Parenting

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! 

6 Ways to Establish a Bedtime Routine For Your Bilingual Child

As promised in my post 6 Ways in which a Bedtime Routine Can Boost Your Bilingual Child I’m here to share some ideas on how to establish a bedtime routine. If you do not have a routine, then you really are missing out on a great opportunity to teach not only discipline and regain your sanity at night, but you're missing out on a great opportunity to expose your child(ren) to the target language.

If you are anything like me, you often feel like rushing through the night and getting the kiddos to sleep so you can finally have some peace and a much needed break! I would try to use the time to clean up their substantial mess, get some of my work done, and even get some couch potato T.V. time. But honestly, the time of getting the kids to bed would stress me out, my kids never wanted to go to bed and were super cranky, and by the time I was done I was extremely tired and rarely followed through with my plans.

Working with children, I know the importance of routines. I know that they do better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them, so why wasn’t I applying this to my own children when we were trying to wrap up the day? Once I decided to implement our routine at night, I found time to spend time learning and to actually enjoy my children! So, here is the routine that works for us and it’s my hope that you can get some ideas from it and create a routine that works for you.

Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen
Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen
  1. Dinner Time

I wrote a post for Cooking with Languages a while back on what children can learn from cooking. It was meaningful for me to write, because cooking with our kids provides such a special opportunity to bond and extend the time learning and practicing the target language. This is not an activity that is merely for older kids, but even the tiniest of tots can join in! My two and three year olds love to pour, crack (eggs), stir, and taste right along with me. Sometimes everything has been cooking on the crock pot all day, and they just get to stir a few times in order to “help” and sometimes we grabbed take out and they just need to set the table. Whatever we do, they always get to help and as they grow, their duties will grow with their abilities.

During this time I use parallel and self-talk in our target language (Spanish) to describe everything we are doing as we cook. I also ask them a lot of open-ended questions about the process (What are you doing? Why do you have to do that?) and watch their little brains workout how to answer me. Obviously, the conversations will evolve as their language skills evolve and I foresee a time when our conversations will go well beyond what we are cooking.

  1. Clean-up time

Oh dreaded clean-up! This is where I spend the majority of my time at home. With two professional mess-makers, it’s no wonder. It’s important to teach our kids from an early age to clean up and contribute to the house, but it’s never too late to start. Sometimes it really is like pulling teeth for me and it takes no small amount of patience, deep breathing, and chocolate (which I hide and eat in my bedroom closet!!) to get through this part of our routine. For now, it is all about me teaching them and indicating exactly what to do every step of the way, but I know that as they grow up, they will be able to do a lot more with a lot less prodding (as long as I keep up the routine!). For now, it’s another great opportunity for us to make practical use of our target language.

  1. Preparations for the next day

At this point of our evening, I get the girls to help prepare themselves for tomorrow. We pull out pajamas and clothing for the next day. My threenager has developed her own style and takes a long time to put together her outrageous combinations for the following day (Boots with shorts are a current Florida winter favorite of hers) and it cuts down on morning rush (yeah, so I may have it “together” at night, but our mornings are RIDICULOUS! Can’t have it all right?).

This is also a time when we prepare book bags and lunch boxes for the next day. We have a lot of fun and silly conversations in the target language during this portion of our night, and they are usually revolved around the crazy outfits my baby wants to wear.

  1. Bath Time

So, while my kids are little, bath time has to be supervised. Honestly, I wish I could just throw them in and walk away or rush them through it. But they love their baths so much and it’s really a great time for them to play while I sit with a book or (GAASSSPPP!) my phone. If you’re an over-achiever, go ahead and use this time to play and talk with your kids. It’s definitely what I recommend. So, do as I say, not as I do!!

  1. Reading

So, my excuse for taking it easy during bath time is that the next part of our routine is CRUCIAL! Seriously, whether you are a bilingual parent or not, reading every single day with your child is the single most important thing you can do for their education. Whether 0 or 17, reading aloud every single day should be the goal. It doesn’t matter if you read to them or they read to you, reading every day can make a bigger difference than anything else you do for them.  Reading with your child every day has a greater impact on achievement than anything else you may do, including the school they go to, the extracurricular activities they participate in, how much money you make, etc. And as a bilingual parent, this is the best opportunity for my girls to receive rich, deep, and crucial input in the target language.

