Thanksgiving in Venezuela: A story of Biculturalism, Food, and Love.

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Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays, because it was one just for us. The story of our thanksgiving goes back over half a century and it’s a story that has had a great influence on who I am today.

My grandparents came to Venezuela back in 1948 with 2 little girls, a few bucks to their name and hearts full of hope.  They had arrived to a very prosperous country that welcomed them, and all immigrants, with open arms.  It was a time when a lot of Americans arrived to Venezuela’s western coast to settle into oil camps.

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The Cox family in 1948.

My Grandparents lived happily with their family and friends in their close knit community, where everyone was  from the U.S. or “Americanized.” This meant that there was very little need to speak Spanish fluently, with store clerks that spoke English and “American” schools for their children. As the years passed, 2 new little girls (including my mother) were born in this new country. To them, growing up in Venezuela and often visiting family in Texas offered the best of both worlds, from which they created a dual-culture all of their own. One of the greatest examples of this dual culture was our very own Venezuelan Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, although a popular U.S. Holiday, is not celebrated in Venezuela and back in the 1950s it was difficult to find some of the wonderful holiday staples that are traditional to the meal. Through frequent trips to the U.S. and the advent of canned goods and boxed mixes, however, my grandparents made it a mission to celebrate this beloved holiday.

As the years passed, and their children and grandchildren grew up, this Venezuelan thanksgiving became a tradition that evolved to reflect us as a family and it is one of my fondest childhood (and adulthood) memories.

Thanksgiving dinner was always celebrated at my grandmother’s home in La Concepción, a small town in the outskirts of Maracaibo. My grandmother was the Queen of Thanksgiving, a holiday that was hers to do with as she pleased. There were no other events, no juggling of dates or family members, and everyone was welcomed with open arms. However, you always had to make sure you had enough room for that pecan pie!

The Queen of Thanksgiving herself, Grandma Cleo

The Queen of Thanksgiving herself, Grandma Cleo

As many of you know, hosting a holiday tradition in a different place has to come with some adjustments, but maybe that is what made our Venezuelan Thanksgiving even more special.  As you can imagine, celebrating a holiday on a Thursday was next to impossible, with their married daughters, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren all on Venezuelan calendars. Celebrating on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the first compromise.

The Menu
The food was another place where new traditions would evolve. Apples were not that popular in Venezuela until recently, so apple pie was never that prominent, but the pecan pie and pumpkin pies were ever-present. With the addition of new family members, new Venezuelan recipes came to accompany the traditional fare and my grandmother picked up a few tricks from Venezuelan cuisine along the way.

It wouldn’t be turkey day without the bird, and thanks to some enterprising businessmen, turkeys were available in select stores in town.  The dressing was cornbread, of course, made with Funche La Lucha, (the closest thing to coarse yellow corn meal) baked with vegetables and turkey stock and served with giblet gravy. We later switched to Cachapa mix (corn pancake mix – deliciousness) to make the dressing, but it was still amazing.  Cranberries were canned and jellied, the corn was fresh and fried, and the string bean casserole made with real Campbell’s cream of mushrooms. We also had mashed potatoes, baked beans, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, mincemeat bars, lemon pie, quesillo (condensed milk and caramel flan, and yes it is as good as it sounds) and fruit salad, all made from scratch with the exception of some imported ingredients, and it was all eaten with gusto. Large pitchers of iced tea and café guayoyito (a filtered and less concentrated cup, but it’s still made with some of the best coffee in the world!)  finished off the meal.

After we served our plates buffet style and we sat down to say grace in several tables across living room and dining room, (we were 20 and counting) and looked down at all this delicious food made with love by grandma and my aunts you could just see her smile, all of her chicks were back in the nest, all that effort paid off.

Some of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Cleo.

Some of the children and grandchildren of Grandma Cleo.

Some compromises were made, but Thanksgiving Sunday Supper was a must, and it was Grandma’s pride and joy.  Later on daughters and granddaughters (even me!) started to bring dishes of their own to these gatherings, right until grandma moved back to Texas. Now, we all celebrate thanksgiving in our own homes, celebrating our heritage with our new families, and we stick to tradition, our own tradition of incorporating our loved one’s favorite dishes to this holiday.  After all, this is a day for being thankful and counting one’s blessings, and family is the most special blessing of all.

About the author

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

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Growing Up in Spanglish

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Carol with her two oldest children, Christian and Rebecca.

