Homeschooling

Story Cubes for Building Vocabulary

story-cubes-second-languageHave you looked in your games closet lately? I bet that there are a ton of games in there that you can use for building vocabulary and fluency in your target language!

The other day, I rummaged around in my own closet and found a great game that I had forgotten about — Story Cubes!  This game’s premise runs on a very simple concept. Players of Story Cubes use 9 cubes with images on them to tell a continuous story. It starts with one player throwing the cubes on the table. Each player takes turns picking one of the cubes and telling part of a story inspired by the image shown on the cube. The next player picks a cube and adds to the first person’s story using the image as inspiration. And so on, until all of the cubes are gone and the story is over.

thumb_img_3507_1024The story possibilities are unlimited since the combination of the 54 images will always be different. My kids love story telling and Story Cubes is a wonderful little game to spark their little imaginations. Besides — if we did not have Story Cubes as our foundation, my daughters would probably start off every story with a mermaid 🙂 !

A Bonus: This box is travel-sized at about 6 x 3 inches so perfect for taking to a restaurant or on an airplane.

Helpful Hints: 

  1. Set up ground rules: No one is allowed to criticize the other person’s story.
  2. Timing: Limit each person to a certain amount of time that they can tell his/her part of the story. We usually limit it to one minute — otherwise, the story can lose momentum if one person takes up too much of the plot.

Have fun!

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Filed Under: Chinese, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Music to Cheat a Little

Frozen DVD and CDSo the theory goes that children need 30% of their “waking hours” to be in a second language in order to achieve fluency. Check out Adam Beck’s cool pie chart and descriptions about how his family sneaks in about 30% of a second language.

Yet for many folks, that percentage can be tough to achieve. How do you get in your second language when you also have homework, soccer, piano, playdates chores and everything else to do in a day? I know that we struggle with the 30% rule often!  Do you just give up on a second language  if you can only get 15%? What about 5%?

No.Good Morning Mandarin

I love this quote from Multilingual Living around this topic, “Sometimes less exposure can have more of an impact than we know!  Just allow yourself to adjust your expectations to match your family’s language journey and see where you can add more language exposure along the way.  The gift of language is priceless, no matter how much language exposure your child receives!”

That said, I have a little secret that I do every night that I think has a tremendous impact. Music.

Given that a third of our kids’ lives are spent sleeping, why not make use of the time! Studies have shown that some language acquisition can take place during the Zzzzzzs!

Every night after story-time and cuddling, I put on a playlist of Mandarin music for the kiddos. They love it! Lucas my son gets a different set of music than the younger girls. Lucas tends to like more Chinese pop and the girls love anything Disney. The music lasts for about an hour and half and they fall asleep to it. The music does not keep them awake but instead, I hope, they have sweet dreams of Elsa as they sleep!

Typically, I will cheat some more and play it again before I head up to bed just to get in another hour or so of language time. Try it! Can’t hurt right?


Filed Under: Chinese, Homeschooling, Music to Learn a Second Language, School for Immersion, Spanish, Uncategorized

Repurpose Disposable Tablecloths for Learning

Mandarin Character IdeasAfter reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,  I was inspired to clean out those forgotten closets.   While rummaging though one abandoned closet, I discovered a pack of disposable tablecloths that I must have purchased for some school party. No parties were scheduled for the next few weeks and so instead of donating or throwing away the tablecloths, I found a great way to repurpose them!

Chinese character practice!

You can still use this idea for really anything — spelling practice, math problems, Spanish words, French Pictionary or simply to have fun with paint!

What a cheap and easy way to create a large canvas for your child to play! Simply put something heavy on the corners and voila — you have a huge canvas! My children enjoy Chinese language learning because I am always mixing up HOW they learn the language. Lousha, my daughter,  just loved the large canvas and happily painted awayMandarin Characters Learning practicing her Chinese characters

Some ideas to make this activity more fun:

1. Tracing: I painted the characters using the correct stroke order and then Lousha painted on top of my characters using a different color paint

2. Painting: Allow your child to simply paint the characters, but watch to make sure that the stroke order is correct

3. Add Pictures: Have you child draw pictures of the character that he/she is writing. Lousha loved painting a cat next to the character of “cat” that she wrote.

4. Teaching: Lousha loved teaching her younger sister, Hudson, how to correctly write out the Chinese characters. When a student teaches another, the retention is far greater than simply listening.

If you are interested in reading about my journey of “tidying” up my house using The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, check out my blog posts on our family site, Gannon Gang.

