“What Language Are You Speaking?” Part Two

In this guest post, Debra Chin, 4C Early Childhood Specialist, shares some thoughts about our work with young dual language learners.

Part Two: Code-mixing in an early childhood setting

When working with young dual language learners (DLLs), early childhood education (ECE) professionals may need to use the language that the professional is most competent in. This will provide the most meaningful and authentic opportunity for children to be engaged in conversation through the appropriate modeling of a language.

support dual language learners

ECE professionals often use daily communication as opportunities to help children further develop language skills.

To best decide what languages to use, programs that serve children from diverse linguistic backgrounds need to carefully assess and reflect using a holistic approach based on the needs of families and the availability of resources. ECE professionals also need to remember that the goal for learning language for both monolingual or bilingual young children is communication, not for producing consistency of grammatical patterns of a language(s). ECE programs should provide an environment in which all young children, no matter bilingual or monolingual, are encouraged to engage in meaningful interactions with their peers and supportive adults.

Young children also need to constructively experience the power of the language to inspire their interests in developing language and literacy skills. When young children are actively constructing their learning of and knowledge in a new language based on the application of the patterns of the language they know, they are progressing toward proficient competence in each language.

In an early childhood setting, the Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) provides young children with a very powerful and authentic way to acquire language(s). ECE professionals often use daily communication as opportunities to help children further develop language skills. For example when a child at a snack table says, “cookies,” we might say, “These cookies taste good. Would you like more cookies?” This strategy of language modeling can also apply to young DLLs. When a bilingual child says, “Quiero ir playground,” instead of using direct correction and requesting the child to repeat it back in English, you can support the child by modeling the language, “You like to go to the playground. Yes, I like to go to the playground, too.”

Code-mixing happens when young DLLs begin demonstrating their competence with a new language and applying the linguistic knowledge that they have in the other language. Young DLLs need adults to intentionally and respectfully facilitate their vocabulary construction to broaden and deepen their linguistic knowledge. Code-mixing is a path full of excitement and celebration leading to proficiency in both languages. Together, we can explore the beauty of languages with our young dual language learners, recognizing their zest for learning and delighting in the process!

Read Part One: What is Code-Mixing?

“What Language Are You Speaking?” Part One

In this guest post, Debra Chin, 4C Early Childhood Specialist, shares some thoughts about our work with young dual language learners.

Part One: What is Code-Mixing?

Many times when our family is asked what language we speak at home our response—“We speak “Chinglish!’’—always stirs people up with much laughing!”

My husband and I immigrated from Taiwan to Cincinnati 30 years ago. Chinese Mandarin, which we used in our home, is our native language and English is our second language. My two college boys were born and grew up in Cincinnati. They learned Chinese Mandarin at home and were not exposed to English until they began attending a local child care center when they were seven months old. In addition to schooling in English, the boys also attended a weekend Chinese-language school throughout their elementary years.

As the boys grew up we, as well as many families that have shared a similar linguistic journey as ours, developed our own language called “Chinglish.” In our “Chinglish” language, we mix both Chinese and English words in a sentence. For example, unlike English, Chinese verbs do not have progressive aspects by adding –ing at the end. One day, I heard one of my boys answer my question by saying, “I am xi zao (洗澡)ing” meaning “I am taking a shower.” “Xi zao” (洗澡) in Chinese means “take a shower.” However in Chinese no change at the end of the verb is required to indicate immediacy. This is an example of code-mixing, also known as code-switching, and it is a very common practice of young dual language learners (DLL) and also adult bilinguals and is a valuable linguistic tool.

How can ECE providers support young children who are learning more than one language?

How can ECE providers support young children who are learning more than one language?

Young DLLs focus on the meaning of the language and truly demonstrate communication, which is the most important goal in learning a language. The reason that young DLLs mix their languages is they have not developed enough vocabulary and/or grammatical structures in one or both languages to express themselves entirely in each language so they borrow from the other language. Yet, even when DLLs integrate both languages in a sentence, paragraph or stream of conversation, they often honor the grammatical patterns of both languages.

