Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Language Centers Can Supplement Your Child's Bilingual Education

Across the country, language learning centers are in great demand and many parents depend on them to teach their children a second language – especially when they themselves, only speak English. So today Denise Leitch, owner, director, and instructor at Kultural Kids Learning Center, shares with us some background information about these educational facilities and how they can benefit parents trying to raise bilingual kids.



About Kultural Kids Learning Center:

Our Mission: To be a major outlet for building knowledge, creativity, and cultural awareness through our early childhood and elementary level creative arts and foreign language education programs.

Through constant enhancements to our curriculum and learning facility, we strive to provide children with everything they need to be engaged in our programs and to be well on the way to becoming a creative, successful, and culturally aware individual.

Our Philosophy: We believe childhood is the key time to be introduced to a wealth of knowledge. A child's brain has a wonderful ability to absorb information in incredible amounts. By exposing children to various creative and thought provoking activities, the better equipped children will be for academic life, as well as for building lifelong passions.

Children learn best through being actively engaged in a subject. A child becomes actively engaged when he or she is having fun. For this reason, we strive to find the perfect mix between the fun and educational elements that exist in both our creative art and foreign language programs. By focusing on the activity and the enjoyment of the children, it becomes so much easier to encourage them to learn.


How long has Kultural Kids been around? How did it begin?

Kultural Kids Learning Center has been open since January 2005, and it is located in Morton, IL.

While in college, I taught, tutored, and gained knowledge and experience working with children in many ways. After graduating from college, I worked full-time and taught foreign language independently. In little time, I was going to various locations to teach fun foreign language classes to young children. After seeing the growing interest from adults as well as children in my foreign language courses, I decided to create my own fun, full-immersion foreign language and creative arts center. This is how Kultural Kids Learning Center was created.

Photo by david.nikonvscanon
Why do we offer art classes at Kultural Kids Learning Center?

One of my true passions in life has always been art. I have painted, drawn, and worked with 3D media since I was a child. Through my college education, I was exposed to various classes and activities that provided me the tools and knowledge to develop a fun creative arts curriculum for the Kultural Kids Learning Center.

I believe art to be a language, and in our creative arts classes we encourage the intuitive artistic ability found in every child. Children communicate through art, and they communicate while making art.

I enjoy very much working with young children; therefore, teaching foreign language and creative arts classes at Kultural Kids Learning Center is my dream come true.

Our art classes are conducted in English and cover a broad range of art, from drawing and painting, to art history, and some experimental and global art.

We also end many of our foreign language classes with a craft to reinforce concepts and vocabulary being taught in the class. Usually this craft is our way to end our class on a fun note and also apply everything the child has learned. For example, they have to tell us (as they are working on their project) what color it is, what size it is, what it is used for, who they will give it to, etc.


Why immersion learning? What are the benefits? How does it work?

At Kultural Kids, we teach foreign language using a technique called full immersion. Using full immersion, we expose children to a fun environment where they learn the foreign language just like they did their native tongue. As soon as the child walks into our classrooms, the native tongue is left behind and only the targeted foreign language is used. After all, full immersion is the way all of us learned our first language.

Full immersion is the best technique to grasp a second language quickly and almost effortlessly. Our style allows children to have fun and enjoy themselves while rapidly learning the targeted foreign language.


How do foreign language learning centers benefit families?

Families benefit from having their children attend foreign language courses because these classes provide:

- fun age-appropriate activities
- an educational environment for a child to participate in
- learning about other cultures
- interactivity with peer in the target language
- multilingual children benefit in every single way (academically and life, in general)
- and more!


Why are language centers becoming more popular?

I believe that some of the reasons are:

• Families are starting to realize how important it is for children to be exposed to other languages at a young age.

• Parents know that if they do not know the language themselves, it is difficult (not impossible) to provide a good foreign language education to their children.

• Most foreign language learning centers have a fun, safe environment, and they provide children with an age-appropriate curriculum that is effective.

• The most important reason is that in order to truly learn a foreign language, children (and adults) need to INTERACT in the foreign language. Active learning is the key; passive learning will not work 100 percent.


How can parents use these foreign language classes to supplement their homeschool curriculum or their traditional schooling?

Like I mentioned before: INTERACTION is the key to foreign language acquisition. Therefore, the more interaction in the foreign language a child can be exposed to, the better. In a foreign language class, the child is learning and interacting with peers.

At Kultural Kids, we provide an environment that is welcoming and challenging, fun and interactive. This way, children learn in a positive and natural environment.

Not every town/city has a foreign language learning center, but one of our goals is to create an on-line resource for parents looking for language learning centers in their area. By December 31, 2010, we plan to launch a "Find a School Near You" section on our Foreign Language Friends website. This page will have a map of the US where families will be able to select their state (and/or zip code - this is yet to be determined). Once they have made their selection, they will be able to view language schools near them. We hope to be able to have many schools listed. In addition, schools that wish to be added to the list can contact us directly so we can add them to our search engine. Finally, people will also be able to rate their school and leave comments.

Language centers can go ahead and email me their information, or they can call me at (309) 361-2615. And once the page is up and running (by 12/31/10) we will have a way for learning centers to add their information on our site. We will then filter and make sure it is an accurate place and not spam.

