Education

Great Activities for Children Learning Spanish

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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! 

Integrating Spaced-Repetition in Ed-Tech

 Girls playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

Girls playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

If you have ever been a student, then the ritual will be familiar to you; cram an entire semester’s worth of information into your brain over the course of one day (or one night if you're a real go-getter)), in order to spill it out on a piece of paper on test day, and the  never think about the information again. Because honestly, you couldn’t possibly be expected to remember all of that. It is certainly not the most effective way of long-term learning, but we sure rely on it. But, what if there’s a better way? What if we could work with our brain, instead of against it?

Hacking the Brain

The brain is an extremely complicated organ and although a lot of research has been done on it, there’s so much that is unknown. How memory works and how we learn is still largely a mystery, but the small glimpses that we have into our wonderful brains can be extremely useful if we can harness what we have learned. One of the things that we have learned is that the brain learns and commits to memory things that it deems most useful and more often used. We have also learned that spacing this information out over time is more useful than cramming it all in to our short-term memory.

The Science

Spacing out this information, or what scientists like to call the spacing effect, is actually one of the most reliable and replicable developments in experimental psychology. So, what are the specifics of this effect? It's actually pretty simple; for a given amount of time, repetitions that are spaced out have better learning outcomes than mass presentations (or cramming). According to researchers (Hitnzman, 1974; Meltown, 1970), presenting information in two spaced out  sessions is twice as effective as two cramming sessions. And these successes have been observed across many different subjects and learning environments.

How Does it Work? The technique involves increasing intervals of time between consecutive reviews of material previously  learned. Spaced repetition can be applied to any subject in which information needs to be committed to memory for an indefinite amount of time. It can be used to learn medical facts, historical facts, biology, vocabulary, etc. It is often associated with  learning vocabulary in a new language.

Spaced Repetition in Ed-Tech

There have been several systems developed around Spaced repetition, including the famous Pimsleur language learning system.This system, in which phrases are learned through audio instruction, relied on very short intervals of repetition: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years.*  Although this method may seem old-school these days, it's important to not forget that audio was a revolutionary tech and that advancements in sound have increased the quality of these programs. Though old-hat, picking up a Pimsleur Method language CD is still a very effective form of language acquisition for adults. But don't freak out! You can still pick up a digital copy of them on iTunes.

The spaced repetition method can be applied to any subject by using several programs, such as Anki, fullrecall and supermemo, in which you can schedule your own flashcards. The software will present a question and the user attempts to recall the answer from memory, once answered, the software will schedule the questions for a later date; Most of the software out there will schedule them in intervals based on how you answered the question (correct or incorrect)  and on your rating of it (hard or easy).

The team I am a part of, Learn Safari, is currently developing an app to teach young children Spanish. We are using a modified version of spaced repetition. Because children learn language best through experiences, we have created a virtual world in which they can take part in the narrative. They are exposed to the vocabulary repeatedly in increasing intervals of time, but they interact with it in several different ways that are compatible with their intuitive way of learning language.

 Child playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

Child playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

The Future of Education

Although spaced repetition has been around since the 1930s, the method has not been widely used in mainstream education. Being that it is such an effective method of learning, tech companies are using it to create new learning opportunities and products. As a teacher and an advocate of education, I hope to see more students taking advantage of this method and applying it for real and long-lasting learning results.  As ed-tech continues to revolutionize the static world of education, I think we will see an increasing number of innovations taking advantage of this brain "hack."

*(Pimsleur, Paul (February 1967). "A Memory Schedule". The Modern Language Journal (Blackwell Publishing) 51 (2): 73–75. doi:10.2307/321812. JSTOR321812)

We All Want Our Kids To Be Geniuses, But Are You Making These 5 Common Mistakes?

As parents, we want what's best for our children. We want them to grow and develop, be successful and happy, and we want them to achieve more than we ever did. Often times, we imagine a life for them that is an idealized vision of what we would have wanted for ourselves. We see their dreams as an extension of our dreams and try to live vicariously through them! Then, we are slapped in the face when it turns out that they are actual people with their own personalities, desires, likes/dislikes and dreams. While preparing them for their future lives, we often do things that we think are very beneficial, but in fact, will more than likely backfire. As a Teacher, I have seen a wide-range of parent behavior and have seen their results as children grow up (sometimes I have even taken part in them, even though I should know "better"!). So, I wanted to share with you guys a list of some of the most well-intentioned behavior patterns that I have seen that have turned out to be detrimental to children.

