Archive for the ‘School’ Category

Teaching Children to Read, Write, and Speak in French

January 31, 2014

I have been experimenting on my children, and I want to tell you about it.  My goal has been to raise them to be bilingual.

My Background:

I took two years of French in high school.  The languages offered with an in-person teacher were Spanish and French.  I chose French because there were fewer students in the French program, and the language and culture seemed more interesting.  In retrospect, I think I should have chosen Spanish for purely practical reasons.  I really enjoyed learning French, however, and was able to travel to France (and Spain).

When arriving at college I had (and wanted) to continue language study, and I chose French by default because I had already made a bit of progress, though less than I had hoped.  I wasn’t ready to start over with something new – why waste the investment I had made when I wasn’t yet fluent?

I studied abroad in France for about 3 months during my third year of college and had not yet chosen a major.  I was leaning toward doing something in the history department, but I realized that if I went that route I would need to take so many classes that I would have no more room in my schedule for any French classes.  I thus chose to major in French.  It was enjoyable for the most part, but I had to study a lot of fiction literature and wanted to study more of the philosophers.  In particular, the professor who taught classes on Pascal was on leave, and so I studied about Montaigne, instead.

Upon graduating I decided to become an elementary teacher, which had nothing at all to do with studying French language or literature.  I promptly stopped speaking or reading any French.

Starting French with Basil:

When Basil was fairly young I had a few French language children’s books in the house.  These were left over from a very short-lived after school program I took part in, teaching kindergarteners French.  I would occasionally read one with Basil, but it wasn’t a true effort to teach him French.

When my brother’s family returned from living in Taiwan for two years, his daughter was fairly proficient at speaking Chinese, and his wife encouraged me to really teach Basil French.  I thought about it for a while, and it made a lot of sense to me to pass on to him at his young age something that took me so long to acquire in college.  It also seemed to make sense to me from my Montessori training that it would be much easier for him at his age.

Right after he was about 3 years old I decided to only speak to him in French.  I checked out a couple of books from the library about “one parent one language,” which describes how to raise children bilingually.  At first I tried speaking to Elizabeth in French as well to make it a complete system, but she became too frustrated with not understanding what I was saying, especially in stressful situations, that I stopped doing that.

Stopping French:

Basil became very frustrated, as well.  Just after he turned 3, when I started this experiment, he had just come to a fluency with English.  He was speaking full sentences and was able to express his thoughts.  This was a very important new step for him, and he did not enjoy taking a step back with me.  When I spoke French to him he had to gain his understanding by context clues and the little he had learned from children’s books we’d read.  I also stopped reading English language books with him, which mean, of course, most of the books we had access to.  He became very frustrated with not being able to fully understand what I was saying, and we both became frustrated with my inability to say everything I wanted to say.  I spoke less to him than I had previously because I didn’t know how to say everything I wanted to.  Thus, I read and spoke less to him and he spoke less to me.  Out of concern for my relationship with Basil I decided to stop the experiment.

Starting Again:

The only reason I picked it back up is because Basil requested it of me.  He repeatedly brought to me the book Max et Les Maximonstres, which is Where the Wild Things Are in French.  He had never read this book in English, and it had become his favorite book.  This fact alone inspired me to continue reading in French to him and eventually continue speaking in French with him.  It showed me that in at least some way he enjoyed it and enough to ask for more.

We received a membership to the Alliance Francaise in the area, which had a wide variety of children’s books to check out.  I also started to discover the area libraries that had greater collections of French books – most I had explored had absolutely none.  Eventually, we also signed Basil up for classes at the Alliance Francaise two times, which he really enjoyed.

Why Reading?:

When reading from the OPOL books there was a discussion of what kind of “input” the children were receiving.  When the children are in a certain country that country’s language becomes the majority language and provides the majority of language input (written, spoken, or sung).  It becomes paramount that the children receive as much input in the minority language as possible to provide balance between the two languages.  If only one of the parents is providing input from the minority language the balance is weakened.  If that parent is the father it is further weakened due to a father’s reduced time with children (in traditional family arrangements).  It is advantageous to put the child in a school with the minority language, if possible, to tip the balance back and provide more input in the minority language.

