27 April 2014

German Homeschooling Resources

I spend a lot of time with my little ones doing preschool activities in German. When my older children were younger, I ordered German schoolbooks and workbooks to aid me with German "homeschooling". See this post: German homework with the first batch. I didn't really homeschool the older children, since they all attended public schools, but we did do a lot of German "Hausaufgaben" (homework) during the preschool years and even continued into the first few grades. We mostly worked on it during summer vacation and sometimes I even had them do some German homework after school...but this was never popular. They usually had other homework or just wanted to play. Eventually, as the kids got older, my attempts ran out of steam. I do plan on homeschooling the younger kids. You can read more about my plans here:Homeschooling Thoughts? Me??

I started out using Kunterbunt from the Klett Verlag many, many years ago (about 17 yrs). We got a lot of use out of the textbook and the single workbook that I ordered. I made numerous copies of the pages and all 5 of my older kids had spiral notebooks with the copied workbook pages. We really liked the series. It taught the kids to read in German. I believe that the skills were transferable to their English reading skills, as well. They can all read German pretty well. Actually, reading German is pretty easy since it's so phonetic. Their writing is another story. We just never took the time (it's hard when the kids are in school full time) to really learn how to spell, write or even understand basic grammar.

But, the time we spent on our German homework was well worth it and we really liked Kunterbunt. Since then, Klett has revised their Kunterbunt series.
My old Kunterbunt Fibel next to the newer edition that I recently ordered

Piri Fibel (beginning reader)
I still enjoy Kunterbunt, but have been super excited about a new series that Klett has called Piri. I like how they teach reading by breaking the words into syllables. This type of teaching works so well for German (being such a phonetic language). The kids love it, too. I also found amazingly wonderful free software that I was able to download off the Klett website.
Piri Fibel Software Download
Piri 2 Software Download

My very favorite part of Piri is that I found a bunch of classroom reading games that go with the series. What a fun way to learn. My kids love the games. We spend a lot of time playing the games. They have bingo games, matching games, games where you roll the dice or flip coins and they all help the children to learn to read syllables and then help them learn how to combine the syllables into words.

If you live in the states, let me just put in a plug for Abe Books. I have been able to order almost any German book that I can find with nominal or free shipping. They are wonderful!!
Piri's Silbenspiele
 Here's a fun video of the kids playing one of the syllable matching games. They flip a coin and if it's heads they take out of one pile (with word beginnings) and if it's tails, they take out of the other pile (with word endings). Then they lay their cards on the pictures of the words. The games have made reading lots of fun.

24 April 2014

English speaking friends in our "German" home

It's always interesting to observe the kids when we have friends over. My youngest three speak mostly German (the minority language) to each other at home. They are much more comfortable with German. However, when friends are over, they switch to English. The other day, their friend, Jessica, came over. It was fun to watch the interactions switch between German and English. It's neat to see them really think about the language.

In the video below, I start out by asking which language Jonathan should speak. He lets me know that he should speak English because Jessica is over. They are very sensitive about which language should be spoken to certain people. Jonathan does not allow me to speak German to him when I'm helping in his Kindergarten class. But when I'm separate and the friend can't hear me, then the kids are ok speaking German to me. In this video, Simon is sitting next to me on the porch swing. Clarissa makes a comment in English "I have not do it longer" (meaning she hasn't been able to ride her bike long enough). Simon catches on that Clarissa used incorrect English. Right away, he realized that Clarissa should have conjugated the word "do". He knew that something wasn't right with the sentence and he wanted to ask me how to say the question in correct English. So, he took the incorrect sentence that Clarissa had said, translated it into German and asked me how to say it in English. That's pretty complex thinking for a 5 year old!! And yes, I realize that neither their English nor their German is perfect.

Later in the video, all 4 kids (my three plus their friend, Jessica) are sitting in the kitchen having lunch. Jonathan, can't remember the word for mustard right away and asks for 'Senf'. Later he remembers it and is able to ask for mustard. Simon copies him, but when he says the word 'mustard', it comes out as 'musters' which reminds Simon of the word 'monsters'. Then I ask the kids, in German, if they're thirsty. When I tell Clarissa to get a cup for herself and for Jessica, Jessica perks right up because she hears her name in the middle of a German sentence. I should try harder to always speak the majority language when we have friends over. It's just not polite when others can't understand what you're saying...especially when they hear their name mentioned.

