Spring Has Sprung for Dual Language Learners!

By Karen Nemeth

Spring is here! Isn’t it wonderful to have more opportunities for neighborhood walks and outdoor play? With so much to see and talk about outside, you won’t want your dual language learners (DLLs) to miss anything. Unfortunately, when children don’t understand English, a lot of your outdoor talk just may not reach them.

Here are some strategies to enhance outdoor learning experiences for DLLs in early childhood education:

  • Make a list of the names of items you commonly see when outdoors with the children, and learn to say them in their home languages.
  • Read some nonfiction books about neighborhood plants, animals, structures, or vehicles in the languages spoken by the children. This will help them understand what they will be seeing and will help you learn some of the words you can use to talk about things in their home languages.
  • Talk to the children about what they will see, using home-language words to orient them to the discussion and then discussing in English. Be sure to emphasize and repeat the English versions of those key words so they begin to make connections.
  • Be clear with nonverbal cues when outdoors. Instead of saying, “Everybody look behind you. There’s a big bulldozer,” you could catch the DLL child’s eye or gently touch her shoulder and point to the bulldozer to make sure she connects what she is seeing with what you are saying.
  • Have the children bring cameras outside to take pictures of things that interest them. Turn the pictures into class-made books or posters, and have the captions translated into the languages needed. Then, you can bring these resources with you on walks so both teacher and child can look up the words that go with the pictures of what they are seeing.
  • Post labels and safety rules on the playground using picture cues as well as  words in several languages.
  • Learn to play outdoor games from different cultures. Invite parents or volunteers to become outdoor language buddies, playing with the children and sharing their childhood traditions.

Always remember that the outdoor space around your program is just as much a part of the educational environment as the classroom itself. Just as you make adaptations to support different languages inside, the same should be happening outside. Happy spring!

This post was contributed by Karen Nemeth Karen earned her BA in psychology from William Paterson University and her MEd in learning, cognition and development from Rutgers University. She has been a teacher and a teacher educator for more than 25 years, focusing her expertise on first and second language development in young children. She is the author of Many Languages, One Classroom (2009), Many Languages, Building Connections (2012), and with Fran Simon, Digital Decisions (2012). She is also a NAEYC author and consulting editor. Connect with Karen online at

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