We hope you will all participate and help us to create this valuable resource for families all over the United States!


Be sure to look for Denise's next article which will introduce us to Foreign Language Friends!

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Denise Leitch is the owner, director, and instructor at Kultural Kids Learning Center. Originally from Chile, South America, Denise is a native speaker of the Spanish language, and also speaks English and French fluently.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Family Visits = Learning Time


Can you believe how quickly this year is coming to a close? December is almost here, and our days are getting shorter and shorter. We took this past week off from schooling since ‘Buelita and Grandpa came to visit for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was so good to take a break! They always help to inspire and re-energize me. (And, like many of you, we spent some time taking advantage of the store sales in our area!)

But just because we didn’t have any formal class time doesn’t mean the kids weren’t learning. In fact, one of the reasons that I love it when family comes to visit is the amount of time my children spend showing off how much they have learned and can now accomplish on their own. There is no better audience around here than visiting grandparents!

This whole week, my kids and my parents were inseparable. They spent their days practicing my daughter’s guitar lessons, figuring out math problems, and showing off reading skills. Together they worked on dinosaur puzzles, board games, and even a little bit of needlepoint. They went to the movies (Tangled), went for walks, read books, sang songs, and played outside.

Today when my parents left, my kids sobbed. Their unconditional love is strong and pure, and I am so grateful for the special relationship that each one has with the other.

The way I see it, spending time with family is never a waste of time. Mis niños learn so much from these special visits. Maybe they learn new songs or stories. Or maybe they learn something less tangible, like how people are more important than things and how love is something we all need.

These are the moments that my kids will remember years from now, long after the hours of studying and practicing have faded. These are the moments that my kids already cherish; a precious memory held close to their hearts and locked away in their mind, only to be pulled out and remembered late at night as they lie in bed, snuggled under the covers…

I hope that all of you enjoyed a holiday with familia, forging bonds to last a lifetime.

Con mucho cariño...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Break Specials: Pumpkin Empanadas!!

I have finally decided on the dessert that I plan to contribute to our Thanksgiving Day feast. And you may decide to add this one last item to your menu, if you haven't already. A fresh, warm, melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin empanada is impossible to top. But if you're still not sure that you want to include this in your own feast tomorrow, take a look at this....

Photo by Jeanine Thurston

Pumpkin Empanadas
by Muy Bueno Cookbook

Makes 24-30 empanadas

Growing up we always knew the fall and winter meant lots of sweet and tasty treats we call empanadas. These sweet pastry pockets are filled with whatever jam or preserves are in season and or whatever you were lucky enough to preserve over the summer. This particular recipe calls for my favorite filling, pumpkin. I prefer to use canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling because making it from scratch is too watery. Adding the freshest spices, makes a big difference. So go fresh with your spices whenever possible...

To view the complete recipe, please click here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Break Specials: Butternut Squash...Tamales?

I'm a picky squash eater. Typically I prefer it cut into thin slices, breaded, and lightly fried in EVOO. Squash is indigenous to America, having been around several thousand years and originally grown in Guatemala and Mexico. Today, butternut squash in particular is a popular ingredient thanks to its thick, buttery orange skin and sweet taste.

As you can probably tell, I love the idea of using traditional Thanksgiving ingredients in non-traditional dishes. So second on our list for this week is this incredible dish by Carolyn Swaney at the Hispanic Kitchen...


Butternut Squash Tamales...Putting your Turkey to Shame!
by Carolyn Swaney

The air is getting cooler. Halloween has come and gone. Fall is shaping up, which only means one thing: Thanksgiving is coming!

However, being that I come from such a large family, I don't always have the privelage of hosting the holiday at my house, and this is one of those years. Not to be outdone, my side dish contributions are usually elaborate and standout. Confession: I'm a culinary show-off. You probably are, too. That's why I like you.

Either way, these tamales will definitely outshine even the most delicious bird that shows up on your table, so make with caution: You may not even need the turkey! I love them, also, because they provide a truly delicious and sophisticated option for non-meat eaters, instead of the usual scoop of mashed potatoes and pile of green beans. These tamales are a big, wrapped up gift of YUM...




Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Break Specials: Guavalicious...Turkey?

My mother flew in yesterday. And my stepdad is expected to arrive on Wednesday. The kids are all excited and thrilled beyond belief to have their 'Buelita and Grandpa here for Thanksgiving, and they have planned a week full of activities to keep them entertained. (My parents will need a vacation to recover from their vacation after they get back.) So this week will be less about lessons and studying, and more about decorating and COOKING! (Yay!)

I am wondering how many of you will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year? Will you be cooking a traditional turkey meal like the ones the Pilgrims are said to have enjoyed during their feast with the Wampanoag people at Plymouth Rock? (Actually, their meal probably included corn, lobster, fish, berries, and other locally harvested foods.)

Or will you be enjoying a little sopa de frijoles as your main dish, like it may have been at America's REAL first Thanksgiving that occured 56 years earlier in St. Augustine, Florida? And where the dominant language for the event was actually Spanish? You know... the first Thanksgiving feast that took place between a group of Spanish conquistadores led by conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the native people of Florida, the Timucua.

