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Three tips for kids learning a foreign language

Three tips for kids learning a foreign language

My son is seven years old, and through various twists of fate he has attended an English language public school and a French immersion public school Canada, and now attends a German/English bilingual private school in Germany. We’ve gone through the language/school transition twice now, both with a major international move and without. While I’m not a speech pathologist, a teacher, or a child psychologist, I have gone through this as a parent a couple of times now. As we adjust to our new life in Germany, I was struck by how many similarities there are between our time settling in to French immersion school and German school.

Here are three things we’ve learned, living through this major change twice now.

3 tips for kids learning a foreign language

Ease into it.

If you have a few months to prepare, use them. Ask the school your child will be attending for some tips and resources in the target language. Download game-like apps to give your child a feel for the vocabulary (we love Gus on the Go in particular). Check the Netflix options for shows in the target language, but look for ones a few age levels younger so the speech is simpler. It’s ideal if it is a show your child likes and knows well already. Pinterest is great for language resources, and so is YouTube (here is my French immersion resources board, and my Learning German board). Obviously don’t throw it all in there at once, but try something every couple of days.

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Support, but don’t push it.

Once they start school, it’s tempting to try and speak to them in the target language (if you know it), or expect them to come home with new vocab every day. Don’t forget how exhausting learning a new language is – and if your child is staring in a new school in an immersion situation, they’re doing a new job in a new language too. Keep things as mellow and predictable as you can at home, and keep the extra curricular activities to a minimum until they settle in. Though, if there’s an activity they really love and feel confident doing, definitely go for that. Learning a new language can be a real knock to even confident kids, so anything that bolsters the ego is terrific.

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Give it time. Lots of time.

It may seem like they will never speak the language, or that nothing is going in, but be patient. With our son, it takes about six months before little words and phrases start popping out at random. If you can, spend some time learning the language too if you don’t already speak it, and ask them to help you. Kids love teaching their parents something. If you’re really concerned nothing is sticking, talk to their teacher. I really recommend waiting at least six months though – and know that speaking the language is one of the last things to come.

Have you made a language transition with your children? Any tips to share?

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Language learning for kids and adults

Language learning for kids and adults

Our favourite language learning app for kids, Gus on the Go, has free language printables.

We’re counting down the weeks until the big move to Germany, and I’ll answer the third most often asked question: do you speak German?

Um, not yet?


Our nearly seven year old has been in French immersion, so his reading and writing education has been entirely in French so far. He speaks quite well, and understands loads, and though it might seem a bit crazy to pile on another language now, he’s been taking it in like a sponge. Thankfully French and German have quite a few parallels.

We’re not pushing hard on the German with our son quite yet as he will be attending a bilingual German English school, and I suspect he’ll be better than we are a few months in. However, just to get him going, we downloaded our favourite language app for kids, Gus on the Go, in German. They also have a terrific set of free printables on their site as well – fortune tellers, flash cards, and more.

Duolingo
Look at my 9% fluency! Whee!

My husband and I have been spending about an hour a day on Duolingo, and for a free app, it’s incredible. We have access to an earlier version of Rosetta Stone, and while it’s helpful and a bit pickier when it comes to translation, we’ve both found we spend the most time on Duolingo. My husband also likes using Busuu, it focuses more on conversational German.

Our favourite complement to Duolingo, however, is German Pod 101. Their audio lessons are hilarious, and I’ve learned a few basic rules that make it so much easier to get through intermediate Duolingo lessons. The Accent Improvement lessons are excellent, and having transcriptions of everything readily available has been a lifesaver. The little cultural tips are invaluable to us, as we’ll be making Germany our home for the next few years. They have a free option where you can get access to the audio lessons, but it doesn’t cost much to get a membership that includes transcripts. They have an app as well. The Newbie series of audio lessons have been a big hit in the car on the way to school too.

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A really good paper airplane book

A really good paper airplane book

This post contains affiliate links, this means when you click through and purchase, I receive a fee. This helps defray the cost of maintaining this blog. 

paper airplane book

If you’ve got a small child between 3 and, well, I’m not sure there’s an upper age limit here, paper airplane construction becomes a critical life skill. I wrote about a great online resource for paper airplane plans here, and it’s one of my most popular posts. As my son’s appetite for paper airplanes only grows, I decided to invest in an actual book. The [amazon_link id=”0761143831″ target=”_blank” ]World Record Paper Airplane Book[/amazon_link] is a pretty good one.

Along with plans for many different types of planes, there are pages to cut out that produces really cool looking planes, and a hangar to park them on. There is also many pages of seriously deep information into why each model flies and how, discussions of drag and lift. So if you have an older child who is into Knowing Everything, this is great. You can safely ignore those chapters otherwise.

I particularly liked the troubleshooting tips that go along with each plane model. After you’ve finished following along with the clear diagrams, they provide some help for diving planes, planes that go up quickly and then dive, or veer in a particular direction. This is handy when your child wails, ‘Mummy! This plane DOES NOT WORK.’

What are your best paper airplane resources?

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Three Great Problem-solving iPad Games for kids

Three Great Problem-solving iPad Games for kids

One of my son’s favourite type of iPad game is the well-designed problem solver. It’s not something he gets jump-up-and-down excited about, but they are the ones with staying power.

