Nature Basket: Matching Nomenclature Cards to Object

My son is fascinated with everything outdoors. He loves being outside; if there was a refrigerator with food outside, I don’t think he would come inside at all. Twigs, rocks, dirt clumps, puddles, leaves, flowers, rocks, did I mention rocks? He is already a pro collector. I thought that a nature basket would be a good first matching activity for him.

I started by collecting four nature objects from our yard. We don’t have a pine tree, but luckily a neighbor does and the pine cones were laying in the street. While I may have been able to find a more durable leaf elsewhere, I wanted one that I had access to so I could replace it when he rips it up (I was right- day one with basket- ripped up leaf).

To make the cards, I took pictures on a white background hoping that it would blend in when I printed them out (not exactly but doable).

I then pasted these onto a word document, writing the name on top in English and on bottom in French. I really loved Three Minute Montessori’s post on the importance of choosing the right font. Since I was feeling a little lazy last night, I decided that font wasn’t too important since my son would probably destroy the cards before the writing meant much to him, and went with the print Comic Sans.

Here is the file I printed out to create the cards:

After printing, I used glossy laminate sheets that I had left over from my teaching days to laminate the cards. It is not a great laminate, definitely won’t last more than a month is my guess, but I already had them and don’t plan on buying a laminator… yet (they really aren’t that expensive these days).

Not professional grade but good enough for us!

First morning lesson went much better than I expected! He sat and watched as I brought each individual item out and matched it to the item. I made the first introduction short and then had him put the basket away on his shelf. We had a second lesson in the afternoon and he did well with handing me the object from the basket when I took out a specific card. The cards did get a lot of wear on them already so the next time around I will have to work at making the laminate stick better. I think I need to use two sheets of laminate stuck together instead of one sheet of laminate stuck to a piece of overlapping paper.

Side note: I forgot how spiky pine cones are and was worried that he would hurt himself, but he is very careful in holding it and seems to know not to squeeze.

Cost: $0.50 (for basket)

Advanced Learning: Three-Part Cards (one additional card with the label detached), Four-Part Cards (adding a definition), rotating and adding more objects to the basket, have the child make their own cards

Unlikely Bilingual Children’s Books

Living in a monolingual loving society, you have to go out of your way to find foreign language children’s books. One solution to this problem is creating your own multilingual books- shown here in this post. I have been looking for more ways to add bilingual stories into our life and here are two ideas that my son and a former professor taught me this week:

Unlikely Bilingual Book #1: Cookbooks!

Sometimes we have to look outside of the norm, and this practice in creativity expands our opportunities. Luckily for me, two people helped nudge me towards creativity this week.

I can thank my son for this brilliant and simple idea. He stumbled upon a French cookbook in the closet last week, bringing it to me so I could read it to him. First thing I said out loud was, “This isn’t a kid’s book, you won’t like this book”. I regretted the words as I said them, took the book and reminded myself that he’s allowed to read all books. As soon as I started reading, I realized that he was loving it; another French book just got add to our reading list.

Many cookbooks are straight picture books. He was fascinated by the large closeups of different foods items. I started to point out the ingredients to him and realized this was a perfect children’s book. Since this book is Salads of Summer, most of the ingredients aren’t cooked, just mixed together. This makes it ideal for identification- going through the list of ingredients and finding them in the photos. You can talk about shape, colors and different textures. Which of these foods have you tasted before? Which of these foods would you like to try? For older children, you could read through the recipes, learning different cooking verbs. You can talk about the five tastes and the science of the tongue. Pick out a recipe, shop for ingredients and then prepare the recipe together. Since most nations use the Metric system, this is a good time to talk about this difference and practice math conversions.

I have to be honest, I get bored of children’s books after awhile. Overall they’re wonderful, but reading them over and over again becomes mundane. However food is difficult to tire of, so this is a convenient way of incorporating bilingual vocabulary in food and cooking into your child’s day.

If you don’t own any cookbooks in the target language, I find that as a non-native speaker of French, food vocabulary has always come easy and is a good candidate for interpreting, so grab an English cookbook with lots of pictures and enjoy a good bilingual read with your little one!

