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About This Blog

This blog is for anyone interested in raising their children in a foreign language--meaning a language which neither of the parents speak natively.
We have used the approach where both parents speak the target foreign language (in our case, German) to the children. Neither of us is a native German speaker, yet we have spoken German in our home for the past 20 years and have 8 German speaking children. In this blog, we hope to share our successes, our lessons learned and a few of the insights that we've gained along the way.

Getting written up in a magazine and spreading the word about non-native bilingual parenting!

I get excited about non-native bilingual parenting. Our family's bilingualism has had such a positive impact on everything that we do. If you ask any of my kids, they will all tell you that they are super happy that we taught them German. And because of this, I get excited about encouraging others to do the same. There are so many people that speak a foreign language who haven't even considered the possibility of teaching their children that language. And there are many other people who have considered it a possibility but who lack the confidence to actually try it. This is the very reason why I started my blog (and my website). I just wanted to let others know that it can be done...and done successfully. 
I was super excited when I was interviewed by Sue Bergin, one of the editors of BYU Magazine, a magazine published by Brigham Young University with a readership of over 200,000. How fun to share the idea of non-native bilingual parenting with even more people! Sue did a great job on the article. She also interviewed Cindy Brewer, who is also a non-native bilingual parent. Cindy and I were graduate students at the same time. My college-aged daughter, Kiana, currently happens to be taking German from Cindy. Kiana, who can speak fairly fluently already, is finally getting a good grasp on her German grammar. It's fun to see just how much she is learning. 
Anyways, here is the link to a great article about Non-Native Bilingual Parenting.

 BYU Magazine Fall 2015

German School at Home! An Update on our French and German part-time Home School Experiment.

 We're already a couple months into the school year and things are going great! I'm still so grateful to the kids' teachers at school. I'm so grateful that they are willing to support us as we pull the kids out of school one day each week to home school them in German and French.
At first the kids were a little reluctant to miss school, however, they now really look forward to our "German School" days. I love that the mornings are more relaxed--no lunches to make, no rushing through breakfast, no worrying about finding matching clothes and homework assignments. We have a nice breakfast, clean up, and then, after our German family scripture time, we head up to our school room.
We usually start out the day by going over the calendar. After that, the kids write in their journals. We do some reading together and often I let two of them work on a worksheet while I do some one-on-one reading with each of them. We like to do some of the activities in our "Fibel" (primer). Then we spend some time doing worksheets. I use a German grade school curriculum which I really like. We're almost finished with the first grade year and I'm in the process of ordering the second grade curriculum. Sometimes, we play reading games (the curriculum came with some fun games). Of course, we always have lunch and recess. I love that I can send them outside to play and explore during recess. After that we come back in and work on French. It's amazing to see just how much they are learning in French. Sometimes, we have crafts or go on an outing. Some days, I also throw in some math or science...depending on how we're doing. Each day ends up being a little different. Some home school days are more productive than others, but for the most part, we get a lot done and enjoy our time together.
I spliced together some videos I've taken over the the past several weeks of our home school to kind of show how we roll:

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Getting geared up for the new bilingual school year and wanting to be a more "deliberate" mom!

September arrived way too soon. I'm always so surprised at how quickly summer flies by. I always think I'll have the time to do summer school work with the kids, but it seldom works out. Between having all the kids home from school and all the summer activities and camps and the lack of a rigid schedule, I just don't seem to fit in any real school work. We mostly played, worked and had fun. We did, however, work a little bit on reading. Here's a little clip from some German summer reading:

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The kids are now back in school and I'm getting ready to start our unique part-time home school program: see Part-Time Home Schooling Post  The biggest difference this year is that I will probably only be pulling the kids out of school once a week instead of twice a week, like I did last year. If I feel like I'm just not getting enough time with them, then I may pull them out twice on some weeks. We'll just see how it goes.
My three young kids are attending public school and are in first and second grade this year. They happen to have two of the best teachers in the world. Not only would my kids complain if I took them out of school too often (because they LOVE school), but I also don't want to disrupt their classroom learning too much. On the other hand, I'm anxious to see if we can keep up with our German reading and writing with only one day each week to work on it. I hope that even by exposing them to German reading and writing once a week, that their German literacy skills will continue to progress at grade level. I think that many of the skills they are learning at school (in English) will transfer to our German school work: see Learning to Read in Two Languages.
I am very excited to start our "German School." I love our home school days so much because I am a more "deliberate" mom on those days. I figure that if I'm taking my kids out of school, I'd better make sure that I am not wasting their time here at home. On our home school days, I make an extra effort to spend quality time with my kiddos: teaching, learning, playing, creating, reading, writing etc. We mostly focus on German reading, German writing (handwriting, spelling & journaling), and French. In addition, we usually spend time reading scriptures and teaching values, homemaking (cooking, cleaning, etc), music (piano), outdoor school (nature walks, etc.) and an occasional outing (museum). There's just so much we could do that I can't possibly fit it into one day!
I have spent today printing out our schedule, copying workbook pages, studying our French lesson and getting our "German school" area ready for Friday. I'm so excited about all the things that we will be learning together. I'm thrilled that they are learning to read and write in German and I'm happy that they are starting to learn French. But mostly, I'm just so excited to have my kids at home with me all day and to have this special, deliberate and quality time to connect with my precious little ones.


