Bilingual is Better
Jul
08
2010

Learning Language Through Play

Posted by:  |  Category: Bicultural Vida, Daily Blog

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Photo credit: Wonderlane

I never thought it would happen to me, but it did.  The societal pressure to put my children on the achievement treadmill started to influence some of my parenting decisions.  All parents want to give their children experiences to help them grow into successful adults, but sometimes we go overboard.  Children today often have schedules crammed full of sports’ practices, dances classes, education enrichment programs, art classes and even programs teaching them reading and math.  Like any good parent, I wanted to make sure that my sons were being given every opportunity to reach their full potential, and sometimes we are lead to believe that filling our children’s lives with classes and activities is the way to do this.

My concern with helping my sons achieve started when I began researching preschools in the area where we live.  I became obsessed with selecting the correct pre-school for my son.  Unsuccessful at finding a pre-school that was bilingual or completely in Spanish, I was left to choose from the many different early education opportunities in my community.  There were so many different types to choose from–academic preschools, religious preschools, Montessori schools or preschools that just allowed the children play.  I toured many different preschools and agonized over the decision where to enroll him.  I felt that my decision on his pre-school would significantly affect his life.

One day, while talking to my sister about my choices and worries, she suggested that I read the book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff.  What a wonderful book!  I haven’t even finished reading it, but the pressure is off.  This book explains how important play is and that children really learn a lot more than we imagine through play.  We really don’t need to fill our children’s days with lots of classes and schedule lots of activities to help them achieve because they are learning on their own just by having fun playing.

Reading this book helped me to realize that there are ways that I can help my sons learn Spanish by just having fun with them.  Our everyday pursuits and the games that we play are helping them acquire language and other important skills.  What a relief to know that just by being with my children and enjoying our time together, a lot of Spanish learning is taking place.  Having never really thought about it before, I started analyzing some of our activities, and it became apparent that learning was taking place.

We love music and singing in Spanish.  Even before my first son was born I was buying music CDs in Spanish and learning the songs that I would sing to him.  Singing to my children is one of my great pleasures, and it is even more special now that my older son can sing along.  We sing in the car, and when I am running with them in the double jogging stroller.  We sing while making breakfast, lunch, and dinner and when we are cleaning up toys.  At any point in the day, we enjoy singing.  All the fun and joy that we get from singing actually has cognitive and linguistic benefits.  Children’s music can actually build vocabulary, listening skills, and increase language acquisition.  Brain research is even finding that when children sing and move to the music in songs such as the hokey-pokey or the wheels on the bus, their developing brains are entirely engaged and stimulated.  So just singing and dancing with your children and having a good time with them is developing their Spanish.

It is well known that reading to our children is important in helping them develop literacy skills, but it is also an enjoyable activity to do with our children.  I especially love to snuggle up with my sons and read several books before they go to bed.  I enjoy asking my son questions about the book, and we can have some pretty interesting discussions about the pictures or the stories.  My baby loves to be close to mommy, see the pictures and hear my voice.  Reading to children furthers their language and literacy skills, but when I am reading to my boys, it is just a special time together to share stories. Through reading together, my sons are acquiring new vocabulary, learning to analyze text and hopefully acquiring the same love of reading that I have.

Just simple play also provides a lot of cognitive benefits and opportunities to help your child develop their Spanish skills.  I love utilizing puppets to play with my children.  My baby is especially delighted when I use our elephant puppet to talk to him.  He smiles and laughs and reaches out to grab the puppet from me.  One of the benefits of play is that it provides us with lots of opportunities to talk.  Normal, everyday conversation with our children is the primary method of developing vocabulary.  For example, as we play with the trains, I ask my son where the train is going and what it is carrying.  The older he gets, the more details he is able to provide.  I try to expand on what he is saying and keep the conversation going.  Having my son talk about his ideas is a method for improving his vocabulary, but I was having these conversations with him because I find it so interesting to find out what my son is thinking.  The baby is actually learning through the play as well.  As he holds his own train, he is watching and listening as his older brother and I talk about what we are doing.  We talk to him and include him in the game of make believe.  He is interested in our interaction and plays along in his own baby way.

To best help your child in their language development, just have fun.  Play, sing and read together.  Meaningful, everyday interaction is where language learning takes place.  Talk to your child and encourage him or her to talk to you.  Describe what you are doing and seeing together.  Teaching our children Spanish can be as simple as talking and playing.  We get to enjoy our children, have fun, and the learning just comes naturally.

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