A Teaching Travel Log

Notes along the way from a learning teacher

Minority-Language Preschool Activities at Home


In my last blog post I mentioned that I am moving toward a little bit of a routine for some basic educational practice with my son (two months shy of the three) in our target language (Spanish). The morning routine (over breakfast) is about three minutes long, and sometimes I don’t even go away all the way through it:

  1. Days of the week – At breakfast, I remind him what yesterday was. “Ayer fue lunes. Entonces, hoy es m____.” I give him the initial sound of the day of the week and he can fill in the blank. We look at the simple chart on the fridge and move the clothes pin to the new day. Then I sing this days of the week song a couple times: He usually chimes in on “siete.” And occasionally you will hear him singing it, mixing up all the days of the week later in the day. J
  2. Months of the year – We review what month we are in right now. Even though it is the 20th of January and we have kept at the routine most days, he will still say it is diciembre if asked what month we are in. So I just point to the calendar and remind him that we are enero and say the whole date—pointing first to the day of the week written big on the day of the week chart, then to the day on the calendar, then to the month, then to the year. “Hoy es domingo, el veinte de enero, dos mil diecinueve.” The lovely January calendar currently on my fridge is clearly my original work put together in about three minutes. (The nice  thing about doing a little project like that is my son can watch me construct it and talk with me about what I am doing.) But I think for next month we will use this one by Dwayne Kohne: It has the extreme simplicity and ease of printing I seek, spells out everything, and leaves words in lowercase. Then we do this simple month of the year song by Dr. Jean:
  3. Letters – For a while I was keeping ABC charts on the fridge with the days of the week chart and calendar and singing an ABC song, but then I realized it did not seem to be helping us move forward with letter recognition. So at the beginning of this week, I moved the ABC charts to a less prominent place in the kitchen (though we do keep singing the song some), and started an emphasis on the Letter of the Week. In our morning routine, this generally just means, pointing to the ginormous letter on the fridge and asking what the letter of the week is. Then, “Sí, muy bien, es la letra A—La A de ____.” He will usually fill the blank with avión. Then we put our arms out and act like airplanes. I picked this word to emphasize it works with the letter A in both of our languages. Plus he loves airplanes.

When we have had time and interest throughout the week, we did additional activities to focus on the letter A, like:

(1) Tuesday I drew a lowercase A on one side of a paper and uppercase on the other making the letters look like roads or race tracks. He enjoyed driving toy cars on it during potty time that morning, and then later in the week asked for it again. I learned this trick from an activity at our library a while back. It has little kids (at least mine!) doing what they LOVE—driving toy cars around—while also helping them work on tracing letters. Note that while the lowercase A was popular with him, the uppercase was not, I suppose since the cars do not go in a circle that way.

(2) Thursday when he asked to color, I presented him with a letter A Abeja coloring page from Mr. Printables. I chose the all lowercase option. (It makes sense to me to write words the way the actually look in a sentence.) He enjoyed tracing inside the word and parts of the picture. The same day (a big drawing day for him) he wanted to do some worksheets from a preschool workbook we have– So the first one I presented him was the one focusing on the letter A and using an airplane as the picture and accompanying word.

(3) Reading time – Saturday evening we re-read Mi abuelita/My Grandmother by Ginger Foglesong Guy. Airplanes are a focal point of the book. On the page that uses  the word avión, we talked about what letter it starts with. Dad read the English part, and we talked about how the English word airplane starts with the letter A also.

I have really enjoyed the letter of the week approach so far. There is no pressure because you have an entire week to do activities when there is time and interest. Some days we are super busy and do nothing. Others (like on Thursday) we are spending a relaxing day at home and in a coloring mood. For upcoming letters of the week, I think we will first hit all the vowels (maybe not O because he always recognizes that letter already) and then go on to select consonants. For more, this bilingual homeschool mom has some cool resource ideas for letters of the week:

Other than the letter of the week we also do some other activities when he wants to that would be categorized as quite educational:

1 – Workbooks – He now has a couple of bilingual preschool workbooks. The workbook “Listos para la escula/Ready for School” by Roger Priddy  ( is made to wipe off and reuse. It is a recent addition to our collection that I love. He can sit (especially during potty time) and trace letters for a very long time. For the other (“Logros en preescolar/Success in Preschool” by Mead Publishing, I put the sheets into clear plastic pockets that we wipe and reuse. I feel that is especially important since the bilingual version of this workbook does not seem to be in print anymore. One thing I really like about it is that in the letter section it uses the same item to go with each letter that works in English and Spanish. (However, I noticed one repeated error in the Spanish in this workbook so far: It has the word zebra spelled with a Z in both languages.)

