7 Tips for Finding the Best Children’s Apps

Have you ever downloaded apps just to find out that they’re not what you or your child expected?  There are so many apps out there and it’s hard to separate the good ones from the, well, let’s just say sub-par ones. As a parent and an educator, I worry that the content my kids are being exposed to is not beneficial. After all, it’s important that kids learn to use technology, but we want to make sure that they get the most out of their screen time! In this post, I’m going to share few tips on what to look for when downloading an educational app for kids.

Read the Description

This one is pretty obvious, but it does deserve a mention. Read the description of the app! The description should give you a good idea of what the app does, what age group its designed for, whether there are in app purchases, etc. This is all great info, but you also want to pay attention to the quality of the description. If the description is well thought out and nicely written, then you can have increased expectations that the app itself was well thought out. If it’s a shoddy description, then what can you really expect from the app? If the developers couldn’t bother with something so small, how many short cuts did they take on the app?

Read the Reviews

Star ratings are a good guide, but they’re not as useful as a written review. These are very helpful as you can read the experience of other parents with their children using the app, and you can decide whether the app is for you or not.   Remember, reviews will not be limited to just the app store! With a simple search, you can often find reviews and descriptions of the app on other sites and even on Youtube, especially if the app has any kind of track record. And remember, if you really liked the app after using it, please take the time to write your experience to help other parents.

Free Trial

After you’ve done the research, the only real way to know if the app is for you and your family or students is to try it out! There are some good quality free apps out there, but the reality is that they are few and far between. A great app requires some investment and if you are looking to invest into your child’s education and entertainment, you want to make sure you do so wisely. Many good apps will have a free trial and it’s a great way to test them out without losing out. Make sure that you take advantage of the free trial and spend time with your child playing and gauging their reaction to it before making a commitment.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to purchase an App

Is it Safe?

As a mom, I would say this is the most important.  We want our kids to be safe, always.  When children go online they can become vulnerable to cyberbullies, unsavory characters, and inappropriate information. We have to be alert at every age, always making sure we explain appropriate internet use and behavior and discuss what they can and cannot share online.  When it comes to young users, the best practice is to look for apps that don’t let children interact with other online players.  A well designed children’s app will provide an engaging environment without having to interact with strangers. It’s also important to make sure you play the game and talk to your child about the game often to make sure that they are being exposed to safe information. How many times have you not come across things that are meant for children, but just don’t conform to your standards of appropriateness? And unfortunately, there’s also plenty of things online that are masked as child-friendly, but simply aren’t! Thankfully, the App Store and the Google Play Store have high standards when it comes to the appropriateness of content, but this is something to be aware of across the board!  It’s important that, no matter your child’s age, you are always aware of what they’re doing online and always check on the videos and games they like to play, even if it makes you super “uncool.”

Is it Fun?

Obviously, the attraction of kids to anything depends on the level of fun!  But remember, what might be fun for you might not be fun for a 5 year-old, and vice-versa.  There have been plenty of times where I have picked something out for a child to play with just to find that they are not interested in the least! So, it’s important to gauge whether this is something that your child will pick up for 5 minutes or whether it will provide them with hours of fun (over the course of time obviously!) Although the definition of fun will be different for different children, gauging whether a game is age appropriate can be helpful. A game meant for a 2 year old will be extremely boring to a 6 or 7 year old, and a game meant for 10 year olds might be too difficult and therefore boring to a 5 year old.

What is Your Child Gaining From the App?

Remember that an app can be both fun and educational! We believe that to get the most out of technology, kids should be learning through their play. They can practice literacy skills, multiple languages, music, science, math, art…the possibilities are endless! It’s even better if the app can provide you with feedback and progress when it comes to what your child is learning.

Is it Interactive?

Nothing can replace human interaction, not even super awesome games, but awesome games are interactive. Kids are often on the receiving end of information, but we need to engage their brains as much as possible! Clicking, dragging, making choices, repeating, solving puzzles, etc. help keep a child active and engaged with an activity. To make the process even more interactive, take the time to play with your child, ask questions, etc. (For tips on how to make the most out of your child’s screen time, check out this post). Some apps will even let you create multiple profiles, keep score, and even provide feedback to parents on how the child is doing!

These are just a few things to think about before downloading an app. As an avid app downloader I can safely say these steps have saved me memory space, battery life, a few bucks and a few tears (I won’t tell if the tears were mine or my little one’s!).  As a mom and part of the Learn Safari team I can tell you that this is part of the criteria for developing Spanish Safari, our first project now available on the App Store

If you have any questions or tips of your own please write to me at [email protected] or in the comments below, I’d love to read them.