She's Hungarian!!! (I mean, she's German!) Bilingualism Blessing my (grown) Babies!

Today I got a very sweet postcard in the mail. It's from my 20 year old daughter, Michaela, who is currently serving an 18 month mission for our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in Germany. Link to Michaela's Mission Blog. She has been serving the people of Germany for almost a year now. She loves Germany and she loves the German people. Today's postcard is one of those letters that warms a mother's heart:



TRANSLATION:
Dear Mommy,
You are the best! I'm being completely honest. Mom, you are really the best. I could never say thank you enough that you spoke German to us. This special ability that I have--to speak German (which you gave to me)--has opened many doors and hearts. You never served a full-time mission, but you are serving next to me every day--because every word that I speak is a word that you taught me. I love you so much, but right now I don't want to be anywhere else but here. I cherish every moment here on my mission. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (3 Ne 13:21). 
Today I had a funny/awesome experience. While we were on the train, I met an older lady. She was completely taken aback when I told her that I was an American. She was 100% sure that I was German AND she studied languages (she was a female version of Henry Higgens). After that encounter I had to laugh because I had that funny tune going around in my head from "My Fair Lady."  ..."She's Hungarian!"  You know? That point where Eliza passes her language test at the ball. Well, that's what I felt like today. 
From the bottom of my heart!
Your Michaela


First off, I have to say that I have not taught Michaela every word she knows...because I had to look up one of the expressions she used in her letter: "Ohrwurm im Kopf haben". I didn't know that meant to have a catchy tune stuck in one's head. But, what a gift that she is able to write the letter in German! This letter is precious to me. I am so happy that my grown children feel so grateful for the gift that we worked so hard to give them: the gift of a second language.  I am so touched by the fact that our efforts to raise our children bilingually have not only blessed the lives of our children, but also (through them) the lives of many others, as well! What a blessing! Once again, I am totally blown away by the unanticipated blessings we have received because of our decision to speak German to the kids. When we started this funny language experiment over 22 years ago, I never would have thought that it would have brought this much joy! What a wonderful journey this has been...with some amazing results and rewards!


Job Chart in Action

One of the things I LOVE about having two batches of kids, is that I don't have to reinvent the wheel for each phase of the kids' childhood. Now that the younger ones are old enough to really help with chores, I don't have to try and come up with a whole new system. I already did all that work the first time around.  I actually did a lot of cool things with my older batch that I'm able to use with the younger ones. For example, I spent a lot of time developing a great job chart that I used for many years with my older kids. How fun to pull it back out this summer and put it to good use!! All I had to do was change the names on the chart and update some of the chores. I LOVE my job chart. It has worked so well for us for so many years and I'm just tickled that I get to use it for many more years (one of the perks of having another batch of kids later in life)!!

For anyone interested in how it works, you can read about it HERE.


As you can see, it's a hodge-podge mixture of English and German--but it works for us. Each morning I pick all the jobs that need to be done that day. I sort of walk around the house and see what I'd like to have done. Then I lay the corresponding job tabs on the counter and have the kids pick which ones they want to do. Then they hang them on the chart in the order that they prefer to do the jobs. Then, throughout the day, as they complete each job, they are able to turn over the corresponding tab. They know they can't go out to play until all the tabs are turned over. And I am able to easily track their progress. It's been a great system for us.

Below is a video of the kids using the chart. As you can see, the kids mostly speak German as they discuss what chores they are going to do. But, many of our words we use for our chores are English. For example, we've always used the English word "mud room"--probably because there just isn't a good word for mudroom in German. We also use "stair basket" instead of figuring out the German word (Treppenkorb?). I find that we often insert English words into our German conversations. It's just easy to do. I should probably try a little harder to come up with German versions and get them to switch to the German word...but honestly, I often just don't worry about it. The kids already speak way more German than I ever expected from them. I'm just tickled that they are still speaking mostly German as they go about their morning chores.

