Active Play in Many Languages

When a teacher prepares for a new child who speaks a different language, all sorts of challenges may come to mind.  Active play might not be the first item on the list of concerns, but it is certainly worth thinking about.  On the one hand, physical activity and gross motor play can help a newcomer participate and adapt to the new classroom and new language.  On the other hand, there are a few cautions that every multilingual program should address.  Here are some points for you to consider.




*  Physical play often involves activities and skills that are easy to demonstrate with children who don’t speak your language.  They will feel that they are part of things right from the start.


*  Physical play also gives you a great opportunity to observe the dual language learner (DLL) and make notes about his behavior, skills, and interests.  This will help you notice if he seems to be on track developmentally or if his behavior reveals possible delay that the language barrier might keep hidden.


*  Physical play is great for all children – for their health, their development, and their self esteem.  While a child is not yet comfortable with the new language, she can still gain so much from her preschool experience if teachers and children are encouraging and supportive of her joining in the activities.


*  Physical play creates an engaging context in which children can learn to play together despite language, cultural or even developmental differences.  As long as the teachers are keeping an eye out for possible trouble, it is a good idea to sometimes let the children learn to relate and cooperate without your constant guidance.  Learning how to get along with someone who doesn’t speak your language is a good skill for all children to learn.


*  Use active play as a valuable part of your language arts/literacy curriculum – using the hands-on nature of the play to help DLLs build vocabulary understanding in context of fun and exciting large motor activities.  Bring songs, chants, and rhyming word activities into the physical fun.  And, while you’re at it, work in some math and science knowledge and skills as well.




>  It is a good idea to help the children in your class learn effective ways to interact with newcomers who don’t speak the same language.  Show them how to be patient, how to show their new friend what to do, now to speak slowly and repeat what they say.  With a little preparation, children can safely play together and help newcomers join in the fun.


>  A multilingual group can play together more successfully if the adults are alert to potential conflict or disrespect.  You can help build relationship skills and language skills by narrating the action: “Oh, look, Steven – Ivan is holding the ball out for you to take a turn!”


>  How do you communicate the safety rules of your indoor and outdoor play areas?  If you simply remind children by saying the rules in English – some children might not be as safe as others.  Think about creating posters with drawn pictures or photographs depicting the most important safety rules so all children can understand – and you can point to the poster whenever a DLL child needs to be reminded.


>  Another way to ensure the safety of a new child who is a DLL would be to walk that child through the safe ways to use each toy or piece of equipment in active play areas.  Don’t assume they are experienced in these types of settings.


>  Simplify your most important communications during active play so all of the children can understand your instructions.  For example, always use the same words to talk about critical points.  Picking one saying and using it each time will help them understand what you want right now – and help them learn words they can continue to use.  Use plenty of clear, consistent hand signals, sign language and gestures to enhance their understanding.


So you see, with a little thought and planning, you can turn your children’s active play experiences into an effective language builder for children who come from different languages.


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