Friday, September 23, 2011

Using a Child's Home Language at your Centre...

I wrote this leaflet a while ago for a new family and it's been in regular use since so I thought that it might as well be 'out there' as succinct information is hard to come by (as I discovered at the time). Although the context is Aotearoa/New Zealand, maybe this will be of use to some readers.

The Use of Home Language at the Kindergarten

Firstly, for those families who speak a language other than English at home, good on you! But you can be forgiven for thinking that your child needs to exclusively know English to be able to successfully learn and achieve in New Zealand and that's what the education system is for. This is true, mastering the main language of a community is vital, but research also shows us that children who use their home language outside of the home will achieve more in a variety of ways.

We realise that many of you will have questions about this and it is hoped that this pamphlet will convince you of the many benefits of having your home language included in the centre.

Why are we doing this?

As a registered early childhood centre we are legally required to uphold the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and protect and promote the language and cultural values of Māori. This partnership between Māori and Pākehā is reflected in Te Whāriki, our curriculum for the early childhood sector. It is structured around the principles of Empowerment, Holistic Development, Family and Community, and Relationships. Te Whāriki recognises that children learn through their relationships with “people, places and things” and that they are part of a 'learning community' that includes family, the centre, and wider community. It stresses how teachers must deliberately create links between the home and the early childhood centre and incorporate the many strengths a child has, like a home language, into the curriculum.

So while our curriculum is considered a bi-cultural document, it also asks us to recognise and include all the languages of our learning community. Yes, we have to do this, but knowing how children learn and develop also makes us as teachers want to do this.

But they will learn to speak our language at home

Research shows that if the minority language is used only in the home with no community support it will gradually die out. This is called language shift. As the children enter schooling where they are taught only in English, the child's ability to speak the home language decreases as they increasingly use English at home. The reality of our education system is that young bilingual children will not become bilingual adults.

Children can lose their ability to talk in their mother tongue within 2-3 years of starting school. They may still understand the language, but they will use English in speaking with their family. As children grow up the language gap between parents and children can become an emotional divide and children frequently become alienated from the cultures of both home and school with predictable results.

While some minority cultures do have a large enough population in New Zealand to offer a range of natural settings to use their mother tongue, for many others, this community support does not exist and language shift occurs.

So why is learning two or more languages so good for learning?

Knowing two or more languages has positive effects on children's educational development. As children learn they gain a deeper understanding of language and how to use it effectively. For instance, children who know only one language see a table as 'table', but bilingual children can see that the word 'table' is just a label and that other labels are also linked to the object. Thus they have more practice in learning just how language works as they are able to compare and contrast the ways in which their two languages organise the world.

So what benefit will using some phrases and songs at the centre have for my child?

We want to build bridges between home and the centre - to use the experience and knowledge that children possess and are comfortable using, and bring these into the classroom.

At the core of this request is the desire to empower students: to create academic competence, personal confidence, mana, identity, dignity, to build upon their cultural integrity, their individual abilities.

A crucial factor in the development of a child's personal identity and confidence is how their home language is seen in places like school where English can be seen as the 'right' or only language to use. Children quickly notice the power that comes with speaking English and how it 'gets them places' and this impacts on their attitudes towards their home language and essentially 'who they are'.

There is a close connection between a healthy, respected cultural identity, and mental development. To reject a child's language in the school is to reject the child. When children pick up the message that the school would rather you 'leave your language and culture at the door', children also leave a major part of who they are - their identities - at the door. When they feel this rejection, they are much less likely to participate actively and confidently in classroom instruction.

Will the other children learn words, phrases and songs from our culture or just the teachers?

Both. The centre is an organic part of the community it serves and the different language backgrounds of our families are valued and seen as a positive asset to the centre.

The aim is to use written texts, pictures and symbols, spoken words, phrases and songs in a way that moves on from 'special' occasions to normal everyday usage. While we may have limited skills in expanding a child's home language, by recognising, validating and incorporating aspects of their home language into everyday interactions, we hope to make it a more welcoming and safer place for them to learn and grow.

So what can we do?

We would love to talk with you about your feelings, and experiences about using your home language here in New Zealand. We want to hear about your dreams and aspirations for your children and how we as teachers can help achieve this.

Lastly, we would like to thank you for the opportunity to enrich all of us here at the Kindergarten by sharing your home language.