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Introducing Maria...The Joys of Having a Native German Speaker in Our Home

I haven't blogged for a while. Sometimes, life is just so full of experiences that you just have to live them and enjoy them and there just isn't time to sit down at your computer and write a blog post. End of May and beginning of June are busy, event-filled weeks around our home. We've been busy with track meets, high school graduation, open-house, yard work, many fun family outings, mission calls, and so much more. And all this activity just hasn't left much time for blogging.
But all that said, I've been itching to blog about our special visitor from Germany. Her name is Maria. Her mother is a friend of mine, who contacted me a while back asking me if her daughter could stay with us for a month. So, after working out all the logistics, Maria arrived on May 22nd. We have been absolutely delighted to have her in our home. She hit it off with the kids right away! It was amazing to see how quickly the three little ones just fell in love with her. The very first day she was in our home, she developed a special bond with the three little kids...like she was their long, lost sister. She constantly reads them books, plays games (tag, board games, tickle games, etc) with them, and just hangs out with them. She also immediately bonded with the older kids. It's been fun to hear Maria and the girls giggling and laughing up in their room. They get along great and have had so much fun together. It's been amazing to see how seamlessly Maria has integrated into our family. She's probably been one of the easiest house guests we've ever had. She's sweet, gracious, obliging, considerate and helpful and a delight to have in our home.
Because Maria would like to improve her English while she's here in the states, I am trying to always speak English to her. I do slip sometimes and we fall back into German. But most of the time we communicate in English. However, she and the little ones always speak German to each other. So, basically, Maria is following our family's language habits: English among big people and German to little people. And the little people continue to speak German among themselves.
Language Help:
Maria has been a great help when it comes to correcting several of our ingrained German errors. Over the years we have come up with a few expressions and words which are not quite correct...and I am very aware of this. Because we are isolated from native German speakers and because none of us are actually "native born" German speakers, we have developed some incorrect language habits over the years. For example, if someone is silly, we might refer to them as "komisch". However, Maria pointed out that "komisch" has a much more negative connotation and suggested we use "lustig". She also (very sweetly) points out little errors that the kids are making. For example, they often get "wissen" (to know) and "kennen" (to be acquainted with) mixed up. They often say "Weisst du diese Frau?" (do you know (as in know about) this lady) instead of "Kennst du diese Frau?" (are you acquainted with this lady). These are mistakes that I am aware of and could easily correct, but sometimes I just don't make the effort. Also, I've noticed that when Maria corrects their German, they are much more enthusiastic about learning correct German, because "Maria weiss Alles!" (Maria knows everything).
We're sad that we only have a few days left before Maria leaves. It certainly has been a fun experience having her in our home. She has helped us all speak better German and, hopefully, we've been able to help her improve her English. But most of all, we're grateful to have forged a wonderful and lasting friendship. We will miss our Maria when she leaves.

Maria has her first piece of pie.

Maria experiences Dallin's high school graduation.

Maria and the twins hang out in the hammock. Clarissa loves to just sit and talk with Maria.

Maria is a great book reader. 

We take Maria on all our family excursions (including the beach).

French Fridays: Je mange une pomme! Fun with Little Pim!

For the past several months, my little kids have been doing half public school and half homeschool--meaning that I pull them out of public school two days a week so that we can work on our German and French. My goal in German is to have them reading and writing at approximately the same level in German as they are in English. This isn't really that hard, since they're using basically the same "reading skills" in both English and German. It just takes time...time which we can never find after they've spent a whole day at school. My goal for French is much simpler. Since my French is pretty limited, I basically just want to expose them to as much French as possible while they are young. Why French? Because it's the only other language I'm familiar with (I took a few semesters in college) and also because my husband also speaks some French. And why do I want to even teach them a third language? Well, I guess it's because they are at a great age to soak up languages. Being bilingual already, they totally understand the concept of "language". They understand that there are many different ways to express an idea. They are fascinated with foreign languages. They light up when they hear someone speaking Spanish at the store. They immediately recognize it as Spanish and start rattling off the five Spanish words they know in an effort to prove to me that they can speak Spanish. So, why not expose them to French right now? They're interested and they're primed to learn.
I have a French curriculum that I've been using. It's called La Petite Pierre. It's a French curriculum for German elementary students. But recently, I checked out the Little Pim DVDs from the library to supplement our French lesson on food. The Little Pim videos are very simple and repetitive. I really like them because they not only introduce and review vocabulary, but also help teach how to put that vocabulary into simple sentences so that the kids can actually use the new vocab.
Below, you can see my twins watching and interacting with the Little Pim video.  I've put out some food and drinks to help them practice some of the vocab. My goal is to get them to not only listen and watch the DVD, but also for them to produce language themselves. It's fun to see their little brains working so hard as they process the language. Although, they can only say a few things in French, they are under the impression that they can speak quite well. If you asked them what languages they speak, they would say German and French. They are quite proud of the fact that they have learned (some) French. And I'm thrilled that they are learning and enjoying languages.

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Learning to read in two languages simultaneously has benefits!