About the Author: Becky Garcia-Muir is a Southern belle from way South, a Bilingual teacher and mom, and community manager for Learn Safari a Spanish Learning game for children 6-8 years old. You can follow her and the rest of the team on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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5 Reasons to Set Up a Language Learning Corner for your Bilingual Child

In my former life, I was a preschool teacher and teacher trainer for a publishing company.  That was quite a few years ago before I married, began having children, and started my work as Community Manager for Learn Safari. As it turns out, however, you can take a girl out of teaching, but you can never take the teacher out of the girl! I never stopped loving being a teacher, and now that I’m a mom raising a bilingual child, I see myself thinking back to those days and using some of those same skills in my home.  As it turns out, my classroom was also something that I could not completely give up! I ended up creating a Language-Learning Corner for my child based on the following 5 reasons, and after hearing me out, you might be inspired to do the same!

I Wanted to Create a Space Where Bilingualism is Encouraged

Raising a bilingual child is very important to me. I was raised bilingually and I must say I will be forever thankful to my parents for sticking to it, even when it was hard and I was set on not speaking English!  (“no habla Inglés mami!”) I was able to advance in my career, had access to more information, and was able to communicate with relatives and make new friends because I was able to speak English. These are all things I want my little girl to have.

Of course, as parents raising bilingual children, we all know that it’s a lot of work! Sometimes it feels like it’s much easier said than done and there are many ways to go about it and many philosophies to guide parents. The one thing I knew, however, is that I needed a space where we would be encouraged and inspired to use our second language.

Last Summer we were visiting relatives in Florida and we made a Target run. Low and behold, I found that much talked about  dollar spot!  Two Frappuccinos later, we had a cartful of teaching aids and all kinds of cool stuff to stock a mini classroom, and that’s how I got my learning corner started.

Photo by Becky Garcia-Muir.

I Wanted to Give Her a Work Space She Could Call Her Own

A sense of independence, responsibility and ownership helps children build self-confidence, and the sooner we started, the better.  My little girl likes things that are “hers” and setting this space works for both of us, as she can color, draw, sing and read in one spot.  She can store and find everything she needs! The space is her own, which also helps to motivate her to clean up with very little help (yes, that one’s for me)

I Wanted to Ease Her Into The Habit of Studying Every Day

Living in Venezuela means that school is mandatory from a very early age and tons of homework is expected every day.  We’re talking 4 year-olds getting homework every day! So, to stay ahead of the curve, I decided that it was in our best interest to start this habit early. I figured that if we started in a fun, enjoyable way, we could make this a good habit and set her on the path of lifelong learning.  I know this all sounds way too serious, but if you’ve had to stay late with a cranky child finishing a last minute assignment, you know this makes sense.

Photo by Becky Garcia-Muir

A Space to Keep Our Daily Routine in Check

We could talk about the importance of a daily routine for hours, but most of us will probably agree that even if it’s hard, in the long run, a routine is better for both child and parent.  Small children rely on this to feel safe and in control.  Parents rely on routine for the same reasons.

Our routine is loosely as follows:  After school we talk about our day, change clothes, eat lunch and take a nap. After that we have our little “English Immersion Program” where we set the date on the calendar and sing, talk about what we’re going to do, read a book, do seat work which includes coloring, sorting and/or matching. It takes us about 45 minutes, depending on her mood and stamina. Afterwards, she enjoys her screen time and free play.

A Space to Spend Time Together and Check on Her Daily Progress

This is my favorite reason! My baby girl is smart, funny and willful; a powerful combination that drives me both to laughter and tears (both of frustration and pride).  To see how she grows and how her mind works is a privilege and I’m lucky to spend so much time with her. This corner of our house is a special place where we get to learn, grow, and bond together! And it’s even a place where she can invite other special people to participate with her in the learning and fun.

Reading with Grandma. Photo by Becky Garcia-Muir

What Should You Put in the Language Learning Corner?

The possibilities are endless! You want it to be a print-rich environment, but you also want it to be interesting and adapted to their needs and age. But here are some basic suggestions to get you started:

  • Books
  • Signs, posters, etc. in target language
  • labels in target language
  • Paper
  • Writing Utensils
  • Art Supplies: paper, crayons, markers, scissors, glue sticks, paint (if you dare!)
  • A Maker kit: loose pieces, nuts, bolts, pliers, hammer, nails
  • A world map, atlas, or globe
  • Images of the places and cultures that speak the target language
  • Puzzles
  • Games and manipulatives
  • Calendar and weather info (especially for younger kids)

This learning corner is a work in progress, but so far my Twinkle Toes is enjoying her work time. Sometimes we spend a good amount of time in our learning space, sometimes it’s just a few minutes, but the important thing is that she’s using the target language and starting to look forward to it.  But remember, do not limit the second language exposure to just a corner of your house, you can take a bilingual break anytime, anywhere!