I decided to further this experiment by teaching Basil how to read in French.  We had previously felt no urgency to teach him how to read early.  In addition, because of my concern of the imbalance in languages Basil would encounter I really didn’t want him to learn to read English early.  I wanted him to only have access to French books in order to increase the balance.  If I couldn’t be with him all day speaking French, I wanted him to have good input from the French books in our home.

Starting Reading with the Sandpaper Letters:

From my Montessori training I learned to teach reading with letter sounds.  The primary tool for this is a set of sandpaper letters.  These are expensive, especially French versions, so I decided to make them myself, which wasn’t too hard.  As it turns out, the alphabet is almost exactly the same aside from some accented letters and the important vowel combinations.  Why this particular material is effective is because it uses three senses to teach letter-sound associations: seeing, hearing, and touching.  I had to try hard (still do) to have family members stop teaching the children alphabet songs or reading alphabet books because learning letter names is counterproductive.  It does not help to say “a” as “ay” when reading the word “dad” or when reading the French word “chat.”  English letter names are counterproductive in both languages.  Each night after Macrina when to sleep, Basil and I would have a special time where we would pull out the letters and I would teach him a lesson on three new letters or fewer if they presented a special difficulty, tracing with the finger and saying the associated sound.  You can learn about a “three period lesson” elsewhere.

To guide my progress through the letters of the alphabet (after covering b,a,s,i, and l) I used a book called Pas à Pas, Ma Méthode de Lecture Syllabique, which I ordered from France.  This book provided a nice sequence and several pictures and words matched to practice some of the letter sounds already learned.  What was very nice about this system is that the words provided usually only contained letters already learned, something that was beyond my ability to create.

Sometimes we even made letters out of dinner!

Continuing Reading with the Movable Alphabet:

Also beyond my ability to create was the next material: the Movable Alphabet.  This is a collection of small letters: 5 of each consonant and 10 of each vowel.  The point of this material is to create words and sentences.  In the Montessori method, students learn first how to associate letters with sounds and then they learn how to compose words with those sounds.  Thus, writing comes before reading.  In practice, the reading comes automatically with the ability to write because they read as they write.  With these green letters Basil began stringing together letters – first his name, then other words we had looked at together.  Eventually he began stringing together entire sentences.  He is still very happy to do this activity as he has not yet mastered the spelling of all French words or the proper French grammar or syntax.  It is still a fun challenge for him.

Other supporting activities involved taking dictation for stories that Basil made up (in English and in French) and then having him illustrate them.

We even created an entire book out of movable alphabet letters and taking photographs to go with each page.

We also sing real and made up songs together in French.

Basil sometimes reads French books to his sister, Macrina.

Here is Basil reading Emilia her first ever book.  The book is in French and it is called Super Bobo.

Learning to Read English:

My hypothesis from the beginning was that I needed to teach Basil to read in French early because he would pick up reading English without even trying.  As it turns out, he seems to have picked up reading English more on account of being able to read in French.  The consonant sounds are largely the same.  The vowel sounds are different but not too different.  His superior knowledge of English allows context clues to help him figure out words that aren’t pronounced the same way as English.


To this point Basil is able to read many of his favorite books in French – and I mean READ, not retell from memory.  He is also able to read most of his favorite English books, as well.  Unknown French words are decoded with phonetic knowledge.  Unknown English words are figured out mostly through context clues and using the phonetic clues from his French knowledge.  Basil is not conversationally fluent.  He understands much more than he can say, and this may be due to my laxity in responding to his English rather than expecting him to speak to me in French.  Still, it has been scarcely more than a year (maybe a year and a half) and he can understand and read much French.  With Macrina I began when she was about 1, and with Emilia I will be starting from the very beginning.  I don’t know what difference this will make since the amount of English input is larger for Macrina than it was with Basil – she has two people at home who speak English to her during the day while he had only one.  Still, there are other methods for trying to balance the input, such as the Alliance Francaise classes, French day at the zoo, a French performance of Eric Carle books, and the occasional viewing of a 1980’s Canadian program, called Téléfrancais (Basil’s only screen time).

