14 SES 04 B, Family Education and Parenting - Traditional Practices and Diversity
This paper draws on four years of fieldwork among Tongan families within the context of an informal supported play-group in inner Sydney, Australia. In Australia, some 40% of children reach school age without attending formal pre-schools. Aboriginal and immigrant groups are greatly over-represented in this statistic. For these children, informal playgroups, funded from a range of government and non-government sources are important sites for learning. For children who speak a language other than English in the home, the playgroups also offer a ‘safe space’ and an opportunity to strengthen and support the use of the home literacies and the connection to heritage cultures. They also spaces where situated practices around community language and identity can be observed.
The role of such playgroups in improving the transition to school for Pasifika students has been acknowledged by a number of researchers in Australia and New Zealand. A recent literature review on Transition from Early Childhood Education (ECE) to School by Peters (2010) highlights the issues that have a direct relationship to home language maintenance. These include a sense of belonging, recognition and acknowledgement of culture, and dispositions and identity as a learner. In addition, Peters’ review also highlights the importance of direct communications between teachers in the ECE settings and those in the school.
Our main research questions related to identifying the best ways of engaging and supporting relatively disadvantaged families from Pacific communities in developing their children’s early literacy practices in informal settings. We also aimed at obtaining a clearer picture of literacy practices in the home language as a first step towards improving the gap between home practices and the first years of school. This study is one of the few with a primary focus on support for the maintenance of home language and culture in the early years
Using data from observations of participant observers, audio and video recordings, interviews with mothers and carers as well as interviews with play-group workers, literacy specialists and community workers, this paper seeks to describe the challenges facing a group of Tongan families as their children prepare for schools in which their home language will be ‘submerged.’ The findings include an evaluation of a bilingual program within the playgroup aimed at strengthening home language use among children from the Tongan communities. This program was designed and implemented in collaboration with these communities as a part of research discussed in this paper. The discussion section examines the benefits and limitations of such programs as well as foregrounding those strategies that engage and support families in their efforts to maintain their home language. The effects of these programs in terms of strengthening parental home language support cannot be underestimated and the results of this study highlight the importance of supporting home language in early childhood education settings through structured programs that are responsive to local needs.
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