Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Encouraging Bilinguals and Second Language Learners at Home

Second language acquisition has always been one of my favourite subjects. I first studied English and Finnish philology, so this was one of the most important topics to study as future language teachers. By chance, I ended up working as a kindergarten teacher in an English kindergarten, and then I realized that this was the perfect job for me.

It's wonderful to be able to teach my daughter my mother tongue and a foreign language. She has always been interested in learning languages and she is eager to make herself understood. She started using 4 word sentences when she was 15 months old, and every day she learns new words, some that I’m sure I didn’t know until much later (like adverbs of frequency and some weird adjectives).

But, as I keep telling parents, all children go through sensitive periods (I still need to write a blog post about that) and phases when they are captivated by certain games, or prefer working on specific skills (gross motor, logical thinking, mathematical skills, fine motor, social skills, etc.). So don't be alarmed if your child doesn't say that many words - try to encourage her to communicate and let her develop at her own pace.

Also, following your child is very important when it comes to language acquisition. If your child isn’t interested in reading or singing, try to find what captivates her the most and work with that. For example, if your child is interested in puzzles, get some on different topics, to help develop her vocabulary.

Here are some of the things we’ve done at home to encourage our little one to develop her vocabulary in both languages:

- We sing songs daily, in both languages (mother tongue and second language). I’ve chosen some traditional rhymes that exist in both languages. If the translations are not very similar, I’ve translated them myself, so they have almost the same lyrics. Think of such songs as The Wheels of the Bus, Old MacDonald, The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Five Little Monkeys, that have already been translated in many other languages.

- Nowadays, we sing songs together. I stop when I get to the part of the song that she knows and let her sing. If she’s not in the mood to sing along, I just continue myself (or ask if she wants to stop singing altogether).

- Routines are great for learning basic vocabulary, because they involve repetition. We often describe what we are doing at the moment, or what we are going to do next. During diaper changes, while cleaning up, during mealtimes, while brushing teeth, etc. Once our daughter could understand the sentences in Romanian, we started introducing a few Finnish words at a time. For example, we used to say “I’m going to change your diaper. Diaper, vaippa.”. Later, that turned into “Vaihdan vaippasi” (change your diaper), then longer sentences. Mealtimes provide wonderful opportunities to learn new vocabulary: explain what you are eating, how you cooked it, etc.

- While on walks, we describe what we see, even if for us this seems trivial and unimportant. Children learn by observing the world around them: “Oh, look, there’s a bird on a branch. The bird is chirping.”, “The boy is riding his bike. He seems happy about it.” The same rule applies here: we started introducing words in Finnish, then sentences.

- Since she was a few days old, we described what we thought she was interested in, and later what we thought she was saying: “Oh, you are looking at the painting. You seem to like this bowl in the painting.”

Once she started understanding and using the words in our mother tongue, we started introducing words in her second language. Nowadays, she uses both words, if she remembers both. Sometimes she prefers Romanian words, and other times Finnish ones.

- We introduced baby sign language when she was 6 months old, but she used signs herself after she could say those words.

As an English teacher in a group with international kids, I use gestures alongside words, to make myself understood. When I see that the children have understood a word, I drop the sign for it, too.

- We read books in both languages. Vocabulary books with realistic pictures are wonderful for this purpose.

- We always avoid teaching her new words or speaking the second language altogether when she is stressed, tired, or not in the mood.

Do you have a child who speaks more than one language? How did you encourage him/her?

For more tips, read my previous post, Encouraging Language Development in Babies and Toddlers.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

How to Make a Song Bag for Kids (Perfect for Trips)

This has been a useful resource also with the kids in my kindergarten group, whenever they needed a break, or were fussing around not wanting to wait for lunch to be done. Now I made one for my daughter, because she loves singing.

Here are the easy steps:
1. Start by making a list of all the songs your child/ren enjoy. Try to add lots of songs with gestures and movement, because kids need to move. :)

If you are looking for songs in English, I highly recommend supersimplesongs from supersimplelearning. They are absolutely wonderful! We don't sing as much in English as in Romanian and Finnish, but these songs have easy lyrics that can be translated.

For Romanian songs, you can try tralala, and cutiutamuzicala.

For Finnish sings, frolbelinpalikat are great.

You don't need to watch the videos, but they're useful for us, parents, to learn the songs before singing them to our kids.

I try to avoid songs with difficult words (rarely used, regionalisms, archaisms) and go for those with lyrics that I see fit for my daughter. Also, the songs with movements are the most fun.