Filed Under: Chinese, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Advent House Number Game

Why not make use of your Advent House for something other than waiting for Santa to come? We use this magical little house to explore numbers in a second language in a fun and challenging way!

Not sure where to get an Advent House? Amazon has a ton of great ones!  Check them out here:

Four Game Variations: Print out these number PDF pages below (numbers from 1 – 25) and cut them out. Scatter them in front of your Advent house and set a timer on your Educational game with advent housephone.

  1. Solo Race-  How quickly can your child put the number in the correct door? Try this game several times to see if you can beat your previous score.
  2. Sibling Competition- If your children like to compete against each other, set a timer and race to see who can be the fastest to put the numbers in the correct doors.
  3. Work Together –  Your family can work as a team to put the numbers in the correct doors. How fast are you guys?
  4. Other ideas? Please comment below!

Print Outs of Numbers 1-25: 

Mandarin Numbers

Spanish Numbers

French Numbers

English Numbers

Print Out of Numbers 1-31 (if you are crazy like us and have a Halloween Countdown) 

Mandarin Numbers

Spanish Numbers

French Numbers

English Numbers



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Filed Under: Chinese, English Literacy, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Spanish, Uncategorized

Your Library’s Free Language Resources

Use Your Library for Free Language Resources

Right now, we use Rosetta Stone as our French curriculum (we once had Rosetta Stone for Greek, but that, along with my computer, got destroyed in a Rosetta Stone, both from a user’s perspective and as a parent. Its immersion-style of learning mimics the way we naturally learn languages, so you quickly gain a certain level of fluency. And for the kids, it’s nice to have a program that they can do entirely on their own. However, it is not cheap (although you can often find it up to 40% off, so make sure you price check before you rosetta-stonebuy), and if you want practice to grammar or writing, Rosetta Stone isn’t really structured to provide that kind of instruction.

For our other foreign languages (Spanish and Greek), we don’t have any “official” program. My intention was to wait and slowly add more languages to my Rosetta Stone collection, but I keep finding a lot of other uses for that money. I’m also just not convinced, given how many free resources are out there, that I have to pay for anything (at least not at this early level of instruction).

All you need is a library card and a dream!

I don’t go the the library as often as I should, given how much I love the library (and how often I am buying books that I should just go check out of the library). But I have a very bad habit of racking up late fees, and until recently, my 3 year old thought of the library as his own personal playground, with books instead of balls to throw. We didn’t make a lot of friends among the staff or other patrons.

We are, more or less, past all of that now, so I have begun to re-discover the library.  Although I knew you could get more than books at the library, I had never investigated all of the free e-resources available through most public libraries. At libraries across the country, with nothing more than the account number on your library card,  you can access, at home or anywhere else, a treasure trove of educational tools, from audiobooks, ebooks for kids and adults, test prep, magazines, (even Us Weekly, yay!), and online membership to language learning programs.


Muzzy and Mango

Through my library, there are two different language programs available: Mango Languages and Muzzy (both of which you would normally need to pay for.) By logging on to my library’s website using my library card and a pin # they gave me, I can use these two programs on my home computer (or any computer), as though I was a paying customer.

Mango is not designed specifically for kids, but as long as they can read at a mid-Elementary level (a strong first grade reader, or average 2nd grader), they will be fine. The program is offered in 63 languages, although some languages have a lot more lessons than others. Unlike many programs, Mango doesn’t focus on teaching you the foundations of the language, but rather getting you to a point where you could function if you were dropped off in the middle of the country on your own.

Each lesson starts with a list of conversation and grammar goals, which l like; there are also cultural notes interspersed throughout the lesson. As a starting point for language learning, I like Mango (especially if you get it for free). I could definitely see us using it as a replacement for Rosetta Stone, at least for the first level or so. On the negative side, it’s not very interactive, which could cause some kids to lose interest, but luckily the lessons are short and sweet.

Muzzy, produced by the BBC, is one of the oldest, and best-known language learning programs for children. I was very excited to find this program offered through my library, because I have wanted to try it out for years, but didn’t want to buy it. It offers 8 languages, including Spanish, French and Mandarin (but not Greek, sadly!). It uses cute animation, videos and games, implementing a “see and say, listen and learn” method which mimics native language learning. And they have recently redone their animation and music, so it doesn’t look as horribly dated anymore, although its still far from glamorous (you can see a clip of their updated look here). Given that we can access it for free, I am happy to have my kids use it to complement their work on Mango.

