural Task
Force. (1989). "Principles of multicultural programming." Washington, DC: Head
Start Bureau, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.
Kagan, S.L. (1989, October). Early care and education: Beyond the schoolhouse
doors. "Phi Delta Kappan," 71(2), 107-112.
Olsen, L. (1990, April 4). Parents as partners: Redefining the social
contract between families and schools. "Education Week," 18-25.
Ramsey, P.G. (1982). Multicultural education in early childhood. "Young
Children," 37(5), 13-23.
Wong-Fillmore, L. (in press). Language and cultural issues in early
education. In S.L. Kagan (Ed.), "The care and education of America's young
children: Obstacles and opportunities." Chicago, IL: National Society for the
Study of Education.
For more information on early childhood programs for language minority
children, contact Helen Nissani, Senior Associate, Northwest Regional
Educational Lab, Child Family Community Program, 101 Southwest Main, Suite 500,
Portland, OR 97201.
This Digest is based on the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education
(NCBE) Occasional Paper, "Early Childhood Programs for Language Minority
Students". To obtain a copy of the paper or for information on NCBE, contact
NCBE, 1118 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20037, 202-467-0867.