Or will you be doing your own thing by mixing a little tradition with a little cultura? I'm still working out my contribution to our big Thanksgiving feast with familia y amigos, but over the next couple of days, I will post a few inspirational recipes that are avilable on the Internet. Muchisimas gracias to all of the authors/chefs/friends for allowing me to link to their mouth-watering posts....

This first super delicioso recipe comes from mi amiga, Marta Darby, over at the Tiki Tiki.


by Marta Darby


I love Thanksgiving.

Being Cuban Americans, we appreciate that Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to this country. When we first started joining in and cooking the turkey, the side dishes were typically Cuban – arroz con frijoles negros, yuca con mojo, platanos maduros, etc.

What else would you cook when you have that many people coming over for a big meal??

Ah, but we have evolved. We made the decision a few years ago to keep the Thanksgiving meal pretty traditional. We didn’t want this to just be the “warm up” for Noche Buena.

My sisters and I share the load. My two oldest sisters will take turns cooking the turkey and side dishes. They know I can cook, but I’m still “the baby.” They let me do the creative: invitations, centerpieces, and photos, while they do the heavy lifting of preparing the meal.

Occasionally they give in and let me come into the kitchen. And when they do, I go for the “wow” factor. I originally got this recipe from Carrie. She was generous enough to share it on her Boonie blog and I immediately thought, “I am sooo making that!” (I changed a few things about it to make it my own, but that’s not important right now.)

The paring of port and guava and turkey is so sublime that it’s almost other-worldly.

You’ve been warned. Buen Provecho!

To view Marta's complete recipe, please click here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekend Links: Thanksgiving to Book Giveaways

America's REAL First Thanksgiving... :: Mi Cielito Lindo (Definitely check this out.)

Fun with Math, Games and Illusions :: The HSBA Post

Teaching Geography Without Buying a Curriculum :: Jimmie's Collage

Encouraging Independent Learning :: Homeschool Classroom

Leaf Study :: Montessori Spanish

Las Hojas Estan Cambiando (The Leaves are Changing): Part Two :: Multilingual Living

Utubersidad: Educational Videos in Spanish :: Teaching Español (This is SUPER COOL!! Thanks, Karen!)

4 Tips for Talking to Relatives About Homeschooling This Holiday Season :: Simple Homeschool


And our sister blog, the Latin Baby Book Club has several giveaways going on right now, so be sure to head over and take a look at those incredible books!


Con mucho cariño...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sites that Promote International Education

I wanted to wind up International Education Week by sharing a few sites that I have found and think are really interesting. Maybe you'll find them intriguing, too!


Multicultural Education through Miniatures - This fascinating website includes photos, activities, stories and more of handmade dolls and puppets from around the world. I had a great time just looking at all the different dolls, but there are some fun - and educational! - games on the site as well.




The International Child Art Foundation - This goal of this group is "to integrate the arts with science, sport and technology for the development of children’s innate creativity and intrinsic empathy – preconditions for a more just, prosperous and nonviolent world."

They actually have a lot of programs that support children in art, like the Art Olympiad, the world’s largest and most prestigious art and sport program for children. It is a free program that is open to children ages 8 - 12. School children and homeschoolers are both eligible. They offer a number of other programs and even a magazine. Visit their site for more information.




And, sadly, I found out about the Chicago International Children's Film Festival a little too late (Boo!), but the good thing is that parents and teachers can still learn more, get involved, and even schedule screenings by visiting their website. If you are in the Chicago area, even better! So go check out the largest film festival in N. America that features movies made by kids, for kids.

Con mucho cariño...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exploring Culture as Part of Your Curriculum


A week or two ago, I ran across this article, which stated that "learning a new language should not be just about learning vocabulary and grammar, it is also about experiencing culture and traditions."

This makes sense, no? I mean you can’t really do one properly without the other, in my opinion. If Juanita Doe decides to learn Spanish but knows absolutely nothing about Latino culture, more than likely she will find it difficult to understand certain aspects of the language. But it is also very possible that she will be lost in a conversation with a native Spanish-speaker. (She's actually German/Irish, but was named after her mother's best friend - a Latina!)

Naturally, this got me to thinking about the diversity of the Latino culture. How often I marvel with mis amigas over the differences in our traditions, foods, dress, and yes, language.

Exploring a culture can really cover most subjects in your curriculum: geography, social studies, language, art, writing, science, math, reading, and more.

Here, then, is a list of ways to explore different cultures with your child. I am emphasizing Spanish-speaking countries, but you could easily substitute any country. Incorporating some or all of these ideas into your curriculum can be easily done if you take your time, and focus on one aspect at a time. The sections can be as simple or as complex as you want to make them, depending on the age and interest of your child.

A simple unit study can go something like this:


Can you guess which country we're working on?
 Week/Day 1: Geography

Pick a country then spend a week finding it on a map, discussing the continent, hemisphere, closest ocean, and distinct geographical features (i.e., mountains, deserts, rain forests, coastline, peninsulas, lakes, waterfalls, etc.) Ask: How large is this country? What shape is it? How close to the equator is it? What type of seasons does it have (dry/wet, winter/summer)?