Early care and education (ECE) professionals should not stop bilingual children from code-mixing. Code-mixing is a natural learning process for bilingual children and doesn’t happen because children have mistaken one language for the other. Code-mixing reveals children’s active construction of language learning. It’s an advanced language skill for young bilinguals to know when and how to “take out” and use the relevant linguistic information stored in their brain based on what they have learned about languages— and the linguistic needs of their audience at that moment.

Many proficient adult bilinguals code-switch in informal conversations with others who are bilingual in the same languages. As their proficiency increases in both languages, bilinguals will naturally stop doing it when in a situation that demands monolingual uses of language. I notice this progression in my own daily use of the languages. For example, when I am at work around people who are English monolinguals, I use English for communication. However, when I return home to my family, I integrate both languages in conversation. Bilinguals seem to be very sensitive and adaptable to the people with whom they interact and the situations they are in.

In part two, learn about how you can support language development through encouraging code-mixing.

Freedom of movement

What does it feel like for an infant to be in a high chair, exersaucer or Bumbo seat for long periods of time? What is the intent behind using this type of equipment? Is it helpful, beneficial, or—goodness forbid—harmful?

Confining equipment is furniture that, in any way, limits the way an infant can move their body. Some of these types of equipment can be helpful. For instance, a high chair can be used for meal times or for a sensory experience. Caregivers may find a swing helpful when they do not have enough hands to rock a baby that likes it and hold another child while she takes a bottle at the same time. Sometimes these pieces of equipment are used just because they are there or because they are thought to provide entertainment to infants. Why else would they exist? They are made for infants, right?

Lay a blanket on the carpet and place toys within an infant’s reach to encourage movement.

Lay an infant on a blanket on the floor and place toys within her reach to encourage movement.

Marketing has led us to believe that certain products can “promote” development. Bumbo seats are supposed to help “aide” children in learning how to sit up but they can have a negative effect on children’s posture. Exersaucers are thought to help a child learn how to stand but this standing position is unnatural for infants and can cause misalignment to their spine. If you are looking to promote an infant’s motor development, they will benefit most if they are given freedom of movement.

The floor is your best free resource! That, with some classic tummy time can greatly impact a child’s ability to learn all they need to know about how to move their bodies. As infants become more aware of the world around them, they naturally become curious about how to get to the people and objects that are around them. They begin by finding their own hands and feet. They suck on them and watch as they move their fingers and hands. They eventually learn that they can hold a finger, a rattle, their bottle. Eventually, infants find a way to roll, scoot and wiggle to get around, which leads to crawling, cruising and walking.

The truth is infants need very little help from us to learn how to achieve these milestones. Infants are hardwired to move! But—there are some things that caregivers can do. You can prop a book next to an infant on the floor or place a toy just out of reach for an infant that is beginning to reach, roll or scoot. You can also refrain from rescuing an infant when they are stuck in a “compromising situation.” Instead, let them know that you are there for them when they are ready for your help and encourage them to figure out a way to solve the problem. You will not only be promoting their motor development, but also their cognitive and social/emotional development.

In my perfect world, programs would get rid of confining equipment like swings, bouncy seats, exersaucers and Bumbos, or at least limit their use. Until then, I encourage caregivers to think about these questions: What is the intention behind using confining equipment? What research is out there that can help you determine if any one type of equipment has any long lasting effects on a child’s development? How long are infants spending time in confining equipment? How can you support an infant’s freedom of movement?

How to keep staff motivated

I recently facilitated a workshop on how to keep early childhood education program staff motivated and inspired. We are experiencing some beautiful weather and that alone is enough to increase one’s apathy not to mention all the other factors that can contribute to a lack of motivation. I once was a director of a child care program where we could literally hear the roller coasters at a nearby amusement park. It’s super hard to retain the motivation of the seasonal support staff when they can hear their friends screaming in joy down the street.

