De-pathologizing refugee children’s ECE experience

Posted on February 15, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, eci814, educational, Kindergarten, Masters, teaching and learning |

This week’s chapters struck a chord with me as I was reminiscing on the types of play/activities I encouraged when I was teaching Kindergarten, and even grade one. I am embarrassed to say that it definitely did not reflect the culturally sensitive practices I read about this week.

In his book, Early Childhood Curricula and the De-pathologizing of Childhood, Luigi Iannacci speaks about how culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students are pathologized ece-bookbecause of their lack of English language. He encourages teachers to approach curriculum by asking, “Who are my students? What resources do they possess? Are these resources being accessed or ignored in lieu of experiences that may render them deficient?” (Iannacci, pg. 233)

Unfortunately I think my experience has been to mostly ignore these student’s culture, and try and help them learn English language and ‘Canadian’ culture. Don’t get me wrong…  We did country projects where students could learn about whatever country they wanted and bring a meal that represented that country etc. but I wasn’t honouring or upholding individual’s backgrounds and diverse experiences from home. I guarantee I was looking at these students from a deficit point of view, trying to figure out what they lacked and how I could help them “catch up.”


“Knowledge” photo credit: Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr

Iannacci speaks to how teachers can potentially help students become curriculum informants rather than information recipients. He encourages teachers to look at who the child is rather than what the child is. He believes that students should not be, “recipients of knowledge deposits and pathologized for their inability to meet pre-established expectations” (Iannacci, pg. 233). This caused me to reflect on my own practice and what I can be doing differently when I head back to the classroom after my mat leave.

Anna Kirova, in Children’s Representations of Cultural Scripts in Play, gave me some practical ideas on how I could start supporting intercultural learning within an early childhood classroom. She starts by suggesting that we get to know exactly what cultures/languages are represented in your class. Often times the information in the CUM folders is misleading and/or erroneous. We should be asking our students, their siblings or their parents about what country they are from and what language(s) they speak.  If at all possible, we should be bringing in people/family who speak these children’s native tongue. This shows that we value the child’s first language, and the adult may give us some amazing insight into cultural practices from their home country. It also signals the children that language “code-switching” is acceptable and an important part of learning a new language.

Another suggestion was to set up some play centres that encourage cultural practices within the classroom. The tea centre was an excellent example of this for me.  Many cultures/families drink tea, and though they may go about it in different ways, it provides


“Tea Party: Ms. Jen’s Classroom” photo credit: Meriweather Lewis Elementary via Flickr

an opportunity for students to role-play what they see at home.  Each child can model and explain to the other students how their family prepares tea, and a ‘tea party’ is such a natural way for students to invite their classmates into their experience.  The market centre was another excellent example of this culturally sensitive practice that invites a new and different understanding of this universal task of gathering food. The only issue Kirov alluded to with this centre was that if your refugee students were born in Canada they may not have first hand experience in any other market except the grocery stores here in Canada, so an adult or sibling with experience could come in to help.

The last and extremely easy suggestion these chapters gave was labelling the room in the children’s first languages. A parent or even Google can help with this! Labelling things like door, window, toilet etc. I appreciate this simple step to help students and parents feel like they are not only welcomed, but an integral part of the classroom.

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