Turkey, Gator Tail and Arepas: A Real Thanksgiving Feast



Thanksgiving is one of our most important holidays. Families all over the country come together to celebrate, give thanks, eat and more than likely watch football. People of all kinds of races, religions and ethnic backgrounds participate. Even first generation immigrants get behind this most (North) American tradition. The history of thanksgiving can get a little murky and even a little ugly, but the truth about thanksgiving is much more than simply turkey and pumpkin pie.

The Popular History of Thanksgiving

Most of us know the traditional story behind thanksgiving in the U.S. It was 1620 and Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth Rock shared a feast of thankfulness with the natives who had helped them survive a very bitter winter. In 1795, George Washington declared the first official Thanksgiving to be held on February 19th. Abraham Lincoln moved it to October 3 and finally, in 1941 Theodore Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in November.

Now, this history was always nice and dandy to me. I did understand the deeper implications and history of the treatment of Native Americans in this nation (but that is a whole other topic that requires serious thought). It wasn’t until I was in college, however, that I even questioned this notion of a very protestant and English-centric thanksgiving.


A Florida Thanksgiving

My first professor at the University of Florida was Michael Gannon, AKA “The Grinch who stole thanksgiving.” It’s hard to reconcile the image of a “grinch” with such a distinguished professor who delighted his classes with his amazing ability to bring history to life, but the story of the nickname is actually a very cute one. He received it in 1985, when he told a newspaper reporter who was looking for a new angle on thanksgiving that “by the time the settlers in Plymouth sat down for their first thanksgiving feast, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.”

In his book The Cross in the Sand Professor Gannon describes the Thanksgiving feast that took place on Sept. 8, 1565. A full 55 years earlier!   At the time, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore on to St. Augustine and held the first mass of thanksgiving, which was followed by a feast in which 800 Catholic colonists and the Timucua (the natives living in Florida at the time) attended together.

The feast probably consisted of a cocido which was a stew made of garbanzos and salted pork, along with wine and bread from the ships. The Timucua would have contributed grains, corn, beans, squash, pumpkin, local game, fish, and even a gator or two!

Since I live only 45 minutes away from St. Augustine, this history of thanksgiving is one I absolutely love! But, come to find out, there was an even earlier feast held even closer to Jacksonville, atop the St. Johns Bluff in Fort Caroline. It was held on June 30th, 1564 when Rene Goulane de Laudonniére called for a feast of thanksgiving to be held. French colonists and members of the Timucua tribe both joined in.  

But, this had me thinking.  Surely there were even earlier arrivals and prayers and celebrations of thanksgiving held all over the Americas during this period of time. Given that the European settlers would have arrived with very little in the way of provisions, they had to rely on the goodwill of the natives, along with their food.

Some of these include Juan ponce de Leon’s arrival in 1513 and the settlement of Cumaná 1515. It was one of the first establishments in Venezuela and it was formed due to a group of Franciscan friars who wanted to evangelize the natives without the violence or intervention of soldiers and traders.

So, given the multicultural history of Thanksgiving, I see that it’s only fit to continue this approach in our celebration of this holiday. And this year, I don’t have to do it alone! Instead, I have the help of someone who has a lifetime of experience with a multicultural approach to thanksgiving. 

 Thankful Turkey Hands. They got to tell us everything they were thankful for!

Thankful Turkey Hands. They got to tell us everything they were thankful for!


Thanksgiving When Cultures Meet


In a blog post I wrote last year I describe how my bicultural family celebrated Thanksgiving in Venezuela> I talked about how back in the day, before the advent of boxed, frozen and pre-made meals, my grandmother had to adapt her recipes to what was fresh and available at the time and how the menu became richer and more diverse as the family grew.

This year I am very thankful for many things, including the arrival of two beautiful babies who are only 1 week apart. This year I get to share the wonderful dishes that I grew up with, and my own children have the opportunity to share this holiday with new (to them) family and friends.


A Family Affair

Family is where the heart is and right now my heart is in Florida.  where I get to celebrate Thanksgiving “the American Way”, but as you may infer ”truly American Thanksgiving” is a very fluid concept. So we decided to own it and share our cultural heritage and show off our culinary skills preparing a feast fit for a king.

We’ll be enjoying the company of parents, siblings, cousins, spouses, many (many) children and our dear friends. We all have different backgrounds, upbringings and Thanksgiving traditions. And this year, I’m in charge! I will try to take into account a whole bunch of taste buds, customs and traditions, including my own, and I will prepare a feast fit for a king! But first, I need a plan.  


 Thanks to Lena Hernandez for sharing this photo (and cute activity) with us! We will be working on these all week with the kiddos!

Thanks to Lena Hernandez for sharing this photo (and cute activity) with us! We will be working on these all week with the kiddos!


Nourishment for Body and Soul

As for the menu itself, we want to please as many guests as we can, but some compromise has to be made. As for the soul part, the camaraderie, sharing our favorite dishes and helping each other out will do us a lot of good. 

