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!

DIY Montessori Shelf

Wouldn’t we all love to spend endless money on the perfect setup for every room? If I could, I would have bought this Montessori infant shelf from Sprout. I found this brand when I was searching for a toddler table (blog post coming soon). I decided to convert a bookshelf that we had in his room. We had LOTS of children’s books on the bookshelf, and my son liked to create chaos by pulling all the books down on the ground… over, and over again. I found myself constantly putting the books back on the shelf multiple times a day. This appeared to be a waste of my time and my sons’ time.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Then I started to think about it from my son’s perspective. If I saw a shelf full of books stacked really close together, wouldn’t I have the urge to pull them off the shelf as well?? Looking at adjacent photo, what can a child actually process? This shelf is overwhelming. The books aren’t viewed as single items but as a large unit built up of building blocks- and what do toddlers like to do with building blocks? Knock them over! Break them down to their smallest part to try to understand their structure.

Wooden bookshelves are expensive. Even before I decided on a Montessori set-up, I knew I wanted a real wooden bookshelf. Buying new was way out of our price range, so my mother in law found this wooden bookshelf at a consignment shop for us.

bookshelf with only two items per shelf.
Visually manageable for a toddler

The first of every month, I rotate the items that are on the shelf. Every item on this shelf was a gift we received. I keep his books in the top shelf of the closet and his toys in a toy box. I am no longer putting handfuls of books back on the shelf multiple times a day. My son now goes to the bookshelf and actually looks at the different items. He will normally just take one item to play with (or throw on the ground, let’s be honest). Even though the top shelf appears out of his reach, he actually really good at reaching to the top and likes getting the book up top. We did secure the bookshelf to the wall with cables for the day he decides to climb up the shelf.

His bedroom is less messy, I am cleaning up less and we are all much happier!

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.

I wasn’t born this way

When my son was born, I was overwhelmed and under prepared for the pressure of being a parent. I made a sound decision: to do nothing but my best for that moment and learn as I went along. Isn’t this what we all do? I originally planned on going back to work after a semester off from teaching. One semester became one year, which became the foreseeable future. I had planned on going back to teach other people’s children, as I put my own child into someone else’s care for education. The pressure to educate my own child is much more intense than when I am doing my job in the classroom. I was looking forward to going back to work and not feeling as if my child’s education depended solely on me. As a parent we feel that we must be infallible, there is no room for error. As we all know, we make mistakes all the time. I have decided to pursue the life of a stay at home parent and deal with the pressures that this brings.

I didn’t originally set up my house for a Montessori environment. It was after a year of watching my son learn about this world he lives in did I see how powerful Montessori is not just for the classroom, but for the home as well. It just made sense (to me). My parenting style is what feels natural to me. I didn’t decide to become the poster parent for attachment theory. I don’t walk around screaming about the benefits of co-sleeping and that we should ignore medical professionals’ advice. I just did what felt natural and right for my family.

The set-up of my house feels natural for not just my son, but our entire family. Allowing him to create his own independence gives me and his father more independence as well (something I crave after a year of intense attachment parenting). Oh, and also we are incredibly cheap. So while I will spend 10 years in an institution of higher learning instead of having a stable income, I will not buy something if I can find it at a thrift store or on craigslist. While I haven’t gone back to my dumpster diving college days, living modestly is a goal (although you wouldn’t say I was a minimalist if you saw my closets that are stuffed from floor to ceiling).

So you do you reader. I am doing me. I am full of Pinterest fails, messy endeavors, and chaos searching for serenity.