29 October 2009

Is your child using Spanish outside the classroom setting? Things to look for...

The ultimate goal of learning Spanish is to indeed use it outside of class time! It can seem like a long wait, and getting "nothing" to the question of "What did you do in Spanish today?" can be so frustrating and worrisome!

However, seeing Spanish move out of class and into the rest of your child's life is truly just a matter of time, which varies from child to child AND with the kind of instruction they are getting. Play-based, communication-based lessons where the children are actively engaged and using Spanish to participate in activities is likely to produce faster results than a more passive class where children simply look at flash cards, repeat words, and color pictures of the objects.

We frequently see children in our classes using Spanish at home in the following ways:

1. Private practice.
Some children will play with Spanish sounds and words when they are playing or spending time alone. They may or may not be 'trying' to keep it secret or private. Some children just play at it quietly - almost subconsciously - while others are actually putting effort into practicing sounds and/or words by themselves, but not feeling confident or sure enough to share with others.

2. Inventing Spanish words and phrases.
I get lots of comments from parents... You know, she sounds like she's speaking Spanish, although I have no idea what she's saying! This may be 'real' Spanish or invented. Either way, it's appropriate, common, and fabulous!

3. Singing class-time songs.
If you haven't heard HOLA-HOLA yet, you might ask your child how it goes. If s/he can't remember how to start it on the spot, try putting your hand up by your face like you are going to wave hello and start to slowly say HO-LA. This often prompts our students to start singing the song. If that doesn't do it, don't worry! The cup may still be filling - it will runneth over!

4. Isolated words or phrases come out of nowhere.
Outside of class, a child might see an object that we are practicing the vocabulary for, or hear a word that sounds like a Spanish word from class and be inspired to say what they know out loud.

5. Active, conscious effort
to say or practice Spanish words or phrases outside of class. A child may (randomly or routinely) make Spanish part of their playtime with friends or decide to order in Spanish at a restaurant (Yo quiero ___ por favor = I want ___ please). This kind of use shows real mastery over what they are learning in terms of functional communication. It need not be perfectly pronounced or demonstrate perfect grammar. The idea that they recognize when to use Spanish and what words to use for a given situation shows their control of the language. Not to mention their interest and enthusiasm!

Whatever your child might be demonstrating in terms of Spanish at home is very likely to be a tiny fraction of what s/he does in class. They are bombarded during class and in being so, are in "Spanish mode." The familiar setting, materials, and routine activities of class help them access their spoken Spanish skills. Using their Spanish skills outside the class is what we always love to see and hear about, as it shows the cup filling up, enthusiasm about learning Spanish, and a growing mastery of its usage!

What have you seen your child do outside of class time?
Do you have questions along these lines?

We want to know so share below!!!


Why does my child say he learned "Nothing" in class?

Once in a while, I get a parent who mentions that their child doesn't seem to use Spanish outside the classroom and no matter what they try to prompt him/her with, they can't get anything out of them.

One reason for this "nothing" answer is the same reason your child answers "nothing" to many other questions such as "What did you do at Mary's house?" OR "What did you learn at school today?" OR "What did Sally say about the class guinea pig?" Children, at the moment we ask them a given question, often have their mind somewhere else... looking out the car window, playing with a toy, walking down a flight of stairs. Thus, we probe further... "Well, did she like the guinea pig? Was she scared?" and we ask leading questions for more information. I suggest you do this with your children to see what they are learning in Spanish as well.

Young children - as a general rule - do not approach learning foreign language the way we do as adults. As adults, we go to class and as we get new information, we file it in our brains - comparing it with what we know in English - with the express intent of being able to find it later.

The younger the child, the less s/he is going to use this mental organizational approach. Children learn in the moment, hands on, during meaningful and motivating experiences. In our classes, they are hearing and using Spanish constantly. The younger the child, the fewer active, mental comparisons they are making between English and Spanish. They are simply recognizing what works and using it. In addition, we put a lot of emphasis on empowering children with useful phrases, and not only isolated vocabulary words (I want xyz please, Where is xyz?, Here's the xyz, It's big/small, etc)... Phrases that children can drop vocabulary into as they learn it. We focus on speaking the language, versus memorizing it.

Because our approach to teaching is rather seamless (that is, our activities incorporate Spanish as a natural part of participation), students sometimes aren't overtly aware of how much Spanish they are actually using. True story: I had an 8yr old girl in a class and she was an extremely quick learner, retained information well, and was a leader in the class. One day, about halfway through the semester, she said "I love this class! Last year, we took Spanish with this guy, and he made you like - learn things. Like you had to learn words and then weeks later you'd have to remember them. In this class, you don't even have to like, learn!"

Ha! I was half-insulted at first, but quickly realized that this gal, who was the most advanced in the class, wasn't entirely aware of all that she was learning and using! It surprised even me, because I could often see her gears turning, trying to use her Spanish is a variety of ways. But with the natural incorporation of language into our games, in addition to using our visual cues, etc. it can truly be "seamless" learning.