Week/Day 2: Zoology

Closely related to geography, this topic makes a nice transition to literature. Crack open those field guides and discover a world of exotic animals! Have your children create flash cards with a picture of some of the native fauna and have them label them with both their English and Spanish names. On the back of the card, have them list some facts about classification, habitat, diet, courtship rituals, nesting habits, and anything else you want. Or maybe you could have your children create puppets and tell stories about them.


Week/Day 3: Literature

Find stories about the country, or tales that were written for children from that country. The International Children’s Digital Library is an awesome resource for children’s literature from around the world. This would probably be the first place I hit to find original, native stories.


Week/Day 4: Notable Figures

Research and compile a list of important artists, inventors, politicians, musicians, scientists, etc. This can be as comprehensive or as simple as you want it to be. For younger children, look for coloring pages for them to fill out. You can also print or cut out a picture of your famous person and have your student label him/her or show an example of their work.


Week/Day 5: Traditions

Customs and traditions are possibly the most fascinating aspect of a country. Children are often most interested in the traditional costumes, or the way people dress. Do a little investigating and find pictures of local people and have your child draw them in their native dress. Perhaps, this too varies. It could be influenced by:

• different tribes, cultures, or groups living within a country.

• the geography where they live in the country. For example, those who live high in the mountains may wear different or heavier clothing, than those who live along the coastlines.


Week/Day 6: Holidays

Holidays can tell a lot about the people who observe them. Is the holiday religious in nature? If so, what is the dominant religion? How do people celebrate a specific holiday? Do they wear special clothes? Eat certain dishes? Create unique artwork or other crafts?

Some distinct holidays from the Latino world that come to my mind are: Día de los Muertos in Mexico, Holy Week in Guatemala, the festival of San Fermin in Spain (Pamplona’s running of the bulls), etc.



Week/Day 7: Cuisine

Ah! La comida! Your kids will really have a blast with this one. Scour the Internet or your local library for traditional dishes from the country you are studying. Pick one or two and cook it together with your children. To really get into the swing of things, decorate your dining room with symbols of your country of study.


Week/Day 8: Statistics

Spice things up by having your student create a mini-book with simple data such as: What is the capital city? What is the national language? What type of currency do they use? What does their flag look like? What is their main export?


Week/Day 9: Videos

There are many online resources for videos on any of the topics mentioned above. You can find generic videos on the country itself, or narrow it down to a specific subject, like a famous person, nature series, or geographical feature. Some of my favorite sites:






Week/Day 10: Field Trips

Contact your local museums, or look on-line for clubs, embassies, or organizations related to the country. Maybe you are studying Spain and your art museum has a special exhibit on Goya, Picasso, or El Greco. Local universities may also have international teachers or students who would be willing to sit and talk about their country over lunch or dinner. To go a step further, have your child think up some interview questions, and take along your flip camera to record the meeting.

I’d like to explore each of these topics a little more in depth and discuss related activities, so be looking for future articles in this series!

Con mucho cariño…

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bilingualism and Language Delay: Part 1


Language and speech disorders don't recognize borders. They are not limited to monolingual children, or bilingual ones either. And for many - especially families raising bilingual children - they can be hard to identify or mistakenly diagnosed.

This is a rather obscure topic. And because many of you are teaching children who speak Spanish only, or who speak both English and Spanish, I thought it would be good to have someone who can talk knowledgeably about this issue.

We are so very, very fortunate today to have the first of a series of posts by Dr. Elizabeth D. Peña, professor of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Texas at Austin, and her colleague, Dr. Lisa M. Bedore, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders. Together, Dr. Peña and Dr. Bedore have been researching language disorders in bilingual children for the last 10 years in order to come up with an accurate test to assess this problem. This test would help school pathologists to determine if a bilingual student does indeed have a true speech-language disorder, or if he or she is simply in a normal stage of development for learning two languages at once.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

by Dr. Elizabeth D. Peña and Dr. Lisa M. Bedore

The question of whether a child has a language impairment or delay comes up frequently with children who are learning two languages at one time. Often, parents and teachers wonder whether bilingualism can slow down language learning. Other questions concern whether a child has a language delay or disorder and whether it’s okay for children with delays to be exposed to two languages.

Can bilingualism slow down language learning?

The logic to this question is that if children spend half of their time in one language (L1) and half of their time in another language (L2) then they get less input (compared to monolinguals) in both their languages. The logical conclusion is that they may only learn half (or less) of what they need. But, this isn’t completely true. Work examining vocabulary learning in bilinguals does show that bilingual children as a group tend to know fewer words than monolingual children when tested in only one language. But, their test scores are generally within the normal range for their age. This effect is pretty consistent across studies including the work of Barbara Pearson and Ellen Bialystok. In our own work on a grant funded by the NIH, Diagnostic Markers of Language Impairment in Bilinguals, preliminary findings of a screening test given to about 1200 children also shows that bilingual children score lower in each of their two languages when compared to monolinguals.

On the other hand, bilingual children know another language. If you put their two languages together they know more total words than monolingual children of the same age. Consistent with the work of other researchers with younger children, we have found that preschool, kindergarten, and first grade Spanish-English bilinguals distribute their vocabulary knowledge across their two languages. Some of their vocabulary was duplicated in each language such as knowing mama and mommy, or water and agua. But other words bilinguals may know only in one language—logically the language they need that word for. In preschoolers for example, we’ve noticed that many of the children we work with know shape, color, and location words in English, and know familial relationships, furniture, kitchen tools, for example in Spanish. This division reflects the context in which these words are learned.