We agreed on Turkey with cornbread stuffing, as this is a dish that takes us back to our grandma’s kitchen back in Maracaibo, when our moms and our tias helped Abuela Nena with the Christmas turkey (our Venezuelan part of the family does not celebrate Thanksgiving). We’ll also bring the taste of home to this holiday with quesillo, tequeños, arepitas mango juice and some ponche de crema.  

The rest of the menu will be easily recognizable as it will include pecan pie, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and even some dairy free options (we even have some of those in the house y’all!).

 Becky gathering pinecones for our crafts!

Becky gathering pinecones for our crafts!


A Learning Experience (Mainly for us Mommas)

A Thanksgiving feast takes planning, preparation and execution, but with 5 kids it gets a bit more challenging than that.  The first thing is making lists; one for the menu, one for the ingredients to prepare the menu, one for household items, one for activities, and so on. We must have written 10 lists and it’s not turkey time yet!

The lists are super important because we’re outnumbered by our children, and where we go, they go.  Period. So forgetting something from the list (like lemonade for one of the girls) could turn into a tragedy. But we got this! We’re teachers, we’re moms, we can handle almost anything.

We went to the first store to get dry goods and other essentials, like hair ties and pumpkin spice coffee creamer (like I said, essentials!). This little run turned into a 2-hour adventure, but we got most of the items on the list, no children were lost, and no permanent damage was reported. We should go to the next store in 2 days, after we recover.

So far we have learned how to go potty in tandem, to make lists and stick to them, to be patient, to watch out for each other and to help each other around the house. The girls have been amazing picking out the right items, entertaining the babies and helping with the cooking and cleaning.

In the days prior we will be baking cookies, pies and cakes; brining the turkey, and preparing some adorable crafts to keep the kiddos entertained. We have been talking about the history of thanksgiving, reading some great stories and discussing what it is to be thankful. We are talking about our culture, learning to appreciate other cultures and traditions and counting our blessings.

We know it’s going to be a long day, but spending the day sharing our heritage in the form of food with our loved ones is great thing to be thankful for.

To find out how our Thanksgiving feast went check out our Instagram and Facebook posts and if you happen to have a gator tail recipe you’d like to share, please drop us a line, because we’re dying to try it out! (Well, Keli says she’d just like to buy it, because she’s not cooking that!).

What about you? Would you share your thanksgiving traditions with us? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! 


About the Authors


Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari, Spanish Safari and Reading Safari  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter


Becky Silly.JPG

Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and Community Manager for Learn Safari.


Ten Amazing Schools Using Technology to Innovate Education 

 By B.C. [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

By B.C. [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

If you read my last post, then you know I’ve been thinking a lot about how to bring innovation to the classroom. All of us at Learn Safari have! After all, this is what we’re all about; democratizing education so that everyone in the world has access to learning. When we think of innovation, technology always come to mind. However, it’s not enough to introduce tech to a classroom. Just adding computers, tablets and electronic boards is not enough to engage students and prepare them for a changing world. Our children need to use technology in a practical way to solve real world problems.  

Here are ten schools that are using technology to do exactly that, with some amazing results! 

Khan Lab School 

Khan Academy is probably the world’s largest educational non-profit. They produce a lot of independent learning courses that people can take at no-cost. At Khan Lab School, they focus on testing and developing innovation in the classroom to bring about the latest in learning. They also have an interdisciplinary, project-based approach to learning.  

Their day is divided into individualized learning time, small group seminars, and project time. A great deal of their individualized learning time is technology based. For the Lower School Language Arts they use programs such as Quill, Lexia, and Newsela. They use  Khan Academy for Math and Computer programing,  Labster for science, and Growfit for Physical education.  

High Tech High 

 By Wendy Ward [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

By Wendy Ward [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When you start looking into high tech schools, it’s impossible to not come across High Tech High. High Tech High opened in San Diego, C.A. in the year 2000 as a small charter school that planned on serving 450 students. Since then, it has grown into a series of 14 interconnected schools.  

The curriculum is project based and the students develop their skills and knowledge through their participation in projects with real world (and often community focused) implications.  

According to Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High, “the purpose of ‘tech in High Tech High is not for consumption. It’s for production.” They use computers to do everything from research, to building projects and making presentations with programs such as After Effects.  

Some of the projects that the students have worked on include developing a DNA Barcoding sequence to assist African officials in the apprehension and conviction of poachers; designing, prototyping and building an urban agricultural system, and a Breaking Bread project where they shared stories of culture and tradition and reverse engineered bread machines.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Rocketship’s blended-learning model involves 75 percent of classroom and 25 percent of online instruction. They have specific times when students go to a separate room where they work on computers to focus on individual learning needs and general skills practice, allowing classroom teachers to focus on student interactions, concept extension and critical thinking skill development. 

Rocketship uses a variety of online content programs in reading and math during the Learning Lab time. For reading, these include Headsprout, Accelerated Reader, and Rosetta Stone. For math they use DreamBox, Reasoning Mind, and ALEKS. 

