Well Begun is Half Done

May 20th 2013

I was talking today to Nancy who is now in year 6 and a very skilled user of English and Thai. Throughout KS1, however, people were concerned about her use of language.

She remembered her first day at school in Reception

"It was terrible, I didn't know any English. When I went to the toilet my Dad left. When I came back no one understood me and I didn't know what they were saying. I just cried and cried." (note from the teacher who was there - screamed and screamed!)

Nancy has overcome her jolting start to education, partly because she has been in classrooms atuned to language development for young children, and many of her peers were in the same boat.

What of our older starters who may be similarly jolted and scared? We need to try and give them an encouraging and nurturing environment full of smiles. We need to find secure places to stand and rest and survey the landscape.

But how?

Remember the big shock the child is experiencing. If you need help tune your radio or TV to a language you do not speak. Now imagine that is all you have all day and you are expected to respond. It is hard. Always. For everyone.

Have friendly chatty children around to help, but be alert to overwhelmingness. Keep an eye out at lunchtime and on the playground. Look at dinner and make sure the child can eat and enjoy it.

In your classroom have a nifty box of interesting things:

an atlas is essential

something crafty and fiddly

photos of the school

text free (or nearly) books e.g.You Choose, Where's Wally?

language free games (pelmanism, connect four)

a few phrases in their language if you can

These first days are not about learning English, about being assessed and put into a slot. They are about learning to feel at home in this alien environment.

They are about finding a safe place to stand.

For everyone.