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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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]