That aside, it does take a certain amount of the cup filling up and then spilling over before children will use new language outside of class. In class, being in the same place, at the same time, with the same teacher, and with similar materials all help put them in "Spanish mode" and subconsciously activates that part in their brain where their Spanish is. The younger the child, the more s/he will rely on this context to find and activate the Spanish s/he has in her brain.


If you want to know specifics, you kinda have to 1) be realistic about what to expect, and 2) get specific with your questions. In our classes, we provide parents with lesson summaries that detail what words, phrases, books, and activities the children do in class. I would suggest asking questions like: "Did you read a book today? -- was it Title A or Title B?" or "It says here you did something with frogs & a parachute. What was that?" If you aren't looking at a lesson plan, ask "Did you like the games in Spanish today? The unit is about animals. What animal toys did you play with?" This may help your child focus their thoughts and remind her of the lesson.

Try to remember this as well... Recall on-demand, is not necessarily the most valid sign of learning or your child's functional ability to use the language. That is, being able or unable to pluck a vocabulary word out of the "Spanish area" of our brain doesn't indicate our ability to use it for a useful purpose when the occasion arises.

Getting the "nothing" answer can be so frustrating (especially for us teachers who know and see that they truly are learning)! But be patient and understanding of the many cognitive demands your child is sorting through each day. Little by little, you WILL see Spanish come out around the house and the like.

Is your child using Spanish outside the classroom setting? Things to look for...
(click above!)


27 October 2009


Today, I taught a small group of five elementary school girls at The Madeleine School. We gathered in the room and the girls got out their pre-lesson snacks. While they ate, they updated me on their day at school, whose birthday it was, the Halloween candy their teacher had given them, etc.

All of a sudden, the following conversation took off with no input or participation on my part. To follow, you may need to know that

Hay = There is/There are

No hay = There isn't/there aren't

(holding out an empty container) Look! No hay strawberries!

But hay strawberries in my mouth!
(laughter all around)

Amelia: Well, hay strawberries in your belly!

No hay snack! (referencing the fact that she had no snack today)

Hay strawberries in my belly now!

(holding up an almond) No hay más snack! (and pops the almond into her mouth)

I was scribbling this all down, of course!
I tell you, this is the stuff the truly makes my day. To see Spanish come out naturally and with such excitement! They were laughing and so easily using hay/no hay. Almost racing to be the next to say something with their Spanish. It was delightful to see!

16 October 2009

Parent Emails

Monday, Monday....
It's always a bit hard for me to get out of bed in the gray morning hours and go up to my computer. But this week, I'm starting with a smile on my face, reading some positive emails parents sent us last week. Just 4 lessons into the school year, I'm delighted that our families are delighted!

Yesterday, Maia told my mom “suave” when she was working on a project with her. So awesome, she’s thinking in Spanish!! -- mom of 5yr old

Joshua is having so much fun -- he's decided that Monday is his favorite day because of Spanish!! -- mom of 7yr old

[The instructor] is so warm and amazing with the kids. You have a wonderful program and I've been so impressed with how these classes are run. -- mom of 7 yr old

Makes the Monday rev-up a little easier with some good fuel in the tank!


14 October 2009

Caminando, caminando, caminando - PARA!

Today, I taught a group of 10 K-3rd graders at Opal School. This is an active, eager group of children and today was class #4.

As we finished class and walked down the hall to the space where parents pick up the students, Eliza spontaneously started saying "Caminando, caminando, caminando..." (This means "walking, walking, walking" and is part of a game we've played at every class -- a kind of Follow the Leader type game.).

I was thrilled! Within seconds, all the other children were chiming in, "Caminando, caminando...." Suddenly, Jackson called out "¡Paren!" (Stop!) and all the children stopped in their tracks. They continued like this for a good way to our pick-up spot... Caminando, caminando, ¡Paren!.... Caminando, caminando, ¡Paren! Until Tyler, again de la nada (out of nowhere) calls out, "¡Marchando!" and the whole group starts marching and saying "Marchando, marchando, marchando...." in unison.

Then, as they were picked up by ones or in twos, they screamed goodbyes to each other (with an almost alarming amount of enthusiasm!) "¡ADIOS!" and "Adios Danny! Adios Jazlie!"

It was exactly what we hope for as teachers: concrete "proof" that the children find our activities intrinsically motivating, AND that these activities also help us achieve our ultimate goals:

1) Have fun & foster motivation (this game IS fun!)
2) Build confidence (whether its participating as a group member or taking lead)
3) Speak Spanish (especially outside of the class setting!)

It made my day!

12 October 2009

Establishing a Tantrum Routine

Tantrums are inevitable. There's no way around it. They are a part of the developmental process, and something most children must go through in order to grow. I used to work in a great preschool years back. I started my career in the 2 year old room. WOW. WOW. Yeah, multiple tantrums with multiple children... daily. It wasn't always a constant, but only by developing some understanding of the process AND developing a coping strategy for myself, did I make it through without being completely exhausted or losing my sanity!

