Multilingual homeschooling #3: More of dad

So, what do you do if you plan to teach the children both their parents’ languages, but dad’s not around enough?

This writing will suppose that mom is at home, schooling, and dad is at work most of the time. This is not true for all homeschooling families, but for the sake of clarity one scenario was selected rather than trying to cover all the bases all of the time.

If mom is at home all day with the children, speaking her language, but dad is only there a fraction of the time (evenings and weekends there are so many other things that also needs doing) to speak his language, how will the children ever pick it up?

Some of the easier things to do are the following:

  • Be consistent: dad should only converse in his language when he’s there
  • Try to get DVDs (movies and documentaries) in dad’s language rather than the obiquitous English
  • Spend dad’s time on enjoyable, but learnful, topics. For toddlers this could be picture dictionaries, nursery rhymes, things that build vocabulary. For older kids this could be discussing something they’ve learned from mom in her language, with dad in his language. This can include anything, ranging from mathematics (names of geometrical forms) through natural sciences (organs of the human body, aspects of ecology, behaviour of penguins) to technology (how escalators work, robotics, architectural challenges of Burj Dubai)

One important thing to bear in mind is that dad will probably want to see more results in a shorter period of time. Let the children write him letters or e-mail in his language, so he can see that they’re using it. Let them memorise his favourite poem, or learn a song that he likes, to encourage him that the time spent pays off. With mom around more of the time, she has more opportunity to see and hear their progress; if dad is around less, show him the progress!

The current favourite in our house is using Microsoft Powerpoint as stand-in dad. Having toddler / junior primary aged children, many of their language arts includes picture dictionaries and nursery rhymes. When we’re covering a new topic (unit study), we choose a few poems, songs, nursery rhymes, even short stories written in dad’s language to work with. In Ms Powerpoint we create a slide per verse, typing the words in a large font (for the early reader) and add colourful pictures (for everyone) so that the entire piece of literature has its own presentation. Then using the “record narration” functionality, dad reads this, and we save it as a powerpoint show.

During the day we then play some of these presentations, and the boys love it! They sometimes watch the same one over and over. The combination of good literature, eye-catching images and DAD’S VOICE is wonderful. Though it usually takes one whole evening to complete a new batch of literature, it pays off with the repeated use, and they enjoy learning.

Similarly, using images from the web, we create presentations for the vocabulary around a certain topic. One picture with the matching word per slide, using between 10 and 20 slides at a time, works well for us. This will differ for children of other ages and depend on their attention span. (Don’t let them become bored before the presentation is over; if it ends while they still want more, they’ll be enthusiastic about the next one.) Again, with a number of presentations ready, dad spends part of an evening reading (recording) the words.

For many days the children can listen to “dad reading” while he is at the office! And mom gets time to powder her nose…