Art and sport can help expat children settle at a foreign school, research suggests

by Ray Clancy on September 22, 2014

One aspect of moving abroad that particularly concerns parents is how their children will cope with a new language, but new research suggests that if they are given support it will help them.

In Australia, new immigrant children can speak a wide variety of languages, so researchers at the University of Adelaide looked at how being exposed to more non-English based subjects such as art and sport can help them to make friends, cope with school and improve their wellbeing.

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Locally-based, intensive English language programmes can be beneficial for migrant and refugee children

Researchers in the University’s School of Psychology studied the experiences of 60 migrant and refugee children aged from five to 13 years, and also sought input from 30 teachers.

‘Our study considers what it means for refugee and migrant children to be doing well psychologically, and takes into account their identity, education and settlement experiences across their first two years in Australia,’ said lecturer Dr. Clemence Due.

Preliminary results have shown that locally-based, intensive English language programmes are beneficial for migrant and refugee children, especially to help them with the transition into education in Australia.

However, the researchers have also found that children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds find it easier to bond with other students at school over subjects that don’t have English literacy as their focus.

‘Many of the children we studied were anxious about their English language competency and expressed concern that this would be an issue for them as they transferred into mainstream classes,’ said Dr. Due.

Subjects that don’t rely on English are particularly important to these children, allowing them to develop shared connections with other children at their school. These subjects such as art or sport are able to increase children’s self-esteem, as they share their skills and talents, rather than focusing on English,’ she explained.

English is still very important for these students, but transitioning into a mainstream primary school class can be a very difficult process for them. Establishing friendships is critical to their wellbeing. Given this finding, we believe it’s important to ensure that children have the opportunity to build friendships at new schools through other areas they enjoy, in addition to receiving support for English language skills,’ she added.

Dr. Due pointed out that the study showed that school environments give children a range of opportunities to share their experiences, and that discussing differences in cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds is often important to them.

‘Celebrating a diverse range of cultural and religious festivals, discussing and sharing food, languages, and presentations about families and countries of origin can all be very beneficial,’ she concluded.

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