  1. Reflecting on the day.

After reading and talking about what we read, we spend some time talking about the day. I ask them a lot of questions and try to remind them of everything that was done. I ask them what their favorite part of the day was, what they didn’t like, what made them laugh, what made them sad, etc. I love to ask them silly questions to make them laugh and more serious questions to make them think. If you’re having a hard time coming up with questions, check out this article!

I also talk to them about the next day and what they think they are going to do. I ask about what they would like to do and talk to them about what they must do. We do all of this in our target language and if they do not know how to say something, I let them say it in English and then I model how to say it in Spanish. It’s a very sweet time spent with them and it’s my absolute favorite part of the day.

Taking the time to have a purposeful and meaningful time with your kids in the evening may seem like a daunting task, but remember, it does not have to take hours of your time. While it may at first be difficult to get your children to help with the clean up and preparing for the following day (especially if they are younger), but with a routine, it will end up being a lot of help and saving you time. If you go about the routine with the purpose of spending time and educating your children, it will also be less stressful! Taking the time to relax, read, and reflect upon the day with your child will also help you unwind and decompress while cuddling and hugging your babies will sure boost up those endorphins! And hey, there’s nothing wrong with getting the process started early. I’ve been known to enforce a 7pm bedtime routine and have lived to tell the tale!

We want to hear from you! Do you have a bedtime routine that you practice with your kids? What does it look like? What benefits have you seen from it? Let us know in the comments below.

keli-blog

About the AuthorKeli 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.

6 Ways in which a Bedtime Routine Can Boost Your Bilingual Child

Part 1 – How and Why a Bedtime Routine Can  Benefit  Our Children

What do your evenings look like? As a busy parent, they probably include making dinner, finishing up chores, and getting the kids off to bed as quickly (if not efficiently) as possible. After such a busy day, you’re probably just looking to just relax and maybe read a book, watch some TV, or maybe browse around on Pinterest for hours on end admiring and pinning projects that you know you’ll never actually get to (guilty!!). This much awaited time never seems to arrive when we are so busy trying to deal with wrapping up our children’s day and getting them to bed! But, what if I told you that while we rush about trying to get our kids to bed, we are missing on valuable bonding and language-learning time that can be a tremendous benefit for them?

I know, I know! After a long day, sometimes we just want and NEED time for ourselves. But just give me a chance! With a few tips and tricks for purposeful time spent together in the evening, our nights can go more smoothly and with less stress, our learning day can be extended, and we can create memories that our children will carry with them for life. But first, let's cover the "why?"  what are you gaining by spending some quality time with your children in the evenings?

  1. An Insight Into Their Day

Do you ever ask your kids how their day was and they tell you “fine”? Or “what did you do today?” and they respond with “nothing.” AGHHHH!!! It drives me nuts! But it’s not just you. Kids don’t always open up to these sorts of questions, because they either don’t have the skills to process their day on their own so quickly (if they are young) or they are not practiced in the art of conversation with their parents. It takes time and effort and one has to be purposeful in establishing lines of communication, especially with our kids. Spending time together and asking questions like “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” or did “anything today make you feel sad?” can help kids engage and share with you about the day. But here’s the thing, you can’t just bombard them with a bunch of questions and expect them to answer right away! You need to take the time and develop an engaging conversation.

2. An Insight Into Their State of Mind

By gaining insights into their days you can also gain insights into their state of mind. As kids get older, parents often get pushed aside. Kids try to gain independence and if you haven’t developed communication habits, it can be that much harder to really KNOW what’s going on inside their heads. Issues of self-confidence, depression, bullying, anger, selfishness, etc. can be discovered and managed more easily when kids learn they can come to you to deal with them.

