How much is elementary education worth?

Charleston Bilingual Academy is launching its full day elementary school August 2018 (1st grade). Why in the world would you pay for school when there are plenty of free options? Why do we pay for anything for our children?

In this life, they are the most precious possession we will ever have. Why bother earning money, if we are not going to invest it into our families? We often do not choose the most economic option of our children.  If we invest in good shoes, how much more should we invest in the people who are forming our children for 15,000+ hours (Im not saying there are not good public options, but I am encouraging you to read on!).  Most families start saving immediately for college, yet 18 years olds are mostly formed by that point (personality, character, desires, language, thinking), whereas preschool and elementary ages are the most formative years of your children’s lives. (PS- most Spanish majors in college ($200,000 later) do not speak Spanish nearly as well as our 2nd graders).

Think about a deal where you can pay someone who loves your child almost as much as you do, who is completely trustworthy, who is highly educated, who teaches your children passionately to become world changers, imparting skills you can not give, in a small class environment, and you pay them less than $3/hr?

So is it worth it? Well, you decide how much the following is worth?

Speaking, listening, reading, writing in 2 languages, while scoring significantly higher in SAT Math and English.

Best friends with the same values (At our fall festival, one mother remarked, “I have never been to such an event and seen every child so well behaved, waiting in line, not complaining, and taking care of others”). Your children’s friends will have immeasurable impact on your child.  (And its a great place for parents to find best friends too, through our coffee talks, Spanish classes, bible studies, workouts…)

-Hands-on, inquiry-based, project-based curriculum, where children do learning, instead of passively memorizing facts to pass a test. (Just about every school calls their “curriculum” the textbooks they purchase (made by people who have never met the students). Through group planning led by a doctor from the country’s #1 school of education, CBA creates its own curriculum, adapted to common core standards, yet tailored to our Christ-centered, intercultural, language immersion-based mission.

Children learn how to think instead of just what to think. Children will learn to ask great questions, and then apply rules of logic and scientific method to scrutinize between truth and falsehoods.  Across the curriculum, we ask “Who made it?”; “Is it true?”; “What is its purpose?”; “Is it good or bad?”; “Is it beautiful or ugly?”; “Why do we need community?”, while constantly teaching students to define their terms. Students will leave CBA living on purpose- bringing truth, goodness, and beauty to a broken world, and changing it.

Teachers in the classrooms will love and teach students sacrificially, just as they have been loved by a God who gave us everything (Romans 8:32- He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?).  Students will get to know just how great the Triune God is through learning the Bible as well as seeing his love fleshed out every day in our teachers. We guarantee our teachers will love your children day in and day out (never a bad day).

Intercultural- Currently 30% of our families have a least 1 parent who is a minority. All of our teachers are minorities (from 9 different countries). We do not simply go to school side by side, we go to school face to face, learning to respect, appreciate, and learn from each other’s cultures, while loving each other as Christ has loved us. According to Bamford & Mizokawa (1991), learning languages and cultures in the most formative years increases cross cultural friendships and reduces prejudices.

Individualized- We do not believe this world was made by an accident. We do not believe your love for your child is simply composed of chemicals predisposing you to continue on the species. We do not believe that the most fit have the right to survive at the expense of the weak. We believe every child is beautifully and purposefully made by our loving Creator. And we will let your child know that from the second they get out of the car and our director is welcoming them by name at the door. They are special, and we will love them, we will keep them safe, and we will differentiate our curriculum to teach they where they according to their readiness.

Academic Excellence: If learning a second language by first grade is not enough proof,  check out just a little bit of research which we are already proving:

  • Increased concentration- Bilingual students demonstrate more concentration and engagement (Thomas & Collier, 2005).
  • Critical thinking- Bilingualism improves the executive center of the brain, which impacts critical thinking, metacognitive, and metalinguistic skills (Thomas & Collier, 2005)
  • Learn additional languages- Bilingual speakers are more likely to learn additional languages (Cenoz & Valencia, 2004) 
  • Score higher- Bilingual students score higher on the SAT in Math and English (The College Board SAT, 2003)
  • Improves English- Learning another language improves English structure and vocabulary (Curtain & Dalhberg, 2004)
  • College Entrance– College admissions and scholarship committees are now looking past just grades for students that stand out, and multilingualism helps separate students from the general applicant (Callahan & Gándara, 2014)

 

How much is it worth to you, to partner with CBA in inspiring your child to become a world changer?

