Author Archives: 4cforchildren

Is Yours or Mine the Best Practice?

This guest post comes to us from 4C Professional Development Specialist, Debra Chin.


I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. –Isaac Newton

As early childhood professionals, many times we claim something that we do daily is the best practice. Like the little boy described above in Newton’s quote, the moment we found or researched something, and thought the data showed a certain practice that seemed to serve the best to children, we “published” a best practice from our own lenses. I caught myself using the term “best practice” numerous times while I was coaching or presenting training. Then, a tiny voice crept up asking me, “Before you open your mouth trying to defend yourself with so called “best practice” and criticize others, do you know what others’ practice derived from?” I thought I had found “a smoother pebble or prettier shell,” yet Newton’s quote reminded me that “the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” I pause and think…

Each child is a unique person. Each of them has his/her own previous experience constructed from the interactions he/she has had with his/her peers, family and community. A practice that we entitle the “best” could be diverting from those unique experiences that we have learned from each child and each family.

We often promote independence and value children’s learning through free exploration of materials. We encourage children to openly express opinions for themselves.  We may expect children at a certain age to be able to use simple words to express their feelings. However, some of our children may come from families that value dependence behaviors, and expect young children to first develop an ability in following guidance from adults, instead of initiating activities independently.  Children may be expected to “be seen and not heard,” and are encouraged to develop a skill of listening patiently to others prior to that of speaking out. Sharing emotions may not be valued by some families, and instead viewed as something to keep private.

Best practice is not a set of rules, but requires more talking, clarifying, listening, understanding and perhaps negotiating.  Negotiating difference begins with us as teachers or administrators clearly understanding our own preferences and where they come from. I think the message that I’d like to share with all of us is to humbly learn from our children and families about underlying reasons of each practice that seems awkward to us. Through a manner of honoring those different practices, we learn the hopes and dreams of each family for their children which will provide us with a rich source of information to develop a practice that would best facilitate children’s learning and development. Meanwhile, this same reflection goes with the work that we have with our fellow professionals. None of us should proclaim our practice is the best without the willingness to be open to learning from each other and to expand our view of practices based on what we learn, for the best interest of young children. Then we could proudly say that we have a best practice.

“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.

“If they only spoke some English…”

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

As I was enjoying an end-of-year team gathering at our office, my supervisor decided to facilitate a couple of games to celebrate. One of the games invited us to read a short statement or sentence, and then guess from which Christmas song, book or TV show/movie the sentence was quoted. Being a bilingual, having earned a graduate degree from US, worked in the professional fields for more than two decades, and lived in Cincinnati for almost 30 years, I thought I had been assimilated culturally and linguistically to the local environment. Yet, when I was asked to participate in this game, I felt I was a complete outsider.

Much of my previous life-experience is not rooted from the American culture. My early literacy and language experiences are not derived from the same books, TV shows or movies as most of my colleagues Watching them giggle and have fun talking with each other about their early holiday memories made me feel awkward. This experience reminded me of the young dual language learners (DLLs) in our ECE programs. I wonder how young DLLs would feel and respond when they were asked to sit through the story time or circle time in a language that they were not familiar with. Yet, many early childhood educators are concerned about why our DLLs seldom participate or volunteer to share ideas.

Tips about dual language learners in the classroom

I decided to get up and leave the meeting. Feeling as an outsider is no fun. I wanted to be part of my team, a strong sense of desire to belong creeping to my throat.  Yet, I couldn’t articulate how I felt.  I went to the bathroom, shut the door, and thought of how I could bring myself back to the group.

I am so thankful that my supervisor did not call me back across the room in front of the group when I had to leave the activity. I am so thankful there was a space where I could be alone for a few seconds. I am so thankful that my table-mates accepted my return with some conversation that was relevant to my experiences.  I am so thankful that I have an entire team back me up daily with their understanding and acceptance of me as a mom, as a fellow worker, as a coach, and as an ECE professional. Most importantly, my team has supported me as friends honoring who I am and where I come from.  They appreciate how much I have tried with passion to explore this “forever-new” environment.  I am embraced by a group of people that are always interested and responsive to my inquiry.

Like many children, some of our young DLLs express their feelings through behaviors as they are developing coping skills. Some may withdraw from the situation, and not “participate or engage”; some may fight against the environment, and “not follow the directions.”

In addition to all the learning areas where children are provided with ample opportunities to scaffold through meaningful interactions with their teachers and peers, teachers might also provide a “By Myself Area.” Children need an area where they are not required to be engaged through language, where they can watch how the world is working through a different window other than verbal exploration, and rejuvenate their power of learning. The block area, free art area, and sensory table are some of those locations. The “By Myself Area” becomes extremely crucial to our young DLLs. Posters, pictures, stuffed animals, and picture books added to those areas help young DLLs re-connect to the environment, language or experiences with which they are familiar.