  1. Calmer Evenings

Did you know that negative behavior can be curbed by simply giving a child some time and attention? Most of us know this, but do we actually KNOW this? I mean, do we actually put it into practice? Just sitting down for 10 minutes with your child and actually playing with them can give them the attention they need and crave and then buy you some time to get things done in a much calmer manner. Imagine then if you actually include your child into the chores and activities that must be completed in the evening? You can entertain your child, teach them something new, have bonding time, and get your chores done even faster! Even a three-year-old can help wipe down tables and put away laundry!

  1. Bonding and a Nurturing Relationship

Bonding is an important human instinct that gives children (and adults) a sense of security and self-esteem. Bonding occurs when humans spend time together, talking, showing affection, and taking care of each other. The thing is that bonding takes time, and not just your spare minutes. You need quality time spent doing special activities, but you also need quantity time! When I say this, I mean ordinary time spent doing routine activities that, although they may not feel special, they develop trust and a sense of nurturing and security. This time serves to let a family get to know eachother, reinforces mutual respect, improves communication and lets people learn to listen and communicate with each other.

  1. You Will Gain an Opportunity to Help You Children Process Their Day 

Establishing an evening and bed-time routine with your kids will help them process their day. They can reflect back on what happened and discuss the good, the bad, the ugly. You can help kids put a positive spin on their day and help them plan and prepare for tomorrow. It’s a great time to discuss goals, both small and large, and talk about the future. It’s also a great time to teach kids about thankfulness and the effect that their actions and choices have upon their lives and the lives of others.

  1. Extended Education

Finally, this time together at night can serve for practicing language and communication. For bilingual parents, this can be a crucial time of target language input. If your child spends a majority of the time listening and interacting in the community language, the evening spent with you can be crucial for practicing the target language and using it for higher order thinking and learning. You can model grammar, language structure and vocabulary and give them plenty of opportunities to emulate you. Most importantly, you can develop your relationship in the target language and help your child gain the confidence to use it.

Our days are busy. We are constantly running around with the business of life and we don’t often take the time to just be with each other and spend time in communication and bonding. Whether you are a parent who works outside of the home all day or you are a parent who works in the home all day, the reality is that you most likely spend your hours working! When the evening comes and kids get home from school it’s important to take time together to process the day, use our language and communication skills, and create the kind of deep relationships that will be crucial for the rest of our lives.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I will share some Ideas and Tips for Establishing a Bedtime Routine for your Bilingual Children.

We want to hear from you! Do you have a bedtime routine that you practice with your kids? What does it look like? What benefits have you seen from it? Let us know in the comments below.

keli-blog

About the AuthorKeli 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.

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.

razz

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!

On a Trilingual Journey - Teaching my Children English, Italian, and Spanish

Photo by: Geoffrey Whiteway http://www.stockvault.net/photo/137079/gondola
Photo by: Geoffrey Whiteway http://www.stockvault.net/photo/137079/gondola

At Learn Safari we are proud to partner with  parents, teachers, homeschoolers, and language lovers in order to share tips, information, and stories. We believe that working together, we can better achieve success and help each other on our individual learning journeys. It is with great pleasure that we bring you this guest blog from a very enthusiastic, vocal, and insightful member of this wonderful community. ENJOY! 

Our Story

Having been brought up monolingual, I never thought about learning another language until I came to Italy. Living in an English speaking country my whole life, I never felt there was a need to speak another language, because everyone I knew spoke English. As I travelled and met new people, I realised that languages aren’t just about words. A new language is a new culture, a new way of looking at the world, and a new outlook on life.

When I married my Italian husband and had our two boys, now almost two and four years old, there was no doubt that we would bring them up to be bilingual; it felt natural to us to speak to them in our respective native languages, so that’s what we have done since birth.

Our boys were born here in Italy, and obviously, the common language is Italian. We are following the OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach, where my husband speaks in Italian  and I speak in English. Their exposure to Italian is quite extensive, but speaking with me and sometimes over Skype with my family is the extent of their English exposure.  My husband only spoke basic English before we met, but he is now quite fluent due to the amount of English that was spoken in our home. Now that his English is better, we are speaking more Italian so that I can practice the language.