2. I make the cards using Office PPT, but other programs will do just fine too.

3. Make a table with as many columns and rows as you need. I chose a 4x2 table on an A4 page (portrait orientation), and I think the flashcards are just the right size.

4. Add frames, if you want.

5. Take screenshots of the videos of the songs on your list, or choose a picture that is representative of the subject of the song (a spider for The Itsy Bitsy Spider, a star for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star). Add a picture in each rectangle of the table.

6. Write the name of the song under each picture. (this is useful also for you, because once there are lots of songs about ducks, it's difficult to know which one is which)

7. Print the flashcards, then laminate them (this is optional. You can use contact paper or plastic pouches instead.) Try to cut the corners rounded, to avoid scratches.

8. Place all the flashcards in a textile bag. That's it.

The kids can take turns in choosing songs with their eyes shut. It’s a great activity for when you have some time on your hands, or just want to review vocabulary.

You can use the song box for other activities. Our favourite one is "Guess the Song!" - a kid chooses a flashcards and hums the song, and the other kids try to guess the song.

Another game that you can play is "Continue Singing" - a child chooses a flashcard, starts singing the song, then the next kid has to continue from where the previous one stopped.

Let me know if you have other ideas for the Song Bag. I'd be happy to read your comments! :)

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy reading:
Transitions and Attention Grabbers for Kindergarten and First Grade

A Super-Duper List of Songs :)

Music Makes the World Go Round

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Teaching Your Child to Clean Up

Cleaning up can be a struggle for some families. I remember that a lot of parents have asked me how to deal with this issue: their children refuse to clean up just before bedtime, so they end up putting the toys away themselves, just to get the kids to sleep.

Depending on their age and their interests, some children might help a bit more than others. But these are a few steps and aspects to consider when trying to get children more and more involved in the cleanup:

It all starts with modelling. Even with a baby, form a habit of putting toys away as soon as she is done with them. That's how babies learn that everything has a place and needs to be out back. Also, having lots of toys around can overstimulate your baby.

A Place for Everything, and Everything in its Place
Children thrive in an orderly environment and having a designated place for their toys and things can help contribute to their peace of mind AND get them more involved in cleaning.

Always think in advance and allocate enough time for cleanup. If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, let your child know beforehand.

Invite your child to contribute in the cleanup process in a fun way:
If your child enjoys sorting by colour, sing a song about colours and pick up those colours
Make it into a guessing game: "I spy with my little eye something that is red and can hold water or sand" (a bucket). "Yes, you guessed. The bucket belongs here.".
Put music and clean up together

Have fewer toys and rotate, to avoid clutter
This is a really important thing that you can do - having fewer toys at a time makes cleaning much faster and easier. Read more about the benefits of toy rotation here: Why and How You Should Rotate Toys 

Avoid shaming your child for not cleaning up, because it won't help.

What works for you and your family?

Monday, 25 May 2020

Scarf Play

Scarves are wonderful open ended toys: you can even use them with babies, to play peek-a-boo, hide objects, hang them on the pikler triangle for them to pull, let them feel the soft silk on their face, legs, arms while you name the body parts, etc.

As they grow, they'll come up with more ideas on how to use scarves. E. loves dancing and spinning with them, hiding her face in a scarf and singing about its colour (together), having picnics with her toy 🐒 on a scarf, tying bells at one end of a scarf and dragging them through the house.

Scarves also offer lots of opportunities for kids to role-play: scarves can be capes, wings, dresses, hats, and they can be used to cover forts.

I also have an older blog post about games that you can play with a group of kids (there's a free printable): Movement Activities with Scarves.

What are your favourite things to do with scarves?

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Encouraging Language Development in Babies and Toddlers

Today I was thinking of writing a post about ways in which we can encourage language development in babies and toddlers. This is one of my favourite subjects when it comes to children.

First of all, we can show affection in so many ways, and creating a bond will definitely help motivate our children to communicate with us: giving hugs and kisses, making eye contact, paying attention to our babies, playing with them, or simply being there when they need us.

When babies are blabbering, they are trying to communicate with us, so we should answer back, describe what we think the baby might be saying, and accept this invitation for a conversation. When you look at your baby and she says "boobah" you could think of what your baby might say and put it into words: "Oh. I see. You are looking at my socks. You like my orange socks, don't you?" (and then pause, so your baby gets a second to "reply").

"Children want to learn our language. Avoid baby talk and speak in full sentences so that you are modeling the language you want your child to adopt right from the beginning."