As I was reading those Christmas statements with a stunting and confusing apathy, one of my colleagues noticed my detachment, and whispered into my ear, “Are you OK, Debra? This must be really hard for you. You have no cultural reference for these movies or books.” Many times, when in an unfamiliar situation, empathy is all that DLLs need in order to recover and re-bounce. I felt recognized emotionally because of this colleague’s comments. Young DLLs sometimes just need someone to play by their side, as my table mates had done with me. While developing resilience, like all young children, our young DLLs need support verbally and non-verbally through people around them and the environment where they are embraced. Teachers can ensure this by providing areas where young children can work side-by-side on meaningful activities/materials supported by people and interactions that facilitate their explorations while they are acquiring language, whether is a first or second language.

Young DLLs may not seem to have enough vocabulary in English to express themselves in a way that we understand, but they might have those important words in their heritage language. It is our responsibility to explore these opportunities by asking families to be our resources. Invite families to share their heritage languages as a bridge for DLLs to discover the world and acquire a second language. For example, ask the family to read in their heritage language some of those books used in the classroom. In this way, the young DLL will have an opportunity to construct some knowledge about the new vocabulary prior to being read in a language in which he/she is not quite proficient yet.

Young DLLs may not demonstrate their competence in a way that we are “accustomed’ to, yet their way of learning and reflecting is unique and powerful. As we teach, conduct observations, and nurture talents, we keep pushing ourselves to support all of our children’s development to the best. At the same time, the experience of working with DLLs enables both children and educators to expand horizons and generate multiple perspectives which increases the ability of comparison, contrast, and greater cognitive flexibility. Bilingualism or multilingualism is an asset for our local community and the global village. Developing bilinguals/multilinguals takes energy, patience and passion. It is a privilege to be part of this inspiring journey. May we all enjoy this ride to construct knowledge about our world through the work with our young dual language learners.

Plain blocks = deluxe learning

A toy not decorated with TV characters or bright colors? No blinking lights? No microchip? Nothing that wiggles or twinkles or giggles? Why would children want to play with something like that? And yet, they do. They play with blocks. Plain, wooden ones. Many early childhood educators say wooden unit blocks are the one piece of classroom equipment they wouldn’t do without. For most children, playing with blocks is one of the benefits of attending school—complete sets are usually too expensive and large for home use.

A good set of blocks and a friend or two to enjoy them with is an unbeatable combination

A good set of blocks and a friend or two to enjoy them with is an unbeatable combination. Here’s why: When children are constructing something with blocks, they’re also constructing knowledge together. The result: An increased understanding of language, science, math and much more. Watch a small group of children building a barn for toy horses. As with most construction projects, problems arise: “We don’t have enough of this size to finish the horse stall.” “We need a place for our horses to get a drink. It’s called a trough. I saw a real one once.” “Yeah, horses need stalls, and troughs, and a slanty-thing to walk on.”

Talking about their structures stretches children’s language abilities. New words, like “trough and stall” are tossed back and forth with ease. And because it’s necessary, they find words to describe problems. They listen to each other’s suggestions. Clearly, conversation thrives in the block area. But talking isn’t the only way that blocks encourage language development. The barn made of blocks represents a real barn. It’s a child’s way of translating an idea into something visible, a symbol of a barn. Playing with blocks can help children strengthen their ability to use other symbol systems, too—such as written language. In fact, it’s not unusual for children to want written signs on their block buildings. Sometimes they invent their own, and other times seek an adult’s help. “Horse Barn, Cows Keep Out!” was the warning my children loved to print.

In a world of plastics and other synthetics, children rarely have the opportunity to understand where their toys originated. Unit blocks, however, are made of wood. And wood, of course, comes from trees. It’s the kind of simple scientific fact that can be as amazing to a young child as, say, realizing that carrots grow in the ground or that hens lay eggs. Blocks also give children experience with scientific knowledge that’s more abstract. Remember that “slanty-thing” the horses needed for walking in and out of the barn? It’s a simple ramp, of course. But the concepts discovered while playing with a ramp aren’t nearly so simple. Like all block play, they include complex ideas like gravity, force, balance and energy. In a word: physics.

What’s a child do when she runs out of the size block she needs to finish her horse’s stall? She can’t call up the block store and order more. What she does do is reach for another size, quickly realizing that two half blocks are the same length as four quarter ones. Like any competent builder, she’s working with counting, addition, measurement and, of course, fractions.

The math learning doesn’t stop there, however. There are more geometric shapes—squares, rectangles, triangles, half-circles, and even cylinders. They give children a chance to experiment with part-whole relationships, and other important math concepts such as patterning, ordering and classifying.

The next time the children in your classroom want to play with the wooden blocks, encourage and join in the fun! You’re looking at a set of learning tools that are simple, plain, and solid—but definitely powerful and open the door to learning.