Baker, C. (2000). The care and education of young bilinguals. An introduction for professionals. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Cummins, J. (2000). Bilingual Children's Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education . Retrieved 1-6-2010.
Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Jones-Diaz, C. & Harvey, N. (2007). Other words, other worlds: bilingual identities and literacy. In Makin, L. Jones-Diaz, C. & McLachlan, C. (Eds). Literacies in childhood:Changing views and challenging practice. Sydney: McLennan & Petty.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Men ll

Two of my co-workers went to a day-long seminar on how boys learn and ways to 'assist' their educational outcomes. Unfortunately I was busy.

It was presented by well-known facilitator David Spraggs, a ECE teacher from Tauranga.

During my lunch break I got a chance to read his presentation. Well after reading the opening slide that praised the uniqueness and difference of God's glorious creations, I must admit I skimmed the rest - what was he thinking?

Anyway, it quickly became apparent where David stood politically and ideologically: boys fail because their teachers are female and the curriculum is gendered towards girls. Shit, right-wing 'mens rights' propaganda. Good thing I wasn't there after all.

There was a lot made of the fact that teachers are the sole determinant of learner success. Bullshit. While some teachers do well against the odds, this success is rarely replicated across schools - it's just too individual. This is the thinking behind standardised testing regimes like our National Standards farce here in Aotearoa. This position is classic right-wing rhetoric to mask the impact of social inequality as the main factor in ones success. Read back through this blog. Google it.

The curriculum is gendered to support girls. I know this is bullshit but I'll have to come back to this point as I can't find a certain article... but evidence suggests that despite equality of access, the voices of girls are often silenced and their subject choices are often the result of patriarchal social discourses.

Then he quotes Steve Biddulph. king of the "we need more masculinity to save our boys from all these fucking feminist teachers and their 'lets talk about it shall we' bullshit" and that's when I stopped reading. There was some stuff on engaging boys in learning but it looked like commonsense strategies that could apply to any bored restless kid, no matter their gender.

Just had to get that off my very masculine chest.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Even Further Behind...

The Child Action Poverty Group has just released its latest report titled 'Even Further Behind' which shows that on the OECD measure, New Zealand ranked just 21st of the 30 countries included and data showed at least one in five children lived in severe or significant hardship, while at least one in four children lived below the semi-official poverty line.

The report states indicators of social distress are paralleled by reports of third world diseases like rheumatic fever, homelessness, poor dental health, hunger and family dysfunction.

According to the report, policies such as Working for Families have still left the poorest children far behind their peers. Nothing has changed to correct this situation and in the meantime it has been made worse by natural disasters and a recession. Increased applications for hardship grants and food parcels have been direct consequences of the poverty arising from inadequate benefits.
What a tragedy. And how much did 'we' invest in the rugby, the war in Afghanistan, the local terror 'trial', that fucking penguin, to subsidise corporate polluters? This government pays lip-service to the plight of the poor and it's a ticking time-bomb.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

National plans...

As I missed this parliamentary debate today I've lifted this direct from the blog No Right Turn:

National is going to cut 20 hours free ECE  

In Question Time today, Labour's Sue Moroney asked Minister of Education Anne Tolley a simple question: would she commit to keeping the existing subsidies for 20 hours free ECE in place if the government was re-elected? Tolley's answer?
It is good to hear the Opposition talking about this Government being re-elected. What I can say is that this Government will be retaining 20 hours’ early childhood education and fee controls.
[Snip point of order for evasion]
 The answer to the question is that we will be retaining the 20 hours’ early childhood education and fee controls.
[Snip more points of order for evasion]
I attempted to answer the question by saying this Government, should it be re-elected, intends to maintain 20 hours’ early childhood service, which is a subsidy programme, and the fee controls. They are the two essential parts of 20 hours: universal provision of early childhood services for 20 hours for every 3 and 4-year-old, with fee controls—
It is not free. It never has been free, which is why we renamed it. It was never free—
There is something happening towards the end of November, which is called an election, and if the Opposition wants to know what the Government’s policy is, it will have to wait until it is announced.
Given the ample, repeated opportunities to clearly say "yes", I think we can only interpret this repeated evasion as a "no". National is planning to cut ECE subsidy levels, raising the cost to parents and reducing access. If you are a parent of young children, or are planning to be one, or know some and want their kids to have a good education, then you may want to vote accordingly"

Indeed, use that vote wisely!

With the results of the ECE task force now out it was inevitable that the funding scheme would be undermined as the Government attempts to stretch the current funding to include 2-year-olds as well as targeting 'groups' (ie Māori and Pasifika).

Bullshit really. It's worth reading the report to scare yourself over how neoliberalism has a death-grip on education...

Can't say i didn't warn you!