COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Culturally Responsive Supports for Children and Families During Social Distancing

The time families spend with young children provides many wonderful opportunities to strengthen home languages and learn about cultural traditions and ways of life. Early childhood educators can play an influential role by supporting young children and their families in culturally and linguistically responsive ways. This might seem challenging during uncertain times, but there are many resources available to help.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, programs will need to follow the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines from the CDC and local health departments. Staff should review CDC and local government websites frequently for any updates.

Children and families are experiencing many disruptions and changes during this time. Programs that are closed or reopening for the summer are working hard to maintain connections with families. They are supporting opportunities for learning at home and helping families and children get ready for the transition to kindergarten.

All families need culturally respectful guidance and support. Use the following strategies and resources to support children who are dual language learners (DLLs) and their families. These materials may be helpful while learning together at home, when participating in summer programs, and as families prepare for the big step toward kindergarten.

Provide families with information that includes relevant languages and cultural contexts.

Families of children who are DLLs may be getting a lot of information about staying safe and healthy during this time. They may be seeing a variety of messages about rules and suggested safety practices. When information is not provided in their strongest language, families may miss important guidance. Families, including Native American families, who live in rural areas with little or no access to Wi-Fi or other support services may face additional challenges accessing information.

Head Start and child care programs are making great strides to support early childhood health and learning while centers are closed. However, some impacted families may still have limited access to information and resources in their communities. They may also experience delays in accessing unemployment funding or interruptions in health and financial services.

Explore linguistically and culturally relevant supports for families. Consider distributing these resources via newsletters, email, and text messages. If needed, provide paper copies by mail or drop them off to families who have limited access to digital resources. When possible, identify a person families can call for questions and to address any concerns.

Use ongoing communication to keep families informed.

Parents need reliable program and school-related information regarding stay-at-home mandates. Partnering with parents and providing clear and consistent communication can serve as a vital support to help ease the stress of feeling isolated and alone. When possible, identify staff members who can answer family questions in the language they need. Use text messaging programs that allow families to receive messages in their language of choice. Organize bilingual staff members and volunteers to check in with families by phone on a regular basis. For families who have limited access to internet or smartphone service, consider sending some materials, supporting messages, or children's books by mail.

Programs that reopen over the summer have a short period in which to partner with families, ascertain their needs, and provide culturally and linguistically responsive supports, particularly as they prepare children for the transition to kindergarten. Whether the program is supporting families at home or operating a summer program, leaders and education staff can learn about effective strategies for partnering with families to support children who are DLLs.

Encourage learning from home while preparing for the transition to kindergarten.

Families have experienced many disruptions due to the need for social distancing. Build their confidence in supporting learning from home and help them begin to plan for kindergarten. For example, provide activities families can do with materials they have on hand. Offer examples of ways learning happens in the context of daily routines, such as bath time, cooking, chores, or gardening.

It is important for programs to support continued learning in the home language while also supporting the acquisition of English, or the tribal language. Consider how extended time at home impacts children's language and literacy development. For example, time at home may provide an opportunity for some Native American families to enhance use of their tribal languages. For other families, children may experience interruption in learning their tribal languages, especially when the community relies on elders for language revitalization. Children who speak a language other than English at home may grow in their receptive and expressive language skills in their home language but may forget some words in English they've learned at school.

Encourage families to read to their children every day and to talk about the stories. Remind them to talk, read, write, and sing with their child in their home language to build a foundation for future learning. Families who want their children to learn their tribal language need encouragement, as well. Some tribal languages rely on oral storytelling, a cultural tradition with history and life lessons. Education staff can recommend creating videos of tribal community members speaking or telling stories in the tribal language.

The resources below are available in several languages. They can be linked, emailed, or printed to provide information for families about the value of using their home language. Many include activity suggestions.

For many children, summer is typically a downtime when Head Start preschool programs are closed. As supports continue for families at home and programs begin reopening, the summer months are an important time to focus on preparations for kindergarten. For children who are DLLs, consider a few additional strategies to support successful transitions to kindergarten. Strategies include:

  • Completing additional language screenings for children to give you and the family a more accurate assessment of language development
  • Partnering with parents to explore choices and options about placement in bilingual education or English as a second language classes
  • Reassuring parents who might have worries about whether their child has the language skills they need to get off to a good start in kindergarten

These strategies can help to strengthen the home-school connections. Find detailed information for programs and families as they work together to address the specifics of supporting each child's transition to kindergarten:

Meet your own needs.

After a period of social distancing, programs will be focused on following CDC and local health guidelines. Check the websites frequently to stay current. Program staff will need to follow the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines. They may have lingering concerns about health and safety as they begin to interact with children, families, and colleagues again. Consider taking measures in addition to standard health and safety practices. For example, you might wear long-sleeved shirts or smocks that you can change throughout the day, wash yours and children's hands frequently, and talk with families about health and safety practices at home. Find interpreters or other staff who can communicate with families in their home languages as needed.

In home-based programs, be sure to adhere to your program's health and safety procedures while on home visits. Talk ahead of time with families and be responsive to requests they may have, such as removing shoes, wearing a face mask, or meeting outside during home visits. Partner with families to prepare children for these changes. Calm any fears they may have about the face mask. Explain what it is and how it is keeping their home visitor, themselves, and their family safe from germs. Most importantly, remember to take care of your emotional and physical health and encourage all staff to do the same.