(Janet Lansbury - No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame). Imagine how you'd feel trying to speak a foreign language and instead of getting a reply to what you've just said, hearing something like "bla bla boo ba". You'd probably feel annoyed and would decide to keep your thoughts to yourself next time.

"We can maximize comprehension by making our sentences shorter, slowing down our speech, and pausing after each sentence to give our infant or toddler the time he needs to absorb our words." (Janet Lansbury - No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame)

It's also useful for a baby to hear you describe what you are doing to him, especially when it comes to daily routines. That will help the baby understand why you are doing certain things and also to expect what is going to happen next. Diaper changes are great opportunities to bond with your baby and have meaningful conversations. You could say: "I am taking your socks off. I am pulling your pants. I am opening the diaper. It is wet. Oh, you're smiling. Are you happy that I am changing your diaper? ...". Try to be genuine.

Another way to encourage your baby to talk is by giving them choices: between two pairs of pants, between reading a book together or by themselves, going outside or staying in (if both options are ok for you). That way, they'll feel like their opinions matter and they might not "rebel" against your other decisions.

Even when your child can say some difficult or new words, don't make him perform in front of friends or other family members (I admit I sometimes struggle with this - it's just because we are proud of what our children can do!). Asking them repeatedly "Can you say this to grandma/uncle ...?" might make them feel shy and might keep it them away from more important things.

When teaching a language, it's important not to constantly correct your child. That can make anyone reticent about using that language. Instead, use the correct word in another sentence when you find the appropriate context. For example, your child asks for the "banoon" (which you know means "balloon", you can just bring him the balloon and say "here is the balloon."

Singing is a wonderful way to build vocabulary. When singing songs and nursery rhymes, use gestures to show what the words mean. That will help your child learn by using more senses (hearing and sight). You can also "draw" the words on your child's back or tummy with your fingers - this is one of our favourite activities before bedtime.

Babies enjoy it when they are sung to. I love inventing songs about our daily routines and I sing them while I am doing those actions. For example "now we're washing our hands, our hands, our hands/ Now we're washing our hands with water and soap". Just find a tune that you'll remember and use word repetition. It's important though not to overstimulate your baby - you know your child better, so find moments when your baby seems interested in that and is not focusing on something else.

Reading books is another wonderful way to bond with your children and help develop their vocabulary. When reading books, talk about the pictures, ask yourselves what the characters are going to do next, if they like certain veggies, if you like the things they are doing etc.

Language baskets are easy to set up and they give your child opportunities to learn new vocabulary and explore objects. These can be with realistic toys, real objects, flashcards with pictures, or a combination. They are great for babies and toddlers to explore and match.

Sportscasting also helps develops vocabulary and helps toddlers deal with conflicts on their own. You can read more about sportscasting in one of my previous posts.

Try to be patient, don't compare your child to others. This sounds easy, but I know it's not.

I'm sure I've missed something. What has worked for you and your toddler/baby?

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Music and Sound

Ever since E. was in my tummy, I used to sing to her. I really enjoy singing and it seems that I've passed this on to her (I'm not a good singer, but kids don't really mind).

She learnt some of her first words from silly songs I invented for her (about washing and swinging). And not a day passes by without us singing or exploring sounds, and talking about them.

We started our day with some songs. E. turned on the music from her book, took some musical instruments and invited me to join her. We danced with scarves while playing instruments and singing.

Then, we went outside and listened to birds and the wind. There's something so relaxing about it...just being quiet and listening to nature.

Here are some other ways in which we incorporate music in our daily rhythm:
🎶 We read sing-a-long books
🎶 We have songs for routines and transitions (washing hands, brushing teeth, getting dressed)
🎶 Sometimes I ask her to do something on a well-known tune (something like "please, bring me the blue boots, the blue boots, the blue boots, please bring me the blue boots, so we can go outside" - on the tune of "This is the Way We Wash Our Hands")
🎶 I join in on the fun whenever she invites me to dance or sing
🎶 I rotate musical instruments, just as I do with toys
🎶 I will create a song bag with flashcards - I used to have one for the kids at work, and I think that E. would enjoy it too. I'll write a post once it's ready
🎶 I involve her in making her own musical instruments (from containers and beans, chickpeas, lentils, salt, corn, etc.)
🎶 She has drumming sessions with wooden spoons on pots
🎶 We explores sounds in nature and on our walks (cars, excavators, birds, waves, twigs breaking, banging rocks together)

Do you have any other good ideas? I'd love to read them! 🙂