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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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]