It seems that once a child starts in on a tantrum, she is stuck in a downward spiral and cannot pull herself out... as if her body physically craves the continuation of this emotional extreme. Thus she continues to spiral. It's important to remember that while the initial start of a tantrum appears intentional ("throwing a fit" because she doesn't get her way), most children are really experiencing what I call a "developmental" tantrum. They are trying to balance their growing sense of independence with their emotions, and still learning how to temper or regulate their reactions and self-soothe.

There are many approaches to coping with tantrums, this is simply my 2 cents. My hope is that you find some nuggets that stick with you and make your life a bit easier.

I suggest creating a tantrum ROUTINE. Just like a bedtime routine, bath routine, any other routine you have. In establishing a routine, you help your child predict the pattern, which helps her work through her tantrums more quickly, with less severity.

Step #1: Take care of YOURSELF FIRST.

Those emotions are SO overwhelming for both your child and you! Figure out what you need to do to ground yourself and keep calm. Maybe tell him -- while he's taking one of those stuttering breaths -- "I need to calm down too. I'll be in the other room if you need me." Then leave him there (as long as he's safe) and go and take some deep breaths!

This models appropriate behavior for him, AND it's important he knows you are not ignoring him. Knowing you are available when he eventually is able to accept your help, is important.

Step # 2: RELOCATE if necessary

I might say:
"I see you are so frustrated and need to cry. But it's too noisy for the living room. Let's go to your room."
"I see your frustrated, but throwing things is dangerous. Let's go to your room (or wherever you find best)."

It's okay if it seems he's not listening. He'll at least know your not ignoring him.

Do your best to remain CALM. When I stopped wishing tantrums wouldn't happen, and accepted them as inevitable, I was able to keep my emotions more neutral and keep a clearer head. We're more or less successful on given days, given our own stress and emotional reserves, but you do your best!

Take him to his room (or wherever you choose). You may have to carry him - even kicking and screaming - until your routine becomes established. When you get to his room, you might say "I want to help you feel better - can I give you a hug?" He may or may not let you.
If he does, hold him until you sense he's basically got himself under control. Then say something to address the situation like, "Gosh, those tantrums can be scary for me. Are they scary for you?... I'm so glad it's all over. That hug really seemed to help.... I'm so glad it's all done now because we still have time to brush the dog/go for a walk/etc." If he's not ready to receive a hug, move on to Step # 3.

If he throws toys across his room, bangs his head, or does otherwise dangerous things to himself or others, you have to make a call - seeing what's happening in the moment and knowing your child's reactions - whether to

a) hold him firmly while quietly saying " I don't want you or me to get hurt so I'm holding you. When your body is safe/not throwing things/banging on the floor, it will be safe to let go. Maybe then we brush the dog together." It may appear he's not hearing you at all, but with persistence, your talking & touch will likely help pull him out of his cycle and help him re-center.


b) move on to step #3.

Say "I want to help you feel better - can I give you a hug?" He may or may not let you. If not, say something like: "I'll be in the kitchen. Let's brush the dog together (or whatever he likes) when you're all done crying."

Step #4: REPEAT Step #3

Pop your head in every 5-8 minutes to repeat the "I want to help you feel better - can I give you a hug? I'll be in the kitchen. Let's brush the dog together when you're all done crying." You may have to repeat this a number of times before your child is able to receive a hug (or whatever you think is most appropriate). However, with time and repetition, the hope is that your child will be able to find comfort in the predictability of the pattern and thus be able to shorten the process and/or skip steps to get to the end.

I wouldn't worry about a hug or brushing the dog seeming like a "reward" for misbehavior. Kids feel terrible when stuck in a tantrum too. Time together afterwards gives you a chance to reconnect on a 'good' level and give words to what you both were feeling: "Wow, that was a tough one wasn't it?!!" or "I'm so happy you're all done crying because we still have time to brush the dog!" Or "That was a little scary, huh? I feel so much better now."

Establishing a routine can take a lot of effort up front and it demands stamina on your part. But armed with a consistent plan, you may find yourself feeling more in control, empowered, and better able to work through your emotions as well!

Okay, so that was like -- 89 cents instead of 2 cents. But hopefully it will resonate with you or another mom.

Any thoughts, comments, or things that you've done that have worked for you? Post them here -- we'll be sure other families get the word!


09 October 2009

New babies in the PELP family!

As many of you know, we "lost" 2 of our Spanish Language in Play teachers this summer. Both Lauren and Nina become mothers, giving birth to Lucy & Jude. Here are a few pictures of the adorable moms before AND their beautiful newborns.
Aren't they so sweet?!!

Nina on left, Lauren on right

Nina & Matthew's son Jude Marley
rn June 9th
8 lbs, 1 oz.

Lauren & Dustin's girl Lucy Fitzgerald Weaver:

Born August 11th
7 lbs, 12 oz