Stronger together: The power of digital documentation when working with families who speak other languages
With increasing numbers of people emigrating from their home countries to far off lands, educators all across the world are now working with diverse communities of children and families. This diversity is something that we celebrate, as we seek to learn more about and incorporate the culture and languages of all children into our daily practices and philosophy.
We consider the needs of the children and find ways that we can include their culture in different areas of our learning community. It is easy to read books about different countries, to share food from other cultures, to explore music and art from far off places. We can learn simple greetings, phrases and keywords and use these as a way to be inclusive of and connect with children and their families who may not have English as their first language. We can research and learn about the different ways of doing things, and the beliefs that are important to everyone in our community. These strategies are so important if people who have recently immigrated to your country are to feel a sense of belonging. It is also a way for EVERYONE in your learning community to develop an awareness of and understanding of the different cultures that make up our world.
Language is not always a barrier to communication. When there is not a language in common, a smile, laughter, and body language can go a long way to help develop a sense of belonging in your learning service.
But, for one family, language was a barrier that prevented a mother understanding and contributing to her child’s learning and development plan.
The family had immigrated to New Zealand years earlier and had 4 children who were born here. As refugees, they were part of a tight-knit community of blood relatives and new friends from their homeland. The father spoke English fluently, due to having a good education in his country of birth. The mother, however, left school at 9 years of age. This marked the end of her formal education and, as such, she lacked confidence. She spoke very little English but was still able to share her culture with our learning community. She would often bring in meals from her homeland for the educators to share, and it was easy for us to see and understand the cultural values that were important in her family. She spoke a small amount of English so was able to share with us the few words that she knew. She was able to tell us what time she would pick her children up, if they slept well, and if they were happy. It was easy to see that she felt comfortable in our centre, she had a strong sense of belonging and would stay for extended periods of time with us.
She did, however, struggle to understand us when we shared information with her about her children’s interests, how their day had been, and the important messages around their care routines. This made it difficult for her to fully contribute to and be a part of her children’s early childhood education. This was compounded by the fact that her youngest child had developmental delays, and we had successfully applied for early intervention support. The support network around her child had grown, and sadly it was a challenge for her to contribute to the positive interventions that were happening for her youngest.
Often times, when we needed to tell her about something important that was happening for her child, she would call her husband while at our centre. We would speak to him and ask him to translate what we needed to communicate to her, we would then pass the phone to her and he would translate our message to her … and so on and so on. You can no doubt understand that this was a very time consuming and confusing and required her to be heavily dependant on her husband. It was easy to see that this was frustrating for her and we wracked our brains trying to find an easier way to communicate with her, with no luck.
Not long after this, we began using Storypark to document and share children’s learning.
For this child, in particular, we immediately saw the advantage of being able to invite the specialists in his support network to his profile. They were able to see the learning stories we added, as well as share their own observations and recommendations.
It also meant that his father, who we didn’t often see in the centre, was able to be included and contribute to our observations. This made our job of supporting his development, a whole lot easier. Previously, it could take days or weeks before the father was able to contribute to what was happening for his son. The immediacy of using a digital platform to share important information and observations, was evident when we would get comments on learning stories within hours of sharing them.
Little did we know, that using Storypark, would also prove to be the communication tool we had been looking for. It enabled this child’s mother to connect with us in a different way. You see, we soon realised that the sharing of photos and videos, meant that language was not a barrier for this mother. She was able to view our observations visually, without language hindering her ability to understand. At home, she was also able to comment on our learning stories using google translate or vice versa. It felt like we had struck the golden ticket!
With the ability of the boy’s mother to now understand and contribute to her child’s IDP, we could see immediate benefits for both her and her child. We instantly saw that the strategies we used to support his development, were also being implemented by her. She was able to communicate valuable information and ideas to his development plan. Vital information was not being lost and it felt like her confidence was growing.
This was an important reminder to our team that when we think about inclusion, to also consider the needs of parents. Having access to tools and resources that ensure families are able to fully work in partnership with you, has far-reaching effects for not only the child in your centre but the whole family.
Storypark was an integral part of the puzzle for us. And for this child, it meant his learning and development was able to be supported in the best way possible.