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

We had some really solid discussions during the workshop that we framed using an article I found called 8 Deadly Ways to Kill Employee Motivation that can absolutely show up in a child care program if we let them. We talked about 7 of the 8 motivation killers. Hopefully some of these can help you figure out how to keep your staff motivated:

  1. Toxic People. We have all worked with them; the negative Nellie’s. The ones who find something negative to say about any and all things. They find faults in the lesson plan you are super excited about and are never on board with changes. And being excited about aiming for the next star in the quality rating system? Forget about it. Surround yourself with positive people. And if someone is that unhappy in a program, maybe it’s time for them to move on.
  2. No Professional Development. Since this is a state regulation, it may seem like a moot point, but it’s not. At 4C for Children, we hear time and time again that folks come to a workshop because they need the hours and their year is almost up or they don’t even know what the topic is because an administrator signed them up. Motivation will increase when training is meaningful. Encourage staff to give input on their own professional development based on their individual needs and interests. Search through the 4C online workshop calendar together, and call us any time for help with developing a plan.
  3. Lack of Vision. All programs should have a vision. It’s a plan for why we do what we do. Why does this business (for-profit or not-for-profit) open its doors everyday and where is it going? Once the vision is clearly communicated, it should be displayed everywhere (i.e. interview, orientation, reviews, newsletters, etc.); it gives focus to the work.
  4. Wasted Time. In our discussion during the training, what rang loudest and clear, are staff meetings. Staff meetings are necessary. It’s important to get everyone together and on the same page, but it’s also important that staff feel like their time is valued. Some tips we came up with are to allow staff to add to agenda items, have a set meeting time and place so staff can plan accordingly, and add food and fun. Ask a different room to “host” each meeting and what they do with it is up to them. Add team building activities. Sure, you may have some who think those activities are a waste of time (see point number 1) but most will appreciate the bonding, which inevitably will lead to motivation in the day-to-day.
  5. Inadequate Communication. There is no such thing as over-communication. Remember, whether you are in a classroom or running a program, people receive messages differently. If you have something important to say, say it a hundred times in a hundred ways (email, newsletter, posted near clock-in area, in-person, etc.).
  6. Vertical Management. Everyone wants to have a say. No one likes to just be told what to do all the time. Find ways to empower your staff to help make decisions and feel safe offering up ideas. And if you aren’t an administrator, let your voice be heard. Share ideas in an appropriate way and if you aren’t being valued, start looking for a new place to work.
  7. Lack of appreciation. This is the single, easiest way to keep staff motivated. SAY THANK YOU. Let folks know you appreciation them and what they do. Just saying it goes a long way but there also affordable, endless possibilities to show it. You can find lots of ideas on Pinterest for fun, affordable ways to show you are grateful for the work of your staff.

Meeting an infant’s needs in a child care setting

During a coaching visit, I overheard an adult say as she picked up an infant, “I suppose you need to be spoiled today.” The caregiver had already fed and diapered the infant and every time she tried to put him down he would begin to fuss. What was he trying to tell her? He wanted to be held. Wanting to be held is highly associated with spoiling a baby, but this not the case. Being held is an important tool to help support and meet the needs of babies.

How does a child care provider learn how to mee the needs of an infant in their care?

How does a child care provider learn how to meet the needs of an infant in their care?

Love, attention, and interaction from parents and caregivers helps an infant develop a sense of self. When an infant is born, parents become attune with their baby and form an attachment. They develop a sense of what different cries mean and what their baby is trying to communicate. When a baby enters a group care setting, it is then up to the caregiver to learn what they can about the baby so they can in turn meet those needs. For example, this might include figuring out that a certain cry means he wants to be held.

Child care providers are part of the influences in an infants’ life. You are an important link in helping infants learn how to feel comfortable exploring their world. As you interact and form an attachment with an infant, they are learning! The give and take of coos, babbles, and the mimicking of facial expressions are early tools that teach infants about emotions such as happy, silly, and sad.

Consistency is the key when it comes to forming strong attachments and for infants to feel secure. There should be consistency in the way a child receives care, along with flexible daily schedules, primary caregiving, and appropriate expectations. They should be receiving the message that they are valuable and worthy of being in this world. As infants in your care grow into toddlers, their emotional development will be supported and they will learn to identify and express their feelings, develop self-awareness and self-regulation. They will be able to develop well socially as they learn about and relate to others around them. They will form empathy and learn how to solve conflicts and interact with peers and adults.