2 – Songs/videos – There is a tremendous set of videos available in Spanish and English put out by Learning with Yaya/Aprendiendo con Yaya that my son has really enjoyed for probably a year or more off and on: They have accompanying songs you can listen to on the website for free ( On many days, we play through the songs and dance around the living room to them. You can also purchase an accompanying book for each song: We got our first of these songbooks recently (Sonidos), and it has been a big hit here. Yesterday, I noticed my son trying to sing the song at the lunch table. So I pulled the book off the shelf for one of our before-nap reads. We went through it together then, and last night before bed, I asked him if he had a request for a book and he said “Sonidos”! Part of the beauty of it is that the curriculum is made by a bilingual speech therapist, so she knows how to teach sounds and even does accompanying gestures in the videos that show through in the illustrated children in the book.

3 – Puzzles – My son has so much to keep him busy (like toy cars and running in circles) that I think he often forgets about  the puzzle collection we have! But he does enjoy doing a puzzle when reminded it is an option. Recently we received a bilingual puzzle with jungle animals and their corresponding letters– He was enthralled by it and spend maybe an hour doing the whole thing and talking about it along the way. We got it out the second time today and he really enjoyed again.


Teaching a child this young, I want to be careful not to put any pressure on doing “learning” activities. For one thing, he is learning through all that he does. The last thing I want to do is curb his eagerness to learn by trying to force certain subject matter on him. But I can meet his eagerness with a corresponding activity. And I can use his interests to link to things I would like him to learn—like tracing letters with cars!


Raising our child bilingually – What is it like?

There are various reasons, methods, and goals for raising a child bilingually. Here I will not say whether someone else should or how someone else should do it. I just intend to describe what we do here in our family. On each point I mention here, there is so much more to be said, and I plan to go into more depth on various issues in upcoming posts.

First a little bit of background: We live in the US, so English is the majority language, and Spanish is our minority language. A minority language typically requires much more intentional reinforcement because there are some many more sources of the majority language built into the environment. We have a son who will be three years old in two months. In this post I will call him Chiquitín. (He likes this title when he is pretending to be a baby, but not when he is pretending to be a man or just himself or  a truck.)



I speak Spanish to Chiquitín about 95% at this point. My husband speaks to him perhaps about 10-15% in Spanish as well and the rest in English. He does not know much Spanish, but he has picked up many key phrases that get tons of use, like, “¿Ya terminaste?” “¿Qué quieres?” “Es hora de cepillarte los dientes.” And lots of others. He also understands more than he speaks. Sometimes he gets the gist of a conversation that I have with Chiquitín.

My husband and I speak to each other in English, so that is another source of English for our son. When I can, I use Spanish phrases with Dad that I know he knows around Chiquitín.

In turn, Chiquitín speaks pretty exclusively in Spanish to me and most often uses Spanish to narrate his play and talk to himself as well. When he does tell me or ask me something in English, I usually say, “Hmmm… ¿Puedes decirme eso en español?” And he generally can, often with more specific word choices, as Spanish is his stronger language with more vocabulary at the moment. At this point, the request to change does not bother him. It’s a little challenge that he is often proud to accomplish. Sometimes he translates before I ask.

To Dad, Chiquitín speaks a bit of a mixture of Spanish and English, though I see English taking more and more of the foreground for him with Dad.

When he gets around my husband’s parents who live in town or kids from church, Chiquitín often astonishes me how he can flick on his English switch and let words and phrases flow out I did not know he knew.



We have a lot of Spanish and bilingual children’s books in our shelf. We have reading time at least twice a day—before “nap” (even though naptime has turned into quiet playtime in his room) and before bedtime at night. When I am home alone with Chiquitín we read a book or two in Spanish at these times. Chiquitín tends to have a lot to comment on and ask about the books we are reading, so it is usually a fifteen-minute affair. When Dad is home, we usually do reading time all together. Most frequently, we read a bilingual book where I can read the Spanish and Dad the English. Sometimes Chiquitín will pick an all-Spanish book instead or occasionally Dad will read an English book. Dad is fairly good at reading in Spanish too, so if we pick out  a simple all-Spanish book that divides up well (example a Geraldo y Cerdita book by Mo Willems or “Corre, perro, corre,” by PD Eastman), he and I take parts.



hiquitín hears and knows a lot of Spanish songs and poems because I repeat them with him while I wash dishes, etc., he listens to them playing on the CD player or phone and dances around the living room, he sometimes watches them on YouTube videos on the computer, and he sings pieces of them as he goes along his way. We also sing several Spanish songs to him at bedtime. English songs? I don’t know if he knows any English songs. Obviously, he has heard them—mostly not children’s songs though—from Dad, at church, etc.