As my first grader and two Kindergartners are learning to read, write and spell in English at our local elementary school, I am simultaneously working with them at home to teach them how to read and write in German. I ordered a 1st grade German school curriculum, Piri by Klett, which I really like. At home, during our German "homeschool" sessions, we are learning the sounds of the German alphabet and also how to sound out words and how to write sentences. It's fun to see them making progress. We're also working on reading skills.
Some people might wonder if learning to read in two languages is difficult for a child. Does one language system interfere with the learning of the other system? Does learning both languages at the same time delay learning in both languages? Well, I have found the opposite to be true. I can't speak for all languages, but I have found that learning to read in both German and English simultaneously has only helped my kids. There are so many reading skills that transfer between and strengthen both languages. To learn to read means that a child needs to make a connection between symbols, sounds, and meaning. That very process is happening in both languages. I have been amazed at how seldom my kids mix the two languages. If they are reading in German, they pronounce things in their German accent and according to how that letter is pronounced in German. Now and then, they'll get a little confused, but very rarely. For instance, the letters W and V are a little tricky. The German W is pronounced like the English V and the German V is pronounced like the English F. This can be a little troublesome and confusing. But, these incongruities haven't been huge stumbling blocks in their reading development. Once they're immersed in reading a certain language, their mind switches into that language's syntax and phonological rules. If they come across a word that is spelled the same in both languages, like Baby or Computer, they will pronounce it correctly for the language that they are currently using. 
I love seeing how the reading skills that they are learning at school are helping them read (in German) at home. As they learn how to better blend sounds in English at school, I also see their ability to blend sounds in German improve. And as we work on dividing big German words into syllables, I see them applying some of these same strategies with English words. 
I love this quote that I found on the University of Calgary website:
According to Rahat Naqvi from the Faculty of Education, “Research also indicates that elementary school aged children can benefit from reading in two languages at the same time without hindering their ability to be effective readers in English. Multilingual literacy interventions in mainstream schools, such as dual language books, build on children’s first and second languages.” - See more at: http://arts.ucalgary.ca/news/research-shows-children-can-learn-multiple-languages-simultaneously#sthash.FmiuGNLE.dpuf


As long as the kids are eager to learn to read, I suggest taking advantage of this desire. Encourage them to read in both (or all) languages that they speak. There are so many overlapping skills that they are able to apply to both languages. It just makes sense for them to be practicing these skills in both languages. Although there may be a small amount confusion or mixing of languages at first, I have found that it is minor and that it works itself out quickly. In the meantime, the kids are able to get a much better grasp of both (or all) languages and will enjoy all the benefits of biliteracy at an early age. What a great gift!

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New Featured Non-Native Bilingual Family!

In an effort to try and connect the many families who are raising children in a language that is non-native to the parents, we are featuring some of these families on our new website:


This month's featured family consists of Tamara, Geoff and their daughter Kaya. They are very familiar to most non-native bilingual bloggers since Tamara has been blogging her non-native bilingual journey for many years now. Tamara and Geoff are both native English speakers residing in the United States. Tamara is successfully raising their daughter in her non-native German.

Tamara was kind enough to share some of her experiences and advice in an article that we recently posted. I loved her last piece of advice, which basically was to worry less and enjoy more. I think that is one of the best gems of wisdom that could be passed on to any parent who is
embarking on the journey of non-native bilingual parenting.

Read Tamara's article: Tamara and Geoff

Link to Tamara's Blog: Non-Native Bilingualism

It has been so enjoyable for me to learn about other families who are also raising their children in a foreign language. I love seeing the similarities. So many of us have worried, stressed and fretted about similar situations and have enjoyed the same feelings of success as our children have blossomed and have grown to love and understand another culture, language and people.



Letters from Big Sister in Germany in German!!

Just received letters from Michaela! Jonathan is sporting his
"Thing One" hair because it's Dr. Suess Day at school...which
is fitting, because Michaela is our "Thing-One", being the
first twin.
The other day, the 3 little kids were absolutely thrilled to find three letters in the mail. The letters were from their big sister, Michaela, who is serving a mission for our church in Germany. Michaela has been in Germany for over 6 months and still has a year left on her mission. (Michaela's Blog) Her little siblings miss her terribly and are always excited to hear from her---so an individual letter addressed especially to each one of them was just so exciting! They had checked the mail when they got off the bus and came running towards home to show me their treasures. Inside each envelope was a personal letter, some momentos (used train tickets and such---which the kids LOVED), a dollar, and a little Pixi Buch (a tiny little children's book).

Simon opens his letter.
We sat down on the sofa and I read each of them their letter. As I read to each one of them, they cuddled up next to me and hung on to every word.  Each of them was so excited to hear from their sweet big sister. I was feeling so happy that Michaela was able to share her German mission experience with her little siblings IN GERMAN!! This situation didn't just happen. I'm not German. My husband isn't German. My kids aren't German. And we don't live in Germany. But, somehow, we have this amazing situation where all the kids can speak and understand German. Who would have guessed, when we started this bilingual experiment 22 years ago, that we'd have our children writing German letters to each other.



