An increasing number of children are growing up in environments in which more than one language is spoken. For many of these children, early childhood education and care (ECEC) is often their first contact with the majority language of the country in which they are growing up. This situation adds to the crucial role that ECEC professionals play in children’s education.
Children from multilingual families bring an added richness to the ECEC centre. Their full language repertoire is both a resource for the child’s own holistic development, and enriches the learning experiences of the other children. Policy recommendations at European level, as well as the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child advocate for language learning from a young age and promotion of multilingual education in ECEC.
However, multilingualism presents specific challenges for ECEC professionals. To support multilingual children and families, ECEC staff must possess complex knowledge, skills and competences, as well as an understanding of child development and early childhood pedagogy. Many ECEC professionals feel an insecurity or lack of experience about working with multilingual children and families. In addition, educational practices are often geared toward monolingualism, and approach diversity and multilingualism as a problem instead of a resource. Multilingual parents (or non-native speakers of the institutional language) may also be uncertain when faced with making choices for their child, and often face barriers to engaging in reciprocal relationships with ECEC professionals.
Some of these challenges may be overcome through the participation of ECEC professionals in continuous professional development (CPD), which can positively impact the quality of pedagogical practices towards children and parents. However, CPD must be of high quality and must meet specific criteria – which, as evidenced by the findings of recent research, is not always guaranteed. CPD in relation to multilingualism in the ECEC context is often not attuned to the complex realities of multilingual families and may not always incorporate up-to-date scientific insights. To overcome this, CPD requires ongoing review and development. With this in mind, the purpose of this report is to formulate research- and practice-based policy recommendations for high-quality CPD to support ECEC professionals working with multilingual children and families.
This report is built upon two sources of secondary data: 1) a literature review on multilingualism, CPD, ECEC and diversity, which draws on scientific research articles, international reviews and reports of relevant European projects (presented in Chapter 2); 2) two case studies: one on Griffbereit and Rucksack KiTa in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, and another on Elmer Childcare services in Brussels, Belgium (presented in Chapter 3). Chapter 4 of the report provides general recommendations, while Chapter 5 explores how the report’s key findings and recommendations apply to CPD relating to working with multilingual children and families with a refugee background.
Bergeron-Morin, L., Peleman, B., Hulpia, H. (2023). ‘Working with multilingual children and families in early childhood education and care (ECEC): guidelines for continuous professional development of ECEC professionals’. NESET report, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. doi: 10.2766/6551