So that’s what I’ve found at my library. How about you? I’m curious if other libraries offer different, or more, selections. In a future post, I’ll share some other great, free, language learning resources from the interest and YouTube that we’ve enjoyed. Stay tuned!

Thank you for reading!



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Lisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

Independently Schooled

lisa

Filed Under: Chinese, Cool Websites, Cultural Experiences, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Lisa Sarafidis - Guest Blogger, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

Using Soccer to Teach Spanish

lisa SarafidisLisa Sarafidis  – Guest Blogger

This may come as a shock, but my 7-year-old son’s attitude to learning a foreign language has been a bit less than absolutely enthusiastic. On a good day, we could, perhaps, describe his mindset as indifferent. I see now that he thought the bulk of the work was him choosing which language he wanted to learn, and now would I please let him get back to watching that super interesting youtube video featuring a 35-year-old man playing Minecraft in his mother’s basement.

I’m going to have to be sneaky, because few things are sustainable in a house with young kids if it causes lots of drama. Kids are drama enough. So, while my son isn’t exactly passionate about Spanish (the language he picked), he is passionate about soccer. And there are LOTS of ways to link Spanish and soccer.

El Mundial (aka The World Cup)

Soccer to Teach Spanish
Photo credit: Steven Depolo

For those of you who don’t already know, World Cup soccer is upon us! Coming to us from host country Brazil, the World Cup will be broadcasted in the US in English on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and in Spanish on Univision (side note: Univision has the most extensive coverage of the World Cup, broadcasting 56 of all 64 games, compared to ESPN’s 43 matches). The first game is Thursday, June 12 at 4:00pm EST between Brazil and Croatia; the final is July 13th. That’s a whole month of soccer, for better or for worse.

My plan: have my family watch the games on Univision, where all of the commentary will be in Spanish. You would be surprised how little the kids care that they don’t understand the language…my husband, son and even neighborhood kids have gathered in our house to watch past soccer championships on Univision…many tournaments are only broadcast on Spanish-language channels in this country. And everyone loves hearing the commentators yell “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!”.

Get Ready with Some Simple Vocabulary Prep

The main goal of my “Spanish through soccer” plan is to just get my son familiar with the sound of the language, and maybe pique his interest when he hears the passion of the fans, players and commentators in Spanish. Plus, he’ll get to watch TV commercials in Spanish, which is actually a great way to get learn commonly-used phrases and vocabulary. (I don’t know if World Cup commercials are anything like Superbowl commercials, but I’m guessing we’ll find out). But, to maximize what he takes away from the experience, I am going to prep him with a bit of soccer vocabulary, so he’ll be able to keep an ear out for words he knows, and maybe pick up a few new ones.

If you type “soccer words in Spanish” into google, you will find many lists to choose from. I picked 20 of the most common terms, and made a Quizlet flashcard set. If you are not familiar with Quizlet, it is pretty awesome. You just make an account (free) and then you can turn any list into online flashcards. Here is the list I put together for my son:  Soccer Vocabulary in Spanish

Shakira and Soccer

World Cup Brazil - Learn Spanish through Soccer
Photo Credit: Thomas

Music is another great way to introduce language to children, and, through the magic of youtube, we have access to a lot of songs and videos that combine both Spanish and soccer. This year, the official theme song of the World Cup is sung by Colombian singer Shakira; there are several versions- this is the one in Spanish that features more soccer (rather than just a typical music video). Shakira also sang the theme to the 2010 World Cup… her Waka Waka song was immensely popular: it features a lot of famous soccer players, and is really hard not to dance to.

There are also many compilations of soccer footage put together by fans (you can find this in any language you are looking for), and set to music. If you type el fútbol musica into youtube, you will get lots of options. And if your kids have a favorite player, there is a good chance someone has set up a tribute to that player (type players name and “espanol”). Here are a few I’ve found, but there are SO many out there:

Argentinian Soccer
Colombian Soccer
Tribute to Lionel Messi (one of top players in this year’s World Cup, captain of Argentina team)
Tribute to Maradona (famous Argentinian soccer player, can find lots of vintage footage)

Hopefully, these ideas will inspire my son. Let me know how they work for you, or if you have any other tricks or tips to share. Please post your comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Lisa

Filed Under: Cultural Experiences, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Music to Learn a Second Language, Spanish, TV as a Tool

Let Me Talk To Strangers

Speak in MandarinI thought that title might get your attention!  