Learn Safari is very excited this guest post from Carol Cox. Carol is an accomplished English teacher from Venezuela and her bilingual story is very inspirational. We hope you enjoy! 

My Own Bilingual Journey

Growing up in Venezuela, you would think that I had grown up speaking Spanish, right? Think again! My parents are originally from Luffkin, Texas. They moved to Venezuela in 1948, during the oil boom. Daddy sold industrial laundry equipment and while making a sale to Creole, he took over their laundry concession and the rest, as they say, is history. Mom and Dad never learned to speak Spanish correctly nor fluently, too many of their friends wanted to practice their English with a native speaker, and Mother did her best to conserve her lifestyle; American foods, English-speaking church, trips home in the summer. My sister and I were born in Venezuela, but attended an International School where we received 2 hours of Spanish a week. Exposure to Spanish was limited to shop people and the housekeeper.

This all changed in high-school. My dad decided that he wasn’t going to send us away to college in the US, so we would study in the excellent universities of Venezuela. To do that, we needed to speak Spanish. Thus he enrolled us in an all-girl Catholic school. Talk about culture shock! We had been attending an English-speaking school with small classrooms, no more than 10 students per class. And suddenly we were thrust into classrooms of 45 girls who spoke no English. Believe me, we picked up Spanish very quickly, and made some life-long friends along the way. We were teased because of our accent, but corrected when we made grammatical mistakes. I was put back 2 years due to differences in the curricula. But we learned to speak, read and write in Spanish to the point where we are both completely fluent in both languages.

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Carol and her mother; The beginning of a bilingual Journey

My First Born- a Late Talker

I never made it to college. I met and married my husband right out of high-school, and two years later we welcomed our son into this world. He was a happy baby, with a deep belly laugh that was highly contagious. Loved and spoiled by both sets of grandparents. They were saddened to see us move to the US while my husband studied in the university, and I traveled back and forth with the baby. He would chatter away but he didn’t actually say anything. By the time he was 3, I took him to several doctors to check his hearing, but the results came back fine, he just didn’t want to speak. The pediatrician suggested I enroll him in a pre-school, and so I did. He started talking clearly 3 months later. Back then we had never heard of OPOL, we just did it.  I constantly exposed him to English, speaking and singing to him, putting him in an English-language day care. My sister would send me Betamax tapes with Saturday cartoons for when we were in Venezuela and I bought story books, lots of books. My husband’s family spoke to him in Spanish. And he eventually attended Venezuelan schools. We would spend summers in Texas, as my parents had retired there by then, and my sister had moved there with them. He loved Texas! And his English has a strong hint of a Texas accent.  He is grown up now and still bilingual. He reads and writes it well, even though he never formally studied English. Exposure to the target language seemed to have worked with him. He still lives and works in Venezuela and now has 3 sons of his own. He and I have worked hard to make them bilingual as well. It is working so far.

My husband graduated with a degree in Broadcast Management, in English!!! Before we left for him to study in the US, he had attended a newly opened binational language center to learn English and take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). His teachers there were native speakers: Canadians, Trinidadians, Grenadians, a few British ex-pats. Remember English is the primary language in many countries and islands of the Caribbean. He learned very proper English and had a big problem understanding anyone in Texas! But after a few months of total immersion, he picked up the “lingo” fairly quickly.

Carol's Son Christian.

Carol’s Son Christian.

My Daughter – a Refusal to Speak English

Four years after our son was born, back in Venezuela, settled in and both of us working, we decided to try for a second child. Our daughter arrived kicking and screaming right on schedule. We tried to follow what we had done with our son, exposing her to English and Spanish through the OPOL method, VHS tapes, books and songs. She spoke earlier, by age 2, but preferred Spanish. We continued going to Texas during summers to stay with my parents and she attended Venezuelan day-care. However, by the time she was 5 or 6 years old, she told me firmly – “no English, mommy. No quiero English”.  I continued to speak to her in English as did my parents, and she would answer back in Spanish, so I knew it was being assimilated. She studied in Venezuelan schools, where she was taught 2 hours of English a week in high-school.

