Starting School in a New Language: Teacher tips

In my last post, I talked about what you can do as parents when your child is going to enter a school in a language that they do not yet understand. This time, my tips are for teachers who are teaching one or some children who do not yet speak the language of the classroom.

There are two terms used for when children follow education in a second language, immersion and submersion. Immersion happens when a teacher who is trained to teach in pupil’s second languages teaches a class full of children in their second language. For example, some schools offer immersion classes for children who recently entered the Netherlands and need to learn to speak Dutch. After one or two years in this class, their level of Dutch is deemed high enough to follow the classes with native Dutch speakers. Many schools do not offer these immersion classes but do accept non-Dutch speakers in their classrooms, especially when they are still young. This situation is called submersion; one or a few children who do not speak the main language of the class enter a class with native speakers. Obviously, this last situation can be quite challenging for both teacher as well as children.

When you have children in your class that follow the submersion path to learning a language, the following tips might help stimulate the child’s language learning:

  1. Be mindful to face the class when explaining something
    This way, the children who do not speak the language yet can benefit maximally from your non-verbal communications.
  2. Use visuals
    Use visuals (pictures, photos or items) of the things you mention while explaining something, especially in the one-on-one situations with these students.
  3. Repeat instructions
    After the explanation for the whole group, take some time to repeat the instructions individually to the students who are not competent in the class language yet. Use visuals and your body language (pointing, signs like ‘looking’, ‘eating’ or ‘stop’) to help the message come across.
  4. Create a safe environment
    It is easy for children to feel unsafe when they are taught in a different language, or to experience communication frustration, when the child is unable to inform you or other children of their needs and desires. Creating and maintaining a safe environment where the child can experiment with the new language without running the risk to be laughed at or ridiculed will be one of the most important things you can do for these students.
  5. Don’t pressure
    Being too strict about having the children communicate in the main language harms the safe environment that you want to maintain. Being pressured in something which is still too difficult can lead to anxiety and resistance to try the new language.
  6. Invite & recognize communication
    Instead of forcing the child to speak the class language, be inviting for the students to communicate whichever way they feel they can handle and open your eyes and ears to different forms of communication (all behavior in interaction with others is communication, we just do not always know what it means). This way, the child will start to feel comfortable and understood and safe to try a few words in your language.
  7. Reserve one-on-one time
    Reserve some time in the student’s weekly schedule for one-on-one time with a tutor who can, in a relaxed and playful manner, help explore the new language.

Starting School in a New Language: Preparation

When a young child enters a school or school-like environment in a different language than the one(s) they speak at home with the family, the transition might be concerning for parents. Will my child be adjusting well? Will she be learning the language quickly? Will he be able to inform the teachers of his needs? Will the teachers be patient with her and support her emotional reaction to potential communication frustration? Some very valid questions to ask and there are things you can do to make this change easier for your child.  Today, I will share some tips for preparing your child for this new situation.

As with all major changes, children can be (need to be) prepared in an age-appropriate manner. A good preparation helps both you and the child realize that this change will sometimes be exciting and fun but might also be challenging and scary at other times. You might even consider some strategies your child can apply when facing these challenges.

– Refer to similar situations. If the child has been in a school-like setting before, tell them it will be mostly the same but people speak a different tongue that they will need to learn. If you and your partner speak different languages at home, say ‘you know how mom and dad speak differently? At school they will speak differently from mom and dad but you will not be able to understand what they are saying at first, you will need to learn this’.

– Show confidence & optimism. Inside, you might be very scared and concerned for this transition. Your child will look at you to find some instruction as to how they should feel about this change. If you are scared, your child may take over this fear (after all, you are the one that knows what is coming). When talking with your child, express that you believe they will adjust and make a positive experience out of this. It may not always be easy, but you will come out on the other end of this.

– Visit the school. Before the actual start, visit the school as much as you can so that your child can become familiar with the environment. Most schools in the Netherlands will have some ‘wen-dagen’ (acclimatization days) to ease young children’s transition to the new school. Even if that is not the case, you can visit the school building and look at it from the outside, watch the playground, maybe get a tour inside and meet the teacher.

