|Editor||A. Ross, Learning for Democratic Europe|
For the youngest children questions of democracy are likely to be considered in the curriculum areas of personal and social development. Children's emerging self-identity and the developing sense of others is well explored in much of the literature on early childhood. In this paper I will consider a particular aspect of identity and community membership for young children. Within many early childhood settings in London there are bilingual children who speak as their first language a minority language. In nurseries and schools near to the University of North London these languages would for example include Bengali, Urdu, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Somali, Tigrinya and Farsi. This paper links to wider research I am undertaking into training for work with young bilingual children. I am interested in asking what kinds of experience help educators working with young children develop their understanding of the skills and needs of young bilingual children, in order that they can develop practice which allows all the children in a group to have a 'voice'. The situations I am exploring are those in which there may be several different languages represented in one group, or there may be one or only a few bilingual children among a large group of children speaking only English. For some children there are peers who share a first language, for others there are none. There is often no access to adults who are able to communicate in the home language(s) of these young children. My questions (and concerns) have arisen from my own experience of working in London with young children and their families, and my teaching of students who are, or who are going to become, professionals working with young children in education and care. Students I am working with share these concerns, and bring a depth of personal knowledge and experience to the issues. Many are themselves speakers of minority community languages, whose understanding might support children particularly effectively (Nieto, 1999).