The school is currently working with SRI International on a study to measure the effectiveness of its online instruction. 


Unlike traditional schools that focus on testing and a basic curriculum, AltSchool is a school that focuses on improving tech skills and helping students become flexible thinkers that can adapt to our changing world. According to CEO Max Ventilla "We should be educating children from a whole-child lens where they learn to problem solve, social-emotional learning is prioritized, students should be part of the goal-setting process, and so on."  

They focused on personalized learning, in which students work to reach milestones. They have created curriculum and products to help children digitally record, analyzed and plan their progress. The school, which serves students ages 4 to 14, began in San Francisco in 2013 and now has lab schools and partners in New York, California and Florida.  

Crooms Academy of Information Technology


This tech magnet in Sanford Florida was named the “most connected classroom in America” by U.S. News & World Report. All the students are given laptops and each classroom has at least two desktops and SMARTboards.  They can also boast of ten computer labs and an in-house repair center known as Laptop Central.  

The school is a member of National Academy Foundation and has been recognized as a Distinguished Academy for eight consecutive years, which is the NAF’s highest honor.  Crooms offers students numerous opportunities of job shadowing, internships, and even participation in their showcase event, the Seminole County TechFest.  The school is recognized as a Merit School of Excellence and has the highest rating from Magnet Schools of America. 

North Liverpool Academy   

This high school in Liverpool, England is a high school that emphasizes math, business, computing and enterprise. This  school stands out for its architecture and is considered to be a “memorable landmark.” It has  labs, art studios, a motorcycle-engineering center, recording studios, and a theater. It has even been ranked as the 25th school in the entire United Kingdom. 

The school offers various enrichment options, including a Digital Entrepreneurship Network, conversational Spanish, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language. They assist students in applying for jobs and college and connect them with partners in the community.  

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology  



This is a STEM magnet school in Alexandria, Va. USA. The academic disciplines are integrated. Freshmen take a technology survey course as a foundation. They have courses in math, science and tech (integrated with humanities), world languages, fine arts and more. Seniors complete a major research project, either on campus or at a government or university research lab the school partners with, in categories such as astronomy, energy systems, optics and modern physics and more.  

They offer a wide array of tech resources, discount tech for purchase, school wide WIFI, an online Student Information System, and they also make use of Blackboard.  

The school even boasts of its own research, such as the chemical analysis lab with chemical nanotechnology equipment and the neuroscience lab with the electroencephalographic system! 


Steve Jobs School 

Founded in 2013 in Amsterdam, this is an extremely innovative school model. Students begin with an Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is evaluated and readjusted regularly by the child, coach, and parents. Students are then offered personalized learning challenges they can choose from.  

There are no classes, no daily schedule, simply ample space where students can learn at their own pace and in environments of their choosing.  

Students receive fully loaded iPads once they reach 4th grade. They use a program called sCoolProjects, where they can work with a mentor in order to develop a project. They also use sCoolSpace, where they can access the school's virtual community center to interact with classmates and tutors from anywhere in the world. They also have a tool to store all of their work for monitoring and the creation of their IDP.   


Innova Schools 

Founded in Peru in 2011 by Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor , the school uses several different forms of instruction — tech-heavy online learning, guided lessons, group work — in a setting that was designed to be modular and adaptable to the location.  

The pedagogical approach of Innova Schools encompasses three concepts: autonomy, collaborative learning and integrated technology. The focus is on students building their own knowledge. Students spend half their time immersed in guided online education and the other half receiving more traditional and collaborative instruction.  

The tech-heavy school, which is open to kids in Kindergarten through 11th grade. In 2013, 61% percent of Innova second-graders reached proficiency in federal math exams, in comparison to the national average which was just 17%. 


Boston Pioneers Free School Academy 

Located in Lincolnshire, England, this school was dubbed as Britain’s “most high-tech” school! What makes it so? It’s the room that the students call “the magic room.” A 4D theater that transports children to any number of settings so that they can truly experience what they are studying.  

The 4D room uses video that is projected onto screens that are floor-to-ceiling, lighting, sound, and an interactive floor space to create an experience that is truly "immersive". 

The school focuses on children 5 to 11 years old and both teachers and students love the use of their 4D room and believe that this technology is fun, inspirational and goes well beyond simply having computers and iPads in the classroom.  


It’s not just about using technology. What’s important is how it’s used. We need to rethink how we teach and we need to have parents and teachers equipped with the knowledge of what can be done! We shouldn’t just try to entertain students with gadgets. We should be purposeful and think about how we can harness the power of tech to further our goals and solve real world problems! 

Do you agree? How can we use technology to innovate our classrooms? Do you know of any schools that should be on this list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!  

About the Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari,  a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Introducing the Class of 2031: Are You Ready for the Future?