What playing with children does NOT mean

Play is essential to children as eating and breathing. Hundreds of books and articles have been written for teachers and parents on the importance of playing with children. There’s no doubt about it, playing with children is important, but there are also some things it doesn’t mean.

Playing with the children in your care is very important!

For example, it doesn’t mean you have to make playtime something that must be done on schedule, like brushing your teeth or cleaning up the classroom at 11:45 every day. The minute you think you have to play with children you risk turning play into work. Children pick up on those feelings, of course, and fun becomes less and less of a possibility for both of you. It’s best to play with the children in your care when you’re relaxed and interested, not when you have to force yourself or make it so much of a routine.

On days when you’re out-of-sorts or tired, help the children in your classroom get started on something. Then take a minute to observe the environment and the children as they interact with other children. Sometimes what children really want is a feeling of being connected with you. Responding with specific comment and eye contact when the children show you something can provide that comfort.

It doesn’t mean you have to constantly plan new activities. Let children become comfortable with the environment and enjoy some of their favorite activities that have been introduced within the classroom. Have you ever painstakingly organized materials for a craft project and then discovered that the children are totally uninterested? It can make you feel like you’ve been left holding the short end of the stick. (And, what’s worse, the stick is probably dripping with glue!) Sometimes it’s fun to enjoy a special activity and plan. That is what teachers do best. Consider what a child’s day is like when they attend an all day program or have been on the run all week with busy parents. Sometimes, children like predictable, ordinary play with familiar toys.

It doesn’t mean you’re responsible for preventing boredom. In fact, a little experience with boredom can be invaluable. Children are often busy with school, scheduled activities, and play dates. How often do they get to set their own agenda or figure out their own pace? It’s true that boredom can make them uncomfortable, but it can also nudge them into developing some planning and decision making skills. Boredom can give children an opportunity to learn how to entertain themselves, be open to possibilities and to find out what they really like to do.

It doesn’t mean that you as a teacher must always play with them. It’s true that playing with children can help them acquire new skills, but so can playing alone. Playing alone can also be the foundation for creativity, for understanding new ideas, or for recreating an experience through pretend play. Children need some time to play things out on their own without anyone else interpreting or guiding the outcome. Being available to respond or lend a hand when asked, can be just as important to children as being actively involved in their play.

Sometimes peer pressure isn’t all bad

Imagine if you could remove all threat of peer pressure from the life of a child. Teaching would be a lot easier. Parenting would be a lot easier. Or would it? In fact, without peer pressure your job might become surprisingly harder.

There can be a positive outcome to peer pressure!

Picture the scene at your early childhood center: A group of preschoolers have invented a game. They have become pretend fire fighters. They leap from the climber and race towards the slide. Caught up in the action, all five of them zip down the slide –even the child who ordinarily won’t go near one on family outings at the park or a typical day on the playground. He’s astonished to discover that slides are actually fun after all.

Or picture this sandbox confrontation: “If you run your truck into my tower one more time, I won’t invite you to my birthday party.” Never mind that the party isn’t for another ten months, wielding threats about birthday parties is the ultimate in preschool peer pressure. The perpetrator, truck in hand, considers the threat and makes a wide detour around the tower and, just to be safe, around a half-constructed ice cream store as well. Lesson learned.

At times peer pressure can coincide neatly with exactly what parents are working on at home. For example, healthy peer pressure can encourage a child to develop new interests, a hope of many teachers and parents alike. The young truck driver in the sand box decides to try building towers instead of following his current interest in knocking them down. The child who was fearful of slides finds himself enjoying a fast ride on one. In much the same way, a toddler in diapers steps right up to the toilet to be like his potty-trained friends and a child who prefers wrestling to reading, heads toward the book corner because that’s where the other kids are.

Many teachers and parents hope that their children will somehow learn to “fit in” in the larger world.  The child who was warned not to ram his truck into another child’s sand tower learned a valuable lesson in fitting in. He found out there are certain behaviors other children won’t put up with. And that kind of peer pressure sends a stronger message than all the adult admonitions in the world.

What if all these new interests and feelings of fitting in also involve some less desirable behaviors? What if the new tower builder learns to throw sand? The child on the slide finds out about pushing? The toddler discovers the delights of flushing socks down the toilet? Such things happen, of course. Fortunately, over the years your child’s desire to be like you will turn out to be the stronger force. Episodes of peer pressure are temporary, while your love and concern as a teacher or parent are ongoing.

No one can eliminate peer pressure from a child’s life, though perhaps one would want to.  Certainly it will make you uneasy at times and will call for your intervention at others.  If you find yourself worrying about peer pressure, remind yourself of its advantages:  It can expand a child’s interests, help him or her learn to fit in, and even support early attempts at independence.