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
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 Safari
[email protected]

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
[email protected]

4 Things You Should Do When Raising Bilingual And Multilingual Kids

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
[email protected]

3 Reasons Why I Chose to Raise My Children Bilingual

Little girl

I have two beautiful daughters and like every parent, I want the very best for them. I love them wholeheartedly and my dreams for them are big. However, with so many options available to parents at the tip of our fingers, all the “good things” that I MUST do for them are sometimes overwhelming! But the reality is that each one of us has to pick and choose our battles and know that even though we as parents won´t be perfect, our children will be just fine.

One battle I did choose is to raise my two girls to be bilingual. Below is a summary of some of my thoughts and research which went into my decision.

1. Children’s Amazing Brains (They CAN Be Bilingual!)

We know that children have wonderful, beautiful, spectacularly amazing brains! Have you ever watched your child and been astonished at all of the new things they are constantly learning? It seems like every day they point out something new and I am left wondering where they learned it.

It’s because babies are born ready to learn and one of the things they are wired to learn is language. We don’t actually have to teach our children to speak. They learn how to do so from observing and mimicking the world around them. While they are young, they have the capability to distinguish between and learn several languages using the exact same techniques.

Introducing a new language early increases the likelihood of children speaking like a native. However, it is never too late to begin learning a second language and the benefits are enormous.

2. Ongoing Brain Development

Learning more than one language can increase the size of the brain and it can also improve how the brain functions. In fact, research shows that people who speak multiple languages are better at standardized tests, planning and decision making, switching between tasks, understanding others and listening. They have better memories, impulse control, they are more creative and are better able to focus.

There was a time when people worried that teaching children more than one language would cause language delays and confusion. The science, however, has shown that this could not be farther from the truth. Learning a second (or third) language can actually give your brain a really good workout! In fact, studies even show that speaking multiple languages can stave off Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in later life. The benefits of “working out your brain” with a second language are effective whether you started young or you are learning it as an adult.

3. Cultural Awareness

As I mentioned above, there was a time when teaching children a second language was thought to confuse them. Parents were discouraged from doing so and unfortunately many cultural ties were broken as a result of this misconception.

I was born in Venezuela and moved to the United States when I was eleven. I was raised in a bilingual environment, with my father speaking to me and my siblings in Spanish, and my mother in English. I want to ensure my daughters have a connection to their roots and I am re-creating the environment in which I grew up. I want them to learn Spanish, not just because of the cognitive benefits and the opportunities that it will open for them, but also so they can experience the rich cultural histories shared by Spanish speakers all over the world.

Learning about the world and developing empathy for other cultures is one of the biggest benefits of learning a second language. It’s the gateway to communicate with others and enables us to gain a deeper understanding of the world we share together. However, even if you do not speak a second language; I strongly encourage families to learn a new language together. Adults and children will definitely benefit from the experience.

Helping children to learn another language is not an easy task. It takes commitment, effort, and resources. That is why I am part of the Learn Safari Team. We are dedicated to helping children learn Spanish in a fun and interactive way. You can check out our unique application at www.learnsafari.com.

If you want to read up on some of the research on children and bilingualism, check the following links out: http://www.cal.org/earlylang/benefits/research_notes.html http://www.bbc.com/news/health-24446292 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008082953.htm http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/)memory http://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-learning-second-language/

Besos,
Keli
Lead Spanish
Teacher [email protected]