By the way, we have never turned a family away who wants this and cannot afford it, because great education should be available to every child made in God’s image.

 

 

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What do you ask your child when you pick him/her up?

Questions are pivotal to parenting. So often our good “talks” are just that- us talking and our kids listening. But what are our kids saying? What are they thinking? Well, what questions are we asking? I firmly believe that our questions not only help reveal their souls, but also form their souls. If that is true, then what are the questions we are always asking?

Let’s just use one scenario. You will probably pick your child up from school at least 2340 times. So what is the first thing you ask? If you ask the same question 2340 times, you will reveal what is important to you, and in time it will become important to them.  Personally, instead of asking my son “What did you do today?” I am trying to ask him first, “Did you protect anyone today?” That question complements the other question I always ask my 5 year old, “Why did God give you such big muscles?”, to which he responds, “to protect my sisters and friends.” Thinking of others, as well caring for, defending and protecting them is essential to being a man. I want my son to understand and live a manly life, so I want to ask him manly questions.

What is important to you?

Eternal Show & Tail

2 weeks ago my son took our 8 year old, Venezuelan born, bilingual golden retriever to show & tell. My heart wanted to jump out of my chest watching my 2 oldest lead the kindergarten class (video).  And yes, Dominoes barked in English and Spanish.

This past Sunday, Dominoes passed away. We had no idea that cancer was killing him, and we have been in a tailspin all week, as anyone who has deeply loved a pet can understand. In between tears, we have been sharing stories about his precious character that we desperately miss. Every time we would go over to him, he would quickly come to us. Whether he is in the forefront or the background, he is in everyone of our pictures. He has stuck closer to us than a brother. He has been so faithful, even to the very end as he laid his head in my lap. He would truly have had to deny himself before he would ever stop being faithful to us. Regardless of the amount of times we did not love him as he deserved, he would humbly forgive and remain faithfully by our side.

Then I read the following in the Bible:

-Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:8

-There is One friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Proverbs 18:24

-At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” 22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 1 Timothy 2:13

Through lots of reflection, we are realizing that the Creator shared some of His glorious character with our puppy. As we grieve, our family hopes that we might see Dominoes in heaven some day. Perhaps we will be walking down a street of gold, and he will come running up wagging his beautiful tail. Yet, in our current emptiness, we know our greatest longings are going to be satisfied by the Triune God Himself, for all eternity- the Faithful and forgiving God who wants to be with us, closer than we can ever imagine, without ever having to say goodbye… again.

Jesus- “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in the Father, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3

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Unintentional Racism?

Does your child have at least one, significant, cross-cultural friendship?

Do we really grasp how much children are formed in the first 5 years? Perhaps the whole nature (genetics) vs nurture (environment) debate would be greatly minimized if we truly understand how much nurture intersects with nature early on in forming our children in indelible ways. Specifically, in this conversation, how does formation intentionally/unintentionally impact racism and classism in our children?

We can say all day long to our children that our family is not racist, classist or xenophobic (prejudiced against foreigners), and yet if all of our meaningful relationships are people of the same skin color, same culture, same language, same socioeconomic status, same legal status… then what are we truly forming in our children? Who do we invite to our homes? With whom do we spend time? With whom do we organize play dates? Character is not only formed by what we input in our children but also by what we omit.

If we tell our children to not be racist and yet never lead them into friendships that cross cultures, then will we not raise a generation that says they are not racist yet do not have intercultural friendships?

At Charleston Bilingual Academy our mission statement strategically uses this word “intercultural.” We are not interested in simply being multicultural where diversity is present. We want to create a culture where our diversities interact- learning, appreciating, admiring and ultimately loving one another as image bearers of an infinite God.

John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

Should I make my child eat his broccoli?