19 April 2014

It's all a matter of habit and consistency...

Why is it SO much easier to introduce a minority language at birth? Why is it so hard to introduce the language later? I guess, I've never seen a family (with older children) able to make a deliberate switch from speaking the majority (community) language to only speaking the minority (target) language at home. It's incredibly hard to wake up one morning and say, "OK, from here on out we will all only speak Spanish (German, Italian, etc) to each other." Why is this so hard?
I think it's because we are such creatures of habit. We don't like to spend much time thinking 'about' language. Language is a tool we use to communicate. When we pick up a hammer, we don't spend much time thinking about that hammer. We're spending our time thinking about what we're going to accomplish with the hammer. It's the same with language. We don't want to waste our time thinking about the words and syntax that we will use, we mostly are thinking about communicating a certain thought. And usually, we prefer to use the most efficient tool (or language) to which we have access.
The reason why it's so effective to introduce a minority language early, is because we establish language patterns and routines which become natural and efficient. If we've been using certain words and phrases for certain routines since birth, then each time we encounter that particular routine, it will trigger those particular words and phrases.
I've seen this in action with my older kids. We started off speaking only German to all of our children. As they entered their teen years, our family language had mostly switched to English (the community language). They retained their ability to understand and speak German, they just didn't use German much at home, with the exception of certain daily and weekly routines. Because the German language had been so ingrained in conjunction with those routines, they almost always used German in those situations.
The other reason it's easier to start out with the target language, is because it just makes the whole bilingual rearing so, so, so much easier. I think about my youngest three children. They have been speaking exclusively German since birth. I don't even have to make an effort to get them to speak German, they just do it. It's what comes naturally to them.
So, if anyone were to ask me for advice on how to to raise children in a non-native language, I would tell them to start at birth. That way, you're learning right along with the children and you're establishing all your family routines in the target language which makes raising bilingual children so much easier and sets you up for success!!

10 April 2014

Homeschooling Thoughts?? Me??

I went to public school (and loved it) and so have all my kids. They have done well in public school. My three oldest have already graduated. They got good grades in high school (two of them were 4.0 students).  I still have kids in high school now and they are getting good grades. For the most part, I've liked their teachers and feel like they were academically challenged. All the kids excelled/excel in sports. We love to cheer for our school team and love the sense of community we feel at high school sporting events. The older kids were/are involved in school leadership and have good groups of friends. The public school system has been good for our family.

So, why am I starting to have thoughts about homeschooling? Well, there are several reasons. One of the biggest is that I feel (and have always felt) like the public schools take my young children out of the home for too long. I don't like that they leave at 7:30 in the morning to catch a bus and then don't return home until almost 4:00. When is there enough time to play? And, as a mom, I just want more time with my kids (especially during their younger years)! There just is no need for young children to be pulled out of the home all day, every day.

One of the reasons this bothers me is because I can contrast it with my childhood experience. During the 5 years my family lived in Germany, I attended elementary school in the rural town of Parsberg. I LOVED my elementary school experience!!  We had very small class sizes, wonderful teachers, and best of all, school got out at noon for grades 1-4 and at 1 p.m. for grades 5 and 6. We had a snack during recess, but lunch (or noon-day dinner) was eaten at home. Too me, this is the ideal situation. We had the entire afternoon to play on the farm, do our homework and just be with our family. And our education was every bit as good as the American kids who spent most of the day at school.
Parsberger Grundschule

I have been toying with the homeschooling idea for a few years...I tend to go back and forth on the issue. My older kids are a done deal and they're happy with their schooling situation. But my younger kids' education is still an unwritten book. Well, I had two thoughts that have helped me over my mental hump of accepting the homeschooling idea.

The first thought wasn't mine. It was a friend of mine who explained to me that I didn't have to really choose either homeschooling or public schooling. I could do whatever works best for that child for that year...meaning, I didn't have to commit!! That was a liberating thought. I can choose whatever works for us. If the kids want to do public school one year, they can! If they want to do home school the next year, they can!! This thought is what gave me the guts to seriously consider trying homeschooling. Because, if I (or the kids) didn't like it, we could always go back to public school.

