How I Promote Bilingual Literacy at Home

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When I was in college in Minnesota, about five to seven years ago, I majored in Spanish Education with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. During my last semester, in 2015, I fell in love with my now husband and left the state. I was passionate about my studies and loved what I was learning. Now, I live it. Promoting literacy at home is essential in raising strong readers, and bilingual speakers have more success when literacy is valued and practiced in both languages. Literacy is a skill in itself, but for today I want to focus on the little ways you can increase your child’s awareness of and familiarity with letters and words, books and pencils, and whichever combination of languages you choose.

I dropped out of college and don’t have a degree, but I kept many of the textbooks and continue to conduct my own research. I observe my son closely and try new things. This is how I promote reading at any age, and in any two languages.

First of all, we speak two languages at home. We speak two languages in front of our children, to our children, and practice our second languages with our children. We talk about the importance of speaking, writing, and reading in two languages. We turn our Netflix shows on Spanish, watch movies in Spanish, and read to each other in Spanish. One of my favorite authors is Gabriél García Marquez and I let my children see me struggle to read his work in his native tongue. I ask my husband if he understands the vocabulary. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. We are always talking in and about different languages. We find bilingualism and literacy important. Our children listen and hear this.

I like to write and can do so in Spanish because I have a good understanding of the vocabulary and am able to write well in English. My husband, who had a different childhood, does not like to write or read very much. He works hard and has little energy to spend on words. He likes me to read to him and I acquiesce. My preferred way of writing is to use pen and paper. I do this often, writing anything, and Sergio likes to copy me. I give him paper and pencil and he writes as well.

All parents have been told to read to their children. It is important. Reading is fun for children, and requires that you show them how to do it well. Ask questions, make guesses, summarize past plot events, point at the pictures, talk about the title, etc. If you and your family are bilingual, don’t just read in English. Even my husband has begun to read to my son, finding Spanish children’s books in our library one night. Try to ask questions and make guesses in your second language as well. If your level of proficiency at your second language is not high, read anyway, it can only help you, too.

It is also important to show your little ones that you like to read as well. Establish a respect for reading as a valuable past time and skill. Create a library in your home, no matter the size or style, and keep books around you. When a child is curious and plays with a book, they are becoming familiar with pages, letters, and words. They may not know what the writing says, but they begin to understand that it does speak. I often find my son in his room, playing with his books (many of which are from my own childhood), and pretending to read aloud to himself. Reading before bedtime is an important routine that we try hard to follow but it can occur at any time of the day.

Taking trips to the local library is also critical. The library is a good place to find books that may be written in your family’s second language. These books are free, as long as you bring them back! The library also inspires a love and awe of the books lined up all around you. Like-minded families can be found there as well. A bookstore is another great trip to take when your son or daughter is ready for it because the value of money and books can be discussed at once.

Cultural relevancy is important also, so don’t read a book about riding a bike if your little one can barely walk. Don’t read books about crafts if your family is more into outdoor adventures. If you live in the city, read about other people who live in cities. If cooking is a love of the family, peruse cookbooks in either language. It is also a good idea to read books that talk about the culture of your second language: where it’s spoken, who speaks it, how these people live and think.

This book is full of songs native to the Latin-American culture. Its pictures are beautiful.

There are many other ways to promote literacy as well: graphic novels, picture books, some video games (not those that are violent), music, and certainly, art. I love to promote literacy through art: using words and letters as part of the aesthetic. We like to create art around the alphabet, both the English and Spanish version.

Some quick and easy art involving letters.

If you and your little ones would like to start your own library at home, here are some of our favorite English and Spanish books.

I like to have books in hand, but there are ways to download books or listen to them now. If you are still learning Spanish, some of the above books are great for learning vocabulary and practicing comprehension in another language.

Continue to read with your children as they grow, in any language. There are many creative ways to get older children involved, such as book clubs at home, prizes for books read, writing and binding your own book, or creating artwork based on their favorite books. However you choose to promote literacy and include another language in your home, it is an ambitious but worthwhile goal. If one language is more your style, that’s okay too, as long as literacy is valued.

Saturday Things

Hopefully you don’t work on Saturday, but we don’t all have that luxury. If you don’t have Saturdays, pick another day when you’re free and do one of these things alone or with your family. I like to save money, and use my creativity when thinking of fun things to do on the weekends.