Humans are formed more in the first 5 years of life than throughout the rest of our lives. Whether intentionally or accidentally, personality, conviction, persistence, concern, preferences and ultimately character is sculpted in our toddler years.  Cultural currents are pushing parents away from parenting and towards facilitating. A 3 year old thinks he knows what he wants, but he does not have the character yet to choose wisely.  If we facilitate choosing before we carve character, then we will form children who do whatever they want, when they want (even running across a parking lot without holding an adult’s hand). While getting what you want when you want it will probably get you a Burger King Whopper, it will not get you a job; it will not get you a loving marriage; and it will not give you a heart to put others before yourself. What it will give you is an 8 year old who thinks she is a teenager, and a teenager that thinks he is a college student, and a independent who thinks she is still a child…

Parents, before asking your preschooler if they want to choose what they wear, whether they want to try the broccoli, or if they would like to play soccer, ask yourself, are you carving character, or simply avoiding a meltdown? I think we have all met adults who still meltdown when they do not get what they want, and you cannot help but wonder, “I bet he did not have to eat his broccoli.”

There is a reason God starts humans off as small, so we can carve in character. Once they are as big as we are, if the character is not formed, then prepare yourself to parent your child for the rest of your life, cleaning up after their childish decisions. Ohhh, but we all know it is NOT easy to fashion obedience and character, and it IS easy to avoid the meltdown and acquiesce. Its also easy to build a house on sand…

Matthew 7:24-27

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Mandarin-Immersion

Mandarin-Immersion Preschool

Why not just provide a Mandarin class at our preschool? From a marketing perspective that might make sense due to the fact many parents are happy to find out a school is offering foreign language classes. However, it is not best practice. Adults who took foreign language classes are living proof! They often can say some introductory salutations and find the bathroom and that is about it (even for the adults who took several years of language in high school and college- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4).

A Mandarin class exposes a student to another language, but does not engage the child in that language.  Mandarin immersion creates a similar environment as if the child actually would study abroad.  A child who is immersed in a foreign language environment for 4-7 years develops native level fluency. So just think about it, your child could be fully fluent in two languages by the time they are in elementary school. Why not give your child that gift?

Can a preschool truly change the trajectories of children’s lives?

Press Release-

North Charleston, SC April 22, 2016- Charleston Bilingual Academy (CBA), in Park Circle, is claiming that they are changing children’s lives. Their tagline is “Inspiring World Changers.” Preschool is often centered more on keep children safe, and teaching students basic cognitive, physical, and social skills preparing them for Kindergarten and beyond. However, the founder of CBA, Dr. Nathan Johnson, contends that preschoolers actually are geniuses in one area, and their aptitude is usually left untapped. That area is language.

Educators refer to preschoolers as “concrete thinkers.” While they have great memories, their thinking is one-dimensional. For example, a 4 year old has incredible capacity to know the names of several symbols such as letters and numbers. They can even learn many “site words”, recognizing the names for more complex symbols such as “cat”, “hat”, and “bat”. Although a preschooler can recognize the letter “A” (one dimension), he is usually not able to attach a sound to the letter and then connect it to the sounds of other letters. Reading phonetically requires multi dimensional thinking. Similarly, where a preschooler can count 1 to 10, she is less likely to understand the quantities that are symbolized by the numbers 1-10.

Dr. Johnson explains that preschoolers are not critical thinkers, however, the high neuroplasticity in their brain makes them experts at language acquisition. “We should be in awe” he explains “that babies go from no language to speaking. Adults only know how to learn a new language through their preexisting language. So how can a baby learn a language when they cannot translate it into a preexisting language?”

Dr. Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, researches how babies form language based on the language(s) spoken to them. Her team has discovered that 6-month-old babies can detect the sounds of every language in the world, whereas 12 month old babies are only able to detect the sounds from the language(s) that they hear. Through training, however, a 12 month old can create new neural synapses that allow the baby to learn new sounds. Kuhl explains that due to high neuroplasticity, young children can acquire new sounds, and ultimately new languages. Older children, on the other hand, are unable to acquire language in this manner.

Dr. Johnson explains that as children are learning to read phonetically, they are inversely losing the ability to acquire new languages. Concrete thinkers are language geniuses, and as a child transitions to a multi-dimensional thinker, he is learning to read and losing their language expertise… forever. Johnson is emphatic that every young child, regardless of parental level of education and socioeconomic status, is a language genius. Understanding the far reaching potential of preschoolers, Johnson started CBA 15 months ago, providing a chance for children to go to, in his own words, “not Spanish class, but Spanish country.” Through immersion, children are able to detect sounds, comprehend sounds, and eventually speak these sounds. Yet, realizing that many families do not have access to high quality preschool education, the school has already offered more than $50,000 in scholarships, in efforts to reach the North Charleston community.