When she turned 14, she suddenly decided she needed to speak English. So we enrolled her in the same bi-national center her father had studied in years prior. She took a placement test and was placed fairly well. Being a good student, she learned quickly and well, graduating with top grades. She went on to study in a Venezuelan university majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Education. She worked for 10 years in an English language Day-care, and with a major publishing company in their teacher training program, before marrying her long-time boyfriend and presenting us with a granddaughter.  She is now working virtually from home (as Community Manager for none other than Learn Safari!)  and is dedicated to teaching her child to be bi-lingual. She has cable TV with English-language options, laptops and tablets, and many books, which are all wonderful tools for language learning. Our son in law speaks to our grand-daughter in Spanish and exposes her to heavy metal and car-tuning shows. It seems to be working well, so far.

Rebecca and her grandfather.

Rebecca and her grandfather.

A Surprise – My Trilingual Child

Did I mention that when I turned 40, I had one last child? Our 2 older children were 18 and 14 respectively. My parents had returned to Venezuela as retirement bored them and 3 of their daughters lived here with their families. I was working for them so my children were very close to their grandparents and their aunts and cousins. Family is important in many ways, including language learning.  I began having random “female troubles”, so I went in for a medical check-up. I was recommended a hysterectomy. Imagine my surprise when I went for a pre-surgery sonogram and was told I was 10 weeks pregnant! Our last child, a daughter, was born without complications 2 weeks early. She has been a bright, happy child. I quit my job when she was born and was a stay at home mom. We spoke to her in English and Spanish pretty much as we had with her brother and sister.  I enrolled her in daycare and went back to work. This time at the bi-national center as an EFL/ESL teacher.  I could work fewer hours and be at home when the kids were home from school.

By this time my parents became very attached to my youngest child and would “kidnap” her for several days at a time. She spoke mostly English until she was 7, when she entered first grade in the Venezuelan school system.  She would spend her summers with me at the Center’s summer English program for children. So Spanish was a problem for her. She could speak and understand it, but English was her first language. You could see her visibly switching from one language to another. It wasn’t a fluid transition. What could I do about it? One solution was theater. There was a theater group at the bi-national center and she was active in it. She was always involved in the book-club at the library and a girl scout for a few years.  So, total immersion in Spanish helped her a lot.  Today she has graduated from the university in Spanish, is fully bilingual and does most of her work on line, in both languages. By the way, she also speaks Japanese. In her late teens, she found a private teacher who would accept her as a student. She has really enjoyed it. Being multi-lingual is a distinct advantage on her resume as she begins job hunting.

barbaritaAs it turns out, there are many ways to raise bilingual children. We did not have a formula, we did not follow a plan and specific rules. We trusted our instinct, we loved our children, and we made adjustments along the way to meet their individual needs. The important factor is to make sure they are exposed to the target languages and that you never give up on them, or yourself.

What language strategy do you use in your household? We’d love to hear your story in the comments!

About the Author

Carol Cox
A long time English teacher in Venezuela, Carol Cox is an amazing baker and crafter. She is the mother of 3 and the grandmother of 4. You can get to know her more by following her on Pinterest.

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Feeling Resistance When Trying To Raise Your Child To Be Bilingual? Here Are 5 Tips To Get Skeptics On Board!

Photo credit: Jack Moreh

Photo credit: Jack Moreh

I always assumed I would raise my children to speak Spanish and English. I didn’t think about it much, because it is the way I was raised. With that assumption, however, came the ignorance of the many complications and difficulties I would face. Like I always say, raising children to speak multiple languages takes work! It also takes planning and support.

I come across stories of many parents who don’t have support when it comes to raising their children in more than one language. This is especially true when only one parent speaks the target language which they want their children to learn. Sometimes the spouse is not on board, or the grandparents aren´t supportive. At times it can feel like you are playing defense against family members who just don´t agree with how you´re raising your children! I’m not going to lie, I have amazing support and my husband WANTS my daughters to speak more than one language. He’s not only appreciative, but he’s enthusiastic about it! However, being that I am the only fluent Spanish speaker, and that my husband and inlaws don’t speak Spanish fluently (if at all), I do have some insight on the hurdles that a Family can face when teaching their children a second language. Therefore, I’m going to share with you 5 tips for including non-target language speakers in your language-learning journey.

1. Share Articles, Studies & Blogs On The Benefits Of Multilingualism 

Sometimes, people don´t understand how beneficial learning a second (or even third and fourth) language is. The old-fashioned notion that children will become confused and not learn any language well is still believed by some. Even those who support bilingualism are often worried that their children´s speech will be delayed by learning more than one language. As advocates for bilingualism, it falls upon us to educate them! There are many articles and research reports that highlight the many cognitive, social, and professional benefits of bilingualism. Let your family in on this knowledge and they will become your allies in the language-learning journey you have chosen.