My Own Study:

In order to do all of this I had to up my French from when I graduated from college in 2006.  To do this I watched, read, and listened to French news through the internet.  I attended one review class at the Alliance Francaise.  I went to local French discussion groups, and I even found a local French-language playgroup (though we have only attended once so far).  In this whole process I thought that perhaps I should think about teaching French professionally – a thought that never entered my mind as I graduated with a French degree and started in the teaching profession.  I subsequently took courses at a local university and became licensed to teach French K-12.  I don’t know if I’ll take a French job, however.  My fluency is still low, in my opinion, and I think it would be a lot of work!

Please feel free to ask questions if I left out details you want!



Week 1 Learning Stuff Highlights

September 27, 2013

We started “preschool” the last week of August since that’s when Papa headed back to work.  Basil has no concept of “homeschool” or “doing preschool” and thinks he “goes to school” by attending Church school and French class.  I think we’ll leave it that way as long as possible since there’s no telling what we’ll do next anyways.

It was a transition week just like all the other “Papa back to work” weeks, so we had some extra emotions to work around.  But it was an especially nice time for new routines.  We’re ever so loosely using the “Harvest Time” curriculum from WeeFolkArt (just the book list and activities), attempting some Montessori math lessons, somewhat intentionally “playing Church school” at home, and continuing with French phonics lessons.  Eric is in charge of reading/writing so he’ll have to write out the nitty gritty of that if he so chooses.

Having just finished our fifth week, it’s clear our plans have been pruned by the forces of… life.  Keeping notes of the “educational” aspects of the day usually surprises me to see how much is done, and how much of it is regular life and not the planned aspects.  It also shows very varied days and a lot of missed opportunities. I’m getting a little better at planning realistically.

Bullet points and photos are less of a “day in the life” retelling, but far easier to record:

-Read “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens and “Vegetables” by Gail Gibbons for our vegetable theme.  Other books of note, because someone in the crew liked them a lot (a lot more than this were read): “Pet of the Met” by Lydia and Don Freeman, “Children of the Forest” by Elsa Beskow, and “Lentil” by Robert McClosky.  We started reading “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The story of Joseph in Egypt was read through in the Children’s Bible Reader.

-We went to the park and I tried to teach left vs right on the way there.  Lots of cute pointing out of the stroller from both children, but that’s all.  We’ll try again in a few years!  Mostly they were pretending to have a concert.  The music was… progressive?

-Restarted recording the date and important events for the month on a calendar.  Read the stories of St Elizabeth (mother of the forerunner), looked at her icon and read through her hymns.

-Joined up with a homeschool playgroup for one morning.  It was terribly terribly hot out, but we wound up pouring water all over and keeping relatively cool.

-Took a walk at the lake.

-Made paint from cornstartch.  Mixing the colors was a big hit.  This is what happens when I ask Basil to smile.

-Made salt dough vegetables to play with.  You can’t see the veggie he’s holding. But we’re closer to a smile!

-Took a trip to the grocery store to try a new vegetable.  Tried taro root (okay, kind of like spongy celery) and dragon fruit (pretty tasty, like a less acidic kiwi).  Found root, leaf, stem, flower bud, fruit, bulb, tuber and seed vegetables.

-Went to the downtown farmers market to enjoy a bluegrass concert, admire vegetables, and pick up cabbage for kraut.  Clogging was a main form of percussion for the band.  I’m a fan!  On the bus on the way to the market and then the band:

-Introduced the red rods.  (We never let pants get in the way of our education.)

-Wrote letters to friends.  This devolved rather quickly into making letters out of crayons.  (We don’t let original plans, shirts or the fact that we have moose antlers get in the way either.)

Maybe I’ll write another one of these sooner than 5 weeks from now and remember more.

