Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

Supporting Dual Language Learners in a Culturally Responsive Classroom

– Invited Blogs –

Within the state of CA, more and more children are culturally diverse and multilingual! As Dr. Cristina Alfaro (1) said, they are linguistic geniuses. How can educators develop and honor culturally responsive classrooms?

As much as possible, ensure that you represent the children and families in the classroom and school. When educators create mirrors in the classrooms, through real pictures, stories that represent them and families; we honor and develop a culturally responsive classroom.

1. Get to Know the Families

Really invite the families into the classroom with story sharing, book reading and asking for artifacts to share in the classroom. Ask them about home languages and you can use this interview resource to gain a deeper understanding of languages spoken at home. Once you have gotten to know the families, for example, you can ask “what is a family artifact you may be able to contribute to the dramatic play area that represents your home?” Remember, teachers, we do not need to buy generic cultural items that sometimes reinforce stereotypes on certain cultures.

2. Classroom Environment

Ensure the environment is co-created with the families and children so they see.

It is easier to buy generic pictures from the store or school supplies stores, yet imagine how a child will feel when they see a picture of their family and community on the walls of their classroom. How would you have felt seeing a picture of your family in the walls of your classroom?

This can look like family trees, honoring the different structures of family structure.

Welcome signs in multiple languages and color coded to show families that their home language is important and valued.

Labeling in the environment is an essential strategy that supports all children’s oral language development while helping them feel honored and heard. Try to give each language a color and keep the color consistent throughout the environment. You can label objectives, supplies, furniture, visual schedules, and of course vocabulary words. When we label in multiple languages, children feel motivated to try to read because they see their own home language. Also, helps build pre-literacy skills by connecting print to written language.


Did you know that studies show children’s book are more likely to show animals as the main character? (3,4)

We can change that! Although the research continues to change, as teachers we can read and display books that represent our diverse communities by supporting authors of color and stories with diverse characters. I have heard some educators say, “well, many of the multilingual cultural books only have the children eating.” Although this is slowly changing, YOU can create your own classroom stories with the help of the parents and children. Make books!

What are the best strategies to support dual language learners (DLLs), where you are teaching in multiple languages?

Dual Language Learners are children, birth to age five, who are learning two or more languages at the same time. They can also be learning a second language while continuing to their home language (5). These are the amazing linguistic geniuses that are in our rooms; whom are able to translate words and as early as three years old, DLL children are able to distinguish which language to speak and to whom. Using the teacher-created mirrors in the classrooms, through real pictures and stories that represent them and the families that I discussed above is a way to honor culture and DLLs. Now I will share research-based strategies to support multiple languages adapted from the multilingual toolkit and POLL Strategies (2,7).

1. Co-Create Units of Study

Create an environment of learning that is rich in vocabulary, fun and engaging! When I say co-create, get to know the families and children and learn their interests (see above). For example, students love insects so the environment becomes a place where children can explore different insects. Check out this unit and how we co-created a space and centers to explore insects (6).

2. Vocabulary Development Through Reading

After you have a set unit of study, co-created and based on student observation, begin to plan specific books that will support the topic. One of my favorite books to read in our insect study is The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Angry Ladybug! These books are so fun and can be translated by the families into the home language of the child, co-write with the family! You can help write or make an audio video of the same book. Also, find books that relate to that unit of study in many different languages.

Once you have intentionally selected specific books, find vocabulary words that you want to introduce to the children and the meaning behind each word. These words maybe cognates (e.g. Insecto/insect) or words that children may not hear everyday. Introduce the vocabulary before reading and remember to use the vocabulary throughout the day!

Embed the vocabulary in different centers! For example, have children make the insects in the loose parts center, insect puzzles, count insects in counting collections. The idea is repetition of the vocaburaly and oral language throughout the day to support learning.

Embed the vocabulary in the daily message!

Embed the vocabulary in songs and chants!

Repetition is key for all children, especially DLLs!

3. Share Resources with Families

Families love resources and support as well to learn how to best support their child. The number one strategy to tell caregivers – Continue to speak in your home language! The stronger the home language, the easier for children to transfer to a new language with explicit and direct instruction.

Check out these videos I made in English and Spanish that can support all families and oral language development.


Dr. Bernadette Pilar Zermeño is passionate about Education, Multilingual Learners and Ethnic Studies in Early Childhood! She currently is a board member at CKA, professor across the Bay Area and a Multilingual Specialist at Oakland Unified. Please reach out to build together –