What about children with language impairment? Can they handle two languages?

The incidence of language impairment in the general monolingual English speaking population is about 7%. Children are said to have a language impairment or delay when they have special difficulties learning language and these difficulties do not have a physical or neurological cause. The research on language impairment in bilinguals is just emerging. But, given what we know about bilinguals with typical development it doesn’t seem that it would be logical to suggest that bilingualism is the cause of language impairment. Language development is not slowed down when you consider children’s total language knowledge. In addition, these children are tackling the somewhat more complex task of learning two languages. Furthermore, it does not make sense to limit bilinguals with language impairment to only one language. Children with language impairment learn both. Our emerging longitudinal work seems to indicate that bilingual children with language impairment continue to learn both languages at about the same rate as typical bilinguals, even though they perform lower than their typical peers. Furthermore, knowledge of one language can serve as the foundation for the other language.

Research with bilingual children who have language impairment seems to indicate that they will have delays in both languages—not because of bilingualism but because of their underlying difficulties that affect language learning. We know from the work on French-English bilinguals with language impairment that these children seem to show patterns of difficulty that are comparable to their monolingual language impaired peers.

Next time, we will post on characteristics of language impairment in bilinguals. To find out more about language impairment and bilingualism go to: http://2languages2worlds.wordpress.com/

UPDATE: To learn more, take a look at Part 2: Language Impairment in Bilingual Children.

Monday, November 15, 2010

International Education Week!


This week the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education officially launch International Education Week (IEW), which promotes the benefits of international education and exchange, as well as encourages programs that prepare Americans to live and work in a global environment.

First Lady Michelle Obama has stated that studying abroad can advance our education, opening a world of opportunities, and making us more competitive in the world market. She’s not stating anything that those of us who were raised bilingually don’t already know, but it is great to hear it acknowledged.

Not too long ago, on a flight to Texas, I happened upon an article in one of the plane’s magazine. It was about how more and more companies are now actively searching out – and hiring - individuals who have studied abroad. Their reasoning? Employees who have traveled out of the country are better able to analyze situations from various angles, are more creative problem solvers, and are better at international relations. This outlook reinforces an idea that I firmly support: Learning a new language is not just about words, rather it is also about experiencing culture and traditions.

So what does all this have to do with Mommy Maestra? A lot, actually. Our biggest goal as parents is to provide our children with the tools they need to succeed as adults. The gift of bilingualism is one of those. So is the ability to think globally and to avoid stereotypes.

This week we will be celebrating International Education Week here on Mommy Maestra. And you can, too. Visit IEW’s website for ideas on how you can celebrate this week in your classroom or at home. Be sure to check out their Events list to see if there are any in your area. While you’re there, you can also test your Global IQ. They have three quizes: The Continent IQ Quiz, The Cultural Geography IQ Quiz, and the Physical and Cultural IQ Quiz.

To start this week off, we have a special guest post by Denise Leitch, the owner of Kultural Kids and creator of Foreign Language Friends. Denise has offered to talk about some of the benefits and challenges of learning a second language and has created a list of resources for those of you who have asked for more information about it…


Hi. My name is Denise Leitch and I am the owner, director, and instructor at Kultural Kids Learning Center. I am originally from Chile, South America, and I am a native speaker of the Spanish language. I also speak English and French fluently.

I grew up in Concepción, Chile and I attended Lyceé Charles De Gaulle school for 11 years. This school is unique in its style since it goes from preschool to High school and its curriculum is designed to use French full immersion.

My junior year of high school, I decided to leave Chile and become an exchange student. I was accepted in the Youth For Understanding program for a full year stay in Morton, IL. My responsibilities were to attend an American high school, finish my senior year in USA, and learn more about the North American culture.

After being in this country for only months, I was able to speak fluently and comprehend most of what was said to me. I truly enjoyed the American life style and education system. Therefore, by the end of my exchange student year, I decided to apply to Bradley University in Peoria, IL.

I attended Bradley University studying early childhood education and psychology. My focus was on Cognitive Psychology - language acquisition. While in college, I taught, tutored, and gained knowledge and experience working with children in many ways. Since graduating I have taught foreign language independently and through other local schools.


Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

Parents tend to mention three main reasons why they want their children to learn a foreign language:

1 – Academic reasons: Research shows that learning a second language helps children do better with their native tongue. It helps them acquire and recognize unique sounds, accents, intonations, and more. In addition, children that are exposed to a second language tend to do better in various academic subjects including mathematics & science.

2 – To encourage understanding of other cultures: By learning a foreign language at our center, children are not only exposed to the full immersion foreign language, they also get to play traditional games from around the world and learn about other cultures: their costumes, eating habits, and much more.

3 - To build better communication skills/relationships for the future: Currently, it is a great benefit to be able to speak more than one language, and in the future it will be almost mandatory. Therefore, it is best to take advantage of the unique ability of a child's brain to learn a language naturally as early as possible through consistent exposure and enjoyable activities. Before children can speak, their brains are able to encode unique sounds. All this information shapes and helps develop the infant’s brain which, naturally, will be used through out his/her life. As the child grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn new words, develop new sentence structure, and flawlessly imitate new accents. Experts suggest that by age 10, humans have already lost the ability to hear and reproduce new sounds.