The following video was recorded by the kids, so it's not perfect. We only got some shots of Jonathan and Clarissa's letters. Simon got a letter, too, but we didn't record it.
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I'm also so impressed with Michaela's ability to write in German. We did a little bit of German homework when she was little...but not much. She has taken one half-year of German where she pretty much received her first and only exposure to German grammar. Her letter is not perfect, but its pretty darn good.
I just love that our decision to raise our kids in our non-native German has continued to bless our home. I keep seeing so many big and little ways that it has effected and enriched our family. I know that at times I've had second thoughts about speaking German to the kids, but, in the end, it has been one of the most rewarding decisions we've ever made.



Here is a related post: A Day Like This Makes it All Worth It.

Playing Headbandz--German is still going strong!

It has been so much fun watching my little ones as they progress in German. I am still amazed that they continue to speak German with each other at home. In fact, as I'm writing this entry, I can hear the twins sitting at the kitchen table having an argument in German about what kind of picture to draw next. The fact that these little kids speak German to each other didn't "just happen." This is the result of lots of time, effort and many lessons learned throughout the last 20+ years. My older children started speaking mostly English to each other by the time they started grade school. So, I'm thrilled that this younger batch of kids have "stuck it out" with German.

Their German is not perfect, but it's good enough. As you can see in the video, they often substitute English words into their conversations and I'm completely fine with that. Sometimes, I'll correct them, just to make sure they know the correct German word. Sometimes, I'm too lazy and just let them continue to use the English word. In the video, Simon uses the English word for 'airplane' and 'corn'. But he defends his choice by telling me that it's an English game--which I think is so cute.


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Calling All Non-Native Bilingual Parents!

For the past few months, I have been thinking about how grateful I am for our bilingual blessings. I love that my kids can communicate in both German and English. I love that they have embraced the German culture as their own. I love that they are so proud of the fact that they can speak German. I love that they are learning a little French and I especially love their excitement when they hear a French word and exclaim: He, das ist Franzoesisch!! (Hey, that's French). I just love how they are so aware of language and culture. And I love how those languages and cultures have enriched our family, opened our minds and hearts and given us a unique and fun identity.

That being said, I was thinking about the many, many people who speak foreign languages but who have not passed that language on their children...maybe they didn't think it was possible, maybe the thought had just never even crossed their minds or maybe they were afraid that it would harm their kids. Whatever the reason, I really think that many more people would seriously consider embarking on a non-native bilingual adventure if they only understood just how do-able it actually is and that you don't have to speak a language perfectly to pass it on to your children. Because, in the end, some second language exposure is better than none at all.

Well, this brings me to my latest project. This project has two parts: The first is two provide a web presence that is dedicated to non-native bilingual parenting and which will provide information, resources and motivation for families who are interested in raising bilingual children in a non-native language. The second is to somehow connect the many non-native bilingual parents throughout the world. I think of how much I would have appreciated some guidance and reassurance back when we were starting this whole bilingual adventure. I would love to feature some of these amazing families as well as some of their informative blog posts and articles.

So, if you're reading this post, please check out the new Non-Native Bilingual Parenting website. Tell me what you think. Let me know what's missing or what should be changed. This website is for all of you!! If you want something posted on it, let me know. If you want me to add some links, let me know. If you have a great blog post that you would like to repost on this site, let me know. I would love to collect our shared experience and lessons learned into one place. My goal is to provide a place that links all of us together because I believe that our group is a unique and special family.

Thanks,
Nina

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Non-Native Bilingual Parenting



Learning Their "Native" Language. My American Kids in ESL.

I've been interested in finding out just how our "German experiment" has effected my children's English language abilities. Since both my husband and I are native English speakers, I still think it's quite interesting that our children are enrolled in the ESL class at school. I am intrigued by the fact that English is their second language. It's not like they haven't been exposed to English. They have been exposed to English since birth. We live in the United States. Everywhere we go, outside the home, everyone is speaking English. All of the adults and teenagers in our home speak exclusively English to each other. So, needless to say, there is LOTS of English spoken around our three youngest children. It's spoken around the dinner table, as we do our chores, as we sit around and talk. But, like I've mentioned before, we (all the adults and teens) speak only German to our 3 little ones. And they speak only German to us and to each other. You would think that with all that English exposure, that they would have a complete grasp of the English language. But interestingly enough, they don't. In fact, up until they started socializing outside the home (age 5), their English was extremely limited. When I spoke to them in English, I often got blank stares. But once they reached the age and maturity where social interactions with friends became important enough, they were finally motivated to actually start learning English. Up until that point, they had no need for English and, thus, they mostly tuned it out. However, now that they see the need for English, they are picking it up very quickly. In school, all three of them are enrolled in ESL class and they are making steady progress.
In the video below, I'm working with Simon on some homework that he brought home from school. I like that some of these exercises actually allow me to gauge the kids' English ability. Sometimes, I start assuming that they know way more than they actually comprehend. It's not until I ask them specific questions, like "What does 'crowded' mean?", that I realize that their English still needs work. I'm glad that they are enrolled in ESL at school. I'm glad that we have them attending public school. And I'm glad that we are now reading way more English books at home. It's all making a difference. But mostly, I'm glad that we have maintained our language boundaries and that German continues to be our home language, I'm thrilled that they are continuing to improve in German.