Our favourites right now:

Monument Valley

Walk a small girl through an Escher-like landscape, twisting and turning pieces of the structures to reveal new pathways. It really challenges ideas about up and down, directions and perspective. There’s a beautiful soundtrack that draws you in, as well as a flock of mysterious birds that appear throughout the level. Gorgeous game that’s won many awards for good reason. My son has played this one through countless times. Monument Valley game by ustwo

 

Odd Bot Out

How Martin Magni, the indie developer behind Odd Bot Out, managed to imbue a single block with an eyeball and legs with a personality, I don’t know. But my son loves this one. You walk your block bot around obstacles using switches, cables, other bots, and magnetic blocks to finish each level. The difficulty doesn’t ramp up too quickly, which is a failure of so many of the other problem-solving games we’ve tried, so my 5 year old has been playing this one for weeks. Odd Bot Out by Martin Magni

 

Gesundheit!

This one appealed to my five year old right away, in that the whole premise is sneaking around obstacles and distracting monsters by sneezing snot they chase after and eat. That sounds unbelievably disgusting, but somehow the cute animation style makes it hilarious and not all that gross (really). The tinkly, tweepop soundtrack makes a nice change from your average game music too. Where does the problem solving come in? It’s all about bouncing snot off walls at certain angles, planning your route, and patience. Gesundheit! game by Matt Hammill

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Robotics and electronics for kids: where to start

Robotics and electronics for kids: where to start

robotics-text

Wouldn’t it be cool to ask your child: ’Do you want to build a robot that feeds your fish?’

The answer is clearly yes, but that’s going to take a degree in engineering and a large workshop full of tools you don’t have to sort out isn’t it? Actually, no.

There’s been a cool scene brewing out there, sometimes referred to as ‘maker culture’, all about getting down to brass tacks and building something cool. Parents have been at the forefront –  making neat stuff with and for their kids. I’m sure you’ve done the same, really, whether it’s involving your kids in baking cookies, feeding the chickens, gardening, crocheting, tie-dying, and whatever else you happen to know about. This particular corner of the maker universe is all about electronics, coding, robotics, and wearable technology.

What I find fascinating about this whole scene is the positivity. There are loads of companies focused on enabling everyone to build Cool Stuff. The sheer volume of creativity is stunning. Frozen cosplay? Totally, here are 27 tutorials on everything from Elsa’s tiara to using bits of glass to truly capture the idea of that glittery cape. Light up your shoes with flexible LEDs? Sure. Stitch lights and sensors into your skirt so it lights up when you move? Yep.

If you’re looking to get started in the world of electronic stuff, there are a couple routes to take. Key things to know here: as the supervising adult, you will have to help if your child is younger than about 8 or 9, but my 5 year old is perfectly able to get in there and do a project with adult assistance. You don’t need any previous electronics or coding experience to do these beginner steps. The documentation and videos that go with these kits are excellent and easy to follow.

There two main companies that make beginner kits for kids: Snap Circuits and littleBits.

Snap Circuits is electrical engineering for kids. You get a basic breadboard (that flat thing you attach wires and components to) and things like resistors, LEDs, and sound-producing components. The Snap Circuits Jr kit includes 100 different experiments to build, including a doorbell, flying saucer, and alarm. Everything is in plastic holders, and it requires no additional tools. Snap Circuits is all about the technical elements of electronics: how parallel circuits work, how resistors work, that kind of thing. The basic 100 experiments kit costs $30.

littleBits, however, is more like programming for kids. Each piece snaps to another, which you can attach to a person, a playdough sculpture, a LEGO car, a windmill made of craft sticks… really anything. The base kit includes things like a DC motor, a pressure sensor, a light sensor, and a bright LED. It’s much more 3D than the Snap Circuits, and would be a good entry point into robotics. However, it’s more expensive. The littleBits base kit is $100 US, and it’s a challenge to get in Canada without paying their (starting at) $37 shipping charges. It seems expensive when you think of it as a toy, but when viewed as a beginner robotics kit, it seems more reasonable.

If you have older children who are really keen, the world of Arduino is like peeking into Narnia through the wardrobe. This is where you get into the really cool wearable tech, complicated robotics, and, it should be said, requirements for more tools. Though all you really need to start out is a $10 wire stripper. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform that was designed to make building robots and things like that easier for hobbyists. There are countless books, blogs, instructions, and plans out there for incredible things you can build with Arduino components. Start with the Arduino site, then move on to Make: magazine, and adafruit to see what’s possible.

Electronics shops sell Arduino kits and components, and it’s easier to find in Canada than littleBits. The Official Arduino Starter Kit is about $125, and includes instructions (and all the bits) for projects like a light theremin, a lamp that responds to touch, a colour-mixing lamp, and a motorized pinwheel. It does require some basic coding, so this wouldn’t be very fun for kids much younger than 12. The sky’s the limit with additional components. You can find cheaper base kits at about $50, and if you know exactly what you want, you can buy the Arduino microprocessor itself for about $30. However, I can’t be held responsible if you’re pricing out 3D printers by next Christmas.

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