– Learn as much of the language as you can before the start of school. Maybe you can find a tutor for a few weeks or months before the school starts to make your child more familiar with the language. You can also help your child become more familiar with the language by learning some basic words that he will surely need (food, drink, toilet, teacher, sick, counting 1 to 10, etc.), learn nursery rhymes in the new language or watch television in that language.

– Discuss with your child how to communicate with the teacher, in case they cannot follow the instructions or find it hard to express themselves. Share these strategies with the teachers too so that they can respond appropriately when your child communicates their discomfort.

There are many things you can do to prepare your young child before starting school in a new language, but the most important thing to remember is that prevention is better than cure, and with a good preparation you may be able to prevent a great deal of communication frustration for your child in the classroom.

Next to post on this blog: how to support your child once they entered school in the new language.

How Jake made the Netherlands his new home

This is the story of Jake. Jake is a self-aware 10 year old boy. Jake used to live in the USA, but a few months ago his parents decided to move to the Netherlands, to a curious place called The Hague. Jake was looking forwards to the move, he saw the move as an exciting chance to make new friends and experience a new environment. And his old friends? Well, with the internet, skype and online games they would only really be a click away, wouldn’t they?

Then reality kicks in

A few weeks after landing in the Netherlands, Jake finds himself home alone on a Wednesday afternoon. Disappointed. Making friends had not been so easy. In fact, Jake is very shy and has no clue how to approach the other children in his class. He only talks to them when the teacher says they have to work together, and even then, Jake and the other kid would only talk about the project shortly, agreeing upon the basics before they split to work on their own parts. Making friends in the USA had been easy, he had been in de same class since he started school, with the same peers who at some point had automatically become his friends. But not this time. This time it would take more. And his old friends? Staying in touch was not so easy after all, what with the time difference. Only for half an hour a day was it possible to talk to them, when they came home from school and right before he was supposed to go to sleep. And they already started to move on with their lives, they did not come online everyday anymore right after school to talk with Jake.

As a result of his disappointment Jake started to hate the Netherlands, to hate his parents for bringing him here and hate himself for being so shy and unable to make friends and to adapt to this new place. At home, Jake would often feel tired and fight with his parents while his grades in school were far below the average of his grades in the USA. Luckily, by this time his parents realized Jake was not coping with the changes very well and signed him up for Social Skills 4 Kids.

Yet with a little help…

At Social Skills 4 Kids, Jake learned how to approach other children. He learned how to ask others about their personal lives and this in turn led others to show more interest in Jake too. He learned how to cope with the changes and with rejection. Before the end of the course, Jake had become more confident and had made several friends in the Netherlands. The fights at home diminished and Jake was more able to appreciate the Dutch language and culture.

Social Skills 4 Kids

Social Skills 4 Kids is a 7 week group course for English speaking children between 7 and 12 years old. New groups are starting 2-3 times per school year at Expat Child Psychology.

Learn more about Social Skills 4 Kids!

* Expat Child Psychology respects the privacy of their clients. Jake is a fictional character whose story is inspired by several children who followed the course.

Play & Education

Before, in the blog ‘About Toys’ I already said it: play is one of the most important means of child development. Children learn and develop through their exploration of toys and games, their language, physical abilities, social skills, cultural awareness, every part of development can be addressed by play. As Paula Vergunst & I will be giving a workshop (08/11/2013) exactly on this topic, here’s a little warming up in advance.

Someone who has done a lot of research on the topics of play, child development and education is Peter Gray. Peter Gray is an evolutionary psychologist, associated with Boston College. I have met with Peter Gray on a few occasions and his knowledge about playfulness and education always impress me.  Currently I am reading his newest book called‘Free to Learn, why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life’. 

As a result of his own research and personal experiences with his own son, Gray became increasingly concerned about the amount of time children spent playing nowadays and the quality of that play. He spent years of his career studying childhood, childhood education and child development from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary psychologists look at why certain psychological concepts and behaviors have occurred in terms of evolution & natural selection – similar to a biologists view on the physical characteristics of species. Gray used reports from anthropologists and knowledge from history to view how children were education in different times and cultures. The results of his study are very interesting and show that our society’s view on education is by far not the most natural or pleasant option for educating children.  In fact it shows that children can – and will, if allowed to – do most of their education themselves.