Rosa Maria Cabrera, the Kindergarten teacher at CBA originally from Venezuela, adds “imagine how the trajectory of a child’s life changes, when they walk into elementary school speaking and reading in 2 languages.”

Playing to the strength of a preschooler, Charleston Bilingual Academy is doing what they have set out to do, changing lives and inspiring future world changers.

 

Kuhl, P.  (February 18, 2011.) “The Linguistic Genius of Babies,” video talk on TED.com, a TEDxRainier event.

 

More questions to learn our children’s hearts

Building off of the last blog, if you are like me its difficult to remember good questions to ask our children when they are in the middle of misbehaving. And sometimes, I get caught up in the moment and focus on punitive measures verses correction (teaching). But, is our goal not to train/teach our children to love God and others?  Otherwise we get in caught in this tide of behaviorism, where we bribe and reward good behavior and attack misbehavior with threats and discipline. Can we not train a lab rat the same way? Yet, our kids are infinitely more significant than rats, for they are image-bearers of the Creator God.

The grounding premise in correcting our children is this: Hearts drive behavior. If we simply treat the behavior, then we are raising our kids like animals. Yet, if we diligently seek to know their hearts, then we can treat them as image-bearers of God, training them to love Him and others (we cannot get to know the heart of a rat). So that is where questions are vital, they open the window to our children’s souls.  When my son hits his sister and I ask him “Why?” I have simply asked a lazy question (refer to the last blog), that will inevitably give me an unenlightening answer. Here are other questions I could ask (taken from Shepherding a Child’s Heart-Ted Tripp, p.80):

What were you feeling when you hit your sister?

What did your sister do to make you mad?

Help me understand how hitting her seemed to make things better?

What was the problem with what she was doing to you? (You need not deny the fact that your child has been sinned against. Of course, he was sinned against. Let him tell you about it.)

In what other ways could you have responded?

How do you think your response reflected trust or lack of trust in God’s ability to provide for you?

These questions allow us to see into the heart that overflowed into the action of hitting. Tripp goes onto say there are 3 areas to address in this dialogue: 1)the nature of temptation, 2) the possible responses to this temptation, 3) his own sinful/selfish response.

 

 

Ask your preschooler better questions

You pick your child up from school and start to drive. Like clockwork (your child knows its coming), you ask, “What did you do in school today?” Or if you are especially enlightened, you will ask “What did you learn today?” To which you hear in the back seat a light murmur, prompting you to repeat the question with more earnest. You then hear the unenthused reply, “Dunno.”

You look in the rearview mirror, expecting to see a teenager looking back at you. Nope, its a preschooler. And then your mind starts running, “Why in tarnation am I paying money for preschool, when I am not even sure he is learning anything…”

Well, lets take another layer off of the onion. Here is even a more predictable question that your child can count on: Scenario– your son for the 200th time (this week) has taken a toy away from his little sister. She starts screaming at the perfect frequency that causes your blood to boil. You pull your son aside and ask… “Why did you take that toy from your sister?”

Truthfully, I have asked my son the “Why” interrogation at least 293 times. And he has faithfully provided one of three answers: 1)silence, 2) shoulder shrug 3) or should he feel especially talkative, I will get “dunno.” And you would think after 292 times I would learn to change my question. Nope. I will ask it again tomorrow.

Have you ever thought the problem is with the question? We are asking an open-ended, critical analysis question of a “concrete” thinker.

Proverbs 20:5 says “the ways of human hearts are like deep waters, and wise is the one who can draw them out.” What questions are the right buckets that will draw the deep waters out of our children, allowing us to see into their hearts?

Well, my wife and I are reading Ted Tripp’s book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” for the umpteenth time. And he provides 5 questions to ask your children after they have disobeyed, allowing you to uncover what is really going on in their heart. And note: he does not ask “Why?”

