New research recommends that migrant and refugee children in Australia should be exposed to more non-English-based subjects such as art and sport to help them to make friends.

It will also help them with the transition into school education and improve their wellbeing, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide's school of psychology.


Non-English subjects like art and sport can help migrant children settle in a new country​

A team studied the experiences of 60 migrant and refugee children from age 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 the use of locally-based intensive English language programmes are beneficial for migrant and refugee children, especially to help them soft land 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 pointed out.

Dr. Due added 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.