Pictures from December to…

March 19, 2011

Waiting for Stella:

Cheese bread and Harry Potter (Papa’s Christmas activities):

Basil’s Christmas activities:

Family arrives!:

Presents for colleagues (cinnamon raisin swirl):

My first attempt at christopsomo (Greek Christmas bread):

Ciabatta sandwich rolls to break the Advent fast:

Elizabeth makes a cake for ProPapou’s birthday (Dec. 25):

I decorate the massive sandwich cake:

Basil’s new activity:

Momma’s new activity (first goecache find!):

So much better than television!!!:

First try at Vasilopita (St. Basil’s Day bread – New Years):

Caught in the act!:

“Hey, no pictures!”:

Balderdashing on New Year’s Eve:

Ongoing kitchen beautification project:

No longer satisfied to stand back and watch the baking:


Wrangler advert:

Lounging and double-fisted pickles:

Whole wheat breads:

First hair cut.  Mama’s too sentimental about things like this, so Papa’s on the job.

He doesn’t even know what’s going on:

In our new oven, I’m able to switch out the round pizza stone with a collection of unglazed quarry tiles, which enables larger baking surface:

First attempt at Ethiopian injera – I’m now quite happy with the results I’m getting:

Basil’s ark:

Crazy hair day:


Hugging mama:


Don’t mess with Alfalfa:

Mesmerized by monkeys at Como zoo:

We stayed here for a long while:

Writer’s block:

Drawing family members (or scribbling upon their faces):

Waiting for papa…:

I made a couple of bookcases over a break just for fun.  We then realized we don’t have (or want) enough books to fill them up!:

Homemade pizza during meatfare:

Basil, onion, and goat cheese:

Big beard be gone!:

“You mean the snow goes away?!”

Reading with Papou Chris:

Consider yourself updated! :)


It’s Intersession!

November 13, 2010

though work is not yet complete.

“Intersession” is our school’s version of summer, cut up throughout the year.  This week has been a little rough with my regular Tuesday night class (5:00-8:00pm) along with two marathon sessions at school: a full day of teaching Thursday with conferences from 5:00-8:00pm and a full day of conferences on Friday from 9:00am-7:00pm.  I think my absence helped Basil learn the word “Papa,” which makes it all worth it!

My two weeks off have officially begun.  I still have two papers (one almost a week late!) due to St. Kate’s as well as work for my online class through Bemidji State.  I need to observe at two schools early next week and still attend the regular Tuesday night class.  Work is not done.

However, upon waking this morning we saw snow!  Work can wait in order to play in the snow with Basil for the first time and in our new home’s backyard.

First, we had cheesy eggs and pancakes:

Then we overdressed with our thrift store and second hand goods:
(thrift store = Papa and Basil boots and jackets; school colleague = mama jacket)

Basil was especially excited about his new snowsuit, which says “Save the Whales”:

I tried to inspire his excitement about the snow, but he was a little apprehensive:

Within about 10 minutes, mama and papa had created a big snow man.  Basil, during this time, repeated to fall down without being able to get up by himself.  We had lots of fun!  I hope he liked it, too

After we came in and undressed a bit on the front porch, I went straight over to the heating vent.  Basil brought us over some pillows and a blanket, and we warmed up in front of the fire. (ok, the fireplace was just behind us but hasn’t been cleaned yet…)

Happy snowy Saturday!



Other pictures…

Who’s splattering Basil with food?

Visiting the St. Croix river with folks from church:

Here I baked some hamburger buns for a dinner party.  This was the last time I became depressed that I was not a poor baker who never got to see his family.  I’m currently cured:

Basil enjoys playing with his great-grandpa’s train set.  He’s not old enough yet but it was a fun introduction:

Basil enjoys mama’s new project:

Basil tries out the new tight-pants fad.  Does he pull it off successfully?  Maybe it’s the paw prints…

Over and out!


October happened…

November 12, 2010

and we completely failed to blog!  Oops.  Things have been busy around here in the moving, teaching, learning, cooking, playing, normal-ness of life kind of way.  We’re hopelessly behind in recording the goings-on, and the latest photos are not uploaded, so I may resort to scrolling through iphoto and telling you about the summer.  (I’m also trying to simultaneously supervise Basil’s unpacking of the purse/diaper bag… so we’ll see how this goes.)

Did we mention that we moved to Minnesota?  I guess Eric covered that, but I’m not sure he did a good job emphasizing the 6am hike in Black River Falls, WI on the way here.  Maybe because he slept through it.  Well, it was the best part!