5 Questions To Get At Your Child’s Heart by Paul Tripp

  1. What was going on? This question is designed to simply get a sense of what was going on. Don’t worry about biases. It’s impossible to recount something without biases. Your child does it. You do it.
  2. What were you thinking/feeling as it was happening? This question gets after the heart. You need to understand that no matter where you are, no matter what the situation is, your heart is constantly operating…you’re always interpreting, always worshipping, always desiring or wanting something.
  3. What did you do in response? This goes after words and behavior. With this question we’re teaching our children (and ourselves for that matter) that the behavior and words that came out in the situation were not formed by the situation but by how my heart reacted to the situation. This is very important!
  4. What were you seeking to accomplish? This question gets after motives, goals, purposes, etc. What we’ve done is bracketed behavior with the thoughts and motives, interpretations, desires of the heart…Hebrews 4:12-13 – the heart is always thinking and always desiring. Your behavior is always the result of what you’re thinking and what you desire?
  5. What was the result? This question gets after consequences.

 

 

 

Why your preschooler should clean out your car…

It took me 2 hours to clean out our two cars today. It should have taken 1 hour. Yet I didn’t lose any time. How’s that? I had help.

IMG_20150321_171554546

Yes, because I had help, I did not lose any time, yet it took me twice as long to complete the task.  My 2 1/2 year old rotated turns with me vacuuming the cars out. And he was quite insistent on his turns lasting as long as my turns.  So often as parents, we are tempted to not let our tots help us around the house, whether we are cooking, sweeping, or cleaning the car. Why? Because we can do it a lot faster on our own.  But why are we so caught up in this rat race? Perhaps we hurry up to finish work so we can play. Yet, maybe that is the fault in our logic.  Maybe we should learn from our preschoolers that we can have fun working.

After teaching and being the headmaster of highschoolers for over a decade, student after student proved to me that work is no fun. Apparently they had matured, realizing the harsh truth of this world, to which preschoolers remain ignorant. Perhaps children grow up learning from parents that work is drudgery and Mondays suck.  And we labor through 40+ hours a week to get to do what we want to do after hours and on the weekend.

Hmmm. Research tells us that preschoolers love to explore and initiate.  By losing an hour today of my time, my son and I found great joy in a menial task. If I had rushed through cleaning the car, so I could then play with my kids, I would have missed 2 things: 1, I would have missed the fact that my son wanted to play through work, exploring how to use a really loud vacuum cleaner.  2. I would have missed out on an incredible lesson, I actually can have fun working.

Lesson of the day- allow our kids to slow us down and help us around the house. And realize that their help is not meant to make me more efficient, but instead teach me to enjoy work (and in turn preventing me from teaching my son to dread work).

Why does policy focus so much on literacy but not language?

Our school, Charleston Bilingual Academy, is in some ways an experiment. An experiment to prove policymakers and researchers are misguided.  We have this notion that education can save the world. They claim that our societal ills are ultimately caused by the lack of education.  Hence the assumption, if we can properly educate our citizenry, eliminating the paucity of knowledge, then we can cure problems that are endemic to our cities, especially among low-income groups.  In line with this theory, we have poured so much more money into education in the last 30 years, and beginning to include initiatives on the bookends- both before kindergarten and after 12th grade. The latest push for free community college is such an example.

On the front end, policies and massive amounts of funding have focused on early intervention like HeadStart and literacy initiatives.  And part of the theory is based on the clear research that the achievement gap (the difference in the mean academic performances between whites and minorities) already exists in Kindergarten and neither decreases or increases significantly over the 13 years of public education.

After 3 decades of investing time and money, generational poverty has only grown as has the great divide across socioeconomic groups.  What are we missing?

2 things.

First, families need to be impacted by real relationships, not policies and vouchers.  Schools have to be surrounded by people who truly want to love and serve them (not mercenaries). In my experience, this happens with special churches who truly want to live like they did back in the Book of Acts- its not a soup kitchen, its not a 9-5 ministry- its lives on lives- loving like Jesus loved us.

Secondly, the focus on literacy is admirable, but language comes first.  Think about it. There is no knowledge without language.  Research says the first 3 years of life are the most pivotal for language acquisition (Read our blog “How should a parent think about Preschool” to learn more about the physiological development of children). We must intentionally place our children in language-rich environments.  And it is here that I recommend that we create much higher standards- let’s place our children in bilingual contexts, giving them the gifts of two languages (or more- when I was a headmaster in Caracas, Venezuela many of our students were beautifully trilingual).  Imagine a child entering into Kindergarten with the confidence of knowing 2 languages and various cultures… As that child’s brain begins to change and he learns to read, he will crush the achievement gap! Well, we are doing our part in starting a Spanish-immersion preschool, bridging racial and socioeconomic barriers, changing the trajectory of lives by inspiring children to one day change the world.