Using Baby Flashcards & “Genius” Videos

In our quest to raise up brilliant children, we often start off trying to “teach them” at a young age with the use of flash cards and videos claiming to turn your baby into a genius. The reality is that this simply does not work. Baby brains are wired for learning, but they are wired for learning through natural interaction with parents and caregivers and through exploration; sitting in front of a screen or having a formal "class time" just won't cut it.

Babies learn from hearing the soothing voices of their caregivers, from watching how the world around them works, and from listening to real conversation. The rote memorization of flashcards will not help! If you want babies to learn, hold them a lot (remember, you cannot spoil an infant!), speak to them, and let them see and experience the world. Seriously, an empty box will stimulate them so much more than any fancy programs you can purchase for them.

Teaching Children To Read Way Too Early

This is another popular goal that parents have for their children. They want kids to start reading at the earliest age possible. There are so many videos,  flashcards, and activities that promise to teach children to read. If you stick to it, many can work. But there are trade offs that frankly, just aren't worth it. Because teaching a child to read too early means they are just memorizing the symbols and words, instead of understanding them. They are skipping over pre-reading skills and the fundamentals that they will need for reading mastery and understanding. Moreover, because they can recognize the print does not mean they are comprehending what they are reading. It's also important that children learn to listen and that they understand what is being said and read to them.

When you dedicate an inordinate amount of time trying to teach a 3 or 4 year old to read before they are developmentally ready, you are taking away from valuable time that can be used on other important and attainable skills. Moreover, they should also be spending time forming relationships and exploring the world around them. They need experiences and they need to master skills within their developmental windows.  Sitting them in front of a screen or with some flashcards takes away from the time they should be learning about the world, relationships, and the use of language. What good is it if they can sound words out, but don't comprehend what they are reading because they don't have experiences to tie the reading to? And what good is it if they can't communicate with others? Now, I am not saying that if a child expresses interest in learning letters and their sounds that we should ignore those cues, but just don't get ahead of yourself! Go at their pace and help them discover knowledge with developmentally appropriate activities.

Expecting Children To Sit & Have “Class” Before They Are Developmentally Ready

Children should be learning through play until at least the age of 8.* Yes, 8 years old! It is developmentally inappropriate to have young children sit and listen to an adult speaking for more than 20 minutes at a time (time varies by age, of course). But 4 and 5 year olds should not have to sit for more than 15 minutes at a time! So, what does this say about our school system?

Children need to move! They need to run, wiggle, explore, touch things, speak. How can we expect them to sit quietly without moving and expect them to actually learn? It's no wonder there are so many behavior and attention problems in young children! Hint: They don't have the problem. We do!

Over-Scheduling Kids & Teenagers

As our kids get older, we have a tendency to over-schedule them. We want them to play five different sports, train in several forms of dance, take swimming lessons, chess lessons, play an instrument, have language classes, join the scouts, tutoring, etc. etc. etc. WOW! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Yes, we want our kids to have experiences and develop their talents, but really, they need to just be kids. Shuffling them back and forth to school and practice after practice after practice can really put a strain them. Not only that, but we are denying them the free time they need to explore, use their imaginations, and discover their own desires. We are also taking away the opportunity for them to learn how to manage their own time. If they are told what and when to do every single thing in their lives from the time they are babies until they become young adults, how will they know how to manage their lives in the real world?

Over-protecting Them

This one is a reminder and pep-talk for myself. It's hard for me to follow through, because I love my girls so much, but that is precisely why I must.

The world is SCARY. I am not going to deny it. It's hard to let our children experience it fully, because we know the dangers and heartache they could face. But we need to prepare them for it and we need to make them strong enough to face it all. Part of our job is to let them go. We need to do it baby steps at a time, but we need to do it.

Many of us don't even allow our children to go play outside! We are so afraid that something can happen. The world is not any more dangerous than when we were growing up. The reality is that we just have more access to media and therefore we are more aware of the dangers. But instead of this instilling fear into us, we should learn to prepare our children! Allow them to experience freedoms according to their maturity and development and slowly let them do more for themselves.