I may be a little late, but, happy new school year! I am finally getting into the swing of things. I know both parents and teachers can relate! This year, I am very excited because I am teaching a combined VPK (voluntary Pre K) and Kindergarten class. It’s great to be able to grow with my students and the gains that I see them making inspire me to no end.  


This school year, however, has helped crystalize some thoughts I’ve had for some time. It’s all about who these kindergarteners and preschoolers will one day become. What kind of future are we preparing them for? And what kind of future should we ACTUALLY prepare them for? 


So, please let me introduce you to the Graduating Class of 2031! 


Automation is becoming ubiquitous; cars are driving themselves; 3D printing is used for everything from space technology, construction and even food; telemedicine makes up about 70% of all medicine, and AI is on track to dramatically disrupt the work force.  


What will our homes and cars look like? What will our phones and computers be capable of doing? What kind of job do you think these kiddos will have and what will the booming industries be? 


We might be thinking that not much will change in 12 years; but think back upon the last 12 years and about how much has already changed! Just look at how much our phones have evolved! I definitely remember going through college with my tiny “Juke,” before upgrading to a Razer! I certainly couldn’t stream all the episodes of Fuller House on that! (Hey, if you’re going to go on a Netflix binge, might as well indulge your guilty pleasure!) 


So, while you may think that things won’t change that much before your children graduate, just take a moment to look back at some extremely disruptive companies and technologies that did not exist 12 years ago, including: Airbnb (2008), GPS on your smartphone (2008), Uber (2009), Venmo (2009) and Whatsapp (2009). iPads (2010), Instagram (2010), and Square (2010) to name just a few. What new technologies will be running our lives by the time these kids graduate in 2031? 


Are we preparing children for this future? 


Our schools today look astonishingly similar to what they looked like 100 years ago. It seems we are still preparing children for the industrial revolution! Although I see some teachers doing amazing work, the educational system as a whole, is not setting children up for the future that is fast-approaching.  


We know that technology is important, but it seems ALL of our focus is on tech and hard sciences. The emphasis on STEM at the expense of “soft” skills such as communication, arts, psychology, intrapersonal skills, and language skills is extremely detrimental in the very near future.  


The advances in automation and AI are going to cause many jobs that we know today to virtually disappear. The first jobs to go will be those that require repetitive tasks that are easily automated. Drivers (taxi, truck, bus, delivery, etc.), retail workers, cashiers, accountants, many jobs in the finance industry are some of the jobs that will be gone in the very near future. 


Furthermore, there are those that believe that with evolving machine intelligence, many careers that we think are immune to automation, such as nurses, teachers, and even preschool-teachers, could eventually become obsolete as well.  


Several studies have been conducted on the effects that technology will have on the future of jobs. Studies such as the 2013 Oxford Study predict that about 47% of US jobs are at high risk of becoming computerized, while a study done by the International Federation of Robotics in 2013 predicted that 2 million jobs would be created by robots in the following 8 years. More recently, a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 39 million to 73 million US jobs could be obsolete by 2030. The only thing that we can say with certainty, however, is that things are going to change dramatically!  


Researchers have blamed computers for the jobless growth in recent times. We can see that computerization has caused a decline in middle-income routine jobs in areas such as manufacturing. 3D printers, for example, have the capacity to greatly change the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing has decreased in the U.S. (It’s about 50% below what it was at its peak in 1979) and gone abroad, where it has become more efficient and cost effective. We could however, see a turn-around with new technologies and start-ups developing in the U.S. that will require high-skilled, knowledgeable and creative labor to maximize its use and potential.  


However, displacement could occur in “upstream” manufacturing, the factories in which products are made. These could be replaced by individuals and stores that 3D print their items and sell them on location. Manufacturing in the U.S. consists of about 15.4 million jobs so this impact could be huge! In fact, 3D printing could seriously disrupt food, military, electronics, toys, and automotive industries.  


So, what do you we do? 



How can we possibly prepare our children for such a future that seems beyond human productivity? I don’t claim to have the answers. But to me, it seems that we need to disrupt the educational system. We need to help children break outside of the box of this system we have thus far created and rarely updated.  


The same McKinsey study mentioned above indicated that about 20 million displaced workers could shift easily into related occupations. About one third, or 16 to 54 million workers, will have to be retrained into completely new occupations. We are talking about a shift as significant as when we turned from an agrarian to an industrial society!  


We need our children to become better creative thinkers, to have better communication skills and interpersonal skills. They of course need to learn the latest technology (coding is an invaluable skill that ALL children should be learning), but they also need to be learning art, writing, interpersonal skills, and multiple languages.  


Businesses all over are looking for people who can think differently, innovate, communicate and collaborate. Students should be allowed to explore, tinker, and create. They should be given real world problems to tackle on a regular basis. They should be posing problems themselves and then finding ways to solve them. They should be given the opportunity to invent, launch businesses, and learn with real-world experiences from a very young age. They shouldn’t just be absorbing knowledge; they should be creating knowledge.  