We do not have a television in our house. Chiquitín often gets to watch about a half hour of YouTube in Spanish right after “nap time” (which as I previously mentioned is now just quiet play). When we have had Netflix, he has enjoyed all the Spanish possibilities there as well.  He definitely has his favorites shows, which I can share later.


Learning Routines

Obviously, all of life is learning, and that is more evident with no one than a two-year-old. Still, I have gradually been constructing some routines to help reinforce some early educational preschool-like practice in our home. More on this elsewhere. At this point, it is all in Spanish. At some point, if we go the homeschooling route, this will probably become more bilingual.



Most of our time with others is in English, except for that which we specifically seek out to practice Spanish instead. We try to keep up the get-togethers with other Spanish-speakers for practice listening and speaking in the minority language, plus reinforcing the importance of using it—rather than feeling that nobody else knows English! More on these get-togethers and events elsewhere.



My son and I took a seven-week trip to Mexico this past summer. There he was even more immersed in Spanish! When we get  another chance to travel abroad–and will probably be a while–we will jump at it once again.


En fin, people are usually surprised that my son speaks so much Spanish, but as you can see by the information above, it flows from intentionally immersing him in the language. It didn’t just happen unexpectedly. But isn’t this making his English suffer? Sure, his English is temporarily behind where it would be if I spoke to him in English all the time rather than Spanish. Do I sometimes feel guilty about that when he can’t communicate super well with others in the community? Yes, but it is a temporary disadvantage, and he is picking up English too at an increasingly rapid rate. So I have decided to accept that disadvantage in light of the fact he is getting a second language as well right from the start.

I imagine our methods seem extreme to many people, but it has been highly effective at getting our son rocking and rolling in Spanish!

Mrs. Frizzle’s Lessons for Teachers

My son and I have been watching some original episodes of Magic School Bus in Spanish recently. Not having watched the TV series before, I am definitely struck by Mrs. Frizzles teaching style. While most of us teachers don’t have magic on our side, we can still put a few of her good habits to practice.  We generally understand that we should try to implement these habits, but Mrs. Frizzle does a good job of demonstrating how to do so.


1 – Foster an environment for students to discover for themselves, to generate their own questions, and answer their questions. Standby as a tour guide through the process. (This students them the skill of learning that they can use the rest of their lives.)


2 – Maintain a calm, cheerful outlook and approachable demeanor. (This makes students more likely to ask for help when they need it.)


3 – Have fun with your students! Model how they can enjoy the learning process. (That can help endear them to it.)

Meals with Baby

I have read little about “baby led weaning,” but I was recently told that’s what I was doing with my son. “Oh, that’s what this is?” I thought. My doctor recommended I give my toothless, six-and-half-month-old some baby cheerios and pieces of cooked carrot, and here we are at eight-and-half months chowing together on all sorts of things! Here are some of my easy, go-to meals that we can eat together:

  • Oatmeal
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Soup
  • Meat and veggie combo

Reasons I like my baby eating normal food:

  • Picking up pieces of food helps develop fine-motor skills
  • I can actually eat at the same time as him because often put a bunch of pieces of food on his plate, and he grabs what he wants.
  • I don’t have to make separate meals just for him.
  • He gets to distinguish between food by the way it looks. When I tell him, “This is a carrot,” it actually still looks like a carrot, for instance.
  • Fosters a sense of independence and choice in eating. It’s easy for him to decide when he is satisfied and done because I’m not simply shoving food in his mouth.

Things I think about:

  • Health – I don’t just give him anything. In fact, for each meal I try to give him one of each of the following: 1) a protein like meat or dairy, 2) a grain or other starch, and (3) a fruit or veggie. When I’m not sure of new foods, I research a little on the internet to say if they are okay for babies.
  • Chocking hazards – The food should be soft, not hard. I usually break it up into pieces for him, but he also has his own sense of knowing what should go in his mouth to some extent and can break apart soft solids with his jaws.


Learning v. Schooling

Hypothetically, if you could foster the young child’s natural passion for learning, guide him in how to attain what he’s after, and supply him with the tools for his journeys of discovery, what would be the point of formal education? Wouldn’t it merely get in the way of learning?