Cost: $0 (use cookbooks already on hand, or rent from the library)

Advanced Learning: Shopping for ingredients, imagine what kitchen items you would need for the recipe, calculate recipe in the Metric system (or into the Imperial system)

Unlikely Bilingual Book #2: English picture book + Target Language Audio books

Reaching out to a former French professor gave me the inspiration for the next unlikely candidate for bilingual children’s books: classic tales. As a non-native speaker of French, I can become self-conscious of my language ability and what I am passing on to my son.
My professor reminded me that a variety of language speakers is important for every learner- even those that have a native speaker educating them.

I sometimes play YouTube or Netflix cartoons in French for my son but he doesn’t like watching TV in general and won’t pay attention. While this makes me happy, I do worry about how to incorporate native language speakers into his daily life. I have also read some research on how children can’t process TV and radio programming without having it broken down by someone in real life- overall electronic audio doesn’t help language development in English or in the target language unless it is thoughtfully presented.

Stories that are ubiquitous to many cultures are classic folk and fairy tales. These stories are readily available on YouTube in French and so I decided to get some books from the library and try combining the book with the YouTube audio. It was very easy to follow along between the picture book and the audio.

Overall, I did find that my son got distracted by the sound of the audio coming from a device he couldn’t touch and paying attention to the book at the same time. I made a point of pointing out the pictures and asking him questions throughout the reading. This was a promising activity and I plan on incorporating this into our daily activities.
I do think that this activity will work better as he gets older.

Cost: $0

Advanced Learning: Ask (in the target language) follow up questions after the story is over, talk about differences between the audio and the picture book.

Homemade Bilingual Books

Finding bilingual materials is a constant challenge in the United States- especially if the language you are learning is not Spanish. With a lack of resources available locally, I can either order them on Amazon Canada, French websites, or the free shipping version is to make my own!

Like all good blog posts, I got a little help from my friend Dolly. Have you ever heard of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? If you didn’t already love Dolly, here is another reason to love her, her commitment to childhood literacy. We signed up to receive a free book each month. After two months of this we realized that we had been gifted so many books by family and friends, combine this with our weekly trips to the library, we quickly took ourselves off the list. Books are not something we needed more of, but if you are struggling to make it to the library because of the number of children you have, or if your library is far away and you would like to spark joy and literacy in your child by getting a free book in the mail every month (until the age of 5)- please sign up for Imagination Library!

Two of the books we received from Dolly were bilingual books- in Spanish and English! What a great way to introduce children to another language. Speaking French myself, and not Spanish, I decided to take a Sharpie and write in the French. While I could just translate in my head, I want my son to see the words and when I am exhausted at bedtime, language translation does not sound like a fun activity.

trilingual children's book: Spanish, English and my hand written French.

With a sharpie and some time, I added a multilingual book to our collection. Thank you Dolly!

Bilingual Bébé

Before my journey into parenthood, I was a high school French teacher. I didn’t grow up bilingual and always wished that I had. While I love learning languages and cultures, language learning does not come easy to me. I had to work really hard to acquire French skills, especially since I am a very quiet introvert. I studied abroad for six months, spent a year working at a bar in a French monastery, spent a school year working in Senegal and I still try to keep up the language with movies and practice. What better way to practice than to speak to my son in French.

During the first six months of his life when all he did was sleep and gurgle, I read him my French novels, we listened to French podcasts together and I spoke to him with my heavy accent and strange foreign way of speaking. At first I was afraid I would mess up his brain speaking to him in a non-native language, but after reading the limited research available, it didn’t appear that this would be the case. There isn’t a lot of academic research as to what happens when a non-native speaker tries to teach a second language from birth, it appeared that my son might not master the language completely, but just a little exposure to a second language is beneficial.

During my graduate studies, I spent a summer working at a Montessori preschool in Guadeloupe (French speaking island in the lesser French Antilles). I noticed that a lot of parents at this private school tried to introduce their child to English at home. Their parents all had heavy accents and limited vocabularies (like me!) but those that had the most exposure to English at home were the most comfortable and had the best comprehension in English class at school.

So to all you parents out there who are hesitant- go ahead and learn a language with your child! In the U.S. the easiest language to learn together is Spanish- the public library has the largest selection of Spanish children books over other world languages. With language learning apps like Duolingo, you can advance your skills during nap time, and then read books together at bedtime.

It’s easy to not speak to my son in French, especially with a monolingual dad. I like the mental focus it takes. I will follow up this post with resources I use or make in French, and those available in other languages as well. My son isn’t speaking yet, but I have secret hopes that he’ll say Bonjour before Hello.