Infants are born ready to learn and become active explorers as they become mobile. In order for this to happen, they need to feel safe and secure in their environment. They also need for parents and caregivers to interact and engage with them. All of these things prime infants to learn about their spirit and help them to develop their sense of self as they grow. How can responding to the needs of an infant in this intentional way be spoiling a child?

Quality early care and education does not take a summer break

Summer is here! I’m sure most programs have several special events and activities planned during these summer months. As a classroom teacher, I remember incorporating some of my favorite activities and field trips during this time. I loved utilizing the outdoors as an extension of my classroom. Children learning through their experiences and building knowledge based on their interactions with nature brought me such joy as an educator. Plus, we were outdoors most of the time. We were enjoying the sunshine while learning new skills, interacting with each other, and building relationships! Summertime is a great opportunity to enhance children’s learning and development—which means high-quality care should not stop. In fact, summer activities provide many hands-on learning opportunities for early childhood programs.

There are lots of opportunities for learning through play outdoors in the summer!

There are lots of opportunities for learning through play outdoors in the summer!

In order to maintain high-quality care and education during the summer months, teachers must continue to focus on best practices. Lesson planning is a major component of best practice. The activities on your lesson plans should be fun and hands-on, but they should also be educational and based on the interests of the children. The activities should be planned according to the developmental levels of your children and challenge them to a higher level of thinking. These activities should promote problem-solving skills both socially and academically. They should help children build upon their previous experiences and comprehension while at the same time encouraging them to create new knowledge. These activities should be intentional.

As you continue to sustain high-quality care and education during the summer months, please remember how important engagement is with the children! The activities you are planning should be built around meaningful interactions with the children. Teachers should see themselves as a valuable teaching tool, not just as a lifeguard or police officer patrolling the playground. Educators should be present and engaging with children to scaffold their learning by making comments and asking open-ended questions. For example, let’s take a closer look at water play. As children engage with water play they are enhancing many cognitive skills involving math and science. When a teacher asks, “I wonder how many cups it will take to fill that bucket?” they are helping that child enhance counting skills and explore measurement.

High-quality care and education is very important for children—during all seasons! Educators should use the summer months to continue to facilitate and promote learning. Though it is tempting to relax and take a break in the nice weather, the quality of your program or quality of your teaching should not decrease because it’s summertime.

The importance of intentional teaching

I ran into my mentor teacher from my preschool practicum recently and it had me reflecting on what I learned from her about being intentional in my teaching.

Intentional Teaching

How do you make time to individually plan for each child in your care?

When I was smack dab in the middle of my practicum, I was a college student, just trying to get through it. I would have a good idea that I saw on the internet or remembered from somewhere and want to try it out. I would run the idea by my mentor teacher and she would ask me what felt like a hundred questions. Why did I want to do it? How was it relevant? How would I implement it? How did it align with the state standards? What questions would I ask? How would I introduce it? How would I wrap it up? At the time it really felt nit-picky and unnecessary.

Not only did she have me reflect on my activities, but she also taught me how important details of the implementation are. For example, when making a literacy interactive chart, the words needed to be two finger lengths apart. She taught me there are certain fonts that support children’s development more effectively than others. I learned how it’s as important to plan for transition time as it is to plan the activities and experiences around the classroom. For example, instead of ending circle time so all the children can line up to wait to wash hands, plan a song that sends some children to wash hands and some stay. I learned that even time outside and time in the muscle room need serious consideration about what materials to put out. The longer I spent in the classroom, the more I came to understand how important all those details are. We have to be very intentional about what we plan for children and it has to be based on the individual needs of the children, not just some cute idea I saw on the internet.

I have to admit, at first it felt very overwhelming. The prospect of being in a classroom someday, writing my own lesson plan for every day of every week of every year felt impossible. In a classroom full of children, how was I going to have time to plan experiences for individual children and think about all the questions I know my mentor teacher would ask? It was hard at first but gets smoother with practice. The best first step is to be aware of the things that need to be considered when planning for your classroom.


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