Homework as School v. Homework as Fluff

As an online elementary school teacher, I found this Salon article on the negative effects of homework for elementary students rather interesting. It’s called:

Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework

The premise of the article is that studies show that homework for elementary school kids has no positive consequences, only negative (forming a bad relationship with learning). Sure, I agree that a public school elementary child has done enough school for the day by the time they get home at 3:30 or so in the afternoon. However, that’s not the only way to school. Homework plays a different, actually vital role for homeschoolers; in fact in their world, school and homework are basically the same thing. Similarly, teaching elementary school online to homeschoolers is quite a different ballpark than teaching it in the physical, everyday classroom.

This is because the online classroom for homeschoolers has a very different dynamic than the traditional classroom. Online, most of our classes meet just once a week. A great deal of the learning students will do on their own as they craft essays and sentences and conjugate verbs… And their parents will most often be keeping them on task. We get a lot done in just a 32-week school year with just an hour and a half in class each week, and it’s the parents and students and teachers working together.

I found it odd that much of the phrasing in the article I mentioned above didn’t take into account alternative school situations. It’s not that homework in itself is the beast. It’s that too much time spent on school isn’t good for a child. It’s not that parents don’t make good teachers. It’s that they also need time in the day to just enjoy their children. I can assure you that homework helps my students grow, but I imagine it wouldn’t if we met every week day for an hour or so. In the kind of online school environment I work in, students are learning responsibility… but not in a way that is stifles the rest of their life experiences or their joy.

Life Lessons from this Weekend

Always eat two breakfasts. It can keep you out of the hospital.

Pregnancy is full of unexpected turns. If something weird happens to you, it’s probably a side effect of your pregnancy that no one thought to warn you of. 🙂

When going in the ER, note the little blue masks at the entrance. Put one on immediately. It’ll make you look weird, but everybody in the ER looks weird, and the people you are about to sit next to have strange contaminate diseases you haven’t heard of.

When you finally get a room in the ER, demand what you need. They will not ask. If you need pain medication, tell them you need it ASAP or they will wait hours. They will also forget what you need, so remind them. If you need food, ask your husband to go to Burger King because you won’t get out of the ER anytime soon… and they definitely won’t give you any food there.

When they take you from the ER to another part of the hospital, double-check to make sure they are taking you to the wing you think you ought to be going to. If it’s not where you thought you should be going, question them. Otherwise, you can end up in neurology when you needed to be in maternity, and they will wake you at midnight to move you.

Migraines are strange. They don’t necessarily start with a headache. You might actually fear you’re having a stroke. Call your sister and ask her about the signs she experienced with her migraines in pregnancy. That way you might avoid going to the ER and getting cat scan.

Finally, rest in God all the time. Don’t take your breath, your heartbeat, or your mental capacity for granted. He holds those things in the palm of his hand. He preserves you every moment. If he’s given you a husband willing to spend a restless night in the hospital with you, be thankful for him too.

Online Elementary Spanish Class Update

We are about to start Week 13 of a a 32 week Elementary Spanish 1 course. I must say, the Lord had blessed this effort beyond my expectations. Most of the kids are very eager to participate in class, which makes it tons of fun. I also love seeing them go above and beyond in their homework, and some of them are excitedly talking about how they are using Spanish in their day-to-day lives. I have amazing students.

Now to wrap up my course creation for this Elementary Spanish 1 so that I can start Elementary Spanish 2 creation. Hopefully I will have lots of these wonderful kids back next school year. 🙂

Rice soup my husband likes

It’s hard to find a soup my husband really likes. He likes thick and flavourful, but not “heavy.” It’s hard for me to understand what that means, but here is a soup I threw together the other day that he said I could make again any time. Use of a slow cooker all day would be great. I did this quickly in a pot on the stove, but the leftovers the next day were more flavourful than when we ate it originally. Just boil the following things together for at least thirty minutes:

  • 1-2 cups of leftover rice, bean, garlic, butter combination from the day before (We eat this every week or two with corned beef hash. If you have some leftover corned beef hash, it’s welcome in the soup also.)
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • 2 cubes of beef bullion
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 mushrooms chopped
  • 1 or 2 carrots chopped (or about twelve baby carrots chopped)

I get all of the above ingredients going first to make sure they have plenty of time to soften and let their flavors mix. As they do, I start dumping in the following:

  • 1 can of peas
  • 1 can of tomatoes with green chilli peppers (like Rotel brand tomatoes)
  • a generous dash of chilli powder (less if you don’t like spicy)
  • a generous dash of dried crushed red pepper (Omit if you don’t like spicy.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • If you are letting it cook a while, I think a bay leaf  would also be a welcome addition. (Of course, you need to remove the leaf before serving.)

For best results, serve with warm, buttered, homemade rolls to dip in the soup as you consume it. Makes 5 to 6 bowls worth. I’ll try to remember to snap you a picture next time I make this. 🙂

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