Over the next few weeks, more than one million early childhood education students will head off to their very first day of school. And while most of these students will be nervous about meeting their teachers, finding their cubbies, and making new friends, some of them will be apprehensive about something else entirely: learning a whole new language.

English learners at the pre-K level need support from their teachers just as much as English learners in K–6 grades. In fact, supporting young English learners in preschool is critical to their success in later years. NAESP President Barbara Chester notes that “when kids come to kindergarten unprepared, they struggle and continue to struggle.” In other words, getting off on the right foot with your young English learners can make a big difference as they progress to kindergarten and beyond.

So how can you help your early childhood English learners feel welcome in your classroom and get ready for kindergarten? One of the beset things you can do is create a positive learning environment. Here are three tips for getting ready for a new school year with your linguistically and culturally diverse (LCD) students:

1. Gather multicultural materials for your classroom

Before school starts, collect as many books as you can in the languages you know your students will be speaking. Look into creating a library of authentic music from your students’ cultures that you can play during work time, activity time, or on special occasions. See if you can find any authentic looking dress-ups from different cultures to keep in the classroom. Having multicultural items in your classroom will not only help your LCD students feel more at home, but it will also give you a chance to teach all students in the class about appreciating new cultures.

2. Create a language-rich environment for your students

Create an environment that exposes your LCD students to as many good models of English language use as possible. Consider having upper-grade students come in once a week to read to your kids one-on-one. Plan for meaningful speaking and listening activities like show-and-tell, talking with puppets, or listening to electronic books. A language-rich environment where students hear, read, write, and speak on a regular basis can help your English learners experiment with and acquire language more quickly.

3. Develop a relationship with your students’ families

One of the best ways to help your pre-K students succeed is to get their families involved. Before the school year begins, plan how you will involve students’ parents in meaningful ways. Consider how you will communicate with them about their child’s progress: Can you send home progress reports in their child’s first language? Have handouts translated and sent home?  Keep in mind that parents are most likely to get involved if their interactions with you are positive and supportive. Developing relationships with students’ families can be a great way to gather more multicultural items for your classroom, too. Ask if parents have any books, music, or other cultural items that they would be willing to share with the class. 

Happy preparing to all you teachers out there! If you have any other great ideas for getting ready to work with young English learners, please share in the comments below.