SAM_0466In short, Gray saw that children in (present day) hunter gatherer societies all over the world got lots of time for free play. In fact – even adults had lots of time for free play because hunting and gathering were not as time consuming as farming (though more of a risk, you never knew if you would find food). It is assumed that hunter-gatherer societies of our ancestors were quite similar to the ones that are still around today. Which means that before agricultural periods there was no formal way of educating children and most of their education came from within; kids desire to be similar to their mums and dads. They play and act out scenes they have seen or heard of, such as how to hunt and how to take care of kids. They learn from older kids who have played it many times before. They play it so often that they know how it works halfway in puberty when they are allowed to participate in the real thing – still in a playful manner. And gradually play becomes the real thing.

Over time, perceptions of child play and education changed together with other major changes in society. Agriculture was hard work, children in these societies often needed to work too and there was not much time for play. Industrialization came with education the way we know it now, but based on strict religious beliefs that the main thing children were supposed to learn was obedience to their superiors; harsh methods were used to educate children.

© Kutt Niinepuu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Since the early twentieth century when education became mandatory in most Western countries, more and more demands are made of the education of our children; more hours at school, more homework… Next to that, children are very busy these days; going to daycare (still an adult-supervised situation) or sports (yet another one). Time for free unsupervised play is becoming more and more limited. This is one of Gray’s biggest concerns; his research shows that children educate (=learn everything there is to learn in order to be a successful person in society) themselves and adults are not supposed to interfere unless asked.

Looking back at our own childhoods, aren’t the moments of free play the moments we remember best? Aren’t these the moments we may remember as the most enjoyable, but also the moments we learned our most valued lessons?

This post was originally published on my old website on September 16th, 2013.

Of course this blog only gives a very limited view of the findings of Peter Gray, considering he wrote a whole book about it. If you’re interested, you can order his book online or in the Netherlands at the American Book Center (The Hague / Amsterdam).

Interested in the Play & Parenting Workshop? Click here to see whether it is scheduled again or ask us to present for your group/company.

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It’s not fair! – Part 2.

In my last blog, I explained how young children can only view the world from their own perspective because they have not yet developed a so called ‘theory of mind’. This is why young children have a different idea of what is fair than adults. Of course, if you’re the only one with needs and wishes, it certainly isn’t fair if you cannot have everything. When children start to understand that other people have their own unique individuality with their own thoughts, needs and wants, children start to see fair as something that involves others as well. Usually the rule of thumb to determine fairness becomes ‘sharing equally’. However, this still differs from what adults consider as fair. So what is this next stage in development of the concept of fairness all about?

Thanks to ~Masscreation

Fairness for adults
After developing the theory of mind, children seem to use a rule to determine what is fair, namely ‘sharing equally’ or equality.  In many situations, this rule is used by adults as well. When two people compete over one cookie, let’s break it and both eat half of it. But in other situations our concept of fairness is more complex.

For example, in earlier times people would get ‘an eye for an eye’, which literally meant that if you did something bad to someone, the same bad would be done to you. Nowadays, most of us do not believe this is fair anymore and we have a judicial system with its courts and prisons to help us understand what is fair in a criminal situation.

Another example are the social services. Most adults do believe in some form of social services, whether it is for child benefit, for the elderly, for the sick or the poor. Many of us will benefit from social services at least once in their lives. Considering fairness as the rule of equality, this hardly seems fair. How can it be fair if some (the poor) get money for free whereas others (the not-so poor) have to work very hard to earn their wages? So what does guide our thoughts when the rule of equality does not apply? The influential theory of Kohlberg’s moral stages of development might help us understand.

