Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Families are vital to children’s success, especially children who are dual language learners (DLLs), according to a recent brief from Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty. The brief looks at how early education and care programs can better engage the parents of linguistically diverse families.

In “Supporting Parent Engagement in Linguistically Diverse Families to Promote Young Children’s Learning: Implications for Early Care and Education Policy,” the authors point to a large body of research showing “that varied forms of parent engagement have a positive influence on children’s learning and development.”

“Currently, of the approximately 23 million children in the United States under the age of six years, 8% live in households where no one over the age of 14 is proficient in English,” the brief says. “Young children of immigrants comprise 25 percent of all children under nine years, and 47 percent of foreign born parents of children in this age range report limited English proficiency.”

The brief adds: “Fostering parent engagement in linguistically diverse families during the early childhood period can promote school readiness among children who face higher educational risks, including family poverty and linguistic isolation, while also leveraging key family strengths.”

“Current research, while limited, suggests features of early care and education programs that can help promote meaningful parent engagement in linguistically diverse families.”

These features include:

• creating “welcoming, supportive environments for linguistically diverse families”

• encouraging parents to engage children in home-based learning activities such as reading and math games, and

• “using data to understand the participation of linguistically diverse families in parent engagement activities and inform efforts to strengthen programs’ capacity to engage diverse families”

According to the authors, “The practice of encouraging parents to engage in home-based enrichment activities in the family’s home language may be particularly important.” Recent research shows this can have many benefits for children, even as they are learning English.

The brief also calls on states to “design and invest in workforce development policies that expand the number of linguistically diverse and culturally competent early care and education professionals who have expertise in promoting parent engagement.”

In addition: “State and federal agencies should provide adequate resources to enable early care and education programs to meet effective program requirements and quality standards that support the engagement of parents in linguistically diverse families.”

These recommendations are particularly timely, the brief notes, because they are “well-aligned with language about parent engagement in the newly reauthorized Child Care Development Block Grant program, which will increase the funds available to states for quality improvement activities.”

There are a number of strong engagement programs across the country. As New America’s EdCentral blog explains:

“Some early education centers here in Washington, D.C. have been extremely successful in designing and implementing programs to engage the parents of DLLs. Both Briya Public Charter School and AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School serve primarily low-income families and substantial numbers of DLLs. At Briya, 93 percent of the students are DLLs and all are low-income. At AppleTree’s Columbia Heights campus, 24 percent are DLLs and 99 percent of all students are low-income.”

“Both schools provide demonstration sessions for parents so they can support their children’s learning at home. For example, Briya — which serves children 0 to 5 and adults — integrates parenting classes and Parent and Child Together Time (PACT). The parenting classes develop parents’ literacy and language skills and also teach them techniques to support their children’s development.”

“AppleTree’s efforts look somewhat different, but serve the same purpose. It runs a family literacy program that includes periodic Family Nights. These combine structured and engaging parent-child activities with literacy activities, and teach parents how to replicate those interactions at home.”

One example is AppleTree’s week-long Nutrition Nights series where “nutritionists share healthy eating tips and habits and encourage healthy cooking at home. They also engage immigrant parents by incorporating activities with food from their countries of origin. Importantly, the school partners with D.C.’s OSSE, the Junior League of Washington, and Revolution Foods, meaning that the initiative comes at no cost to the school.”

This kind of deep-rooted engagement also connects parents to the larger community.

As the brief concludes, all parents want their children to do well in school and succeed in life, and strong family engagement with child care and early education programs is “a proven strategy for achieving this goal.”