Talking to children, as much as you can, in any language, is important, and the first three years are vital; when children’s brains are forming.
A unique initiative between English Language Partners New Zealand (ELPNZ) and COMET is encouraging refugee and migrant families to talk more with their babies and toddlers. The project, part of COMET’s Talking Matters campaign, launched in April, with five specially-designed ESOL resource packs.
Talking Matters is a major initiative, bringing together education, health and social services with families/ whanau to promote talking with children, to maximise their potential.
“Our project is a smaller part of the campaign,” says Katie Peckitt, from ELPNZ’s Auckland West centre. “It’s our first venture, but hopefully we can work together to develop more resources.”
Katie was ‘in the right place at the right time’ when the chief executives of ELPNZ and COMET met to discuss the initiative. “I showed such a keen interest that the project landed with me,” she says. COMET already had well-established resources, but the goal was to develop packs specifically tailored to ESOL learners. “We needed to know how our learners felt about encouraging speech with babies,” says Katie.
“Volunteer tutors teaching a learner with a baby and culture, and language assistants (CLAs) helped us develop the resources, she says. “It was important to get an ethnic mix and find out if our ideas fitted with the ethnicities of our learners,” says Katie. “The tutors and CLAs tested ideas and cultural messages and suggested ways to get them across to migrant communities.”
Katie worked with Emma Quigan and Ana Fernandez from Talking Matters. “Emma and Ana facilitated three workshops, bringing their knowledge on why we need to talk to children in their first 1,000 days, and I brought the ESOL side,” says Katie. “Then I made the packs using drawings COMET created to reflect the inclusive activities I’d written.”
Emma says the shared venture was an interesting learning experience. “It was good to revisit our Talking Matters material for a multicultural audience. Our 14 ‘talking tips’ are universal for lots of cultures but, with this project, we found that’s not always the case,” she says. “For some, there’s less of a focus on the nuclear family. Play, for instance, are things that older siblings or grandparents might be more likely to do.
“For migrants, this added a layer of complication, because you may not be with those family members.”
The starter packs are highly visual. “It’s early days, but people are keen,” Katie says. “All the tutors who came to the launch took a pack and we are looking forward to their feedback. During lessons, we want learners to feel comfortable using their own language because it’s the language they’ll be using with their children.”
The packs are available on ELP’s website here: https://www.englishlanguage.org.nz/hub/teaching-resources/talking-matters/
COMET is a charitable trust championing better and fairer education, skills and lifelong learning. http://www.cometauckland.org.nz/wawcs0143758/Talking-Matters.html
Writer: Patricia Thompson