Kohlberg’s moral stages of development
Kohlberg said that children when they grow up move through different stages of moral development. These stages are tied up with the concept of fairness, or perhaps we should say ‘justice’, even before the theory of mind is fully developed. Kohlberg defined six stages, and believed that most people would move through the first four stages during childhood. However, the fifth and sixth stage would not be reached by everyone and Kohlberg himself never found enough people who had reached the sixth stage to prove this stage was actually real.

dreamstimefree_14673 (2)

© Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

  1. Preconventional morality: during this stage, children let their ideas of right and wrong (and fair and unfair) be decided by the punishments or rewards it produces. Taking everything must be unfair, because it produces punishment. Sharing equally is often rewarded in young children, so must be right.
  2. Individualism and exchange: children in this stage may have already developed (parts of a) theory of mind, and know other people have other perspectives. However, self interest is still a strong guide in their reasoning about morality. The four year old who thought giving away his third train was unfair because then he only had two might have found himself in this stage.
  3. Good interpersonal relationships: children usually enter this stage when they are also entering their teenage years. Relationships become more important and this is what guides thinking about fairness and justice. Somethingunlawful might still be seen as fair when the intentions were good, such as in Kohlberg’s own example; stealing medicine might be seen as fair when they are stolen with the intention to save another’s life.
  4. Maintaining the social order: in this stage, people become concerned about society and maintaining social order. We should uphold the law and use democratic principles to change things that are ‘wrong’ in the law, because this is how we all agreed to do things so doing it this way is fair and just.
  5.  Social contract and individual rights: this stage continues upon the previous, but now people start to look at the wider picture. Sometimes laws and individual rights may be conflicting; which perspective should we take now? People at this stage invented social services and welfare, and are the ones to believe in it and uphold it, whereas people in stage 4 merely feel that social services are ‘fair’ because they are part of our social order which should be upheld.
  6. Universal principles: Kohlberg believed in a sixth stage in which people are guided by universal principles in their moral reasoning and their beliefs about fairness and justice. However, he could not find enough people who had actually reached this stage to further define and prove the existence of this stage.

What is fair?
By now we have seen that at least two influential developmental theories seem to play a role in the development of the concept of fairness. No wonder that we at times cannot comprehend children’s beliefs that ‘it is not fair!’, or even other adult’s. So the question remains; what is fair? It could be something different to all of us. I think it is important to keep this in mind in your communication with others, children especially. They are not lying when they say something is not fair, or looking for attention, they really believe so. Perhaps a little bit of extra explanation and support can help them overcome this feeling and help them learn to take another perspective.

This post was originally published on my old website on Sep 2nd, 2013.

For more reading about Kohlberg’s stages of Moral Development, here’s an interesting chapter!

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It’s not fair!

It’s not fair!’ is a commonly heard exclamation by young children. It is perhaps the most common cause for fights among siblings. But when we try to look at the situation from our adult point of view it might seem very fair. Is a child’s concept of fairness different from that of an adult? How does a concept such as the one of fairness develop in young children? Within a series of two blogs, I will attempt to answer these questions, looking at two influential developmental theories.

freeimage-5929189-webA toddler’s idea of fairness
Whenever I hear a kid say ‘it’s not fair!’ in a situation that does seem fair enough to me, I remember an incident from the daycare center I used to work at.

Many of the kids were – as always – playing with the train tracks when one of them started crying. I walked over and asked him what was wrong. He told me that another kid, a big five year old, took his toy train and now he had none. Apparently all the other wagons were being used by the other kids, and the culprit in question was now owner of three of them. As I was not sure what had happened I decided not to punish anyone and teach a lesson in fairness and sharing instead. I asked the kid with three wagons whether the other boy could have one, because he had three and the other kid had none. He did give the third wagon away, but then started crying. I was confused, had I missed something? Then he told me how it was not fair, because now he only had two wagons and he wanted three! I tried to tell him that if anything, it was not fair to the other boy because he still only had one wagon and this guy had two, but my efforts were in vain. He was not yet ready to see fairness as a concept that relates to everyone in the situation, his concept of fairness only involved himself.

The clue of the difference between our beliefs about fairness in this and many similar situations lies within the development of a ‘Theory of Mind’.

Theory of mind
When a child is born he believes to be at the center of the universe. There is no recognition of other people’s needs and wants, of their unique individuality and thoughts. If anything, the child believes everyone wants, needs and thinks the same. When the child becomes a toddler, she becomes more aware of the world around her. She starts realizing other people are different and have their own ‘minds’ which are separate from hers. This understanding that other people are different and have their own needs, wants and thoughts is called theory of mind. The development of a theory of mind is a process that takes several years, starting between the second and third year and not entirely finished until the end of preschool.