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I realize that some of these things are probably hard to hear. We are all trying to do what is best for our kids, after all, they don't come with a manual! This is also not about judgement, because there is no perfect way to parent. However, it's important to draw from the experiences of others and we have opportunities to do so like never before! (Hellooo... you are reading this blog! A few decades ago, so many of you would have missed out on my pearls of wisdom )

So, what do you guys think? Have you noticed any well-intentioned behaviors that have backfired on you or someone you know? Share with us in the comments!

An Introduction to Game Based Learning: The Ace Up Every Great Teacher's Sleeve

 Game Night

Game Night

Gamification saved me during my first year of teaching. Below I will share my story and describe how any parent, guardian or teacher can apply it for effective learning outcomes.

As a newbie Spanish High School teacher I was in way over my head. I didn't have a mentor. I was in a department of one, and we didn't even have a curriculum to follow! I was also very young. On my first day I got mistaken for a student when a fellow teacher asked me for a hall pass! I am sure these kids were just not very impressed by me.

I had gone into that classroom ready to make a difference. I had plenty of ideas and a serious intent to teach them the Spanish language, literature, and grammar. Oh boy, was I in for a rude awakening! From the very first day these kids were uninspired. They looked at me with blank and uninterested faces. They barely paid attention during class, rarely did their homework, and rushed out from the classroom like bats out of you know where.

I was getting desperate. Half way through that first semester I decided I had to stop taking myself too seriously. I decided that I wanted to actually connect with these kids and that even if I couldn't teach them any Spanish, I would at least pique their interest in the language. That was my first breakthrough! I quickly learned that the best way to connect with my students was through cultural experiences and games. Instead of dry grammar lessons and rote memorization of vocabulary, I would try to make everything into a game or a very fun and creative activity. We danced, we played memory, we divided ourselves into teams and had “grammar battles”. To my surprise, they began to understand and pick up on the language, but more importantly, they became interested in learning more!

Now that I work with younger children and have had more training as a teacher, I realize the importance and effectiveness of what I was doing out of desperation. Now I deliberately try to make learning into a fun game and my students learn through play. I even do the same things in my work with Learn Safari. Our app the easiest way to teach kids Spanish and gamification is one of our core tenants.

Gamification is the integration of gaming techniques (point systems, rewards, rules of play, etc.) into an experience in order to increase engagement. Although that sounds simple enough. In order to make a truly great game, you have to understand the core drivers of human motivation in order to encourage profound engagement. What are some of these drivers? They include:

  • A sense of accomplishment

  • A sense of meaning

  • Empowerment

  • Social influences

  • Piquing their curiosity

  • A sense that there are things to avoid (negative motivations)

  • Scarcity

  • A sense of ownership

When creating game based learning material, be sure to keep the above core drivers in mind. It can be difficult and you may need to be extra thoughtful. However, incorporating these into your materials will cause your children/students to engage on a level you probably haven't seen before. Something as simple as using points and pitting players against each other (while still teaching respect and fair play) can do so much more for motivating a student than any test can!  The more ways in which you can seamlessly include the above drivers of human motivation, the more effective your game will be.

The concept of game based learning is becoming more popular with teachers, parents and students. A 2015 survey conducted by TES Global found that when it comes to technology, teachers are more interested in game-based learning products over everything else. And with good reason; learning is so much more effective when it's enjoyable and when it's based on experiences. So if your children or students are ever experiencing difficulties, or if they lack motivation, try to make a game out of the learning material!

Do you have any tips for introducing gamification into the classroom or homeschool room? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

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6 Tips for Beating the Summer Learning Slide

by: Dwight Tracy https://freerangestock.com/photos/6708/beach-vacations-scenes.html
by: Dwight Tracy https://freerangestock.com/photos/6708/beach-vacations-scenes.html

Summer is here! The weather is warm and kids are out of school, which makes it the perfect season to enjoy beaches, pools, lakes, cookouts and vacations. For most kids, it’s the absolute best time of year! But it is also the season for that dreaded summer slide. Research has shown that over the summer, kids lose an average of 2 months of math achievement and the losses are even greater in reading! The learning loss is cumulative, which means that those kids who experience summer learning losses every year in reading, will lose an average of 2.5 years of achievement by the time they reach middle school. Scary!! But don’t worry, we have a few easy tips to help slow-down, and maybe even reverse, that summer slide.

