Spanish Homeschooling 101: Tips for Non-native Parents

Spanish Homeschooling 101: Tips for Non-native Parents

Inside: Tips for Spanish homeschooling and finding the best resources to use at home.

 

Are you a homeschooling parent who wants to teach Spanish to your kids, but who finds yourself struggling to get past “hola”?

If so, that’s okay—I’m here to help! My name is Anne, and I’m a fellow homeschooling mama on this language learning journey with you. Thanks to Elisabeth’s generous invitation, I’m writing today to provide you with a crash course in homeschooling Spanish. The tips that I’m sharing have been honed through my years as a language instructor at the University of Virginia—where I also earned my PhD in Spanish—and through my experience as a non-native speaking parent raising two bilingual kids.

In all this time, what I’ve discovered is that there are really only three basic things that you need to homeschool languages effectively: a basic understanding of how languages are learned; a workable study plan; and access to human support and resources.

I want to help you get these three things in place, because I believe that homeschooling Spanish is a supremely worthwhile endeavor. By teaching your kids a foreign language, not only are you giving them loads of cognitive benefits and academic advantages, but you are also teaching them some of the very things that are most important in this life: empathy, dedication, and a love of learning.

May these tips help you get off to a great start this school year—and no matter where you are on your language learning journey, know that I am rooting for you!

 

TIP #1: EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT HOW LANGUAGES ARE LEARNED.  

 

While learning a language is possible at any age, it’s important to know that young children do learn differently than older children—and you’ll want to adjust your teaching and expectations accordingly.

If you have a child under 12, you’ll want to teach mainly through an immersion approach: providing real-life exposure to the language, reinforcing learning with multi-sensory language games, and creating opportunities for your child to practice speaking in a low-stakes environment. You may choose to use a curriculum to guide your child’s learning and help you be consistent, but the focus at this stage shouldn’t be on learning complex grammar and drilling conjugations. Instead, your goal should be to get your child using the language as quickly as possible and feel confident doing so, even if his/her language skills are quite basic. If you need a little structure to help you get there, I highly recommend Elisabeth’s excellent Spanish unit studies—they work great for kids in this age group!

 

If you have older children—say, middle school-aged or above—all of the above strategies apply, but they can also benefit from direct grammar instruction. Although you may have heard that young children learn languages best, older children can actually learn languages more efficiently, because they can draw parallels between their native language and the one they’re trying to learn.

You can choose a curriculum that takes advantage of this natural tendency, but you should also seek out opportunities for them to interact with native speakers of the language—be it through online Spanish classes, online conversation practice, or be interacting with Spanish-speaker in your local community. Middle school and high school-aged children in particular may be reticent to practice speaking—since learning any language can be a bit awkward—so although they may resist, it’s important to keep seeking out opportunities to develop this skill.

 

TIP #2: CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE CURRICULUM AND PLAN TO USE IT CONSISTENTLY.

 

We are lucky to live in an age with an abundance of resources for teaching Spanish at home. No matter the age of your children, the size of your family, or your chosen homeschool philosophy, you can find a Spanish curriculum to fit your needs—take a look at my homeschool Spanish curriculum round-up to find one that will work for you .

Once you have that curriculum in hand, consistency is key. Short, daily practice sessions are much more effective for language learning than twice weekly lessons—and the more practice, the better. For younger students, you can help yourself be consistent by pegging your Spanish practice to another daily activity—perhaps including it in your Morning Time schedule, or dedicating your afternoon snack time to Spanish practice, followed up by a special Netflix viewing in Spanish.

If you have older students, you can plan regular formal lessons into your homeschool day, and I would recommend scheduling supplemental practice sessions as well. These don’t have to be teeth-pulling exercises or activities that require your participation; instead, they can include watching sports in Spanish, listening to audiobooks in Spanish, or playing on a gamified language app. Since motivation is really important for language learning, try to match that extra practice to your child’s other interests or activities, if at all possible.