Here are some handsome dudes right before a certain (successful!) interview and after a night of no sleep:

We celebrated Auntie Jude’s birthday on Eric’s first day of class at St. Kate’s:

And finally got some sleep in the (formerly) new digs:

Basil enjoyed his first walk around Lake Harriet, and attempted to lose his sunhat several times along the way which sent poor Yiayia backtracking quite a bit.

We hunkered down at Yiayia and Papou’s during a storm, but didn’t end up needing the basement.  I’m not sure if this pose/expression means “it’s hot out”, “I love my truck”, “give me ice cream” or what exactly…

We played at the park A LOT (I’m sparing you a lot of photos here, it’s hard to pick.)

It wasn’t a summer of all play though.  Papa had school work:

And Basil had pounding:

Me?  Mostly playing.  And constantly restocking the not so mysteriously unloaded cupboards:

And soon it was party time!  Basil got to be with all four of his grandparents on his birthday.  Here he is with his Papous:

He liked the strawberries on top of his cake better than the chocolate.  He looked happier in real life!

We hung out with Yiayia at St.Kates, and a whole lot of water fowl.

And Basil got to meet cousin Amy (one of the cousin Amys!):

Cheerios with AK = best treat ever:

We went to Chicago for Mark and Claire’s wedding, it was fantastic!  And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the only photo I got:

That’s Basil at the reception (post diaper malfunction sending him into non-wedding attire) hiding in the table linens.  It really was an incredibly beautiful, comfortable and fun wedding!  Unfortunately Eric had to leave early to drive through the night for his classes at St. Kate’s.  A baby in a front pack is really not the best dancing partner.  But the Uzbek pop music almost made up for my lack of spouse at the reception.

The next day we got to reunite with a few playgroup pals, spend a great day with Lila

and get Basil’s 12 month check up!  Surprisingly, vaccinations right before flying

was a great idea and Basil slept through the whole flight.  He didn’t cry until we landed and saw Papa.  I wanted Papa to carry the beast of a car seat and I would just take Basil.  No.  He needed Papa, IMMEDIATELY.

We got to see my aunts a couple of times this summer and we’ve spent lots of time at ProYiayia and ProPapou’s.  I particularly like this picture of Great Aunt Katina and Basil.  What fun!

Now we come the part of the summer where the camera stopped working due to high humidity.  Thanks to Yiayia’s camera we do have documentation of AK teaching Basil to smash sand castles.  If he loses all his friends at the beach, we’ll know who to blame!

Speaking of the beach, Basil LOVED it.  He had to be stopped multiple times from crawling in too deep.  It was ridiculously fun to see him experience the water for the first time.  And the look on his face when he saw just how much sand he had to work with was priceless.  (Word to the frugal, don’t spend $13 on a swim diaper like we did.  Put your child in a too-small diaper cover.  Same exact thing.  Or a one-size cover set too small.  That would work too.  The orange fishies are pretty cute though.)

We enjoyed concerts at the bandshell.  This is the Minnesota Pops Orchestra.  You can’t see them?  Oh, neither could we.  The diehard fans had the good seats, but we had the crawling space.

Then Stella came to visit!  (Auntie Katina and Uncle Jeff too).  I guess we already posted this bit of news, but I don’t think we shared that they got to meet some chickens at the bookstore.

Or that Basil is IN LOVE with his auntie:

(though he didn’t set the blackberry down for the kiss, did he…)  Seriously though, when he visits Yiayia and Papou’s he likes to page through a photo album and point out every picture of Katina.    Maybe it’s because she taught him to eat Papou’s BBQ Chicken:

And here’s general adorableness:

We went to the state fair!  I loved it (as usual), Basil thought the animals and cheese curds were pretty neat, and Eric asked if I really think I’ll want to go again next year.  Alas, I married a non-Minnesotan, I guess there is a price to pay.  The sheep barn was a hit:

As was the biggest pig in MN (a record year!):

He was not so impressed by the Princess Kay butter heads:

He did like his own little milk experience outside the dairy building:

And a different type of dairy experience happened several times this summer and was more than a big hit:

Then school started, Eric will have to talk about that.

Basil met Meredith:

We packed.

