Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Enriching Vocabulary through Games and Songs

I wrote these ideas for some of the parents, who asked how to work on building vocabulary in a fun way. I thought I’d share them with you and maybe you’ll find them useful, too.

· Sing songs from Super Simple Songs, translated in your mother tongue/the language you want your child to learn (they have extremely easy words, and sometimes you don’t even need rhymes. I suggest: “I See Something Blue”, “Open Shut Them”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream”, “Walking, Walking”, “Can You Make a Happy Face?”, “Put on Your Clothes”, etc.)

· Try to make up songs for basic routines, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, and sing them together while your child does those things: “We’re brushing our teeth, our teeth, our teeth, we’re brushing our teeth, with water and toothpaste.”

· Memory game with flashcards/pictures – if you have any memory game with pictures, you can use those. Or choose some small realistic toys. Choose a few words at a time and focus on those. Before each game, make sure that you say the words and that your child understands them. In the beginning, take 3 words from the same category (farm animals: horse, cow, sheep, furniture: chair, table, bed, etc.). After you show each picture and say the word (let your child repeat if he feels comfortable), then tell her to shut her eyes while you take one of the pictures away. She then has to guess what is missing. Take turns, once she hides the flashcards, then you do. This will encourage her to say which word is missing, or to agree/disagree. If it goes well, add more words.

· Jump on… game – use the same flashcards as before (if you want to reinforce the same vocabulary, use the same pictures in all of these games) and place them randomly on the floor, 20-30 cm apart. Then say a word, clap your hands, and your child has to jump on that flashcard, then say another word, and so on. You can make it faster, or slower, depending on how she’s doing. Take turns.

· Word Twister – if you remember the game Twister, it has a large board with coloured circles and you need to place one hand on a colour, the other on another one, etc. This is an adapted version: instead of colours, place flashcards on the floor in a random order. It’s more fun if the entire family plays.  First, one gives the instructions: “Dad, put your hand on horse. Then place your foot on cow…”, then your child can give the instructions. If all family members play at the same time, you will get tangled on pictures. This you should play with at least 4 pictures/person.

· Where is it game – Place three cups on the table, face down. Choose one picture (at first), then put it under one of the cups, then shuffle them and let your child guess where the picture is. When she finds it, she has to say the name of the object on it. Take turns.

What are your favourite vocabulary games to play?

Sunday, 16 August 2020

How to Ease the Transition from Home to Kindergarten

I'm writing this update from the point of view of a parent. When I first wrote this article, I was just a teacher. I am mostly putting these things down, because I need to visualize them and work on them...still. Hearing my kid crying and saying "nu frică, mama-i aici" (not scared, mummy's here), just breaks my heart. And I never thought it would be so tough on me, because I know how easy they calm down once they can't see their parents.

But here are some things we've been doing to help with this important transition:
- we talked to the teacher and made sure that we are on the same page about the adaptation period. We started with short days (the first day she stayed between 9 and 11, she had playtime with the kids, then she was picked up before lunch. The next days, she stayed for lunch, then on the fourth day she took the nap there.)
- we visited the kindergarten premises. No kids were there, but she familiarized herself with the place and the toys. This is not possible for everyone, I know - we were lucky to be able to do that, because I work there and had to prepare the classroom before the summer holiday ended).
- we met the kids in her group at the park, before the summer holiday started
- we role-played with soft toys and we read books about daily routines (swipe for her favourite)
- we always talk about the routine and how her day went before she goes to bed
- we have a pretty good routine, but I know that we were lucky in this respect too. My partner works from home and he has a flexible schedule, so we can take turns in picking her up. No matter what my shifts are, we try to take her there around the same time (so she gets to start the day the same way, and leave during the same daily routine - she knows that after she has had snack, she is picked up).
- when dropping her off, we inform her when and who will pick her up
- we try to keep a daily routine at home, too - after she has snack at daycare, we go play in a park or take a walk, then go home to eat, play, take a bath, while reading books, sleep

Other, more general things that might help you and your child with this important transition:
- having realistic expectations about the first day of kindergarten: they probably won't eat/sleep well, and won't really be engaged in activities, as they'll have something else on their mind. It's important that they take their time and that they're not rushed to adapt. They will eventually get there!
- talking well in advance about this experience: be truthful about it. Rather than saying "everything will be great, you're going to have a blast", explain what will actually happen: " it might be tough at first without us there. There will be X there (kindergarten teacher) to help you through. First, you will do..." - Talk about the routine at daycare and go through it step-by-step. Don't try to say how great it will be - think about how you'd feel if you were upset about a big change and your partner, instead of empathising with you, would say "you should look at the bright side"
- doing some role-play: the doll is going to kindergarten, your child is the parent
- having confidence in our decision: we should be happy with the kindergarten we chose, the environment, and the teacher, and our child will feel that too
- having confidence and trusting that our child is ready for this transition - Sometimes life happens and we don't have another choice but to put our child in daycare, but try to make peace with the idea
- validating their emotions - kids can be very sensitive about such transitions, and it's perfectly understandable - they are starting a new life, surrounded by new adults, lots of kids, and no parents for half a day. They are entitled to have these feelings, and we should let them express them (redirecting calmly, but firmly, if they are hurting themselves or others)

I will be writing a post about our daily routine in the upcoming weeks. If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment.

I hope you'll have a smooth transition!

I hope you'll have a smooth transition! 

Enjoy your Sunday,


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?