I’ve had the honor of knowing Ana Lomba for more than a year, and she asked me to tell you about my experience with foreign language teaching in the home, classroom & homeschool and my biggest challenge.
After I had two children and stayed home, I never imagined myself teaching children in a classroom setting or in a homeschooling setting, but I’ve done both. My struggle with finding great curriculum (my biggest challenge), though, began several years before this when I wanted to teach Spanish to my children at home.
The Ease and Difficulty of Finding Curriculum
Perhaps you can relate to some of my difficulties. On one hand there was an overwhelming number of sites out there where I could get free curriculum, but on the other there were so few places to get great items to help minimize the time to create lessons and to help me understand the best ways to teach them. More than 20 years ago, I considered many options, spending numerous hours evaluating them.
I really wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew I didn’t want to take the very time-consuming route of drawing on disjointed items from various places. (Time, as the saying goes, is money.) There was another reason why we didn’t take this path, but at the time I couldn’t articulate it. My reasons eliminated the free items, leaving us few choices: Rosetta Stone and Muzzy.
Evaluating Rosetta Stone
First, my children and I looked at Rosetta Stone, so we downloaded the free demo of Spanish. The price tag concerned me, so I wanted to be sure my children liked the program. Almost immediately, my kids and I had our answer. The first few exercises of the program showed us images of a man, woman, boy, and girl with the Spanish words above the respective images. The program spoke the Spanish words for each, and my children had to match similar images without labels using the Spanish words. The software later progressed to simple sentences, using the learned vocabulary.
My children hated Rosetta Stone because it was like using fancy flashcards. It was boring and not how they wanted to learn. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t like it either. Not only was it important to me for my children to love learning to create lifelong learners, but also I knew that this was not the best way for children to be learning a language.
I had done plenty of research on how children learned best. Because of this, the principal in a nearby school district asked me to be Research Chair of the school’s improvement committee where the school and district implemented some new ways of teaching based on my research. Natural language acquisition – teaching in context – was what I wanted when it came to teaching foreign languages. Additionally, based on the research I wanted the children to use movement and as many senses as possible to create multiple pathways in the their brains, which helped make learning easier, faster, and more permanent.
Next, we looked at Muzzy, a product from BBC. If you are not familiar with Muzzy, he’s an animated character among several in a fairytale-style cartoon. Muzzy had the context I was looking for: a fun story. Back then, Muzzy was on VCR tapes with no supplemental products. There were only Levels I and II. Even though it also was expensive, I bought it. My children enjoyed it and played it over and over, learning the Spanish in context. Also, they didn’t get bogged down learning boring grammar rules at this early stage.
The problems, though, were the lack of additional levels and supplemental products to reinforce the story in others ways. While we loved Muzzy, it was not sufficient in the end. However, as a newbie teacher, I was only starting to evolve my teaching philosophy and understanding what I really wanted and needed.
Teaching in a Multi-aged/Multi-ability Classroom
But in the meantime, my older daughter’s teacher asked me to teach Spanish to her class. The only thing I had was Muzzy. As a newbie teacher, I was now in the situation of preparing daily lesson plans with little help from the Muzzy program, itself. While it did come with a thin, little book of questions, that was all I had to work with. If you’ve ever prepared your own lesson plans, you know how time consuming this is. Also, I could have used some help on understanding what to do, especially on that first day – all those young, expectant faces counting on me to make this enjoyable. I felt a great sense of responsibility to capture the children’s natural curiosity to help make them lifelong learners.
If you’ve ever taught in a multi-aged and/or multi-ability classroom, you know the challenges of trying to meet the needs of all the students. That posed it’s own issues.
The children did enjoy Muzzy and learned some Spanish. However, once we went through the tapes and did the activities I prepared, that was all I had for them. I couldn’t afford the time to come up with more material because by this time I had started homeschooling my younger daughter after a horrible kindergarten year. I took my first grader to my older daughter’s multi-aged classroom (grades 2 to 4), so I could teach them Spanish and science, in addition to helping with math and coaching the kids in the classroom on how to do science projects.