And one more thing: while this may be an unpopular opinion, I feel obliged to note that not every language learning tool necessarily works as a homeschool curriculum. Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and Mango Languages all have their place, but none of them were designed for children, and all lack the comprehensive approach that young language learners need to reach proficiency. For those reasons, although I recommend Duolingo and Mango Languages as supplemental tools, I would not rely on any of those programs as your primary curriculum, especially for a child under 14.

 

3.) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH RESOURCES AND SUPPORT.

 

No matter whether you are learning Spanish alongside your children or are a native speaker yourself, no mama should try Spanish homeschooling alone! As a non-native speaker myself, I deeply value our Spanish-speaking friends and neighbors, who share both their language and their lives with us, supporting our entire family on our quest to raise bilingual kids.

With a bit of intention and planning, you too can find ways to surround your child with authentic Spanish-language resources and find others who can partner with you on your family’s language learning journey.

Here are a few ways that we’ve done that in our own family and which you might find useful:

  • Look for Spanish-language story times at your local library and get to know the leaders and other families there.  
  • Ask your librarian to give you a quick tour of your library’s Spanish-language collection—and grab some books for Spanish read-alouds!
  • Look for Spanish-language playdates in your community on sites like Meetup.com or through local Facebook groups.
  • Reach out to other homeschool families studying Spanish and plan a conversation playdate or Spanish Poetry Teatime together.
  • Volunteer with a church ministry or community organization that serves Spanish speakers. This can naturally lead to relationships where your children can practice their Spanish!

Of course, these aren’t things that you have to do all at once. It might make sense to tackle one in the fall and add another one on in the spring, or just to keep them in mind for future use. If something doesn’t work, try a new activity: the key is to think creatively about how to get your kids using their Spanish in the real-world, because if they can see how useful—and fun!—it is, they are much more likely to be successful in learning the language.

And in case those three tips weren’t enough, here’s one more: think of Spanish like an elephant. After all, as the saying goes, if you want to eat an elephant, you have to do it bite-by-bite. Learning Spanish is no different. What can you do this day, this week, to support your children’s Spanish learning? Focus on creating those good habits, and don’t stress about the rest—just be faithful to the process. You’ve got this!

Anne Guarnera is a bilingual homeschooling mom of two with a PhD in Spanish from the University of Virginia. Combining her experience as a language teacher and a bilingual parent, she writes at Language Learning At Home to equip other homeschooling families to study foreign languages successfully.

 

Do you have any Spanish homeschooling resources or tips to add? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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SPANISH HOMESCHOOLING TIPS

Spanish Homeschooling Tips

Bilingual Preschool at Home: A Peek Into Our Day

Bilingual Preschool at Home: A Peek Into Our Day

Inside: Bilingual preschool at home. 

This post was written as part of a Multicultural Kid Blogs Round-up for A Day in School Around the World. Welcome to our bilingual preschool at home in the U.S.!

We woke up to a cloudy, cool day. This is a rarity for North Carolina in August, much like children sleeping in would be. My kids did today– of course they did, on the day I choose for a look into our bilingual home! But normal has never been the name of our game. Not since the day I moved to the jungle and met a Peruvian guy who didn’t know English, and not since the day we decided to mesh two lives, two languages, two cultures.

My day starts at the blissful hour of 8:00, when I hear my son  Janio (3) waking up. I am not sure what this miracle is, but I’m thankful for the sleep. Pocho recently started working 2nd shift, and we are trying to get used to it and orient our schedules to go bed and get up later. I stayed up too late, as usual– cramming in blogging and planning for the school year.

Today is a slow day, mostly at home. Once I start back to work in two weeks this will all look different. While I teach part-time, the kids go to my mom’s house. She is the wonderful sort of grandmother who takes them outside for hours, knows all the birds, and reads poetry. They love going to her house. With Grandma, cousins, and friends, it’s English, and so this year we must stay on track with Spanish at home. Janio and I play Memory, with our new bug cards.