 

4 things a parent should consider when choosing a preschool

What should a parent consider when choosing a preschool?

First, a parent should understand the brain of a young child (0-7ish years old) is fabulously different. The high plasticity of the lobes allow for children to take in great amounts of  information through their senses. They apply their senses through initiation, exploration, and creation. Yet, to learn this information, you need language.  If you think about it, humans cannot know and retain information without language. Language is the key to identifying and categorizing knowledge. Are there any concepts you know for which you have no language to describe them?

So what does language have to do with the brain? The language center of the brain is found in the convergence of all of the lobes (which makes sense since a child sees someone speaking, processes the noise they hear, memorizes the significance connected to the noise, and thinks about what to communicate, and then moves her vocal cords, mouth, and lips- ultimately using the whole brain!). Therefore the malleability of the brain allows infants, toddlers, and young children to acquire language with excitement and not stress as they explore the world.

The high plasticity of the brain keeps children from being reasoning thinkers, but allows them to learn language to organize and retain all of the information they are learning. As a result, preschoolers are concrete thinkers and language geniuses (to learn more about preoperational verses reasoning thinkers read our blog How should a parent think about preschool). Once the lobes in the brain begin to solidify, children’s capacities to think multidimensionally takes off, yet at the same time, their ability to acquire language at the native level decreases.

So with this understanding of the child’s brain, what are the 4 most important questions a parent should ask when looking for a preschool?

Is a child safe and loved well?  Children will not learn nor want to learn if they do not feel safe and loved.  A child should both love preschool and be loved at preschool (no exceptions). It might take a short transition for a child to grow accustomed to the preschool, but if he remains unhappy there, the parents has the responsibility to remove him. I often joke in saying- let middle and high school kill a child’s desire to learn, but not preschool!

Does the environment encourage exploration, initiation, and creation? A concrete thinker is invigorated by independence and settings that pique their curiosity.  Does the preschool’s inside and outside  environments elicit curiosity? Even more importantly, does the teacher create spectacular opportunities for student exploration, initiation and creation?

Does the environment encourage reflection, socialization and collaboration?  Preschoolers are learning to know the world around them, themselves, and others.  Yes, independence and initiation are extremely important at this age, but collaboration is tantamount.  These early years are pivotal for children to learn independence (initiation), interdependence (teamwork), and obedience (following instructions). Therefore, the parent should get a sense of the teacher’s leadership, intentional focus on both reflection and collaboration, as well as what kinds of children the parents want their child to know and learn about? As a parent, do you want your children to meet and know children who only come from the same culture, or other cultures?  It is important to note that early exposure to multiple cultures has lasting impact on a person’s acceptance and enjoyment of cultures different than his own.

Does the preschool intentionally develop language? Parents need to realize they are making a life long decision for their child in the area of language? If they only want their child to be proficiently fluent at the native level in one language, then they should pursue a preschool (or other learning environments) that intentionally develops that language. If a parent prioritizes the ability for her child to speak more than one language at the native level, then she must pursue an immersion based preschool. Language classes are too little, and elementary, middle, and high school opportunities are way too late.  Basically, if you want your child to achieve fluency, you have to drop them off in a foreign country several days a week for 4-7 years. A dual-immersion preschool, in essence, provides that foreign language experience without having to put your toddler on a plane.

 

5 Myths on Bilingual Education

Bilingual Preschool guru, Ana Lomba, has written an excellent explanation that addresses concerns parents often have about bilingual education.

Here is the excerpt, taken from her book Spanish for Preschoolers E Guide:

Myth #1: Young children may get confused if learning in two languages Many people may believe this because young bilingual children do mix their languages. However, this is normal and to be expected, not something to worry about. ALL, and I mean ALL­ ONE­ HUNDRED­ PERCENT of bilingual children mix their two languages (or three or four) at times. This does not mean that they are confused. Quite the opposite, the process of sifting two languages has been shown to do wonders to the executive area of the brain (the “Prefrontal Cortex,” which controls some of the most sophisticated human forms of expression). As they grow up, bilingual children become increasingly more adept at controlling the two languages and using one or the other (or both) on demand.