The second thought (and this was the clincher for me) was realizing the potential I have to really teach the kids German. I taught my older kids German, but they weren't really "literate" in German. I didn't teach them grammar rules. They can't write, or spell, or even read that well. I did do some German school work with them when they were very young, but once they started school, we ran out of time for "German homework". It was quite an epiphany for me when I realized that if I pulled my children out of public school for a year or two, the kids could become truly literate in German. We could learn grammar, writing, reading, science, math, etc. all in German. What better use of my college degrees than truly educating the people that mean the most to me? Why else did I get a German teaching degree and a masters in Language Acquisition? Maybe I'll teach someone else's kids someday, but for now, I'm going to focus on the kids who are most important to me: mine! I get excited just thinking about it!!

In the meantime, I have my little Jonathan enrolled in (English speaking) Kindergarten in our local public school and I plan on sending the twins to Kindergarten next year. I think it's important that the kids get a year or two of English schooling. They need to really learn English. They weren't learning it at home (of which I'm quite proud). I want them to learn "Kid-English" and understand how to really interact on a playground, learn what words and phrases are acceptable, and form friendships. I want them to lose their German accents and syntax, so that they can relate better to their peers. Of course, we'll continue speaking and learning German at home during this time.  But, in a year or two, I hope to pull them out and try homeschooling them in German. By that time, they'll be a little older and better able to learn some of the concepts that I'm so excited to teach them. I'm not sure if I'll do it for a year, for two years, or more... It all depends on how it goes (I love that I don't have to commit). But either way, I am so, so, SO excited for our little homeschooling adventure, that I can hardly wait.

Here's a beautiful photo of the town of Parsberg where I attended Kindergarten through 5th grades. You can barely see the school. It's behind the church. The Kindergarten building is behind the Maypole. 

Here I am with my brother and sister, both of whom are holding their Schultueten (a dunce cap full of candy which kids traditionally bring on the first day of first grade). I'm starting 3rd grade and my brother is starting first grade. My sister wanted to walk with us and hold a Tuete, too. but she wasn't really starting school. We caught the bus at the little cluster of houses in the background.

06 April 2014

Cute Goodnight Prayers

I just stumbled across this old video from 1997. Ben is 4 and Michaela and Kiana are two. It's a video of our bedtime routine. As you can see, we are mostly speaking German to the kids and they are speaking German to us. I'm helping each of them say their prayers. Even though we often spoke English during the day, especially when we were in public settings, our nightly bedtime routine was always in German. I would always read the kids scripture stories in German. They would say their prayers in German and then I would sing them German lullabyes.

Michaela and Kiana are super cute in this video (if I do say so myself). Michaela makes sure that we thank God for the moon (twice). Kiana is super cute as she says her prayers, because she knows her daddy is videoing her. After her prayer, she tries to tell me that she wants me to to carry her into her bed. She sais something like "Kemmy me". I understood "Kami" (which is my sister's name). Then, she still won't get into bed until she is wrapped in her blanket "superman style". And then she does a very cute "snore". Even though their language consists of both German and English words, they still understand German better. The fact that we always did our routines in German (our target language) really helped us to keep the kids' German alive throughout the years, because they always associated certain routines with German. Even today, my older teenagers (who almost exclusively speak English to each other), still say our night time family prayer in German. And when they go to bed, they say "Gute Nacht" instead of "good night." Well entrenched routines and habits make a big difference.

If you are raising your children in your non-native foreign language, PLEASE take the survey. Click on the top right tab. Thank you!!

Bilingual Baby Dream Team

Going on 20+ years of raising our bilingual babies...
I'm so grateful for a sweet husband who was willing to give this whole experiment a try and and that he was willing to speak German to our kids, even though his German exposure had been limited to a few semesters of college German. It's been one of the most fun and rewarding things we've done. The fact that our family speaks German has given us our own identity and helps the kids feel like they are a part of something special. And anything that helps your family feel special and connected is a good thing.