2. Teach Them Bits & Pieces Of The Language 

Include others in the process. Teach them some of the language or better yet, have your child(ren) teach them! Some family members may want to study the language intensely, while others will be satisfied with learning just a couple of words.

My husband, who as I said before is very enthusiastic about Spanish, knows and understands a lot (more than he lets on actually). But he often asks me how to say certain things so he can teach our girls something new. For a period of time we even had vocabulary words posted all over the house so that he could practice! It was really cute and a great topic of conversation when people would come to visit.

3. Include Them In Cultural Celebrations 

Another great way to have people become interested in a language is by teaching them about the culture. Any teacher knows that the key to getting students involved in class is teaching

them about the people, places, foods, music and customs of the places that use the target language. If you want your children to become not only bilingual, but also bicultural, it´s important to participate in these types of celebrations. Whether you are making a cultural meal, hosting a celebration, or attending one, including family members is a key way to making them more understanding and supportive of your goals and of who you are as a family.

4. Don’t Leave Them Out Of The Conversation 

This is often a point of contention. Some people think it´s rude to speak another language in front of people who do not understand and others are not willing to compromise on their language goals in order to accommodate others. Now, it is very important that your child(ren) often hear and participate in the target language, or they will never fully learn! However, it´s just as important to remember that the goal of language is to have people connect. It´s not fair to family members and friends to feel like they cannot connect with your child.

That being said, there are ways to make sure people feel like they are a part of the conversation when you are around. You can speak to children in the target language and then translate for others around or even have your child translate for them. Remember to be aware of your setting. It is one thing to have a one on one conversation with your child in the target language, even if others are around, and it´s a completely different thing to dominate the dinner table with a conversation that others do not understand. Be aware of people´s feelings and as long as you have plenty of time together in your target language, translating for others and encouraging your child to communicate with others will not hurt one bit! In fact, it will help others feel like they are a part of your journey.

5. Be Sure To Emphasize That Their Language Is Important & Valuable Too 

Often, one of the biggest determinants of whether family members will support your language choices is whether they feel like they are being left out or not. Parents and grandparents want to be important to children and if they feel like their contributions are being undervalued they will resist you. A father who feels like he can´t communicate with a child or a grandmother who feels like she is unappreciated and unwanted, will often lash out against the idea of a child being bilingual. It´s important to emphasize that their language, culture and traditions are just as important. Encourage communication and have them spend time together. Balance your child´s experiences and they will become well-rounded and be able to navigate in both of your worlds. I hope this piece was of encouragement to you. It´s important to have allies when you are raising your children to be bilingual. It´s hard work enough without having to constantly argue and defend your choices. Including family members, even if they do not speak the target language, will offer you much needed support and encouragement.

We want to hear from you! Have you come across resistance to your language goals for your children? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author
keli-blogKeli 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,  Spanish Learning game for children 4-10 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Bilingual Dough Creatures Game – Teach the Parts of the Face in Spanish to Kids with this Fun Language Activity (Free Printable Included)

Teaching the Parts of The Facein Spanish with a fun language activity (Free printable)

We are so excited to present this activity by Kids Activities Designer Rodrigo Macias * It is a wonderful and fun way to practice the parts of the face in Spanish with your kids and/or students. We promise, they will not get bored with this one! Enjoy! 

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Activity: Practice the vocabulary for the parts of the face in Spanish by rolling the “face parts dice” and then choosing from a mix of different kinds of dough eyes, noses, mouths and ears to form different kinds of funny creature’s faces.

What do you need?

  1. The Bilingual Creatures’ Face Parts printable
  2. Scissors
  3. Any kind of glue or tape

Set it up:

  1. Print and cut out the face parts and dice provided in the free printable.
  2. After bending in the gray lines on the dice, use tape or any kind of glue to stick the flaps andform a steady cube shape.
  3. Layout the base face template and place the face parts around it.

(Video) Stop-motion with face examples

How to play:

  1. Roll the English dice and select a matching face part from the pool.
  2. Do the same, but now using the Spanish dice.
  3. Keep alternating the dice until the creature’s face has all 6 parts (left/right eye, left/right ear,mouth and nose).