1. Make Reading A Priority

For young children, make books readily available in all of their spaces and make sure you read to them every single day. Start this when they are infants, although you may feel silly, it is so good for them!

For school-aged children, reading 5 to 6 chapter books over the summer can be enough to prevent reading losses*.  Take trips to the library during the summer and allow kids to pick out books themselves. Perhaps spend some time reading there. Hopefully, during the school year you already have a designated reading time, but increase the amount of time kids spend reading during the summer. Maybe instead of one reading time in the evening, have an additional one in the morning and/or afternoon.

For some kids, a reading chart helps to keep them on track and offers a sense of achievement and motivation to keep going (that competitive drive can be a high motivator!).

Don’t forget reading out loud! You can read to your kids, even if they are older, and always make sure your kids read to you. For some practical tips on reading out loud, check out our blog post on the benefits of reading.

2. Limit Screen Time

If you have read our blog post on the Intentional use of Technology, you will see why we believe that technology can help our children gain invaluable skills that will be increasingly necessary in our modern world. However, we should not let our kids simply vegetate and watch a screen or play video games 24 hours a day. Limit their time to no more than 2 hours a day and make sure that they are doing something purposeful with it. Playing with learning Apps such as Spanish Safari, learning some computer coding, and doing internet research are encouraged uses of technology. Even watching a fun movie as a family has great value! But make sure they get plenty of other activities and physical exercise.

3. Summer Camps

Summer Camps are wonderful opportunities for children to socialize and learn new skills. Many sports, museums, zoos, beaches, and schools offer summer camps and enrichment activities. If you are able to, take advantage of camps offered in your area. Many will offer weekly and daily rates so that you don’t have to commit to the entire summer.

4. Plan A Family Trip

Are you able to go on vacation this summer? Well, let your child(ren) help plan the trip! Provide them with maps, brochures, and help them do an internet search to come up with an itinerary. This will get them reading and researching, but it will be exciting and it will give them agency in the family trip.

5. Science, Math & Art Activities

Design enrichment opportunities and fun activities to keep them busy. This will keep them challenged and be great exercise for their brains. You don’t have to do them every day, but if you can manage to set some things up for them a couple times a week, it can go a long way in combating learning losses, but it can also offer up some great entertainment. If you are looking for some inspiration, check out our Pinterest boards. We have collected many simple, fun, and educational activities from some of the best that the internet has to offer!

6. Kick Them Out!

It may sound harsh, but seriously, let the kids go outside. And keep them outside. They will release a lot of energy, they will be physically active, and your house will stay much cleaner! You can provide them with some toys and outdoor activities, but remember, it is not your job to entertain your children. They need to be able to entertain themselves! Just set some ground rules, depending on their age and where you live, and let them play!

Summer time can be a welcomed relief for students, teachers, and even parents. There is something to be said for taking a break from the hectic school year. There’s no denying that children need free time to unwind, explore, and practice decision-making and time-management. However, they also need to have some guidance on how they spend their summer months in order to prevent learning losses, but also to prevent unhealthy habits and weight gain. Because let’s face it, if given the choice, most kids and teenagers would choose to sit around in front of their screen(s) all summer, eating junk food and wasting away. (Hey! Many of us adults would make the same choices if we didn’t have an example to set, am I right?)

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have some more to share with us? Join the conversation and leave us a comment!

*http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/summer-reading.pdf

Will I be Enough? Considerations in Schooling, Homeschooling & Unschooling!

 Photo taken by Brandon Allen

Photo taken by Brandon Allen

Parenting is hard (sometimes terrifying) and confusing work. Now that I am a parent, I find myself asking all kinds of questions that I never thought I would ask. Before I had children, I often thought that I knew exactly how I would one day raise them. I pretty much had it all figured out! Didn't you?