 

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One of my goals for being school-ready is that my kids can name and identify 10-20 insects, 10-20 birds, 10 trees, 10 plants, and 10 flowers in Spanish and English. This really has less to do with memorizing anything than with what I call “making friends.” In this case, it is noticing, loving, and knowing things in nature, and in our own backyard. I myself am missing a lot of nature terms in Spanish, and I’ve been making little Bingo games and game cards so we can learn the words together. Today I have to look up some of the bugs. Janio is new to the game, and we play as best we can.

Janio eats breakfast and plays quietly, trying not to wake Daddy and Mairi-Jean (1). I squeeze in some emails and planning. When everyone is up, after 9, we make breakfast. I let the kids help, and they drag chairs over to the counter. Coffee spills everywhere. Janio helps himself to an egg to crack, and it does– on the floor. I grab cleaner and spray the mess, and while I’m looking for  a rag, Mairi-Jean decides to join the fun. She slips on it and falls on her bottom. This sounds about right: lovely visions of children developing habits of helpfulness and work, and here we all are covered in raw egg.

I have been immersing myself in Charlotte Mason lately, and plan to do “preschool” a la Charlotte Mason this year. This may sound like an oxymoron if you are familiar with her work, because she strongly advocates delaying academic work until children are 6 years old. She does, however, have recommendations for young children and I feel the need to label so that I’m intentional in following them. I think preschool is a time of becoming: children developing into the curious, attentive, loved persons they’re born to be. I don’t think that’s best accomplished by pushing early academics or fancy crafts, either. It comes from having beautiful things to find and love. This means lots of nature, time, free play, poetry, music,beautiful books, and habits.

We clean up and eat, and end up outside for a while. It’s spitting rain a little, but the kids play anyway. I am in the middle of several books and optimistically bring one by Madeleine L’Engle, of which only a few pages get read of course. I know I need to be reading good books if I want to be a good teacher, here or at school, and I’m so enjoying being back at it.

 

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My biggest goal every day for preschool is time outside. It’s also the hardest one for me! Charlotte Mason taught that young children need many hours outdoors, time with real things. I think we tend to value books and lessons as the best thing to prepare children for school, but she says that’s actually not true.  Being outdoors is better, where we develop the art of observation, wonder, patience, and reverence for the world and life. This dependence on the actual senses paves the way for “book-learning” later, as well. Thankfully, today is cool and it’s nice to be out. It doesn’t always work, but I try to let them find things to do and play on their own. I did tell Janio we are looking for things of three, in an experiment for math later.

 

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The experiment actually does not go well, as he is more interested in throwing the rocks than anything else. I snapped a picture anyway. He usually loves numbers (especially 3, his age), and we’ll try again later. No rush; this could wait for Kindergarten! My idea is to spend the next years or two just becoming friends with numbers: telling stories, making patterns, arranging smallest to biggest. We might find combinations to develop number sense: look, these two shells are orange and that one is white, and these two shells have lines this way, and that one has lines that way.

(As a first-grade teacher, I found that parents often got caught up in what their kids could do, more than who they were. And from the schools, we have a whole system of burned-out elementary students, pushed into work too soon, into long days with little time outdoors. I’d like to see more emphasis on what children love, and less on what they can dissect.)

Back inside, and it’s after 12. I let the kids watch a DVD that teaches French while I make lunch. I enjoy the calm. (We are very good at banning tablets and phones… movies, not as much as I’d like.) Supposedly, I am staying a step ahead practicing myself on DuoLingo and Coffee Break French, but I am not keeping up. Something to work on this year. Since we already speak Spanish and English, I figured I should practice what I preach and start our first foreign language young.

Lunchtime with Daddy before he goes to work. It feels very South American to eat a big meal in the middle of the day, together. Rice, beans, fried eggs, and tomatoes and cucumbers in lime. Janio plays another round of memory with Pocho, while Mairi-Jean tries to climb onto the table and grab all the cards.

 

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After, I let the kids snuggle into bed with me. We use our “morning time basket,” though it’s not always used in the morning. This is where we do the bilingual essentials– the very best, beautiful books, poems, and songs. There are a lot of things I feel I do badly still (too many movies, never enough time outdoors), but I am so glad for all the music and poetry. Janio must know well over 3o poems by now, in Spanish and English. We don’t always say or sing them formally, it’s just part of bedtime, driving in the car, or putting on shoes.