Full immersion is the best technique to grasp a second language quickly and almost effortlessly.


Challenges of Learning Another Language

There are various challenges a parent might face with raising a bilingual child when they themselves are not fully versed in the language. Some of those are:

1- Ability to challenge: Since children learn so quickly, it is very difficult for parents to be able to challenge their child's learning at home - especially when the parents do not speak the language themselves.

2 – Resistance at home: Many children do not want to speak the foreign language at home. For many years, children have only heard English being spoken at home, therefore, many of them tend to refuse to use the foreign language for their parents. At Kultural Kids, we recommend to all our families to try to add foreign language into their everyday life little by little. For example, on a car ride: talk about the colors they see while they are driving around town, or while eating lunch: talk about what they are eating (name the food) and say if they like it or not, if it is hot or cold, etc.

3 – Lack of educational material to support the foreign language learning: It is very difficult to find a good educational product for a reasonable price, that is interactive and age appropriate. This is one reason why I developed Foreign Language Friends, which was designed to encourage full immersion learning at home in a fun and inexpensive way. [Editor's note: Denise will be sharing more about Foreign Language Friends soon!]

4 – Trouble assessing their child's progress: For many parents it is hard to know how much their child has learned, this is why at Kultural Kids we provide a foreign language assessment form at the end of each session. Parents are informed of their child's progress as well as given some examples of what we have seen/heard in the classroom. In addition, they are always encouraged to stay and observe our classes.


The top books I recommend to Kultural Kids participants:


#2 - Raising a Bilingual Child (Living Language Series) by Barbara Zurer Pearson and Living Language

#3 - 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner MD, Susan L. Hayes, and Steven Parker M.D.

#4 - The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents by Edith Harding-Esch and Philip Riley

#5 - Intercultural Marriage, 3rd edition: Promises and Pitfalls by Dugan Romano


Top five great websites for parents, teachers, anyone!

#1 - The National Network for Early Language Learning

#2 - Ñandutí

#3 - Primary Lanugages

#4 - Learn Lanugages

#5 - Multilingual Living

Each one of these sites has LOTS of content and articles.

~Denise Leitch


Denise will be sharing more about Kultural Kids and foreign language learning centers right after Thanksgiving, so be sure to keep an eye out for her next articles.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekend Links: Word Games to Free Books

Engaging Vocabulary Word Game :: Teaching Español




Gifts from Nature ~ Cinnamon Pine Cones :: The Magnifying Glass

Project #66 Acorn Owls :: Bookhou Craft Projects (Love the crafts that she shares!)

Native Sons :: Blue Yonder Ranch!


Free Books for Kids :: Budget Saving Mom (A list of free audio books.)


And finally, don't miss out on The Old Schoolhouse's digital holiday supplement. It is filled with recipes, gift, and craft ideas for the holidays.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Frijoles! The Snacktime Meal (And a Small Giveaway)

So for a really long time now, I've been wanting to write about nutrition and how it can affect your child's performance in school. I became interested in this after I began to notice how my daughter's ability to focus, sit still, and emotional state could really vary from one day to the next.

For a while, I worried about things like ADD and ADHD, but after talking to a friend, I did more research into nutrition and started monitoring what my daughter was eating. I eventually determined that she had a really high metabolism (like most kids her age) and she required a lot of fuel for her brain, as well as her body, for optimal performance during our classtime. She sounds like a car, doesn't she?

Well, it's very similar. And, in fact, thanks to this book by Dra. Isabel, that's how I explained it to my kids so that they could understand. Learning to read, or doing math, science, geography - or ANYTHING that requires a lot of concentration - uses up a lot of energy. And if we don't fill our kid's bodies with protein-rich foods, we're only making their learning experience more difficult.

Long story short (too late!), I started making some changes in their meals. But this was really difficult, because my son is a picky eater. My daughter will try almost anything once, but my son is not so adventurous. Fortunately for me, one of the foods they both wound up liking is FRIJOLES (or pinto beans for all you non-Spanish speakers.)

So now one of our favorite lunchtime meals is bean burritos. Served on corn tortillas, my daughter and I like to add fresh bell peppers and cheese to ours. But my son prefers it straight, with no additives. Honestly, after reading about the many benefits of these little beans, I don't even care. I'm just happy to have found a nutritious meal that he will actually eat. This picture is a sneak peek of our lunch today.

Anyway, when researching pinto beans, here are a few of the interesting facts that I discovered...

• Pinto beans originated in Peru (who knew?)

• It is the state vegetable of New Mexico

• There are four varieties of pinto beans: Burke, Sierra, Othello, and Maverick

• Pinto beans, or frijoles pintos, literally means painted bean. It gets its name from the splotched pattern on the beans (think pinto horse).

• In addition to being high in fiber, proteins, and minerals, they also restrain sugar levels in the blood.

Lots of really interesting stuff, and it makes me happy to have added this dish to our regular diet.

When I was growing up, my 'Buelita used to always have a big pot of frijoles bubbling on the stove. I don't know what her recipe was, but they were always YUMMY! (I liked to mix them together with a little Spanish rice and then scoop the mixture up on a tostada and down the hatch it went!)

