Inside: Why poetry is beneficial to bilingual kids.
When my son was two, it became obvious his English was more advanced than his Spanish. This wasn’t shocking (we live in the U.S.), but I wanted to figure out how to maximize our minority language. I began to watch what was happening in English.
While I teach, the kids are with my mom, a veteran homeschooling mother of over 20 years. My mom was always quoting and reading poems with us– from “This little piggy went to market” to Robert Louis Stevenson. And now Janio is getting the same dose of songs, nursery rhymes, and poems several days a week.
I realized I needed to up my game in Spanish to keep up, which meant some homework for me too. I didn’t have the repertoire of ditties to say when we were getting dressed, when the moon came out, or when we spotted a bird. So I bought Pio Peep, the classic (and beautifully illustrated) books of songs and rhymes in Spanish, and began collecting poems from Peru and Latin America here on my site. They needed to become part of me in order for them to be part of our family culture. Spanish is a beautiful, lyrical, language and perfect for rhymes.
So why does your bilingual child need poetry?
Poetry paves the way for reading, writing and speaking– for mastery of BOTH languages
Celeste Cruz of Joyous Lessons explains poetry this way:
It teaches an ear for language. It models brevity in writing. It prepares one well for more sophisticated reading. It is the mark of an educated person in many intellectual circles. It gives one a sense for diction and rhythm. It aids in understanding the many cultural references that draw on the classics. It provides a sense for metaphor in writing. It helps with public speaking. It sharpens the powers of observation. It exercises the memory. And so on.
I suspect this is why in centuries past children who spent far less time in the classroom could be articulate speakers and good writers, even without the plethora of books we have today. Their oral traditions were strong, and in many families even young children could recite vast quantities of poetry and prose.
Poetry develops a ear for good language and speech.
It teaches children how sounds work together: how to distinguish between different sounds and what sounds are similar. Poetry expands their vocabulary and embeds patterns of grammar and speech.
Poetry promotes cultural literacy.
Most bilingual children are also bi-cultural, and knowing the sayings and rhymes of both cultures allows children fully participate. Poems often include clues into a culture’s history and traditions, or insight into their way of thinking. Knowing the little rhymes everyone else grew up on helps you get jokes and literary references, too!
Poetry is beautiful.
Pragmatically, poetry is good for your child. But the actual reason we teach poetry is that it is delightful, and trains children to recognize what beautiful language is. Every child should have a repertoire of rhymes and poems they know by heart (and love) by the time they go to school. Charlotte Mason wrote,
Older (age 9?) children should practice reading aloud every day, and their readings “should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said… Quite young children are open to this sort of teaching, conveyed, not in a lesson, but by a word now and then.
For very young children like mine, I never make poetry into a lesson. It’s just a part of life: we say poems in the bathtub, when we read Mother Goose or Pío Peep, when we’re putting a band-aid on a scraped knee.
To find poems in Spanish, see my poems page or follow my Pinterest board! Let me know if you have any favorites– I am always looking for more!
Being a bi-cultural family can have its fair share of challenges. Think disagreements in parenting (should the baby wear socks in the summer?) and traditions (how big does this 1st birthday part need to be?). It might mean never feeling home, or always missing the other home. But there are of course many benefits, and today I’m sharing five that I’ve seen in our family and friends.
1. Bi-culturalism promotes a posture of curiosity.
Rather than seeing other cultures and traditions as threatening or suspicious, bi-cultural kids and people tend to be curious. Whether or not they ultimately embrace an idea or tradition, they are able observe and consider with openness. We have a friend from Mexico who throws wonderful parties and the families there are a mix of all different places.When we talk about anything, you will constantly hear, “Well, how is it in the Netherlands?” or “Do they do that in Cuba?” Genuine interest is evident and makes for wonderful, unexpected friendships. (more…)
My two-year-old’s voice comes from the backseat: “Mommy, love you MÁS.”
I peer into the rearview mirror and smile at him. “No, love YOU más.”
“No! Love YOU más!”
This is what the experts refer to as code-switching: mixing language, Spanglish, in our case. I try to avoid it, usually. But here in our van, after a long day of work and apart from each other, I just enjoy the sweet moment, and marvel silently at the way he puts two languages together. Then, laughing, I change to, “No! YO te quiero más!” and we continuing chattering in just Spanish the rest of the way. (more…)
“It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
— Charlotte Mason, Home Education (Charlotte Mason’s Homeschooling Series) (more…)
For a long time, speaking to my baby son in Spanish felt odd. Talking to a baby is basically a monologue, except for a few coos and gurgles here and there. I knew that my son was soaking in every little word, and that all our little rhymes and descriptions and baby-talk had their purpose. But it was pretty annoying listening to myself, talking and talking– I know how to baby-talk in English, but in Spanish? I was so aware of the monologue, which I at least wouldn’t be busy correcting had it been in English. Thank goodness most of the time no one around understood me.
Now my son is 20 months old, and busy learning new words every day. He seems to say words in whichever language is easiest. We say, “Di hola,” and he says hi, or “¿Quieres ir arriba?” and he replies with up. But agua, chau, arroz, papá and others he can say as well. And he understands everything we say in both languages! It is a delightful and fascinating thing to watch a child learn to speak and understand, and even more so in multiple languages. (more…)