It has been an exciting experience watching them learn two languages simultaneously. I have worked with many children in the past as an English Teacher and Governess and I have seen how easily children are able to learn a new language. Watching my own children though, is like experiencing it all for the first time.

Introducing a Third Language

About a year ago we decided to introduce a third language, Spanish, even though neither of us speak more than just the basics. We thought it would be a good opportunity for our children, since Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Knowing what it feels like to learn a language as an adult, we knew it would be best to start as early as possible.

However, we didn’t want to give them “lessons” as such, because being so young they are not able to sit and concentrate for too long. Just as they had learned English and Italian from us, we wanted to introduce Spanish to them in the most natural way possible.

Our Secret Weapon

At first I answered advertisements and called up schools to see if they had any native Spanish speakers that could come “play” with my children, however I had no luck. They only offered language lessons and were more concerned about how much they would achieve in a certain amount of sessions. It was actually by coincidence that I met a local Argentinian girl and she agreed to come hang out with my boys and introduce them to the Spanish language.

At first it was a few hours per week, but as the boys got used to her, we set a schedule where she comes at 4-5 days per week for around 2hrs at a time. This gives them a good amount of exposure to the language every week.

From day one, Ana (nickname) has only spoken to our boys in Spanish, and even if they spoke back to her in Italian or English, which they did a lot at the beginning, she always answered back in Spanish. Her understanding of Italian helps as she can understand what my children say if they speak in Italian, but she just repeats what they have said in Spanish, and then answers them.

Materials

We brought some new Spanish books online and Ana and the boys usually read at least one or two stories together every time she is over. Reading stories have helped to reinforce the language and introduce them to new vocabulary. The boys love to read and talk about the pictures and they look forward to story time.

We also downloaded some Spanish songs and nursery rhymes, and they sing quite a lot together. Singing every day has helped my children learn different words and has helped a lot with their memory. Even before my son started speaking any Spanish, he could sing a couple of songs word for word.

Our Progress

Over the past year my 4 year old has become quite the chatterbox in Spanish and though our little one doesn’t speak much yet, he understands everything and will repeat anything she says. We are looking forward to watching them improve and I hope that one day they will be completely trilingual; fluent in English, Italian, and Spanish.

Bilingual Kidspot

I had many people asking me on a regular basis how we are bringing up our children with multiple languages, and what types of resources we used. These questions are what inspired me to create Bilingual Kidspot, a website which aims to help parents who are on a bilingual or multilingual journey with their children. With information on where to start, helpful hints, tips on bilingualism, and stories of my own parenting journey, I hope to inspire and help families in the same situation.

Soon to come I will be providing educational resources for children. I will be reviewing the books, games, and language apps that we use, and providing parents with language activities and print outs to help reinforce the language that they are learning.

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

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

Read To Your Child Out Loud: Helpful Tips For Starting Today

Photo By: Keli Garcia Allen
Photo By: Keli Garcia Allen

Every year on February 24th we celebrate World Read Aloud Day, an initiative by LitWorld, a literacy non-profit that advocates internationally for every child’s right to literacy. People from every corner of the world will get together at home, school, and work in order to share stories and encourage a global community of readers.

As a mother, teacher and book-lover, I just can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading! Children who read are children who think and children who think become adults who think!

Through books we learn about different places and cultures, but we also learn language. Research shows that reading out loud to children is the single most important thing we can do as parents to ensure their educational success. When children are read to, and when they read out loud, they get exposure to vocabulary, language structure and pronunciation. We are also encouraging them to be life-long readers and learners. Children who read 20 minutes a day are exposed to around 1.8 million words a year! 

If you are the parent of a multi-lingual child, reading makes a huge difference in helping them learn a minority language or helping them practice a majority language with which they are having trouble.