We are going to require people to come up with new ways of working with machines and new ways of organizing our society. There is a revolution coming and these little minds that we are trying to mold today, need to be given the freedom to mold our future.  


About the Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Spanish Safari,  a Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Freebies and Fun

Hello Everyone!

This is a space where you can come and download all of our free content. We will be building and constantly curating this list, so that it can be a great source of fun games, worksheets, and more that you can use at home or in your classroom. 



Fútbol Mania - In celebration of the 2018 World Cup, we have a set of vocabulary words that you can simply print, laminate and cut to make a fun puzzle for the little ones to play with. (Eng/Sp)

Great Activities for Children Learning Spanish

Kids blog.jpg

Raising Bilingual Children: Not for the Faint of Heart

I have committed to raising my children bilingually. I knew I would do so before my children were ever born, because I myself was raised bilingually. I didn’t think much of it and honestly, I figured it would be simple.

In the same way I assumed my children would learn sports, music and dance. In my mind, it would be super easy! Just like I assumed they would never complain about vegetables, bathed regularly, and helped me keep an impeccable house!

You see, before having kids, I knew exactly how I was going to be in order to be the perfect mom! ESPECIALLY when it came to speaking two languages. I mean, not only am I fully bilingual, but I am a Spanish teacher for goodness' sake!

Little did I know that my parents WORKED to make sure I spoke two languages. They took the time, made the effort, and made sure I had all of the opportunities and experiences that would drive me to be bilingual.

If you are on a journey to raise your children bilingually, then you know how much work it actually entails. And if you’re just beginning, I am by no means trying to dissuade you or trying to bring you down! The work and effort is totally worth it and fortunately, there are high-quality programs, books, games and ideas that will help you on this journey.


A Little About Me

If you have read my previous blogs, then you know about my story. But for those of you who don’t, I’ll give you the condensed version. I am Venezuelan-American and have spoken Spanish and English my whole life. I live in the U.S. and have three daughters (all under the age of 5) who I am raising to speak English and Spanish. I am a former High School Spanish teacher and currently teach Voluntary Pre-K in a bilingual classroom. I am also the Head of Development for Learn Safari and am currently working on two projects: Spanish Safari and English Safari, which aim to teach the aforementioned languages to children 4 to 9 years old.

As you may imagine, I began working on these two projects because I wanted to help my kids learn and practice their language skills. It’s been a great journey and my kids LOVE the games. However, since much of my creativity is spent on writing lessons for Learn Safari, I am often scrounging for good ideas to put into practice in my classroom or with my own kiddos.

That’s why I spend so much time in the community forums and language blogs that (thankfully) abound. Recently, however, Minerva Ortega of Reto Bilingue sent me a copy of a book she co-authored and it seriously gave me life! So, I wanted to share a little about it in a mini-review below.*


Spanish at Home

Written by Minerva Ortega, Erica Mirochnik and Elizabeth Garcia, Spanish at Home is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers who are working on teaching children Spanish. Although it is geared towards non-native adults who have at least a mid-level proficiency, it actually is a great resource for native speakers and professional teachers as well.

The book is jam-packed with ideas and activities that anyone can use to reinforce language with children. With each activity, you will also find a set of vocabulary and phrases that can be used in order to reinforce language.

The book has suggestions for music, books, apps, bogs, websites, holidays, and recipes. They have compiled some of the best resources for anyone to use in order to further enhance language acquisition and practice in Spanish.

The book is written in friendly and easy language so that it’s interesting, inspiring and a super quick read. But more than that, you can tell it was done by women who love language and who were inspired to do this work by their own children, students and their own language-learning journeys.

It’s a resource you won’t want to miss. I recommend that you put it on your shelf because I know you’ll keep going back to it over and over again. If you’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed (or maybe underwhelmed by the activities you have come up with), or just want to infuse new energy into your language learning journey, then this is a great book to check out.  It’s available in hard copy and Kindle version.

What is your favorite go to resource for language-learning? We would love to hear about your experiences so leave us a comment below! 

Holidays: A Multicultural Celebration

 Photo by Keli Garcia Allen

Photo by Keli Garcia Allen

The holidays are here! And it can be a wonderful and stressful time, especially when you are trying to bring together different families, languages and cultures. I grew up celebrating Christmas and Navidad. Sure, you may think that they are the same thing, and in general we are celebrating the same thing, but the way two different cultures celebrate the same holiday can vary and can be very different. But, I grew up welcoming El Espiritu de La Navidad and writing letters to El Niño Jesus who would deliver our presents along with Santa on Christmas morning.

We spent the season eating hallacas and pan de jamón , putting on plays about Santa Clause, and looking for reindeer in the sky. We sang “El Niño Criollo” and  “Mi Burrito Sabanero” along with “Rudolf the Red Nosed Rainder” and “Silent Night.” We would have all of our family together celebrating the 24th until the wee hours of the morning and my poor parents would then be woken up by us early on the 25th to open the presents sent from y grandmother and the ones brought by Santa Claus and El Niño Jesus.