It was hard work!

We moved.

Basil met Danielle:

It was really wonderful to sandwich stressful moving times with visits from dear friends.  And I think it’s a testament to enduring friendship despite distance when you feel comfortable bringing someone into your home that is either immediately pre or post move.

The first couple of nights in the new house were a little rough in the sleep department:

But we followed with a visit from the Stiffs!  And it was fantastic.

You know it’s a good time when you don’t get any pictures until departure.

So… that’s up to the beginning of October, and now I need to find the camera cord again!



September 21, 2010

We’re moving again on Friday!  Hmm…


August 1, 2010

So there’s a lot to catch up on.
What should we blog about?

Moving to MN?
Getting a new job?
Montessori training?
Finding a new church?
Minneapolis parks?
Grocery store hunting?
My parents visiting?
Basil’s first birthday?
Visiting the Stiffs and the Roosien wedding?
Our second anniversary?
Scooter/bicycle shopping?
Re-Ferberizing Basil?

I guess we’ll have to go one subject at a time or just post up some photos with minimal commentary.  Can’t be living in the past!

Moving to Minnesota was a quick, somewhat stressful process.  Chris and Margie came and took most of our stuff away in a big moving van.  I packed it as high and full as possible.  Then we were left with a few more living items for our last days in Chicago.  I finished up school and we packed the Nissan Versa as fulls as possible without covering up the front seats or smothering Basil in the back.  That left a few items in the apartment.

Our wonderful friends, the Stiffs, would be living temporarily in our apartment during our last days on the lease, and some of those items ended up staying with the Stiffs for various lengths of time.  (Thank you so much)

We wound our way to the Twin Cities – driving through the night.  Why, do you ask, did we do that?  Because I wanted to leave Chicago on the last possible day.  Chicago Public Schools ended on June 18.  My classes started on June 12, and I just got a job interview for June 11.  So, we decided to leave on June 10 after school and drive through the night.  This turned out wonderful, as Basil slept almost the entire way.  I was dead tired, however.

We arrived in Minnesota early in the morning, and I took a bit of a cat-nap before getting myself ready for the interview.  Well, it just so happens that I got the job a couple of weeks later!  This being my second in-person interview ever, I must conclude that either I am a decent interviewee, a lack of sleep is a benefit, or the job is a good fit.

I’ll be working at a montessori magnet school in the St Paul Public School district.  I am doing my Montessori training at St. Catherine University, which I have stated before.  The downside is that my training this summer has been for lower elementary (grades 1-3) and my job will be for upper elementary (grades 4-6).  I’m not technically trained for the job I got – I will be after next summer.  This year I will be struggling, piecing together the work of my job, trying to survive until I can really understand what I’m supposed to be doing.  The advantage, I’m told (if there is any), is that when I do get trained next summer for upper elementary I am really going to be attentive and excited to learn it.  “Oh, this is what I was supposed to be doing for the last 9 months!”

I got to meet some of my kids, though, and they were pleasant and excited to see me.  Everyone at the school is encouraging and excited for me to be there.  The school is beautiful – it is quite a switch from Barton.  It is also very diverse.

White, not Hispanic 37%
Black, not Hispanic 28%
Hispanic 17%
Asian/Pacific Islander 16%
American Indian/Alaskan Native 2%

Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch program  44%

This is much different from Barton’s 99% Black, 99% free or reduced.  I think the diversity will be really refreshing, and I look forward to seeing how this kind of classroom community is different.  The school is also year-round, which I prefer in principle.  After experiencing little breaks throughout the year rather than one big break in the summer, I may change my mind.

One of the best parts about this school is that their mascot is a little child whose clothes are on fire.

I’ve enjoyed much of my training at St. Catherine’s, but I’ve also been a little surprised.  Much of what I read about Montessori at first dealt with the Children’s House level (ages 3-6), and I thought more of the principles would follow through the elementary years.  Many principles do, but some do not, so it looks a little different than I expected.  There are a few other issues that I’m getting through, but I like my instructors and classmates.  We even met a friend who needed a ride to Chicago and who later gave me some of her sourdough starter!  (I left mine with the Stiffs in Chicago TWICE!)