 

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Books in Spanish are a lifesaver for me, too. Even though I can communicate what I need to, it’s not always the best and richest language. I love that when we read books, I am still learning alongside the kids. Mairi-Jean will finally listen a little longer, instead of just trying to eat the books or turn all the pages before we can finish the page.  You can find my Spanish recommendations here.

Naptime, and the end of our “school day.” The whole day is really school, of course– learning to be, having things to love– but I’ll end the detailed version here. Later we are off to Grandma’s and I teach a quick Spanish class. We eat at her house, and Mairi-Jean goes to bed since she never actually napped. Janio stays up and watches a show in Spanish, and then we read in Spanish before bedtime. Thank you for joining us!

 

La educación es un ambiente, una discplina, una vida. Charlotte Mason

 

Bugs, Dirt, and Kids

Bugs, Dirt, and Kids

For Christmas, my mom’s gift was the book Lasagna Gardening, along with several promised deliveries of manure and mulch. Yes, I know– my nature and garden-loving mother is amazing. This week was another delivery of mulch, and we all got outside to work on getting our beds ready for springtime planting. We’ve been saving eggshells, coffee grinds, and all other fruit and vegetable scraps for compost. This is one of the layers for the garden, and also great for patting around our blueberry bushes and baby apple trees.

This is our first spring in a house of our own, and my first stab at actual gardening. We’ll see!

Here in NC in early March, not much is growing yet. Little signs are appearing and growing, though, and with them my resolve to take the kids outside more. I know Charlotte Mason encourages us to get outside in all weather, but I am a bit of a baby when it’s cold. I have started to think through preschool plans, and am reminded that loving and enjoying nature is at the center. One of my favorite Mason quotes (one I’ve referenced in another post) is this one:

“Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life.  We are 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. ” (Vol. 1, p. 61)

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Little ones needs tactile ways to learn about God, and what is more hands-on than admiring and exploring the plants and animals he has made? In this age of early academics and stressed-out seven-year-olds, I think we would be wise to spend more time with bugs and dirt. would be wise to spend more time with bugs and dirt.

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Learn Spanish with Kids: How to Start at Home

Learn Spanish with Kids: How to Start at Home

Inside: How to learn Spanish with kids, at home.

 

“Oh, I would love for my kids to learn Spanish. Your kids are so lucky!”

I hear this one often. Really, ask anyone if they’d like their kids to speak a second language and the answer will be YES. Of course we would. But then-

We barely remember high school Spanish. I took German. We can’t afford a tutor. I have no idea where to start. 

Don’t let excuses like this stop you from learning Spanish with your kids! The goals can be simple: exposure, fun, some new songs and new words. The earlier you can start, the better.

 

How to teach to teach your kids Spanish at home

 

Beginning early attunes the ear to new soundshard-wires the brain differently, and sets words and patterns into the long-term memory. It is one of those few things where the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to learn. It’s never too late, either: learning a foreign language has amazing effects on adults as well.

Before I share my ideas, here are some don’ts.

  • DON’T be self-conscious. Learning a language for adults can feel awkward, but set a relaxed, fun tone anyway.
  • DON’T give up if you miss a week or two. Those songs and words stay in little minds longer than we think.
  • DON’T make perfection the goal. Do what you can. A little bit every day is great.

So, where to start? Here are some simple, easy ideas to teach your kids Spanish at home without spending money!

 

1. Learn Spanish with Kids Through Songs

 

If you only take one thing away from this post, it should be this one: learn and sing songs in Spanish. Songs are the BEST way for non-fluent parents and children to learn together. You can browse my Spanish songs for kids page, where I’ve collected ton of lists from YouTube. I also recommend these CDs:

If you learn one song a month, you will have over 10 songs memorized in a year. Watch them together, and listen in the car, or as part of bedtime. If you are a bilingual family wanting to get more Spanish time in, play music in the background. 