But I have to be honest here.

I don't cook my beans like that. First of all, I don't have a good recipe. Second of all, I'm always in a rush. Third of all, I am not a good cook. There. I said it. Pass the Kleenex box, please.

So what do I do, you ask? I cheat. And I buy Old El Paso refried beans IN A CAN! Sniffle.

And you know what? They are good and we like them! Now, I have to say that I honestly don't know how much of their nutritional qualities they retain after being processed for mass distribution the way they have been, but I would imagine they retain SOME of their great qualities, don't you? 

We also have a traditional family taco night here at least once a week or once every other week. Sometimes we have a houseful of guests all squeezed in around our dining room table madly wolfing down their tacos, each one trying to outnumber the other for actual number of tacos eaten. (I think our taco nights are kind of popular around town because we use ground venison instead of beef - but that's another story.) 

So I actually do buy a lot of cans of OEP's refried beans. For those of you who do, too, here is a nice little coupon for $.60 off any two OEP products.

And for some extra giggles around the taco night table, go check out El Tacodor, a trivia game created by the PR gurus at Old El Paso. Once there you can download instructions, a score card, and a challenge sheet. Then let the fun begin!

THE GIVEAWAY:

The OEP guys are offering one you an Old El Paso "family taco night” prize pack which includes a packet of Old El Paso Taco Seasoning, a Cactus Chip & Dip Serving dish, a set of 3 Fiesta Chili Pepper serving dishes and a $10 gift card to purchase your taco fixings. (They sent me one to try out first, so I can tell you that the serving dishes are plastic, but cute, and your kids will love them. Oh. And I've already spent my $10 on mas frijoles! Hey! It's free grocery money, People.)

So if you'd like to enter to win, all you need to do is leave a little comment telling me how you like your beans best: refried, baked, in chili, etc...

Contest ends November 17th at 11:59 EST. Winner will be selected via Random.org.
This is a sponsored post. The prize pack and coupon are being provided by Old El Paso and My Blog Spark, but the history of beans and silly family stories are provided by me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who Are You? The Survey Results

When I conducted my survey a month ago, I learned that you, dear readers, are a very diverse lot. Some of you are homeschoolers, others are parents with children in public or private school, and some of you are foreign language teachers. And more surprising to me, a large number of you are not Latino.

In addition, in the section where I asked you what you would like to see more of on Mommy Maestra, you guys are all over the place. Some love the science aspect and want to see more about that. Others want to know more about how to teach your children Spanish. Or for me to share quality books/materials that are written in Spanish-only. Some of you want more resources for preschoolers, while others want more information for older children.

Gulp.

My work is cut out for me, no? Mommy Maestra has blossomed and grown quickly, which shows me how much you all love your children. I mean, why else would you be reading all about lesson plans, activities, crafts, books, and games – para niños?

So my goal for the next few months is to begin organizing the blog in a manner that will hopefully address many (if not all) of these issues about which you have asked. In addition, I am going to add a button to the sidebar for the survey, so that you may continue to request specific topics. I also want to continue to learn more about you, and filling out the survey helps me understand you better so that I can tailor the content of this blog.

Before I close, I went through and picked out a few of the requests that I have received in the survey so far, to give you an idea of who your fellow readers are...

“I'd like to see something about parents trying to teach their children Spanish, traditions, culture, but they are not home schooling. More like after-schooling :)”

“Maybe more step by step articles with pictures that go with text. It's just a suggestion cause I do love the content already.”

“I would love to see more resources, such as how to teach reading and math, in Spanish.”

“I am looking for ways to incorporate teaching a toddler Spanish in the home as a second language.”

“As I said above, love the science, love the resource recommendations - only thing I would change is more!”

“More bilingual ideas for kids 5 and older. There are a lot of toys and resources for todllers and younger kids, but for bigger kids there is a huge need of more.”

“I have a preschooler and a baby on the way, so some of the lessons are not quite for us, yet. Perhaps some more info relevant to preK/Kindergarten level?”

“Curriculum/teaching ideas for second generation bilingual families - my children are familiar with Spanish, but the conversation aspect is the most challenging. Tips on how to make that easier for them/us...”

“Language acquisition, brain development, research information...”

By the start of the new year, I hope to have started incorporating posts on all of these subjects. So when you see me jumping around between English and Spanish resources, toys for babies and word games for older children, you’ll understand that we are one big community of parents.

And I hope you will share your own experiences or discoveries with us, as well. If you would like to contribute a post about one of these, please contact me via email or on Facebook.

Con mucho cariño….

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Project FeederWatch


This weekend we will begin a winter-long science project that we discovered last year. Project FeederWatch is a simple, international project in which citizens record and submit their observations of the birds in their area to a single website. The results are then analyzed by scientists, who then use the data to monitor the movements and populations of different bird species across North America. The best part of this project? Anyone can participate, including “children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs.”

The number of birdwatchers across the nation is somewhat surprising. According to a Fish & Wildlife Service survey, one in five Americans are identified as bird watchers, and in 2006, they contributed 36 BILLION dollars to the US economy.

¡Híjole!