Somehow, it just worked. And we sure enjoyed it! Now that we live in the U.S., our celebrations have expanded even more. In my house, we celebrate Christmas, Navidad and Hanukkah. It is both for spiritual reasons and discovering our heritage that we do, in fact, celebrate all of the Christian and Jewish feasts and holidays.

I started thinking about this topic a little when I read a wonderful article in the Guardian that talked about a Muslim couple who opened up their hearts and home to 3 Christian children right before Christmas in England. The evening the children came, these two people bought a Christmas tree and stayed up all night to wrap up the presents and decorate for these children who needed all the love they could get. The family grew together to experience each other’s cultures and ways in a truly moving story. (Read it Here)  

And as unusual as that may seem, I look around and find that in so many of our homes the marrying of cultures and faiths is done in beautiful and fulfilling fashion. Living WITH each other is happening all around us.

 Photo by  Pratham Gupta  on  Unsplash

One of my favorite examples comes from my friends Sunny and Kayla who have great mish-mash of holiday traditions. Sunny’s family celebrates Diwali, which is the Hindu festival of lights. It is celebrated in the month of Kartika, which falls around October or December every year.  They put up the lights in celebration and leave them up into the Christmas season!

Now, they live in London and according to Kayla, have adapted some holiday traditions from the English, which she thinks are pretty fun. “Mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas crackers (traditionally served at the Christmas meal, it's popped open to reveal a crown, toy and joke inside) and their love of ugly Christmas jumpers. We give the Christmas pudding a miss though, bad stuff. We also get a bonus holiday for Boxing Day!”

 Photo Curtesy of Megan Wallace Widrich

Photo Curtesy of Megan Wallace Widrich

Another great example of the coming together of two cultures is that of my friend Megan and her new husband Jason. They have come together and celebrate “Chrismaka” in a lovely way with the whole family. The marrying of two traditions (and the marriage of them) is beautifully celebrated in their holiday décor!

 Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/lunch-table-salad-5876/

Photo by Kaboompics // Karolina from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/lunch-table-salad-5876/

It has become a yearly ritual for my friend Sofija to host her Christmahanukwanza party. And just like it sounds, it’s a party to celebrate all three of those holidays. But it is so much more than that! Sofija already grew up celebrating Catholic Christmas (on December 25th) and Orthodox Christmas (on January 7th), but has always had friends from many different backgrounds and that is something she wanted to celebrate!

At her party, people from all kinds of different backgrounds and views come together to celebrate, share and enjoy each other’s company. It's a really fun time and let me say, the spread is amazing! Cevapi and rolls made by her family sit alongside lumpias made by her mother in law, along with curries, arepas (yup, that’s the Venezuelan in me), quail eggs, roasts, hams, vegetarian dishes, and so much more. There is a little piece of each one of us there to share with all of our friends who have become more like family.

So, as you look around this holiday season, just think to let your light shine. You can hold on and be true to your beliefs and ways of life, while still reaching across to those who are different and enjoying beautiful celebrations of life and love.

And to paraphrase my friend Cyrus; Happy Diwali, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Happy Three Kings Day, Happy New Year, Happy Omisoka…if you’re into any of that! 

What about you? Do you have any stories of multicultural holidays to share with us? We would love to read them!


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Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English SafariSpanish Safari and Reading Safari  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. 

Learning Spanish, Even in the Midst of Chaos

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2 cousins, 2 pregnant bellies, 3 children and a whole lot of fun (or is disaster the word I am looking for?) Sounds like the makings of a silly joke, right? Well, no joke! It has been our lives for the past 4 months and it has turned out to be a wonderful experiment in co-parenting, co-working, learning English and learning Spanish. 


Becky, Learn Safari’s Community Manager, and I happen to be cousins. When I say cousins, I mean that we’re almost like sisters (primas hermanas is what we call it in Spanish). We grew up together, playing and visiting each other regularly, staying at each other’s houses and even after I moved away, we have remained very close.


When the Learn Safari project began, I was excited to be working with a great team of programmers and designers, many whom were also Venezuelan like myself. When the need for a Community Manager came up, I was super excited to get Becky on board! (Yay! Nepotism hahah…no seriously, she has the skills, passion and dedication for this!)


So, when the opportunity came for Becky to come visit me for an extended period in order to work together on Learn Safari, we were both super excited for the opportunity! But we were also daunted by the facts: We would be two very pregnant women at home with 3 busy, busy girls, two husbands that were often away at work, and two different language learning goals.  


Starting the Experiment and Entering into Chaos and Confusion


Coming together those first few days was really exciting and fun! The best part, however, was seeing our little girls interacting with each other, much in the same way that we had when we were young. Now, I have been raising my girls bilingually with English as the community language and Spanish as the target language. She, on the other hand, has been raising her daughter with Spanish as the community language and English as the target language. So, my goal was for my daughters to learn more Spanish and Becky's goal was for her daughter to learn more English. 