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So, rather than being overly concerned about their lagging English ability, I'm confident that they will pick it up very quickly. They are very motivated to learn and there is no stopping motivated kids!! They can learn anything (and any language) they set their minds to.  


German Homeschooling Update

So, we're now into our second month of part-time German homeschooling. What is part-time German homeschooling? Well, we're sending the kids to school three days a week and keeping them home on the other two days (I still can't believe how lucky I am that our public elementary school has been so amazing to work with me on this). On the days that we're at home, I homeschool the kids in German (and French).
  • I bought a German 1st grade curriculum (which I absolutely love) and that curriculum is the basis for our homeschooling. I have the teacher's manual, the reading book, the workbook and some other items. I just ordered the "Sachbuch"--which I'm super excited about. 
  • I also bought a French curriculum (intended for German elementary students). My French is very limited, so I'm basically learning right along with my littles. It's pretty fun. I had about 4 semesters of French in college about 25 years ago. Needless to say, I had forgotten most of my French. But I'm surprised at what is coming back to me, as I introduce the kids to the basics. I like like that this curriculum has lots of songs. The kids and I sing them all the time together.
  • I supplement with fun crafts and ideas from Kindersuppe.de. I love this site. You have to pay a small fee, but have access to tons of fun German educational craft ideas. 
The kids seem to be keeping up just fine in school. I guess, this only applies to my 1st grader, Jonathan, because he is the only one who technically is missing school in order to stay home on the days that the two Kindergartners already have off. There were a couple of occasions where he wanted to go to school instead of stay home. I think he worried about being "different" than the other kids at first. But, we came up with a fun points program to earn a visit to our local children's museum and ever since that, he's been much more excited about staying home and doing the work to earn the points. 

The other wonderful thing about homeschooling in German is that many of the same skills that we're working on as we learn to read and write in German also apply to reading and writing in English. The alphabets are different, yet similar. I'm amazed at how they know to pronounce certain letters one way in German and another way in English. Yes, there is some confusion, but it's relatively minimal. The positives far outweigh any issues we've had.
We spend a lot more time reading books,
both English and German.

One of my favorite things about our "German School" days is that I have some extra time with my babies in the morning. We read more books together and we cuddle more. They also get more time to play. Just yesterday, after we finished our school work, I sent them outside with an old broom and told them to clean up the tree house. Well, I didn't see them for 3 hours after that. But I heard lots of happy, energetic, and fun sounds coming from the trees. And, best of all, they all needed a bath because they had played so hard and had gotten so dirty. 

I still feel like I should pinch myself to make sure this isn't a dream...it's just so close to perfection! I am so, so pleased with the way things are working out. I'm so glad that they can go to school and improve their English. I really enjoy my 3 days a week to get things done at home. And I love that I get those other 2 days to really focus on teaching my babies. Life is good.

"I don't have water!!!" German schooling is working :-)

I was so tickled by what happened last night, that I had to write a quick blog post about it:
At night time, we usually have a lengthy routine for our three little ones. They get changed, brush their teeth, clean their room, say their prayers and then I read bible stories to them as they lay in their beds. After that, I turn out the lights and sing a bunch of German lullabies. Oh, on top of that, each child usually fills up their sippy cup (non-spill cup) with water and sets that cup within reach.
Well, last night, I apparently forgot about making sure that their water was filled. So, after songs and goodnight kisses, I closed their door and came downstairs. We were relaxing in the family room, when I heard some shuffling in the kids' bedroom above me. A little later, I heard some footsteps on the stairs and there stood Simon. He was a little bashful, because he knew he wasn't supposed to be out of bed. He handed us a note and scampered back upstairs.
We were all surprised and amused at his funny behavior. I took a look at the note. It was so cute. He wrote: Ich hade kein Wasa. Simon!  Translation: I don't have water. Simon. Then he drew a picture of a very sad boy holding an empty sippy cup. The first thing I noticed was that he had actually written the word for "I" correctly: ich.  We had been working on the "ch" sound last week in our German school. We also work a lot at sounding out words in syllables. Being very phonetic, German is an easy language to learn to spell, except that sometimes it's hard to hear certain endings...like the -er. As I expected, he misspelled the word for "Wasser", but I was impressed that he wrote it phonetically--like it sounds. We're still working on those -er endings. And like most kids, he confuses the "b" with the "d", but that will come with time.
I was just so delighted to receive this precious little note. I was pleased that he had the confidence to write a German message on paper. I love that he applied the skills that we've been working on in our German homeschooling. And most of all I love that he's learning and growing and experimenting with the language.
I promptly went upstairs and filled his little sippy cup. I love having little kids!!