Little Caperpiller
Little Caperpiller

So, what does reading with children of different age levels look like? Here are some tips and tricks I have gathered throughout my teaching experience:

Infants

Mommas, from the time your baby is in your belly he or she will recognize your voice and will love to hear it! Once babies are born, they mimic your language with their cries and more readily respond to your language. So yes mommas, even if you live somewhere that your language is the minority language, they know your language first!

Even when they are this young, it’s important to give them an environment where reading is promoted and appreciated. Let them have access to baby board books and soft books. I love books that are black and white to really stimulate their vision. However, unlike older kids, babies prefer to look at your face as opposed to pictures in a book. So when you read them a story, keep that in mind! You can hold the book, but make sure they can see your face. You can also tell stories from memory (or make them up), sing songs, and rhymes! These are amazing for young children, because it develops their listening and pre-reading skills.

Toddlers  

Toddlers are a tricky group. They just want to be on the run and don’t want you to stop their fun! So, getting them to sit down and listen to a story is seemingly impossible. But, I do have a few tricks. Make sure you have books available to them at eye level. Display them in their room, play area, and anywhere you can around the house. It’s best to show the book covers, because it will attract their attention.

Sit down on the ground and start looking at a book. Don’t call them over, just wait for them to come to you. Their natural curiosity will get the best of them. You can start reading, but you might only get a single page in, and that’s okay. He or she will probably want to hold the book and then together you can talk about the pictures and point to different words. Just follow their lead! And just like with the infants, don’t forget rhymes and songs!

Preschoolers

The majority of preschoolers really love to read. They feel like they are growing up and want to learn as much as possible. This is especially true for those who have older siblings going to school! Sit down in a comfortable place and let them choose a story for you to read. Talk to them about the cover, the author, and the illustrator. Ask them what they think the story will be about. Then read the book! You can read the same book over and over and they will enjoy it every time.

Once they get to this level, there are many activities you can do with them to extend the learning. Ask them questions about the book (open-ended questions are best), ask them what will happen next, and even ask them to “read” the story to you. Afterwards, you can have them draw a picture about the book, tell you what their favorite part was, or do an activity covered in the book. For example, read Green Eggs and Ham and actually make green eggs and ham together! (Pro Tip: If you don't want to use food dye, blend the eggs with Spinach before cooking. They might even eat it!)

School Age Children

Once children start kindergarten and first grade they will begin to learn how to read and they need to practice, practice, practice! For some of us, it may require no small amount of patience, because it can be such a grueling process (in some languages more than others). However, we need to keep it light and fun, because we don’t want kids to hate reading. After all, reading can be so much fun.

Choose books that are appropriate for your child’s reading level (many children’s books will tell you). You want to challenge your child, but not make it so difficult that it’s frustrating. Also, remember that even though children at this level are learning to read out loud, it’s still important and enjoyable for them to listen to you read. Let your child read a short book to you and then you read one. Once you get into chapter books, you can take turns reading chapters.

Older Students

Once students are older, we often leave them to read on their own, which is great, but it’s not enough! (Especially if they do not enjoy reading). It’s still important for them to read out loud every day, just to make sure all of their skills are up to par. They may be much more independent at this age, but we want to continue to challenge them and make sure they are not having any struggles that we don't know about.

They can read from their school materials, but I would encourage it to be a fun read or a poem from a book that has nothing to do with school. You can read current events to each other in order to keep up with world news. Something else you can do is choose a book and form a book club of sorts as a family. It can really be a great way to connect with your teen and get a glimpse into their way of thinking (which is super challenging at this age)!

Learn Safari supports the World Read Aloud Day movement! We hope that you do too. What book will you read out loud today?

What does reading look like in your family? Do you have any tips or tricks that you like to use? What about you bi-lingual and multi-lingual families, how does reading help with your language goals? I would love to hear from all of you in the comments!