What you heard was a serious mish-mash of languages! Becky speaking English to her child as I spoke Spanish to mine. Her child speaking mostly in Spanish and throwing in some words in English, while my kids speaking in English, but throwing around some Spanish. And then Becky and I trying to reverse languages with each other’s children! AGHHH! It was crazy!


At this point I was thinking, if there ever were a chance for confusing the kiddos with language, this recipe would sure be it! I couldn’t even keep it straight in my head! What language was I supposed to speak with whom? At some points I would be speaking full-blown, full-speed Spanish with my husband (who only speaks a little) and getting really flustered when he looked at me like I was crazy! How would my kiddos learn Spanish more if I didn't even know what language I was speaking?


Even through the chaos, however, I watched the girls blossom! It was amazing to see that even though I was not being fully interactive with my children (I don’t do pregnancy well! In fact, it’s my own version of torture) and I was spending so much time just trying to breathe instead of speaking (Little Cami Cakes was squeezing the air out of my lungs something fierce), my girls were learning Spanish more and more! Even after some regression in the language due to my lack of interaction during a lot of my pregnancy, I hadn't permanently damaged my kids and their ability to become bilingual! (Even as I write this, I'm patting myself on the back!)

In fact, my four-year-old daughter started having full blown conversations with me in Spanish and then she would proudly claim “Mami, I am talking in Español!” And Becky’s 4 year old, Twinkle Toes as she lovingly calls her, is now learning English at an exponential rate and for the first time she responds to her mom in full sentences in the target language and is even learning her letters and letter sounds in English as she gains all of her pre-reading skills.


Reinforcing The Outcomes


The experiment in co-parenting (It’s the reality of what we are doing, even if it’s for a short while) has really shown us how much children can learn from each other. It has also shown us that even in the midst of chaos, kids will thrive and learn as long as they are surrounded by love, attention and care. But to take full advantage of it, we are adding a few target activities to our days.


Apps for Learning Language


The girls sure love their tablets! In fact, we have to closely monitor their use so that they have a limited amount of time on them and the time they spend on them is with high-quality apps. Since Spanish is the target language for my girls, they get to spend a 20-minute session on Spanish Safari each day. And little Twinkle Toes gets 20 minutes of English Safari.


Preschool Attendance

The girls and I go to preschool every morning. I teach the older two girls in the VPK class. All of the classrooms, however, are bilingual classrooms and they learn Spanish and English with plenty of exposure to both languages.  Most of their social interactions are in English (I think that has to do with my eldest’s strong personality, she tends to set the tone…more on that on a different post!). The circle time activities are in English on Mondays, Tuesday and Fridays and they are in Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their table time and one on one sessions are done according to their target language.


Learning English With Chores Around The Home

We try to get the girls to clean up after themselves and help around the house. Honestly, wrangling the girls into these activities happens in a mish-mash of languages as we will try ANYTHING to get them to help! However, one activity they always happily participate in is cooking with their Tia (or mommy) Becky. She’s an excellent cook and we sure have been eating well! But the girls love to help her and they learn so much language (English) in the process.


Reading in English and in Spanish

I may sound like a broken record, if you have read any of my posts before. But I am a huge advocate for reading and literacy! There is no better way to ensure academic (and life!) success for your kids. We read every day and alternate books in English and Spanish. I like to ask them a lot of open-ended questions about what they read it’s really fun to see them even act out the stories we read during their playtime!


T.V. Exposure

So, I would love to say that we don’t watch T.V. Heck, we don’t even have them in our home! That’s a lie!! We are a bit of a T.V. family, but as we are trying to consciously raise our children, we want to limit how much they watch. So, no more than 2 hours a day and we have successfully had a lot of days in which we don’t ever turn it on! But when we do, I try for the settings to be in Spanish so they can get some additional language exposure that way.


Learning Spanish with Music and Movement

Kids love music and dancing! And luckily, so do we. In fact, that’s how my husband and I met! We were both salsa instructors at the same dance studio. But, we just love music! And often we listen to music and sing and dance together.  So, our kids learn Spanish and learn a lot about our culture culture through music and dancing, especially with their daddy (Or as Twinkle Toes calls him, Tio Brandon)!  


It’s been a roller coaster ride! We have had struggles and many victories. Our house is messy, but our home is happy. We’ve seen such growth in our daughters, we have seem them learn Spanish and English more, and we have gotten to give them time to grow up with their primas, just like we did! Now, we have added two more littles to the family and as the time nears for when our cousins will no longer be with us, I simply think about how much I am going to miss them and this wonderful experience!


What about you? Do you have any stories of when your children were learning in spite of a challenging situation? Share your story with us in the comments!


About the Author

 Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on    Reading Safari, a game to help children learn to read in English.  You can follow her and the rest of the team on  Facebook ,  Instagram , and  Twitter.

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on Reading Safari, a game to help children learn to read in English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.