Now, there are tons of girly things to do on Saturdays, but I rarely get a pedicure or manicure. I don’t have my hair done or anything of the sorts. That’s just me. I’m a very cheap person and don’t particularly like to do those things. If pampering is your go-to Saturday thing, who am I to judge? There is a value in taking care of yourself this way. I prefer to do the following things on Saturdays.

Sleep in a little bit. I just can’t help it. My husband is home on Saturday mornings and is an early riser. He and the kids let me sleep a little later on Saturdays.

Bird watch! Even today I have seen a blue bird (a very different bird than the blue jay, and much more difficult to find) and two hummingbirds fighting over territory. Birds are all around us and are surprisingly entertaining to watch. Many predatory birds also live in my area and I have several great stories about these bird sightings.

Talk to some pretty flowers

Take an easy walk around the neighborhood. I would avoid doing this midday, as it can be hot and uncomfortable at this time. The morning is the best time, but not always achievable. If you are a late riser, take your walk at dusk but don’t forget bug spray or light colored clothing. Don’t leave pups at home, they deserve a nice Saturday, too.

Listen to the radio. I love listening to NPR on Saturday mornings.

Paint something with your little ones, or by yourself.

Have a pic-nic in your backyard, or pack up the family and head to a National Park. Don’t forget to include water, supplies for babies if you have them, sunscreen, and a thick blanket for sitting on. Bug spray will probably be necessary here, too. Get creative in what lunches you pack.

My kids are too small, so we don’t go to the pool or lake. We play in the hose, which my garden loves.

Another thing I like to do on a Saturday is go through my paper bills. They pile up inside of an antique secretary’s desk in my living room. I shred old bills myself and take them to the compost pile. I doubt many people would be willing to dig through rotten food to see my statements from the electric company. I even remove the plastic windows from envelopes and shred those, too. This might not sound fun to you, but if you’re getting behind on things during the week, Saturdays are great for catching up on seemingly small, irritating chores.

Visit the farmer’s market! Here, the farmer’s market meets on Saturday mornings and is a fun place to visit. There are always a lot of people and things to look at, and you can stock up on some organic vegetables, pretty flowers, or interesting, handmade goods at the farmer’s market. Different vendors come on different Saturdays, so it’s good to make this a part of your routine.

Cook something, of course, but keep it light. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen on Saturdays wears me down. An easy sandwich or salad can do the trick. Don’t forget the lemonade if it’s hot out.

Knock out old projects. I always have pictures to hang or compost to turn and Saturdays are a good day to work on these tasks.

Read a book with your family. Start your own book club and meet with your children on Saturday afternoons around snacks to discuss their books.

Saturdays can be anything you make them, with lots of fun things to do. The things that I do on Saturday don’t cost much, if anything. Shopping, brunch, or the movies are fun ways to spend the weekend also, but can cost more than we would like. Alternate your weekends, spending money this Saturday, and staying at home the next. Whatever you decide to do, invite your family or friends and be as creative as you can.

Tips on Painting with Toddlers: Don’t Toss Out That Easel Just Yet

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

Sergio and I like to paint. Not every day, because you can imagine how messy and time-consuming that would be. But, on rainy days like today, we like to fire up our creativity with a few art projects. I am not a creative person when it comes to colors, paints, or anything visual. I’m still learning, I suppose. However, I am one of those stay-at-home moms with nothing better to do than cook up ideas for the kids. Painting is one of those ideas that always sounds fun. It can be frustrating for mom or dad though, so here are a few tips to keep it fun.

I am interested in researching how to recycle paint, and which paints are better for the environment. For now, we paint what we can (old jars, rocks, pieces of wood, and of course, paper) with what we have. This keeps the price for materials down (canvases look great, but are incredibly expensive).

Washable Crayola paint, watercolor palette, brushes, and a recycled jar to put rinsing water in

I love trays. This one is made from silicon (I think? It doesn’t say on the bottom) from Aldi. It has handles and is lightweight; Sergio can lift it also when helping to clean up. Trays tend to keep everything together, easy to reach, and this particular tray doesn’t mind a few spills. Other good options are available on Amazon.

Set up your area, including snacks, utensils and paints, mediums, and whatever else you want to add, before telling your son or daughter about the day’s activity. I have made this mistake many times, and am often followed frantically by an excited, chattering three-year-old on my quest for supplies.

Something else to consider is where you and your little artist will paint. I like to set up a spot outside, so that stubborn paint stains can be pressure-washed from concrete areas or, more ideally, absorbed by the grass and dirt underfoot. For me, painting can have calming effects, which are multiplied when practiced in the open air. I have a screened-in patio, so making a paint station outside is easy for us. If you have a few more obstacles in the way, think creatively, and hoard some cardboard or old linens to use for covering important spaces in your home.