I’d love to read your comments! Do you have a language corner?  How do you keep the target language at home? What’s your child’s favorite activity? Please share your experience with our community below.

For more ideas on how to create a Language Corner, and what it should include please read Maria’s article “A language corner for teaching a foreign language in the home” at Trilingual Mama.  I hope all of these ideas inspire you, and help you build a language corner perfect for your family.

 

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

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Integrating Spaced-Repetition in Ed-Tech

 

 

Girls playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

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

Hacking the Brain

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

The Science

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

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

Spaced Repetition in Ed-Tech

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

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

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

Child playing Spanish Safari Photo by: Keli Garcia Allen

The Future of Education

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

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

Growing Up in Spanglish

autn-carol-becky-and-chris

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.

aunt-carol-and-abuela-cleo

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.

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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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
[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]

Eliana: Learn Safari’s Most Cheerful Leader!

Arturo in the Savanna

As you probably already know, this is Arturo. He is the main character in Spanish Safari. He is the user’s guide, a great leader, and a hero.

This blog post, however, is not about him. This post is about Arturo’s biggest fan; his little sister, Eliana. At first glance, Eliana seems like the typical nosy, and slightly annoying, little sister. She wants to be everywhere Arturo is and even tries to take over his projects at times, but the reality is that she loves her big brother and wants to be just like him!

Arturo is her hero, and she learns a lot from him. Along the way, however, Arturo learns a lot from Eliana as well. Eliana is very positive and she’s a super enthusiastic ball of energy. She is a curious little girl whose appetite for learning knows no bounds and who is not easily deterred.

eli monoLike our other characters, Eliana underwent a few changes, although not as many as some of the others. Eliana started off looking like a little baby. Once our 3D modeler, Vincent, got a hold of her, however, he gave her proportions that would better indicate her age (she’s around 6 in the app). She also got a different wardrobe, but her zest for life has always clearly shone through.

Eliana’s character is near and dear to my heart. She is named and based off of my own little monkey, Eliana Lee. It has been very special watching her come to life! I hope that you guys enjoy Eliana as much as we do. She will bring an extra dose of excitement to the savanna and help encourage your children on their journey to learning Spanish!

Besos,

Keli
Lead Spanish Teacher
[email protected]

Eliana                  Eliana 2

 

 

Oscar el León: Learn Safari’s Most Fearsome Hero

The lion is known as the King of the Jungle…err, savanna. Frankly, I’ve never understood why they lions are called the king of the jungle, since they do not live under a tree canopy, but in the open grasslands of the savanna. The better term for them is the King of Beasts. Whatever we call them, lions are ferocious animals, and you just don’t mess with them. Even our Learn Safari friends are a bit scared when they first meet  Oscar el León, until they get to know him that is. (well, in reality, some of them are always scared of Oscar!)

As you might have guessed, Oscar pops in to help teach the letter O. This time, coming up with a name was very easy. No relation to the famous sonero,* although he does enjoy his tocayo’s** music.  It’s actually a family name. My grandfather, uncle, and a cousin’s son are all named Oscar. They are strong, intelligent men who inspire confidence, respect, and even a healthy dose of fear (just stay on their good side).

Like our other characters, Oscar went through a series of transformations. Oscar started off looking super cute and cuddly. Nothing like the brave and ferocious lion users will encounter in their quest.  Check him out below.

image

Once our 3D modeler, Vince, got a hold of Oscar, he made a few changes. He made his face less round, which gave him a much more grown-up look. He also changed his body to more closely resemble a real lion. He’s much more sleek and looks like he can chase down a herd of gazelles!

image

Even though Oscar is a bit more fierce, he is still a very caring friend. He goes to great lengths to protect the savanna and he is very close to his family. In fact, he is often seen hanging out with his twin sister Melissa, who is an adorable female version of himself. In spite of the fact that she is super cute, don’t be fooled. She is one tough cookie!

Learn Safari’s Oscar and Melissa

What do you guys think of Oscar? Let us know in the comments!

Besos!

Keli
[email protected]

*If you did not know, the sonero I mentioned above is Oscar D’León, a famous Venezuelan salsa singer.
**A tocayo is someone who shares the same name as another.