Yes! I let my kids talk to strangers… in Chinese. Of course, I am there watching from a safe distance,  but I want my children to feel comfortable talking to folks who speak Mandarin outside of the little cozy circle that I have created for them.

They currently speak to their tutor, babysitter and swim teacher in Mandarin but I want them to be able to understand different accents and faster/slower voices. I want to see how they would do “in the real world” with their Mandarin.  Granted, speaking in Mandarin to random strangers in IKEA does not exactly mimic the “real world”,  but it at least opens their ears to accents that they may not have heard before or a pace that they may never have encountered. 

What can you do?

So the next time you hear someone speaking in your target second language, nudge your little ones to “speak to strangers”! 

 

Filed Under: Chinese, Cultural Experiences, French, Homeschooling, Spanish, Uncategorized

Struggling to find time to teach your kids a foreign language? Try something radical.

lisaLisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

Struggling to find time to teach your kids a foreign language? Try something radical.

In my family, we believe that foreign language instruction and music training are extremely important, as artistic and practical pursuits, as well as for brain development. My children take violin and piano lessons, we use Rosetta stone for French, my husband speaks Greek to them, and we are planning on starting Spanish soon. My kids also watch a lot of TV, lest you think we are some sort of uber parents…it all balances out.

 

homeschooling teaching a second language The difficulty with languages and music is that they are not disciplines you can easily fake- you get out what you put in. My 8 year old practices violin an hour a day, piano 15 minutes a day, and French 20 minutes a day. My 7 year old practices violin 30 minutes a day, piano 10 minutes a day and (inconsistently) French 20 minutes a day. The challenge, of course, is fitting this in either before or after school, in addition to their extracurricular interests (dance for my daughter and soccer for my son), homework, chores, time together as a family, hanging out with friends, and the ever-elusive “unstructured free play”. Exhausting- and we already set limits on how many activities our kids can do (they are actually less busy than a lot of their friends).

Not Enough Time!

When we added up all of the time requirements on our young kids (and on me, enforcing these schedules), we realized that mathematically, it just didn’t work. There truly aren’t enough hours in the day for the things we think are important. So, we are considering something many people would consider radical: homeschooling.

 

Create Your Own Schedule through Homeschooling

Our goal is not to make UN translators or professional musicians out of our children, but to instill in them the disciplines ofhomeschooling second language hard work, determination and mastery, qualities often hard to develop in a traditional school environment, where much of the focus is on acquiring superficial knowledge, with the primary goal of succeeding on standardized tests.

Having time for music and languages is only a part of our rationale for considering homeschooling. Taking my children’s individual learning styles into account, as well as our wish for them to discover early on what they are passionate about, what they are good at, and what gives them fulfillment, educating them at home, as well as with the help of mentors we find along the way, is an extremely intriguing option.

Without the requirements of a traditional school day, and all of the externalities that go along with it (getting to and from school, the never-ending after-school snack, and homework) here is a sample schedule of what my rising 4th grader’s day could look like next year :

8:00am-9:45am music practice

9:45am-10:00am mini-recess break (yoga, go for a quick run, look at the birds out the window, whatever)

10am-11am  Math

11:00am-11:15am mini-break

11:15am-12:30pm Language Arts (reading, writing, grammar, spelling)

12:30pm-1:30pm Lunch and play break (my daughter can make her own lunch and even have time to go for a swim at the YMCA across the street)

1:30pm-2:15pm Foreign language instruction

2:30pm-3:30pm SPECIALS (rotating through Art, History, Geography and Science, with one free day)

homeschooling with SpanishFrom what I hear, this is a really packed schedule (apparently, kids only spend about 3 and a half hours learning on any given day at traditional school, so I may be aiming way too high here). But built into this sample schedule is time for a weekly field trip to a museum, musical, play, different town, you name it. Wherever my kids interests take us. And then we can build on those interests in following weeks, or veer in a different direction entirely.

Given that so many programs have been reduced or eliminated in traditional schools to make room for testing and teaching to the test, such as recess, PE, music, arts, even class birthday celebrations, I love the idea of adding fun and creativity back into my kids schedules. And after 3:30, they are free to play, help around the house (because I’m sure they can’t wait to do more of that), and further pursue the activities they are interested in.

Think we’re crazy? Curious about how it will go? I’ll be updating you all on a weekly basis about how we are incorporating foreign language into our homeschooling adventure on The Language Playground, so make sure to come back and check us out! 

Filed Under: Chinese, Classes, Cultural Experiences, Homeschooling, Research and Trends, School for Immersion