Part-Time Homeschooling: The Best of Both Worlds

For the past month, I have been homeschooling my three youngest children part-time. So what does that mean? Well, ever since last summer, I have been playing with the idea of pulling my children out of school in order to homeschool them. It's been a struggle for me to figure out what the best option is for my my kids and our non-native bilingual family. I wrote about my quandary in the following posts: Homeschooling Thoughts? Me?  and  More Homeschooling Thoughts: Splitting It Up.
I initially planned on sending them to public school the first half of this school year and then pulling them out after Christmas break and homeschooling them the rest of the year. However, as the school year progressed, I realized that all three of the kids were really thriving in their respective classrooms. They absolutely LOVED going to school and looked forward to it each day. Their teachers were phenomenal and their classrooms had positive, happy, calm, learning-centered atmospheres. I also realized, after receiving their ESL test results (My American Kids in ESL), that they really needed all the extra English instruction that they could get, both in their ESL class, their regular classroom and on the playground. I suddenly found myself having second thoughts about pulling them out of school.
But, on the other hand, I still  wanted them to progress in their German literacy. I wanted them to learn to read and write in German and to really solidify their fluency in the German language. I wanted extra time at home to just read and read and read (both German and English) (The Read-Aloud Handbook). I also wanted to start learning French with them (Introducing French). And most of all, I wanted extra time with my little ones because I know from experience just how fast kids grow up!
So, what to do? Well, in November, I approached our amazing elementary school principal with my predicament. She knew of my initial choice to pull the kids out after Christmas. I explained my dilemma and asked about the possibility of doing school part-time instead of completely withdrawing. It turns out that my Kindergartners already only go to school 3 days a week. So it was only a matter of figuring out if we could have my first-grader stay home the same days that my Kindergartners are at home. We found the first grade teacher to be completely supportive and understanding of our situation. I was thrilled with our wonderful compromise. It seemed to combine the best of both worlds and promised to meet all the educational objectives that we have for our unique bilingual kids. Starting in January, we decided that we would homeschool on Tuesdays and Fridays and have the kids go to public school on the other three days. I was blown away by the cooperation and support that I felt from our wonderful elementary school. We have a great school district!



We're now in our 3rd week of this amazing part-time homeschooling experiment and, so far, we are absolutely loving it. I initially thought that we would get all of our homeschooling done before noon, but, it turns out we have so much to do, that we end up working hard into the afternoon.
Here's a very rough schedule of our typical "deutsche Schule" (German School) day:

  • 6:30   Family Scripture Reading and Morning Jobs (dressed, teeth, room)
  • 7:00  Breakfast and  Kitchen Jobs (chores)
  • 8:00  Quiet Reading in Family Room, also read together from Fibel (Primer or Textbook)
  • 8:30  Snack Break
  • 9:00  Go to Schoolroom (attic)
      • Calendar Time
      • Writing worksheets (letters, sounds, spelling, cursive, etc)
      • Word games
      • Crafts
      • Math Sheets
  • 11:30 Lunch and Recess (Outside, of course!)  
  • 1:00  French Class in Family Room
  • 2:00  Read books, Color, Do more crafts, play educational computer games, or something fun.
  • 3:00  Play hard until dinner (love to watch them at play)
I took the following video of the kids up in our schoolroom (attic) last week as they were working on the worksheets which go along with the sound "ch". The kids are all at slightly different levels and some are more wiggly than others, but it's so fun to spend this special time with them. I'm super excited to have this opportunity to help them to supplement their public schooling with our non-native language schooling!


video

My Turn to Study

I recently decided that I'd like to start saving up to take our younger children to Germany. We took our older kids to Germany in 2006. It was an amazing and life-changing experience for them. When you grow up speaking a foreign language, it is really special to finally get to visit the country where that language is spoken. When we took our older children, my oldest was 13 years old and the youngest (at the time) was 7. They had been speaking German since birth, but they didn't really know what Germany was like. It was a big deal for them to travel to Europe and see Germany for themselves. They got to see the farm where I lived for a few years as a child and they had the opportunity to finally use their German.
Ever since our younger batch of children arrived, I've known that we need to try and get over to Germany again. I would like the little ones to have the same opportunity that their older siblings had. But, of course, a family trip to Europe costs money. So, I decided to start earning some money by teaching or subbing part-time.  I'm only hoping to teach 1 or maybe 2 days a week tops. The nice thing about subbing is that I can get to choose when I want to work. Also, because of our part-time homeschooling, I need to be at home several days a week.
I haven't worked outside the home since I was in college. I have a secondary education degree in German, but have not have not kept my license current. So, my first step is to get a teaching license. And the first step to getting my teaching license is to take and pass several competency tests. Since my major was German and my minor was TESL, I need to pass a comprehensive exam in each of these areas.
I was quite nervous about my German test. I did study, but there was just so much information and so little time to study, that I figured: "I'll either know it or I won't." Well, as I took my test, it became clear that all my years of speaking German at home had been a HUGE help. Because we speak German at home to the kids, my German skills had never become dormant. The words, phrases, idioms were at the forefront of my head. Phrases popped into my head as I was writing the essay. Having tutored my older children in grammar, helped me to remember all the grammar rules.
Several weeks later, I received my test scores. I had passed with flying colors! Of course, I was thrilled to have passed the test, but mostly I was so excited that my success came from the fact that we had decided to raise our children bilingually. My children weren't a distraction from my studies at all! Rather, they were literally 20 years of test prep! All my focus these last 20 years has been on the kids. All of our bilingual efforts have been directed towards improving their language proficiency. And even though I really haven't given my own German language learning much thought, it was fun to see just how much I have learned in the process of non-native bilingual parenting.

