7 Ways for Parents to Support Kids with Their Native Language

cartoon-1082003_640When you (like us) believe in native language development AND in the importance of parents to education, it’s clear how intertwined these two factors can be. And yet, immigrant parents are often at a loss for ways to engage with their kids. The number one, keep-it-simple solution is this: Talk to your kids. In this post, we share seven favorite tips for parents to connect with their kids while boosting both language and cultural knowledge!

  • Recite poems together. Every language has nursery rhymes and sayings. These days, they pop into my head out of nowhere and aid in entertaining my two babies–“One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” and “This Little Piggy” were hits this weekend, and “The Owl and the Pussycat” is a bedtime fixture. The sillier, the better for making a child smile and for helping them learn new vocabulary!
  • Sing songs together. Songs are even more powerful than poems, because they have the added benefit of melody, which aids memory, and rhythm, which aids body awareness and grammar. Simple songs like “Los Pollitos Dicen” and “El Chocolate” feature in my living room daily.
  • Draw pictures together and describe them. This activity is excellent for early shape and color recognition development and it can be useful for developing the vocabulary of art materials (i.e., paper, colored pencils, watercolor paints, pastels, markers). Children usually draw with purpose, and having them narrate the story behind each picture gives them a chance to really use their native language.
  • Ask your child open-ended questions. “What do you like/think about X?” “What would you do if you could…?” “What do you remember about X?” “What’s your favorite X?” At first, it seems hard to shift from Yes/No questions to open-ended questions, but once they start rolling, they don’t stop!
  • Ask your child questions where she has to choose one thing and tell why. “Which do you prefer, chocolate or vanilla X?” “Would you rather X or Y?” “Who would you rather meet, X or Y?” These kinds of questions are especially great, because they set students up for the kind of thinking required of the Common Core. Taking a position and giving supporting details features in classroom writing and assessments, so practicing at home, about fun topics, in the home language, is a triple bonus!
  • Create a story together. You might start, “There was an enormous dog who loved to play with kids, one day…” These kinds of games can get fantastical and loose steam, so make sure to guide kids toward a middle and end to the story.
  • Ask your child if he knows descriptive words. “What other word could you use to describe the big X? Or, alternatively, ask them questions about the five senses–what would they see/hear/smell/taste/touch at the beach? At the water park? At their grandparents’ house? At a birthday party? What would a leaf, or a jellyfish, or a feather look/sound/smell/taste/feel like? The goal is to get kids to think creatively and use new words, even if the object isn’t something to eat, or the activity doesn’t involve all of the senses.

Before your eyes, children will begin using new vocabulary, and start to feel more connected to their parents, language and culture. What are other ways for kids and parents to connect?

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