Besos,

Keli Garcia Allen Lead Spanish Teacher | Learn Safarikeli@learnsafari.com

How To Optimize Playtime For Bilingual Children

Photo by: Katrise Armour Kalugin
Photo by: Katrise Armour Kalugin

Kid’s have one job to do: Play. It’s the most important thing they do in order to learn and develop.  Many of us adults underestimate the value of it. When kid’s play they learn  to foster relationships,  get along with each other,  settle disputes, self-regulate, problem solve, use their imaginations, and of course, they are learning language.

You can sit a child with flash-cards and work-sheets and review vocabulary over and over again, but that child will not learn as fast as they would with toy blocks and a friend or parent. In such an instance, he or she would be getting the opportunity to practice math, physics and engineering, and all the while they would be stretching the muscles of their imagination. They would be solving problems, thinking out loud, listening to vocabulary and practicing their communication skills. And guess what? They would be having fun!

So, how can we harness the power of play in order to optimize for language development in bilingual and multilingual children? Here's what I recommend:

Play Groups

Play groups are a great way to get together with other families whose children speak your  target language. Not only is it a great way for kids to practice their language skills in a fun environment, but it’s also a great way to spend time with parents who might be going through the same struggles you are.

You may have to intervene at times, especially if all kids are using the same majority language instead of the target language. You will have to give them instruction and incentives to speak and probably use some forms of structured play in the beginning. You can start by introducing them in the target language and setting up some activities for them to do together.  They will start associating the language with each other, and before you know it, speaking it with each other will be the default.

Structured Play

Structured play, or goal-oriented play, comes with a set of rules and an objective in mind. Structured play is often facilitated by adults who lead and guide children as they play. Card games and board games, sports, games like Simon Says and Green Light Red Light are all examples of structured play.

With structured play you can really take the reigns and do something fun that will help your child learn and practice language. Some simple games like Memory, Number or Word Bingo, and the above mentioned Simon Says can really help you explore your target language. In future blogs I will describe some structured play ideas that I have found to be quite effective in the classroom, but the ones I mentioned above are classics that kids love.

Unstructured Play

Unstructured play, or open-ended play, is child-led. Children have the freedom to choose what they want to play with and how they want to play with it. It is open to the imagination and it can last for hours! Now, we often think that kid’s just aren’t learning during moments of unstructured play and we also think that as adults, there is no room for us in this type of play.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Kids ARE learning and you ARE invited. Get down on the floor with your child and meet them exactly where they are. Babies and younger kids might be exploring the toys and trying to figure out what it is they do. They might be banging them together or simply putting them in their mouth! I know, cringe worthy moments! But I promise, it will be okay. Older kids might be playing house, veterinarians, building with blocks or Legos, making forts, or playing superheroes. Join in on the fun!

This is a great time to use the target language in a natural and free way. Describe what your child is doing (parallel talk), talk about what you are doing, point out shapes, colors, feelings, ask questions (especially open-ended questions), answer questions and listen to what your child has to say.

Enjoy this time with your kids and remember that this is when the majority of their learning and development is taking place. Join in when you can but remember that playing alone is also good for them. As parents we need to remember that we don’t have to be their personal entertainment 24/7. Learning and discovery is always occurring.

Gamification

Have you ever sat and played Candy Crush for hours on end? I personally never became a Candy Crusher, but I did spend a period of time embarrassingly addicted to a Smurfs Game on my phone. You had to build a village and farm crops and make money and expand your territory. It was ridiculous. It eventually got too big for my phone, made it crash and forced me to erase the whole thing, which was probably my saving grace and the only reason I have a job with Learn Safari today! (Joking... sort of. I was seriously addicted.)

Why are these games so addictive? Well, it's because the elements of the game (competition, point scores, rules of play, etc.) motivate us at a deep level. Even as adults we love games! Now, becoming addicted to a game is not good, especially for our children. We do not want them to spend hours and hours upon end in front of screens doing nothing else. That's not healthy!

However, we can use the same game mechanics to encourage children to learn and give them exposure to language and technology that will be invaluable.  At Learn Safari we incorporate the positive feelings and motivation that games provide into an interactive and intuitive learning environment.  We do this specifically for language learning (starting with Spanish, and multiple languages in the future).