Myth #2: Children learning two languages are slower linguistically or academically. People may believe this because young bilingual children have less vocabulary than monolinguals in either of the two languages. However, when the vocabulary of the two languages is put together, bilingual children know the same amount of words, on average, as monolinguals. Of course, bilingual children keep adding vocabulary in both languages as time goes on.

Let’s take a look at the following scenario. A young bilingual child may know the colors “red, azul, yellow, amarillo, morado, green, verde” and a monolingual child may know “green, blue, red, purple, orange.” Both children can identify five colors, and the bilingual child actually knows the name of two of those colors in the two languages. However, If tested with the typical battery test created for English speakers, the bilingual child will seem to know only three colors, as opposed to the monolingual who knows five. These tests do not measure the language wealth of bilingual children correctly.Please also be aware that many tests advertised as “bilingual” do not do a good job of measuring bilingual children either [This was an important topic of discussion at a conference at Princeton University].

So bilingual kids are not slower than monolinguals. In fact, studies have shown that children who have developed an advanced proficiency in two languages and cultures do not struggle more academically than monolingual children. Moreover, children who have developed strong proficiency in two languages many times end up surpassing monolinguals in math and even in English – and on top of that they speak two languages!

Myth #3: Young Children Are Sponges Young children have auditory advantages over adults. It has been said that “babies are citizens of the world” because newborn babies can hear all the different sounds of human languages. However, this amazing ability is quickly trimmed out in favor of the language or languages to which the baby is exposed to on a regular basis. Adults, on the other hand, have trouble detecting foreign language sounds.

All of the above being said, children are not sponges. Even children growing up in bilingual homes do not always learn their home language well. Some do not even speak it (they have become “passive bilinguals”).

Myth # 4: It Is Better to Wait Until They Are Older Not a good way to go! As a matter of fact, world language instruction has traditionally been introduced in high school with very dismal results (the grammar approach so frequently used in high school has not exactly helped either). Consultant Greg Duncan compared world languages education in the USA to an inverted pyramid: schools offer the least amount of instruction (if any) at the prime time for learning languages (early childhood), and the largest amount of instruction at one of the most difficult times for learning languages (high school). With such a weak foundation, it is no wonder that the pyramid tumbles and falls.

There are many advantages for starting early. Here are a few:

• Auditory and oral motor. As we mentioned above, young children do indeed have auditory advantages over older children and adults. Dr. Patricia Kuhl has done many studies on the issue. I invite you to watch her video presentation “The Linguistic Genius of Babies.” Some people dismiss these advantages as not important, but as time goes on and you lose them it becomes increasingly harder to reach a level of pronunciation that will be understood by natives. Sometimes a thick accent interferes so much that native speakers of the language cannot understand what the person is saying. This is even more of an obstacle when the rhythm and intonation (i.e. the “prosody”) of the languages is very different. For example, this is very much the case when English speakers learn Mandarin and vice versa, but it can happen with Spanish too.

•“Affective Filter” (Stephen Krashen). The younger the child, the less impact factors such as social pressure and self‐awareness have on classroom performance (these factors are at their peak in middle school and high school). As a matter of fact, most toddlers and preschoolers do not even blink about playing in a different language and they find it fun!

•Learning dynamics. Starting late is not a good strategy for schools and it is even worse for homes. My inbox is full of e‐mails from bilingual parents who waited to introduce their home language to their children thinking that they would get confused, and now find it very difficult to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, it is very hard to change the home language dynamics when children are older (but not impossible). In general, the earlier children get used to a language‐learning routine the easier it will be for everyone involved.

•Brain development. Learning a language is one of the best exercises for the brain, and a growing number of studies are showing its effects on cognition and other areas of human development. While this is true for all ages, obviously we may want to stimulate our children and provide them with the best possible educational experiences from the very beginning.

•Time. Finally, even with the best strategies and methods, it takes many years to acquire an advanced level in a language. Therefore, the earlier the start, the better the chances of becoming fluent.

How should a parent think about preschool

Preschool education is an interesting concept to say the least. Parents marvel when their 21 month old is already naming colors and the numbers 1 and 2. Often they think, “Well if they are learning that much and that quickly with me at home, then by 3 they should be learning how to read and add numbers.” If the 3 year old preschool then reports they are making crafts, collaborating, and playing, then the parents become afraid the child is not learning, which means they are wasting money and losing an opportunity for their child to learn.

