Forward Development: ELECT and the Newcomer Child

ELECT stands for Early Learning for Every Child Today.  It also stands for an integrated early learning framework that is being used in Ontario to help children from ages two-and-a-half- to six-years reach their full potential socially, physically and emotionally.

The ELECT document, the result of years of work by education professionals on the Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning, is for use by all those who work with young children in Ontario, including child care settings and Kindergarten classrooms. It’s meant to be used in conjunction with the Ontario Day Nurseries Act, Ontario Early Years Centre guidelines and the Kindergarten Program.

It sounds comprehensive, both in terms of the children being cared for and the people providing the care.  But questions arise in the context of caring for newcomer children.  Is a framework designed for all children flexible enough to suit the unique needs of immigrants? If it does meet their needs, will it put pressure on child care professionals to significantly change their current practice?

CMAS was able to find out more at the 2012 LINC Conference, where ELECT sessions were hosted by Valerie Rhomberg, Manager of Academic Programs at Mothercraft College, and Alka Burman, Early Literacy Specialist for the Region of Peel.

First the good news: According to Valerie and Alka, programs that follow the ELECT curriculum framework CAN support every child—even more so for newcomers, as it provides direction and consistency in practice with those children that may be most vulnerable due to familial and cultural changes.  In fact, the panel prepared the document with the needs of newcomers, refugees, special needs, additional language and Indigenous populations in mind. (Early Learning for Every Child Today: A framework for Ontario early childhood settings, Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning, January 2007)

More good news: it provides a bridge between the ECE curriculum and the Kindergarten curriculum, as the document covers infants and toddlers, along with preschoolers and school age children.

The best news of all:  It complements existing documents and programs that care for newcomer children and, according to Alka Burman, most of you are already doing it.

Principles of ELECT

Part of getting comfortable with ELECT is knowing what principles govern the framework, as well as how they mesh in both theory and practice with the newcomer families you serve. Included below are some current practices of child care colleagues and workshop leaders that came out of the conference.

Principle 1:

Early child development sets the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health.

This principle is particularly appropriate for immigrants, as they are likely experiencing so many changes and challenges all at once—not the least of which can be culture shock.  It can be compounded with separation anxiety on the part of both parents and children if they have never enrolled in child care before.

What is a good way to put this principle into practice?  Ensure they get the right start by finding out all you can about the child and family as a whole, including language ability, food and activity preferences, as well as any special customs or routines.  Then, integrate this knowledge into your program planning, so children can get comfortable and settle into the class—and their new home—more easily. This, in turn, will give them a good start for lifelong learning.

For more information and ideas, see Culture Shock E-course.

Principle 2:

Partnerships with families and communities strengthen the ability of early childhood settings to meet the needs of young children.

Again, the second principle is also especially relevant to newcomers. Often, interaction with child care staff is one of their few links to the community at large.  They may know no one else, and a proper welcome is so important to successful settlement. Part of your role is to support, reflect and respect the family culture, traditions and language.

To partner with parents, keep them informed about their child—and ask for suggestions to help ease the transition.  As with the first principle, find out about the whole family and get them involved in your program by asking them to bring in their favourite music and photos, or asking if they could come and read a book in their own language.

You can also inform parents about community events and resources.   Take this one step further and try to establish a relationship between your program and community hubs, like your local library.

For more information and ideas, see Working with Newcomer Families E-course

Principle 3:

Demonstration of respect for diversity, equity and inclusion are prerequisites for optimal development and learning.

Respect for diversity and equity is a good practice cornerstone when working with immigrant families.  If parents see that you are interested in and want to include their culture and language in the classroom, they will be more comfortable with the program.  Likewise, this will make the children more comfortable and proud of their own diversities—and as a result, more open to learning and development.

As you already know, showing your respect for diversity and equity require more than just acknowledgement or even written policy.  It has to permeate the space, the activities and your own actions.   This means ensuring the room is decorated with photos and objects that show all areas of diversity, including language, culture and special needs.  Signs and labels in a variety of languages, as well as toys and cooking utensils from various cultures are also a good idea.  Music and books in different languages can also set the stage for culturally diverse experiences and activities.  Most important, however, will be your own actions—and how openly you react to and interact with diversity.  And how equitably you treat the children.

For more information and ideas, see:

Working with Newcomer Families E-course

Making Room for Diversity in Your Program Q&A with Valerie Rhomberg

Principle 4:

A planned curriculum supports early learning.

Whether you care for newcomer children or not, as child care professionals you are already required to submit program plans.  That being said, specific activities that can help children who are new to your program should also be included and can be used as tools to increase participation, as well as facilitate learning and settlement.

To do this, once again it goes back to getting as much information about families as you can—both when they register and as you get to know them. That way, your program planning can incorporate ways to support and integrate their interests, experiences and diversities.  This can include everything from allocating time to listen to music or read a book in their language to celebrating different cultural holidays.

Principle 5:

Play is a means to early learning that capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and exuberance.

Play is an important part of a child care experience, especially when immigrant children may have added difficulty socializing and come with limited language skills. Play will capture natural curiosity and exuberance—with the added benefits of increasing social interaction and breaking the language barrier.

While expressing themselves creatively and socially through play, opportunities for language and numeracy can be incorporated.  When planning for playtime, think of activities, toys and equipment that they can identify with or readily use.  For example, fill sensory tables with grains, rice or cooking staples they might be familiar with from their home or home country…and use their level to interest to incorporate basic science and math concepts, like measuring.

Principle 6:

Knowledgeable and responsive early childhood practitioners are essential to early childhood settings.

Knowledge goes beyond formal training. You need to learn about the children and families you work with—and then be responsive to their needs based on this information. According to ELECT, this will allow you to “establish social and physical environments where children thrive”.

This principle can take a little more research when working with immigrant families coming from diverse backgrounds, as you may need to familiarize yourself with their culture—from customs to food choices. One way to be more responsive is to learn a few words and phrases in their home language.

In Practice

The full ELECT document goes into far greater detail, including many ideas on putting it into practice.  As well, it allows you to acquaint yourself with some new terminology in the glossary… so you can find the language to accompany what you are likely already doing.

Whether or not you choose to follow ELECT, it is good to have an understanding of the framework —if for no other reason than to reinforce and validate your current practices. And what could be more rewarding than serving both your own professional development and the development of the immigrant children in your care?

The full ELECT document is available online through Early Learning for Every Child Today A framework for Ontario early childhood settings