In March, all that came to an end when I brought my older daughter home to homeschool her too. The only subjects she remembered from her brief time in the 3rd grade at school were the ones I taught because I tried to reach each student’s ability level. Unfortunately, the teacher for the class was trying to keep all the students together on the other lessons, which meant my daughter and the children from her class the year before were now doing the same material and tests over again. It’s a long story, but my daughter shut down and wouldn’t take the teacher’s tests again or turn in her homework. I couldn’t blame her.
All of a sudden, I now had two children to school at home and 2 months to finish the normal school year. I had no idea what levels to buy because my children were very precocious and way ahead of the normal classroom. I made plenty of mistakes and bought boring textbooks to start out with, feeling a need for more structure with 2 children. Having wasted that money and time spent with those, I tossed them out after 3 weeks and used, for a short time, the unschooling method (letting the children decide what they wanted to learn and how) for all the subjects, except for Spanish.
We joined 2 homeschooling groups, and I taught Spanish to kids using Muzzy again and also bought workbooks that were disjoint. It wasn’t ideal, and I wasn’t happy because it was not how I wanted to teach or the children wanted to learn.
Developing My Teaching Philosophy
During the summer, I had an important revelation, as I once again searched for curriculum. It was at this time that I realized I had a teaching philosophy. Life happens in context of everything else, and so does learning. Holistic learning, which is what I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t articulate at the time, was what I needed to focus on, so I needed to find curricula that met this.
For example, when teaching history, I would tie in the literature portion to it. If possible, I tied in other subjects, too, like math and science. For Spanish, I would use a story and work in plenty of playtime. Instead of teaching colors, paint with them, as Ana Lomba says. In another activity, using some food props, I would play the customer while the children were waiters/waitresses. Not only did they learn about food, but also we exchanged money, which allowed them to learn numbers.
Now after 10 years of teaching, I’ve evolved my teaching strategies and know what I was really looking for all those years ago when I first started with Spanish. I’m sure many of you can relate. I wanted a framework that would give the children cohesive, holistic learning – not isolated ideas. To accomplish this, I wanted plenty of bilingual stories with lesson plans, music, activities, teaching advice, and other resources. Also, I wanted kids to be able to practice with items at home, too. Finding some free items wouldn’t be bad as long as I had the framework to make them fit into the “storyline” that I wanted to weave for the children. While I never did find Spanish curricula to meet my needs all those years ago, Ana has some great products that fit my teaching philosophy and needs for a framework. It was only recently that I realized she has over 40 products, including some new ones, although most are not online yet.
While you pay a bit more for some of her products, they are well worth it in time savings and give much-needed advice that many of us want. When I was teaching, I asked the school and homeschooling parents to chip in for the resources. In another situation, we ran a fundraiser selling cookie dough to support a program.
What are you looking for in regards to curriculum?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you are looking for by leaving a comment below.
Ana’s Exciting New Products & Website
Ana will be launching her newly redesigned website very shortly, which has links to many of her products, including her new ones. While not all the products are online yet, it will give you an idea of what she has in Spanish, French, and Chinese. Be sure to check out the free bilingual Little Red Hen storybook app, which demonstrates the high quality of her products. Watch this video to meet Ana and get more details on where to get her apps.
Are you a parent or teacher who is looking for tips, advice, products, and other information to teach children a foreign language? Consider subscribing to her Parents & Teachers List and you’ll also get updates about the products.
Starting or Running a Foreign Language Program for Kids?
Ana’s got some new products and courses coming out soon, and I’m really excited about those. Also, since she’s heard from so many people who want advice on starting a business teaching foreign languages to kids, she’s creating some new services.
If you are interested in starting or running a foreign language teaching business for children, you may want to join her Mpressarias list to get advice, tips, and other information. (Mpressaria stands for Mom/Empress/Entrepreneur!)
Doreen Hulsey is a scientist, software engineer, former homeschooler, and business owner who is very passionate about education and foreign languages. She’s written numerous papers on education. Now an empty-nester, she lives at home with her husband and develops software and websites.