But as parents, we forget what it is like to be a preschooler, and we think of preschool through our adult minds. The reality is preschool children are concrete thinkers (as opposed to reasoners). This begins to change somewhere between 4-7 years old. And whether a child starts using reason at 4 or at 7 does not signify the child is slow, no more than one child hitting puberty at 11 and another at 14. It is just their genetic make up.  Concrete thinkers are physiologically very different than reasoners, which is why we must take caution when we evaluate preschools with our adult minds and without research.

Concrete thinking is extremely important, and it makes perfect sense that it would come before reasoning (another proof that God knows what he is doing!).  At this stage  children are exploring the world, learning to initiate, communicate, and collaborate.  The lobes in their brain are malleable.  This is important for 2 reasons, it allows them to take in new experiences with completely open minds, and it allows a fluid convergence between the lobes- which is where you find the language center (Wernicke and Broca areas).  Visual (occipital), auditory (temporal), conscious thinking (frontal), memory and emotion (limbic) all come together for the brain to form speech.  Children in these early stages are physiologically primed to learn about the world and to express themselves through language.

Once children start becoming reasoning thinkers, major adjustments are occurring in their brain structure which will continue through puberty. The lobes become much more structured/solidified. Initially this is great for learning to read, adding, and subtracting. Later, it allows for deep critical and abstract thinking.  One example of this is my brother-in-law took Algebra when he was 12. While many girls in his class were achieving high results (more physically developed), he struggled awfully. Yet, he is now studying engineering. His struggles had nothing to do with deficiencies in math, they had everything to do with the fact his brain was still changing and he was not ready to grasp extremely abstract concepts such as Algebra. Another example is my 2 year old calls every quantity either 1 (singular) or two (plural), yet my 5 1/2 year old nephew can add 2+3. The younger knows names for quantities via comparisons (bigger and smaller), but the older sees each number as an individual quantity (two is different than three, because three is one more than two, and five is three more than two…).

My goal in this blog has been to establish, from a biological perspective, that preschoolers are very different physiologically from older children.  So as parents and educators, our goal is not to grow them up faster than their brain will allow, our goal must be, train them appropriately for what their brain is ready to process. (Now don’t misunderstand me, concrete thinkers and can think critically, but it should be in the said areas, and a joyful experience, not stressful. For example, I can ask my 2 year old to go stand on the picture of the item that starts a car. He will then look at 5 different pictures on our floor and then go stand on a picture of car keys).

What are preschools ready to process?  They are ready to process the world through exploration. They are ready to process relationships through interaction. They are ready to process emotions through self control.  They are  become aware of themselves through initiation, creation, and reflection. And most, most, most importantly, they are learning how to express themselves through language.  And they are ready to do all of this in an enjoyable play-based environment (not strapped to desks!).  Leave classes like Algebra to reasoning thinkers who are well into puberty, but focus on language with concrete thinkers.  They are language geniuses. Concrete thinkers have the ability to listen, learn, and imitate language which reasoners are unable to do (after 7 years old, we have lost our opportunity to acquire language at the native level).

So as you look for a preschool… If you are looking for a junior league Harvard, you run a great risk of stressing your child and destroying their desire to learn. You should be looking for a place where children initiate, explore, collaborate, create, and communicate.  It should be play-based, yet with structure and routines. Your child should love preschool, and should also be loved at preschool. It should be a caring/ nurturing  environment. And it is here that I speak to the overachieving parent- if you want to make the most of their cognitive abilities, don’t look for more reading and math, looking for opportunities to develop LANGUAGE.  Give your child the gift of learning more than one language. If you wait for middle school it is too late. If you provide a video or Spanish class here and there, it is too little. If you place them in a language immersion environment, it is perfect.

Spanish-Immersion Preschool

Why not just provide a Spanish class at our preschool? From a marketing perspective that might make sense due to the fact many parents are happy to find out a school is offering Spanish classes. However, it is not best practice. Adults who took foreign language classes are living proof! They often can say some introductory salutations and find the bathroom and that is about it (even for the adults who took several years of language in high school and college- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4).

A Spanish class exposes a student to another language, but does not engage the child in that language.  Spanish immersion creates a similar environment as if the child actually would study abroad.  A child who is immersed in a foreign language environment for 4-7 years develops native level fluency. So just think about it, your child could be fully fluent in two languages by the time they are in elementary school. Why not give your child that gift?