The Early Childhood Education (ECE) Centre at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia provides care for newcomer children from different countries and backgrounds. Here, children aged 6 months to 5 years are exposed to their first group experience, while their parents attend language and skills classes.
Children from across the world with different languages, culture and experiences arrive at the ECE Centre to share the same language and culture. This is a first for them – everything is new and they have little to no information on what to expect.
Communication is a big challenge; most of the children do not speak English when they arrive. The first few weeks are difficult, but the children begin to pick up a few words and start communicating with non-verbal gestures that are mixed with words they have learned with their own native language.
Separation anxiety is also an issue, not just for children but for parents. It is difficult to trust other adults to look after their children, especially when they cannot communicate easily with them and cannot explain their child’s routine, or their likes and dislikes. To make the transition easier, parents stay in the classroom to help their children settle. It usually takes from three days to one week for a child to settle, although it can be longer at times. During this time they learn a few new words – they learn to say “hi”, “bye” or “ok”, and even non-verbal communication with their teachers is beneficial. Parents and children get the chance to see the classroom routine, the interaction between children, and the interaction with instructors. They experience the activities delivered by instructors, as well as explore the materials and toys in the centre.
The children develop strong communication skills and social skills in the classroom through planned activities. Singing songs and reading books play a huge role in language development – these are most children’s favorite activities. There is also free play time with instructor’s guidance and observation.
Most children learn to communicate well with one another and with their instructors in a short period of time. The most rewarding part of the experience for instructors is seeing the children help classmates from the same culture – interpreting and showing them around, and helping them with the classroom routines and activities. This first group experience plays an invaluable role in preparing the children, and their parents, for school and their new multicultural life in Canada.