As a new school year starts in the U.S., many families are preparing to send their children to school for the first time. Kindergarteners and their parents probably feel a mix of excitement and nervousness at the prospect of transitioning to elementary school. Families with new language immersion students entering a dual language (DL) program for the first time may have extra questions about how their child will adapt to this new environment.
With the right communication and education for parents, the transition for kindergarteners into a DL program can be a smooth and enjoyable one. Families will get to witness their child’s growth and increasing confidence throughout the school year as they become multilingual.
For more than 15 years, Participate Learning’s dual language immersion experts have been implementing successful programs in public schools. Get their tips below for how to engage parents of first-time DL students so everyone has a positive experience.
Help parents know what to expect at the start of the school year.
Kindergarteners are adjusting to many things all at once—new routines, new classmates, being in a school building, and, in the case of DL programs, an entirely new language! It is important to reassure parents that their child is learning core subjects, all while acquiring a new language at the same time. It can be helpful to review your program model with families and reiterate the differences between dual language immersion and traditional language learning.
You may also have families who speak very little English at home, and they may be hesitant for their child to not speak English at school out of concern they won’t learn the language. Share with them the established benefits of multilingual learners being enrolled in DL programs. Multilingual learners build their English proficiency while remaining fluent in their native language, and they enjoy higher academic achievement.
Dual language students are building their cognitive skills, their cultural competency, and becoming bilingual and biliterate. If parents are expressing concerns about their child’s progress, encourage them to have faith in the language learning process. This is a great time to share resources about the many benefits of being bilingual.
Equip families to support their child’s learning.
Provide resources and information to parents to ensure that they feel confident and comfortable supporting their children at home. If parents don’t speak the target language, they may feel like they can’t really help their child with homework or language acquisition. However, there are many ways families can support their children’s learning, no matter what languages they speak at home. If you’re unsure of where to start, share these resources:
- Benefits of a Bilingual Brain (in Spanish, English, and Mandarin)
- Eight Ways to Support Your Children in Language Immersion
- Help Your Child Succeed in an Immersion Program
- Bilingual Parent Resources
Connect parents to other families with older children in the DL program.
As families are adjusting to school and the DL program, it can be helpful for them to connect with others who have gone through the same experience. If your DL program is established, you can ask parents of fourth or fifth graders if they would be willing to talk to and answer questions for parents of younger students.
You can read about how Person County Schools in North Carolina has established successful DL programs over the past several years, and how parents support one another. Parents of fifth graders reach out to encourage parents of first graders on Facebook, and the program’s popularity has grown in the community.
Most students in DL programs who are in upper elementary grades are proficient in the target language. Parents of younger students will probably be amazed at their proficiency and encouraged by the learning and growth they observe in older students.
As you embark on a new school year, we hope these tips have given you ideas for how to support families with new language immersion students in your dual language program. With clear communication and educational resources, your youngest students and their families will experience a successful transition into a language immersion environment.
For more information about the benefits of DL programs, see Why Dual Language Students Thrive Academically and Socially and Positive Impacts of Dual Language Programs.