Not a Native Speaker? You Can Still Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual!

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As a parent, Head of Content for Learn Safari and a teacher, I’m often on the lookout for methods and teaching and ideas that will really spark learning for kids.  I am often thinking about how to raise my two (almost 3!) sprouting little bilinguals how I can effectively share my native language and Venezuelan heritage. I know, however, that having been raised bilingually myself and knowing my two languages to native proficiency, I am at a HUGE advantage when it comes to teaching my kids. But, what about parents who may want to teach their children a language that they are not a native speaker of, or moreover, a language they may not even know that well at all? 

I see this issue being brought up often. Parents concerned that they don't know the target language well enough. To my surprise, they are often discouraged from even trying! They are told they won't be able to do it, or that their language skills (or lack there of) will confuse their children, etc. Well, I'm here to tell you differently! Parents, you can teach your children a second (or third) language even if it’s not your native language. Actually, you can introduce a second language to your child even if you don’t speak the language at all! It’s not magical and super easy.  in fact, it takes hard work and dedication. But it can really happen and here I will give you a few pointers as to how.


Lose your Fear

Fear is often what holds us back when it comes to speaking a second language. It will also hold us back from teaching our children another language. You may often feel like you’re not good enough to teach your child or that your grammar or accent is too strong and that you will just confused them. Well, children are not so easily confused!! Even if you’re not perfect when speaking the target language, you will not hurt your child when you try! If anything, you will teach them to not be fearful and that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you keep learning, growing and trying. If you are worried that they will copy your mistakes or "bad habits" the best thing to do is to expose them to many authentic sources in the target language. 


Ditch the concept of OPOL or MLAH

One Parent One Language (OPOL) and Minority Language at Home (MLAH) are two extremely popular concepts for raising bilingual children. The first means that each parent is in charge of speaking to the child exclusively in one language, usually their native language. The other involves everyone speaking the minority or target language within the family and letting the majority or community language be taught to the child outside of the home (To learn more about these concepts, click here).

Both of these concepts are great ways of raising bilingual children and they can be extremely effective. However, they are not the end all and be all of language instruction. If they work for your family, it’s awesome! But not all families are set up to learn languages this way and not using one of these methods will not confuse or put your child at a disadvantage! The important thing is that your child has enough quality exposure to language and there are many ways to do that.


Make Time for Your Target Language

If the target language you are teaching your child is not your native language, or if you do not know it much at all, it can be a truly daunting task to use the language with them. Your love language will be your native language and when you share your sweetest and most intimate moments with your child you may want to use your native language. And that’s ok!

However, it’s important that you spend quality and quantity of time in the target language. You want to go for at least 25 to 30 hours a week! It’s a good idea to maybe pick a time and a place that you schedule to practice your target language. Use the time to speak with your child in the target language and use all of ideas below to give your child sufficient exposure so that they can be successful little bilinguals.


Find a Language Teacher

One of the best and easiest ways to teach your child a second language that is not your own is to find a language teacher. Depending on your area, you may have language schools that offer your target language. You can also look on websites such as Craig’s list or local tutoring sites. You can even find an online teacher and have skype sessions! This can be effective for your child and for you as well if you want to learn alongside your kids!


Use Apps

You can find good quality apps that help to teach and reinforce the target language for your child. They are a small investment that can be extremely beneficial as long as you find a good quality app that will entertain and teach your child. Apps are great entertainment and a few minutes a day on a quality language app can really get your child into practicing language skills. For tips on how to find quality apps, check out our blog post. 


Use Videos, Audio books, and Youtube

We live in the age of technology. Take advantage of it! Videos, audio books and Youtube videos in the target language can give authentic exposure to the target language for your child. This is especially useful if you feel like your accent isn’t great because it’s not your native language or if you want them to have more than just one source of language.


Read Books

I can’t stress the importance of reading enough! It’s the best way to learn vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. Reading aloud to your child in the target language will not only help your child learn, but it will help you learn and practice right along with your child. It will also give you topics to talk about and it’s a great way to bond together.


Make Friends in The Target Language

Language is about communication and connection. The best way to practice language is to communicate with others. Finding a community of people who speak the target language will be your best asset when raising bilingual children. Look for a play group or try to make friends that speak your target language and set up play dates and events where you and your child can share with people. The more opportunities you create to hear and participate in the target language, the better your outcomes will be.

Remember, language is fluid and most people can’t have a steady plan that they ALWAYS follow and that ALWAYS works. And kids don't get confused by that!!! Just don’t give up! Establish times when you use your target language, listen to music, audio books, read stories, have conversations and connect with others. You can practice and learn more together! If you are purposeful you will give your child the gift of being bilingual, you will learn right along with him or her, and you will have a beautiful and deep connection in several languages. 

Are you a parent who has been teaching their children a language that is not your native language? We'd love to hear from our experiences! Share in the comments below. 

About The Author

Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari,  a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. It's not available in the App Store and in the Google Play Store! You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.