 

2. Find Spanish Resources Online

 

Use free apps and websites to learn and practice. DuoLingo App  is a decent supplemental app for older students who can read, or in case you want to stay one step ahead. I’ve also collected awesome lists of free online Spanish resources for kids, as well as free online Spanish resources for older students and adults.

 

How to teach kids Spanish at home

 

3. Learn Through Books.

 

Invest in some books or check them out from the library. If you took some high school Spanish but don’t feel comfortable producing language on your own, books in Spanish are a good start. I have a page of Spanish children’s book lists, to give you a head start.

You can check out my list 50 Authentic Books in Spanish for Kids:

And 50 Bilingual Books in Spanish for Kids:

Picture Books for Kids in Spanish and English

 

4. Go By Topics in Spanish

 

It can be overwhelming not knowing where to start. Choose a theme that interests you (food, colors, animals) and learn the words that go with it. It’s okay if you only do 3 or 4 topics a year! Learn some greetings, numbers 1-10, colors, and some foods. I have boards by topic on Pinterest so you can find links, activities, printables, and more by theme. Lingo Hut is a free site where you can search by topic, and at Quizlet you can make study lists and hear the pronunciation. 

 

5. Use My Free Lessons and Outlines

 

To help you get oriented with little ones, I have a Preschool Spanish Series with 12 lessons outlined (though it can be enough to fill a year). It organizes topics like farm animals, food, numbers, etc., with lots of resources and links attached to each lesson.

I also recently partnered with Bilingual Kidspot to provide basic Spanish lessons for families learning together. I designed these for parents (homeschoolers or families supplementing school) who are not native speakers, but remember a bit of high school Spanish or are willing to do a little prep of their own. 

Also, you can check out my new Facebook Live series, with concrete teaching ideas and examples. 

I also created three units in a series I names Español in the Jungle (I set the characters and stories in the Amazon rainforest). You can also check out my fables told in simple Spanish.

6. Set Specific Language time to Speak Spanish as a Family

 

Pick a certain time during the week (maybe dinnertime on Thursday nights), where the whole family is specifically trying to practice what they’re learning. It could mean saying please, pass me, and thank you in Spanish, and using the food terms you know. Don’t wait to use Spanish because you aren’t fluent! Use what you know.

 

7. Use Props to Learn Spanish with Kids

 

Kids learn best when using real objects. If you are learning fruit, practice with the real thing. Another way to use props is to get a new stuffed animal or puppet, and introduce it as a Spanish-speaking ________. Have conversation or puppet play this way. This can sometimes help with a resistant learner or shy student who would rather act out speaking Spanish than speaking it directly.

 

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8. Play Games in Spanish

 

I love games! Learning Spanish with young kids should be a pleasant, successful experience, not stressful. I like using picture cards so English isn’t even part of the game. Play Bingo, Go Fish, or Memory. I have some game sets by theme for sale here, or free download here. If you feel uncomfortable saying the words in Spanish, practice your pronunciation at Lingo Hut, or cue up the words at SpanishDict. For extra practice, call out the words and have your kids draw the pictures themselves.

 

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I also recommend these flashcards from Linguacious. They include game instructions AND QR codes which pronunciation examples from native speakers!

 

 

9. Make a Notebook to Track New Words

 

Let your kids make notebooks where they store what they’re learning, if they’re old enough. Use a composition notebook or three-ring binder and record new words and activities so it’s all together. I also have a Blank Pictionary and Illustrated Words Book that you can purchase to create personalized illustrated dictionaries.

 

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10. Learn Spanish with Kids through Movies and Shows

 

Utilize that screen time for Spanish time! Set your audio or subtitles to Spanish on Netflix, and set up a family movie night or let your kids watch their favorites in Spanish. Browse my list of shows in Spanish on Netflix for kids, or find a fun movie in Spanish for the family (or yourself!).

 

Netflix Shows in Spanish for Kids

 

I hope this helps! It takes some work to get a Spanish routine going in your family, but it’s worth it. Learn Spanish with your kids, and you’ll never regret your decision to get started!

 

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Learn Spanish with kids

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