Preschool Second-Language Acquisition: A Parent Involvement Program to Reinforce Classroom Learning

Article excerpt

Families seeking Montessori education historically have been very interested in the educational aspects of their children's development. Parental involvement in preschool activities such as reading and math is relatively easy to achieve, since adults have had some exposure to these disciplines. Reinforcing the learning that occurs during the French or Spanish lesson, however, will be problematic if no one in the family speaks those languages. Although they recognize the importance of early second-language acquisition and would like to help their children obtain such skills, parents often lack the knowledge that would enable them to take an active role in supporting such learning.

To provide children with a seamless educational experience, parents and teachers must work together to create links between the home and school environments. The gap that exists in the secondlanguage acquisition process requires such a bridge. The staff of the Montessori Center of Nyack devised three simple ways to incorporate families into the school's Spanish language learning process with a minimum of time and expense.

The parent involvement program presented at the Center offered very different but equally effective means for Spanish to make the transition into students' homes. The individual components were designed to appeal to diverse learning and life styles, as well as varied time frames of the 21 st century's busy families. Although they were encouraged to participate in all of the activities, parents could choose just one or two interventions and still have a positive impact on their child's second-language learning.

To provide meaningful support for their child's second-language learning, parents could obtain a basic level of competence in the language being offered. To accomplish this, they were invited to participate in a one-session course in Spanish conversation. The program, which focused on the verbal essentials of the foreign language, was offered at different times and dates immediately following the opening of the new school year and was available to all adult family members at no charge. The classes presented language learning in an informal, relaxed environment using songs, games, and other media as teaching tools. The techniques employed to introduce such learning mirrored the methods used in classroom presentations to the children. The vocabulary was based on the preschool curriculum.

Atypical session began with parents learning elementary Spanish phrases such as me llamo es... (my name is ...) and d Como se llama usted? (What is your name?) The teacher directed the adults to introduce themselves to each other as the children do at circle time. The instructor then modified the lesson format to make it more relevant and entertaining for adults. For example, the children learn the names of the numbers (uno, 1; dos, 2; tres, 3, etc.). Adults were taught the same numbers but were also given phrases to perform basic addition and subtraction problems (2 y 2 son 4; 15 menos 2 son 13). They were then asked to present and solve simple problems using the Spanish numbers they had just learned. The atmosphere was kept nonthreatening and informal. Suggestions for remedial adult math classes were in abundance. The class was presented in a manner that would encourage socializing among families and emphasize the enjoyable aspects of language learning. The refreshments served became teaching tools to help parents learn the names of fruits and vegetables.

By the close of the session, parents had been exposed to the same words and phrases, songs, and activities that their children would be learning during that semester. This shared knowledge enabled them to support and reinforce home learning of the foreign language.

In addition to providing a baseline of language knowledge, the sessions gave families the opportunity to meet and converse with other parents, the children's Spanish instructor, and other classroom teachers to discuss various aspects of second-language learning in the home. …