Once your area is clean, covered with an old tablecloth or piece of cardboard, arrange your tools of creativity and make sure the child can reach everything. I also use this easel (I love that it is not made largely from plastic and is easy to carry from room to room) to give Sergio ample access to his work. This is not a fun activity for the children if you don’t allow them to explore and grab their own materials.

On this note, painting is an excellent way for toddlers to dabble in colors, shapes, and textures. It’s a good time to practice vocabulary, so don’t forget to talk about whatever they’re doing. (Today Sergio said the words “dark” and “star” while painting.)

I practice my own creative efforts while spending time with my son.

Mistakes and spills will happen, making supervision necessary. Young children are prone to tasting, smelling, and smearing things all over the place. While working with paints (washable or not) supervision is very important. While sitting next to Sergio, I looked away for one second, and turned back to see a blob of blue paint in the tin of rocks still to be colored. My son had opened a paint jar by himself, and dumped everything out; at least it wasn’t on the floor. Another good reason to use washable paint.

We quickly found a solution by simply painting the rest of the rocks blue. Painting is a nice way for children to explore their surroundings because accidents can turn into artwork.

Another tip is to slyly remove items or tools that are not currently interesting your child. Too many objects to use or things to do can be overwhelming for young ones, and you might have less mess to clean up if you secretly take away the less exciting stamps, stickers, or glitter. Please don’t let them catch you doing this, and remember: I am not liable for any tantrums that occur in your house.

Don’t forget to have fun and don’t worry about cleaning up: everything is much easier with a tray to toss it all into. If you and your artist made it outside, there should be even less to worry about cleaning. Stick your brushes in a jar of water (mineral spirits or paint thinner for acrylic and oil-based paints), and go take a break. You’ve earned it. Keep that easel for the days when you’re not sure what to do, or those times when inspiration strikes.

Plans for a gallery of Sergio’s work are under way because displaying your toddler’s artwork is just as important as making it.

Make Your Own Damn Salad Bar

I love making salad. I’m a white person, so I like the plain stuff (my husband mexícano always looks at it like, “But what did you cook?”). Rather than discuss the fine culinary skills of my ancestors, I’d like to just say this about something I’ve made a lot. You can make your own salad bar at home. Just chop stuff up, put it in the bowls, and leave it on the counter. I mean, am I late on this? I’ve been making salads for years and never thought of it before. Well, here’s how I’m doin’ it from now on, or at least once in a while, because we’ll be having un caldo, las calabasitas, unos nopales, and maybe I’ll try my hand at gorditas this summer (my husband loves those).

  • That’s resting chicken, seasoned with the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder
  • Jalapeños from my garden (hot as hell, by the way)
  • Block of cheese I grated
  • Celery
  • Chopped Almonds (those things really fly away when you chop ’em)
  • Croutons (I love croutons but they make it kind of like a posh salad for me, I don’t know why. If you can’t eat a salad without croutons, get out of the game).
  • I always put broccoli and zucchini (calabasita) in a salad. Zucchini has a great texture but alas, it’s not in this picture.
  • And a green apple from yesterday that Sergio wanted, but then didn’t want. It was fine, and clean. But have you had fruit in a salad? It’s really good too, I swear.
  • We also had Pita bread, which I warmed and cut in half. Then you can open it up into a kind of pocket, to fill with what you choose. You can skip this or add something else!

A person could make so many salad combinations this way, at home. It’s a lot of bowls to wash, I know, but it encourages everyone to help themselves. The family liked it, and they ate, so my salad bar’s closed for the night.

The Luckiest Dog: A Fortuna Update

Lucky indeed, was the female German Shepherd we surrendered earlier this year. I recently received word of her progress and am pleased to report that she has improved greatly, with the help of Maddy Holden, her new foster mom. Fortuna has been attending training sessions with Maddy, hiking on trails, and meeting new people with a newfound, canine friend.

Her reactive episodes of barking and growling are over and she can walk calmly on the lead beside other dogs. She can perform a multitude of obedience tasks including heal, stay, down stay, and sit stay.

Fortuna is just as pretty as ever and her true curiosity is shining through. One day she will be leaving Maddy, to find a forever home. For now, she’s gaining important skills and becoming more comfortable with herself and the world we live in.

All photo and video credit goes to Maddy Holden. Thank you again for all of your hard work.