– To keep the game fresh during many different rounds, rotate the base face template between rounds to make different kinds of creatures (see example video above).

– Each face part can also be rotated to form different looks. This encourages the kid’s creativity as well as giving more dynamism to the activity.

Game twist:

Forget the base face template and let the kids add the face parts to any random objects (you might need tape to do this). Below is an example using a roll of toilet paper 😛 .

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PRINTABLE’S DOWNLOAD PAGE

About the guest author:

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Rodrigo Macias is the creative behind The Box of Ideas (his website) where he merges his experience working in Childcare, Design and Languages to produce free high quality printables and playful-educational activities for kids.

Rodrigo’s social outlets: PinterestTpT InstagramGoogle Plus

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.

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 razz)

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

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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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

Three Hacks to Get the Most Out of Screen Time & Technology for Children

Photo by Tum Gouw Creative Commons Zero https://unsplash.com/@punttim

Photo by Tum Gouw
 Creative Commons Zero
 https:[email protected]

Technology makes our lives easier. However, many of us live in constant fear that tech gadgets are “taking over our lives”. Even if this is true, with some helpful tips and self discipline, we can make sure that we are still in control!

Most adults can remember what it was like before we had a tiny computer in our pockets dictating our every move. But for our children? Well, they know no such world. My one-year-old picks up anything that resembles a phone and speaks into it “hellooooo”. My almost three-year-old (yikes!! I can’t believe she is almost three…) can work a tablet with no problem. This is their reality and it is the world in which we must parent. So, how can we make sure technology empowers our children and enhances their life experiences, instead of it turning them into zombies that can’t function without it?

The Answer Is Time Management & Intentionality

Limiting the time our children spend with screens in front of their faces is important. Excessive screen time not only leaves children looking and acting like those zombies we dread, but it takes away from so many other activities they need to participate in in order to fully grow and develop. Reading, active play, speaking and communicating with others are all extremely important activities that are hindered by excessive screen time.

But beyond the screen, we also need to think about their play time. What kind of toys are they playing with? Do they have a lot of bells and whistles? Do they use batteries? The less a toy does, the better it is for their development! Take a moment and think about how your child plays. Does he or she KNOW how to play? If you stick them outside will they entertain themselves?

I have to check myself often. My kids have so much access to technology, that I have to intentionally create time and activities in which they will use their imaginations. A couple of weeks ago, we were out in our front yard visiting with neighbors. The girls were looking for something to do and my first thought was “hey, let me go bring them some toys for them to play outside.” And then I stopped myself. Why not let them flex those imagination muscles? So, we set up an outdoor kitchen and I picked up a couple of leaves and told my daughter to cook some chicken with it. Next thing I know, she is running through the yard looking for all kinds of “food” to cook in her new play kitchen. It was amazing!

My Three Rules For Better Technology Usage:

  1. DO YOUR RESEARCH
    The first step is actually doing some simple research on a show, app, toy or video game. Watch it or play it for yourself first! You need to decide if there is any educational value in what they are watching and whether they are learning inappropriate behaviors from the show or whether it goes against your family values. Just because something is made “for children” does not mean the content is great for them. If you find that your child is behaving a certain way, maybe whining, screaming, kicking and punching, it may very well be something they are watching or playing with.
  2. CONSTANT INTERACTION
    The second step is to interact with your child before, during, and/or after his or her time with a tech gadget. Children learn the most from interpersonal interaction! So, something as simple as having a conversation about what they are watching or playing will really help cement what they have learned. Describe what is happening (especially for younger children), explain things that seem to be too complicated for them, and ask open-ended questions. Taking the 5 to 10 minutes to do this will really make such a difference!
  3. BRING TECHNOLOGY TO LIFE
    The third and final piece is to bring some of these experiences to life! Try to plan activities or outings that go along with a show or game that your child really enjoys. Is your child playing a literacy game? Well, create some literacy games to play at home! Does your child love a particular show or movie? Pretend to be the characters from said show or movie, play a memory game with those characters on it, draw a comic strip based on them, etc. For some great hands-on activities that you can adapt to your child’s interests, be sure to follow us on Pinterest!

Technology can be great if it is purposeful and intentional. There are many educational shows, apps (like Spanish Safari), and video games that can open up a whole new world of learning and possibilities for your kids. Children can learn literacy and math skills, see places they have never seen, practice a new language, and even learn decision making and empathy from some of these well-made products. However, this will not happen by just passively watching television or playing video games for hours on end.