Bilingualism Blesses our Christmas!

What a wonderful Christmas we had! Today, the kids are back in school and the Christmas decorations are being put away. I didn't blog at all over the holidays, because Christmas time is family time in our home. My husband always takes at least half of his vacation time at Christmas. He loves it because there are no projects, no trips, no business...just lots of time at home with family. And we had a marvelous time together!! Our college girl was home, we got to talk to our missionary kids on Skype and I spent minimal time at stores (thank you Amazon) and though I didn't blog over the holidays, I still thought a lot about how much our family has been blessed by our decision to to raise our children bilingually. I can't even begin to imagine Christmas without all of our German traditions. I have such fond memories of the few Christmases that I spent in Germany as a child. These memories include basking in the glow of a real pine tree lit with real candles, Beautiful Bavarian Zither music, a visit from St. Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht on December 6th, Advent wreathes, magical Christmas markets full of intricately carved wooden Nativity figurines and lots of Lebkuchen and other amazing German Christmas foods, and, of course, the beautiful German Christmas songs.
My first Christmas in Germany (I'm the girl on the far left):
Singing German Christmas carols on Christmas Eve with dear
friends in their "Stube" with a "Kachelofen" (tile oven) and a
tree lit with real candles. 
In fact, my fond memories of Christmas in Germany is one of the reasons why I wanted to raise my children German speaking in the first place. I wanted to share the beauty of a German Christmas with my children. And in order to truly share that experience with them, they needed to know German. Of course, it's possible to teach people about a cultural holiday without them knowing the language, but their experience and understanding of that holiday is going to be severely limited. To truly "feel" a German Christmas, you need to understand German language. Without the language, you don't understand the songs, the poems, or even the people and the culture. It's the language that brings a richness and a beauty to the celebration.

We have some German speaking friends sing in our
"Kinderchor" during our annual Adventsingen.
So, this year, as well as in all our past Christmases, we have incorporated many, many German Christmas traditions. We always start the season off by celebrating the 1st Advent. There's nothing like lighting that first of four candles on the Advent wreath to start building anticipation. And then comes St. Nikolaus Day on December 6th. My kids have wondered why St. Nikolaus doesn't visit their friends. I think it's because he only comes to those kids who speak German at home! We also always have an Adventsingen right before Christmas. We invite friends from Germany and friends who love Germany into our home and we spend the evening singing lots and lots of German Christmas carols. It's really the only time each year when our home is filled with German speakers (besides our own family). And this year, I was tickled pink, to see my little Clarissa make friends with another little girl. They ran around the house speaking German to each other. It was the cutest thing. She has never really spoken German with any other kids besides her siblings. Of course, all of the anticipation culminates with Christmas Eve! It's a special day for us as we focus on the birth of the Savior. The kids always act out the nativity and then we do our first round of presents (saving the American Santa gifts for Christmas morning--American style). We've blended many of our American traditions with our German traditions and the result has been a culturally rich and meaningful Christmas season.

Jonathan and Clarissa so excited that there are only 2 more
Sundays left until Christmas! Happy 2nd Advent!
Words can't even express how grateful I am for the opportunity to share German Christmas traditions with my own children. I love seeing their eyes sparkle when we light the Advent candles. I love that I can share my most precious childhood Christmas memories with my children even though we live in the United States. I love that they have a deep understanding of how Christmas is celebrated in another country. I love that they have learned to absolutely love and cherish and "own" these wonderful German traditions. It's been so fun hearing my older kids talk about how much they appreciate the fact that we have kept up with each of the traditions over the years. Raising our kids in our non-native German has indeed opened many doors and provided many opportunities for the kids, but I think it's at Christmastime when I realize just how much our family's bilingualism has touched our hearts and souls. Fröhliche, fröhliche Weihnachten, everyone!!




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