The concept of fairness develops in combination with the theory of mind. At first, when the child is the center of his own universe, him having everything he desires is the only fair he knows. If a young child wants something, say a stuffed animal, it seems very fair to him to have the animal even if someone else doesn’t. After all, he believes others want the same thing, thus they must want him to have the animal and not someone else!


With thanks to ~Picturesbyclay

The concept of fairness becomes more complex over time. By the end of this process, usually around 6 or 7 years of age, children seem to think fair is when each person has an equal share of something. No longer does the child they believe everyone thinks and wants the same, and he understands now that others want things for themselves too. Realizing that this is not always possible, children this age start looking for the best solution which keeps everybody as happy as possible. Of course, it can still be difficult to understand if something is actually fair when the child has not learned division yet, and even though the child may know sharing equally is fairer than not sharing, he might not always want to act accordingly!

Equality is fair
After children have developed a theory of mind, they are no longer the center of their own universe. They no longer think it is fair if they have everything they want and they now understand that others have wants and needs for themselves. Children of around 6 or 7 years old understand that sharing equally is fair although they might not always be happy to do so. And who could argue with that, don’t we all have something we wouldn’t want to share with anyone?

Yet, adults still have a more complex concept of fairness at this point. Each having an equal part is not always seen as the fairest solution. Concepts like ‘an eye for an eye’ are history and today we have social services giving away money or goods for free to some whereas others have to work and pay for it. Many people believe this is fair, considering that those who benefit from social services have nothing to begin with. Another important developmental theory seems to play a role in this later development of the concept of fairness. Read more about this in my next blog!

This post was originally published on my old website, Aug 19th, 2013.

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About Toys

Play is one of the most important means for child development. At a very young age, children play to explore the physical world around them, while at the same time challenging their fine and gross motor skills. The toys they are most happy to play with are of a physical nature, stimulating to the senses. Later on, children play as a means to develop social skills. They learn to win and to lose, to reason with others, to be sportsmanlike, etc. while playing games outside on the playground or board games. They might also reenact parts from adult life to incorporate the values and norms of the culture, such as when children play house.SAM_0460

Unfortunately, nowadays some children are becoming victims of the consumer society, limiting rather than stimulating their development. How often have I come across children who were bored just because no game console was available! Or children that were bored because they had too many toys to choose from? During my trip to Africa, I realized children do not need many superb toys to enjoy themselves and stimulate their development. Consider the little Masai boy in the picture who made a game of rolling the tire around.

What can you do to stimulate your child’s development through play?
Some tips:

  • Provide your child with toys that fit his or her developmental needs. Especially during the younger years, toys will need to be replaced on quite a regular basis as the child progresses through different developmental stages.
  • Provide toys that target different areas of development. Think about gross motor skills, fine motor skills, personal independence, communicative skills, imitation, fantasy, social skills, visual perception & insight, focus & attention, etc.
  • Limit the amount of toys your child has access to. If there are only a few toys to choose from, your child is likely to play longer with each of these toys than he would if there were many toys readily available. This will not only improve chances for development in the area those toys target, it might also improve your child’s attention and focus. Furthermore, it might stimulate your child’s fantasy when he or she tries to invent new ways to enjoy the same toys.
  • Limit your child’s digital time. Some digital input is all right as long as there’s not too much of it; children learn to use digital sources (laptop, Ipad) very quickly and can use them to learn new things by watching YouTube videos or reading Wikipedia.
  • Be careful when buying irritable toys for your child. You know, the kind that makes a lot of noise and lights but does not really seem to add to your child’s development. You do not want to get annoyed with your child because he likes this toy so much!
  • Make sure your child has enough time for free play. Kids already have so much structure at school, daycare, sports, etc. nowadays. Children use free play to learn the things that interest them and therefore need lots of time to ‘just play’. Join in the fun some of the time and make sure there’s still plenty of time for play without adult supervision.

This article was originally published on my old website on Aug 5, 2013.
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