As parents, we are all trying to do the best for our kids.  Let’s not fear our tech world or just be passive observers. Make it work for you and your family! Set boundaries on technology and encourage them to explore, learn, and be active!

What about you? How do you make tech gadgets work for your family? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Related Reading:
*HealthyChildren.org
*Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
*American Academy of Pediatrics 

 

All About Bugs! Awesome Activities For Young Language Learners (Printables Included!)

Version 2

 

Experience is the best teacher. The more children hear, see and do; the more they will learn. One of the best ways to teach language is to create engaging and fun experiences in which children can use all of their five senses.

When preparing activities for my young students, I love working with themes! They are a great guide for the activities and books you choose. It’s also very fun when you can change the learning environment to go along with the theme.

Since Learn Safari’s first project is focused on learning Spanish, all the activities are prepared in English and Spanish. However, these activities can be easily prepared to work with your target language.

Theme: Bugs

Let’s face it. Kids love bugs! They are interesting, readily available for observation (just step outside), and they provide so many opportunities for learning.

Books

There are a lot of wonderful books about bugs! Two of our favorites are The hungry Caterpillar (La Oruga muy Hambrienta) and the Grouchy Ladybug (La Mariquita Gruñona), both by Eric Carle.

I have these books in both English and Spanish. For language learners, it is important to read the same book several times. Children love repetition and they love knowing what is going to happen next in the story. Feel free to read the book of your choosing every day for a few days.

You can actually find these books read out loud on Youtube. Although nothing beats having children hold and page through the physical book, it is very fun if they can also see it on video! It also  provides a change of pace for them (and a break for your tired voice). This is very convenient for parents trying to use OPOL (one parent, one language) or those who are introducing children to a language that they do not yet master.

Reading non-fiction books is also very important for learning. Many children have no exposure to non-fiction books prior to kindergarten and I have consulted with Teachers who say this is a problem. I always try to include them into my lessons and I find that children really start getting into them.  La Vida de Una Mariposa, by Dona Rice is a great non-fiction reader on the life cycle of a butterfly.

Memory Game

Memory is a great vocabulary building game! You can make two copies of this printable in order to play the game. The vocabulary includes Oruga (caterpillar), Mariposa (butterflies), colors, and sizes.

Comparing Caterpillars

Use the caterpillar printable to compare and contrast the caterpillars. The vocabulary used includes larga (long), corta (short) grande (big), pequeña (small), gorda (fat), and flaca (skinny). Remember, the word for caterpillar, orguga, is femenine, which is why all of the adjectives end in ‘a’, but if you were to talk about masculine nouns, you would change the words to an ‘o’. E.g. Un pájaro gordo (a fat bird).

After you have talked about the caterpillars, find other things in your environment that you can describe using the same adjectives and compare and contrast them to the caterpillars.

Color Butterflies

Use the butterfly printable we talked about above to practice colors in Spanish. The colors are written right on the cards. Ask children to find other items in the same color or ask them to draw their own butterflies using the colors you call out.

Veo Veo

Basically, this is a game of I spy. You are supposed to say “Veo veo un…(fill in blank with a color, or noun.”  The The Pleasantest Thing is a website that actually has a great The Very Hungry Caterpillar I Spy Activity that you can use. We have a list of the vocabulary in Spanish that you can pair with it in order to turn it into a fun Spanish language activity.

Bug Scavenger Hunt

Make a list of different bugs and go outside with magnifying glasses in order to search for them. This is a great time for exploration! Nature and language are two things that kids need to discover through experience and this activity is sure to bring on a lot of opportunities for conversation.

Venn Diagrams

For those children who are a bit older and have greater grasp of language, Venn Diagrams are a great activity in which you can draw out rich language and scaffold new vocabulary. Compare and contrast two different types of bugs (For example, mariquitas (ladybugs) and hormigas (ants). You can do this activity one on one with children or you can do it with a group of children on a big dry-erase board or sheet of paper. It’s great to see how they can brainstorm collectively.

Remember, learning language is about communication and the best way to get children (and people of all ages) communicating is to provide them with reasons and opportunities.

Do you have any fun bug-related (or not) activities to help with language development? Share them with us in the comments below!

Don’t forget to follow @learnsafari on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram for great info and ideas on Spanish language learning.