Who knew there were that many people out there so curious and appreciative about nature? And an incredible number of families and individuals are taking joy in creating a haven in their backyards for wintering bird species.

Now, it is no secret that we are an animal-loving family. Not in an overly-mushy kind of way, mind you, but since both my husband and I met while working in the zoo field… well, you get the picture. And, though, my husband is the official bird genius of the family (I am just the all-around genius - period.), my children and I have been the ones to embrace the art of bird watching here at home. So naturally, one of the first things we did when we moved into our new house a few years ago, was set up a bird feeder (or two or three) outside our kitchen and dining room windows. Last winter I was tickled to identify so many different species at and around our feeder. And this past summer, we monitored over 19 nests of 10 different species through Project NestWatch (more about that next spring).


SO, it is with great anticipation that we prepare to begin our FeederWatch Project. There is a $15 participation fee ($12 for Lab members), but knowing that this awesome program is funded almost entirely by these fees, makes me happy, too. In return, the participants receive a “Research Kit.” You get the option to choose what type of kit you’d like. We chose the “online data entry” kit to save paper. It includes an information handbook with instructions, a sample tally sheet, a bird watching days calendar, and a double-sided bird identification poster. We also received a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology's newsletter, BirdScope. (Canadian participants, receive Bird Studies Canada's quarterly publication, BirdWatch Canada.)

Okay, so the main reason we participate in this project is because we are bird lovers. But I also love how well this project can be incorporated into my daughter’s curriculum. First of all, she loves the idea of being a “citizen scientist.” And I love how by involving her, I will be helping her to develop her skills of observation, organization, math, science, writing, reading, PATIENCE, and probably a whole bunch of other things.

There is a good section on Education/Homeschooling for you to explore, as well. And here's a Homeschooler's Guide to the project with extra activities related to birdwatching.

I’ll be writing about this whole process a lot more over the winter, so I hope you will enjoy our learning experience, and maybe even be inspired to join in and do some bird watching of your own. You’ll be surprised at the passion and excitement that watching animals can create in not only your children, but also in yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about this and other Cornell projects, hop over and visit their site.

Con mucho cariño…

Monday, November 8, 2010

Homeschool Isn't for Every Day


The past week was a hard one for me. I was under a lot of pressure to meet two deadlines for some pretty major projects, as well as juggling sick kids, company from out of town, and - eventually - a sick me. So needless to say, our homeschool schedule was sort of shot. But I kept trying to make it work anyway, and the result was impatience, frustration, resistance, and some tears.

Some of my friends who have been homeschooling a long time had already warned me about this possibly happening. But sometimes it is hard to learn a lesson until you experience it yourself.

So here are a few things that I realized in the wee hours of the morning, as I was lying in bed with an aching neck, head, and sore throat:


Not Every Day (or Week) Will be Perfect

There are times when your kids are not going to perform well during your school time. I imagine this includes kids in a traditional school setting, as well. Yes, there are probably many things that can affect their performance, but a few of the more common culprits I want to mention include sickness (theirs or someone else's), the birth of a sibling, company, holidays, looming vacations, poor diet, and restlessness. I could probably write a complete post on each of these, but not today. I do, however, want to mention another biggie: the parent's frame of mind.

Teaching takes time and a lot of patience. Neither of which I had much of this past week. And that is something that is easily picked up on by our children/students. If you are not giving to them 100%, they know it. If you are anxious, impatient, or snappy, you can expect a similar reaction from your kids.


Know When to Stop

When your lessons start turning into what seems like a battling session between two bighorn sheep, just STOP! It's better to just wait until later that day - or the next - to come back to the subject with fresh attitudes.


Throw Out the Guilt

The truth of the matter is that your child is probably ahead of the game anyway. When you are homeschooling, you often cover a lot of ground at a faster pace because you are allowed to go as fast as your kid can learn. And if not, that's okay, too. There's no comparison here. Your goal is to help your child learn in the manner that works best for him or her.

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is that families can take breaks more frequently if they so choose - provided that they are getting the work done. So if you are working hard and your kids are completing a lot of material, sometimes, it is even better to work in more breaks. I remember reading a while back about a family that works in 4 week blocks, with 2 week breaks in between. I don't think that would work for us, but each family functions differently, and I say, "Hey, if it works for you, go for it!"

So in the end, I spent most of this morning and afternoon, just laying on the couch snuggling my kids, watching cooking shows on public television, and catching up on all the catalogs/magazines that show up in my mailbox. It was so nice!

Incidentally, the two projects I was working to complete are now more or less over. One was a fundraiser at the park where my husband works, and I was in charge organizing the live auction (Gracias a Dios, I was not the auctioneer!). But it was overwhelmingly successful, and for that I am grateful.

The other is the launch of the Latino Family Holiday Gift Guide, which officially launches today. I would certainly appreciate it, dear Amigos, if you would stop by the site and show all the small business owners there some love by looking at their products and visiting their sites. Some of them are parents like ourselves, who have put their hopes and dreams into the companies that they created.

Lastly, I want to ask all of you:

How do you deal with the hard times when your patience is at a low and you feel like you are being dragged behind a runaway horse?

What kinds of things do you do to relax, recuperate, and reinforce your relationships with your children?

Con mucho cariño...

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