Well, as it turns out, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I find myself asking a million questions about what I am doing, what I should be doing and what I should not be doing. Sometimes I'm hoping that I will just get it right! I try to bring myself back down to earth and remember that there won't always be a wrong or a right answer, but that I have to make choices that will be best for MY family at this specific time.

One question I have been asking myself a lot lately is "should I homeschool my kids?"  I am in an amazing position right now for both work and family. I work as a preschool teacher and for Learn Safari. This allows me the flexibility and time to work with my children while still being able to dedicate time to my career. So, I get the benefits of both worlds (along with the difficulties and drawbacks of both!). This means, however, that I can consider homeschooling. It's something I never thought I would consider.

I know a lot of you have strong feelings about the subject, while others may just be mulling the idea over like myself.  I can see both the benefits and drawbacks and in this post I would like to share them both.  I'll explain the things that are exciting me and terrifying me at the same time!

The Upside of Homeschooling

Designing A Curriculum That Is Unique To The Skills, Interests & Needs Of My Children

The biggest draw about homeschooling is the ability to mold my children's education to best fit their needs. I can take the time to focus on what my children need the most help with, breeze through the things they find to be easier, and really explore their interests. I want them to have a well-rounded education where they explore STEM subjects, but where literature, history, art and culture are also appreciated. We need both to make the world go 'round!

Teaching My Children HOW To Learn

I honestly worry about the one size fits all school system. I don't want my girls' uniqueness, creativity and ability to think outside of the box to be suppressed. Yes, it's important for them to be able to follow rules, follow directions and get along with others. However, in an undeniably ephemeral world, the most successful people have to be not just "intelligent" but creative and able to disrupt old and tired systems.

Time

Time is our biggest commodity and I just don't want to waste it! Between travel time, standardized testing, homework and time spent dealing with classroom management; it seems like a lot of a student's time is "used up" at school. I want my girls to be involved in extra activities that might interest them, like music, art and dance. However, I do not want to manage all of their time. They need freedom to make choices. They need to spend time doing what they want and they need to learn how to manage their own time too. If we go with the homeschool route, I think we could do "more" while still giving them the freedom self regulate.

The Scary Part Of Homeschooling

Will I Be Enough?

My biggest concern is whether I can be the teacher they will need and deserve. As a teacher, I know the amount of work, thought, planning and patience that it takes. It's just such HARD work. So, would I be able to cover all the subjects at all the levels that they will need? What about MATH?!?!?! Oh I am soooo scared of math, and they NEED to be good at math.

I think that the lower grades I would be able to handle without issues. I have experience working with young students (well, I have taught everything from Pre-School to High School), I have a wide range of knowledge and I love to learn. Additionally, I would not have to worry about 18+ students, but instead I would just have to worry about 2 students (so far...). However, as their knowledge grows and their needs grow, will I be able to grow with them?

What Opportunities Will They Miss Out On?

I think this concern speaks for itself. Schools generally have resources that I do not have access to. Science labs, guidance counselors, teams and clubs that may be available to my daughters. I am not very concerned about "socialization" and making friends, because they can be involved in extra curricular activities. With extra-curricular activities they will not only have the opportunity to make friends, but they will be under the teaching and guidance from instructors other than myself.

Will I Be Giving Them All The Tools They Need To Fly Without Me?

I love teaching and watching students blossom with new found knowledge. As a parent, however, one of our most important roles is to teach our children how to survive, or better yet, thrive without us. If I am their teacher all of their lives, will I be giving them the tools and confidence they will require to go on without me? I can help strengthen their wings, but they will only be able to soar if it's without me. Will I be holding them back?

Will We Have Accountability?

Finally, what kind of accountability will we have? How will I know that we are on track and that the girls are meeting all the requirements for their levels? Furthermore, who is going to hold ME accountable? I worry that I might get too lax or at some point "rest on my laurels."

More importantly; how will homeschooling affect their ability to get into a good university? How will institutions know the quality of education the girls received, when I am having a hard time figuring out how I would know the quality of their education?

As I mentioned before, I have a lot of contradictory thoughts on homeschooling. I would love to hear from you guys out there! As parents, homeschoolers, and school teachers, what are your thoughts? Please share your constructive thoughts with us in the comments below!

Keli Garcia Allen keli@learnsafari.com