Bilingual is Better

Photo courtesy: Susan O. Stephan

Editor’s note: As you know, we’ve been dealing with the subject of bilingual homeschooling all week. By now you’ve probably realized that although there are tons of info on homeschooling in general, unfortunately, the same is not true for bilingual homeschooling. The reality is that homeschooling parents who are raising bilingual children have to come up with their own bilingual curriculum by researching a lot and by getting very creative. The following post, by our regular contributor, Susan O. Stephan, is about one extremely creative and fun activity that would be a great addition to any bilingual homeschooling family!

Teachers, the media and even presidents have stressed the importance of reading to your children.  Not only does reading to your child help to instill a love of literature, but it also affects language development.  In their book, The Bilingual Edge, Kendall King and Alison Mackey point out that research has consistently demonstrated that a child’s vocabulary in their first language is directly related to the amount that they are read to.  The same holds true for a child’s second language. The more you read to your child in Spanish, or any language, the better their vocabularies will be.  I have found that by reading to my sons in Spanish, not only has the vocabulary of my 2 year old dramatically increased, but my own has as well.

Most kids love to read when they are young, but as they get older, books have to compete with video games, the computer and TV, and often books lose the competition.  In my high school Spanish classes, I wanted to find a way to make my students excited about books and reading.  I found that by having students become authors of their own books, their interest in stories and literature was ignited.  By becoming authors themselves, and reading books written by their friends, the students gained an appreciation for the written word that they did not acquire from just reading.  In order to assist my students in their task of becoming writers,  I brought in a variety of children’s books in Spanish from my local library.  Some of the stories were originally written in Spanish and some were translations.  Many of the teenagers were excited to see some of the books that they had loved as children translated into Spanish.

The enthusiasm and interest my high school students showed in reading children’s literature was exciting.  They loved that they were able to read and understand the stories without much assistance from me.  I had the kids read the books to each other and gave them handouts with questions that required them to analyze the text and illustrations.  I had them describe the pictures, summarize the plot, and give their opinion of the book.  By reading and reviewing a diverse selection of literature, the students acquired an overview of the different types of the children’s literature in publication.

Using the published children’s books as a model, the students were assigned to write their own story and create an illustrated book.  The students didn’t moan and complain about this assignments, but were eager to produce their own work, and I was amazed at some of the creative projects they produced.

Once all the books were turned in, we had a reading day.  We went outside and sat under the trees and the kids read to each other.  They were very interested in reading and hearing the stories written by their peers.  Reading and writing became a fun activity, and I was happy to see discussions on the various elements of the text such as the characters, plot, and illustrations in the book.  This activity can be adapted for your own children as well.

I even modified this activity for my own two and a half year old.  I have always loved reading to my son, and he is currently at the stage where he wants to hear the same book read over and over again.  No matter how often he asks to read his favorite train book, I am always happy to read it again knowing that this repetition is one of the ways in which children learn to read themselves. One day I found that he was holding the book up and “reading” to his baby brother the same way that I do for the two of them. He is too young to read himself, but had memorized the book. I was amazed at how well he knew the story and thrilled to see how much he loved reading. It was proof to me that reading to him has been of great benefit.

Photo courtesy: Susan O. Stephan

Knowing that my son is too young to actually write his own book, I knew that together we could create his own story. He loves to paint and draw, so using one of the paintings, I had him tell me a story based on his artwork.  As he would tell me different details of the story, I would write it out at the bottom of the page.  Through my questions, my son would elaborate and add different details, and he was able to come up with a basic story.  After I was done writing out what my son described, I read his story back to him telling him that this was his story, just like all of the books we read.

Whether you are working with young children or teenagers, a great way to make literature come alive is by encouraging and helping them to write their own story.  Incorporate reading and writing, and you will be amazed at the imaginative mind of your child.  Having fun and being creative will strengthen literacy skills and enhance the vocabulary.

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