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June 07, 2022

Multiple Languages, One Community: Diverse Kindergarten Education at Waterloo Region DSB

At The Learning Partnership, we firmly believe that diversity, representation and inclusion is essential to quality education, and that these values need to be modelled from the very beginning. With our Welcome to KindergartenTM (WTK) program, The Learning Partnership aims to show students starting school that they belong in the classroom as students and as people. WTK Learning Through Play resources help ease the transition to Kindergarten by offering play-based learning experiences, led by the child’s new teacher, built around the Talk, Read, Create and Play Every Day model for students and their families. The content and design of WTK Learning Through Play ensures all diverse students feel supported and seen.

There are few schools more diverse than Rockway Public School in Waterloo Region District School Board, which has been running the Welcome to Kindergarten program for over six years. Many of the families that attend the school are new to Canada, with Arabic and Nepali being the most common first languages. Overall, there are many multi-language learners with an incredible variety of backgrounds at Rockway: altogether, the students speak a total of 35 languages!

Kindergarten teacher Jill Johnston sees the importance of diverse and inclusive learning materials firsthand: it allows her students to see themselves represented while also giving them the opportunity to see and learn about those who look different from them.

“WTK has done such a great job incorporating resources with an equity and inclusion lens. The take-home book ‘Up’ includes ten places from around the world and rich pictures depicting a variety of cultural backgrounds. Allowing students to personally connect with these pictures further instills the message and promotes the dialogue that Kindergarten is a place for all,” Johnston says.
Four Kindergarten students are seated around at a round table inspecting a tulip

Kailyn Mitchell, who also teaches Kindergarten at Rockway, adds that Welcome to Kindergarten helps support their diverse community by supporting relationship-building between students and teachers before school even begins. She looks forward to running Welcome to Kindergarten each spring for the upcoming school year so that she can meet the students and families and make connections early. “It also gives us the opportunity to identify some of the learning needs prior to September so that we can set children up for a successful start,” says Mitchell.

By getting to know students before they start school, teachers at Rockway can connect them to ESL and other school and community resources proactively instead of waiting for a need to emerge. Rockway is proud to incorporate a wealth of community resources into their Welcome to Kindergarten event to support families who may be new to the area and not realize what is available to them. It also adds to the warm welcome that WTK is designed to provide.
Five students are seated around a round table completing class work

“Speech and language therapists, community libraries, EarlyON, and translators have all been a part of our Welcome to Kindergarten program and have been available throughout the family session to answer questions and connect families to resources,” says Jill Johnston. “The Welcome to Kindergarten website also offers resources in different languages, which assists us in reaching out to multi-language learner families.”

Overall, Welcome to Kindergarten provides Rockway Public School with inclusive experiences and activities that engage their many young and diverse students and provide an important bridge between home and school.

“The Talk, Read, Create and Play model provides a simple framework for families to engage their children in meaningful learning experiences at home and throughout the year. These activities are easy to facilitate, and they show parents the importance and ease of learning through playing and discovering together,” Johnston explains. “When children see magnetic letters at school, or hear the songs from the Welcome to Kindergarten app, they are always so excited to share "I did that, I listened to that at home”. We have noticed this helps children feel comfortable in the classroom and make connections with each other based on common experiences. This is why we always look forward to hosting our WTK event each year,” she added.
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