You, as parents and teachers, can incorporate these same techniques at home or in the classroom. Bring on the game mechanics! Start with some of the classics you grew up with, but make sure you conduct the entire game in the target language. You can add rules, goals and point systems to some of the tasks you would like to accomplish and make sure you verbalize as much as you can! Talk, talk, talk... until you drop!

I would love to hear from you! What does play look like in your home or classroom?

Besos,

Keli Lead Spanish Teacher keli@learnsafari.com

4 Things You Should Do When Raising Bilingual And Multilingual Kids

Wondering about the World
Wondering about the World

We have all heard how kids are brilliant at learning new languages. Their brains are wired to do just so and the earlier they learn a new language, the greater the likelihood they will achieve native status in it. But if it’s so easy for them to learn, then why don’t more children speak multiple languages? Why do so many second and third generation children of immigrants not speak the native language of their parents?

The short answer is that it’s hard work. It may be easy for a child to learn, but being a parent who facilitates the learning takes great effort and dedication! (If you want to know some of my reasons for why I have chosen to raise my children to be bilingual, click here).

Learning languages is a complex process and there’s no easy trick to make your kids magically learn. However, I have a list of 4 things you should do when raising your children to be bilingual or multilingual. If these conditions are met, your kids are bound to learn.

Talk To Them – A Lot

Seriously, ‘til your throat hurts. If you want to raise your child(ren) to be multilingual you have to provide exposure and opportunities to use the languages. Children learn language from observing the world around them and the first place they will learn is at home. Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers and we have a great influence on what and how they will learn. So, how can you best teach your young child? You have to speak a lot. You should be talking to your child about everything they do and see and everything that you do. This is how they learn vocabulary and sentence structure. I read a great blog in which the author talks about filling up her child’s language bucket, and I think that’s a fantastic metaphor! (Check out her blog post here) If by the time you have spent a few hours with your young child your throat isn’t sore, you probably haven’t been doing your job.

Read To Them

One of the best things you can do for your child is read to them. If you read 20 minutes a day to your child, they will be exposed to 1.8 million words a year! Reading will not only help your child with the development of several languages, but it will help you practice your language skills and it will stir up topics for continued conversation. It is also a great time to connect with your child. After all, connecting is what language is all about.

Community Engagement

One important indicator for multi-lingual success is the influence of the community on the language. If children live in a community that supports their bilingualism, they are much more likely to be successful. We need to make it necessary for children to speak with the target language, because simply using it at home with mom or dad won't be enough.

Family, friends and playgroups are all great support groups. Increasingly you can find pre-schools, language immersion programs, or weekend language schools in the target language. Other great sources for language learning are religious and cultural centers, as many Churches, Mosques, and Temples want to preserve heritage and languages too.

You can also combine activities and interests. Try to find classes and instructors for activities that your children enjoy that are taught in the target language. Maybe a dance teacher who will work with your child in Spanish, a music teacher who might speak Mandarin, or an art instructor who will work with your child in Romanian. Research the internet and social media, because you may find someone who can combine the skills that are important to you and your child.

Music, Videos & Apps

Technology is miraculous. Let’s take advantage of it! Never before have we had access to as much music in different languages as we do now. Children, teenagers, and adults absolutely love music, so lets use it.  There are also many videos and apps that are made specifically for children to learn and practice language. Some are better than others, so please do your homework. Take the time to read reviews, ask people, and even play the games. It’s also a great idea to play the games with your children or watch when they play in order to see how they are benefiting and how you can build upon what they are learning.

Technology is not a replacement for human interaction, but it can be a great support system for our language learning goals. If you are interested in learning about our Spanish Safari App, check us out!

Keep in mind, language learning is not a sprint, but a marathon. It takes a lifetime to learn, so encourage your children to be lifelong learners. You may have set-backs and perhaps you won’t be able to do all of the above, but don’t give up. The project is well worth the effort!

What conditions do you think need to be met in order for a child to learn multiple languages? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Besos,

Keli Lead Spanish Teacher keli@learnsafari.com