4 weeks of free online courses for children: reading, thinking, growing

Are you #stuckathome with school-age children? Scholastic is offering free online courses for children as part of its Scholastic Learn at Home program. Cost? Your email address. Otherwise, it’s free to use.

According to The Hill, it offers “three hours of learning per day with up to four weeks of instruction. Users are asked to choose a grade level, separated into pre-K and kindergarten, first and second grade, third through fifth grade, and sixth grade and above. The courses span the subjects of English language arts; STEM; science; social studies; and social-emotional learning.”

What online educational resources for children, especially with a focus on teaching languages, do you use?

Can you learn a foreign language by watching cartoons?

LEPETUNY (Babblers or «Лепетуни») — free Ukrainian language short cartoon series with pedagogical value

Can you really learn another language by watching cartoons? Yes, there is some pedagogical value (with the right cartoons) when raising children bilingual, but the short answer is no — cartoons alone won’t cut it.

Here’s the argument. In our experience, we found cartoons as positive teaching aids when used as:

  1. Creative breaks for parents and kids (need to punctuate grammar and math sessions somehow)
  2. Introduction of new vocabulary and exposure to different voices of the target language (for example the Nick Jr. show Bubble Guppies structures each episode on a specific subject, and luckily it has been translated into multiple languages such as German, Polish, Spanish, & Ukrainian)
  3. Reinforcement of previously learned material (read a book about a Unicorn in the morning, and later watched Twilight Sparkle*) 

*attention grandparents: this is a main character of the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic cartoon

Simply putting the kids in front of a TV to have them watch [insert your language] cartoons will not give them mastery without additional stimuli. Watching is passive so at most you are looking at raising a child that is fluent in English and perhaps understands some Spanish for example. Absent active teaching or interaction in the target language, the child will probably not be able to speak Spanish and certainly not be able to write Spanish. This is especially so if the environment is English-speaking and the only source of Spanish is occasionally on TV.

So, to review, use cartoons as a tool in your bilingual education approach, but do not place all your eggs in that basket. Recognize this tool’s limits and strengths.

We’d love to hear your experience with cartoons. Comment below or contact us. Thanks for reading and subscribe to our mailing list.

Next post: what does scholarly literature say on impact of cartoons?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to you all! Wishing you a wonderful day with those you love. Here is a book recommendation to go along to read in Ukrainian: Велике місто, маленький зайчик, або Мед для мами (ISBN 978-966-7047-54-2)

Also available, though hard to find, in English: A Small Bunny in the Big City or HONEY for MOMMY

Author: Ivan Malkovych;

Illustrator: Sofia Uss;

Translator: Kateryna Yushchenko.

Book description: Мама маленького Зайчика застудилася, і він вирішив піти купити для неї меду, адже чай з медом — найкращі ліки на горло. Але місто велике, а Зайчик — дуже маленький, і він заблукав… Зворушлива історія зі зворушливими ілюстраціями і щасливим закінченням…

Free Ukrainian language virtual school

Publishing House Ranok (Видавництво «Ранок») is offering a free Ukrainian virtual school (Віртуальна школа «Ранок») k-11 during COVID-19 restrictions. Here is a class schedule. Also, past classes are available on Ranok’s YouTube channel. At first glance, it looks promising. What online resources do you use to help raise your kids bilingual?

A systematic way to raise bilingual children

Books for in the morning & at school

Books for afternoons & language lessons

Books for going to bed

If you decided to raise your children bilingual or multilingual then the next decision for you is what system should you choose. Olena Centeno of BilingualKidsRock.com argues that to succeed you must have a system, a structure, in place that will guide you (parents, grandparents, extended family, etc.) and your children through the years. Having a system is an integral part of family language planning (FLP).

In her post, Centeno writes that a system has the following three elements:

  1. Who speaks which languages
  2. When specific languages are spoken, and
  3. Which languages the child is expected to use

Centeno then elaborates on four system types: one parent one language (1P1L) – Mom speaks English & Dad speaks French; minority language at home (MLH) – Spanish at home and English at school; time and place systems – mornings in English, evenings in Ukrainian; and, mixed language policy – two languages are used equally and interchangeably in daily life.

It is of course possible to combine these systems, creating a framework that best suits you. In our family we use both one parent one language as well as a time and place system. Our daughters know that their father will speak to them in Ukrainian and their mother will use English. They also know that in the morning and at school they will hear and use English and read English books; in the afternoon and during Ukrainian lessons they will only use Ukrainian and read Ukrainian books; in the evening they will hear and use both languages and read books in both languages.

If you haven’t yet noticed a trend, it is that we use books extensively in our house to support raising our daughters bilingual. But there will be more on the power of books and language learning in a forthcoming post.

Regardless of which system you choose, having an established framework in place for how you approach raising your children bilingual will help keep you focused and guide you toward your goal.

I don’t want to be a princess

KidStory.UA Ukrainian language animated children’s book by Polish author Grzegorz Kasdepke “I don’t want to be a princess”

Thank you KidStory.UA for producing high quality Ukrainian language animated children’s books! Above, you can watch a book by Polish author Grzegorz Kasdepke: “I don’t want to be a princess” (Ukrainian: Я не хочу бути принцесою; Polish: A ja nie chcę być księżniczką), illustrated by Emilia Dzyubak and narrated by Nina Kastorf.

A critical mistake to avoid when raising bilingual children

Always on the look out for bilingual education advice, I found this excellent post by Homeschool Guru on raising bilingual children based on personal experience speaking English and French. What not to do is just as important as what to do. A key rule many of us raising bilingual children often forget is do not translate.

when faced with the common and natural question ‘what does that mean?’ in whatever language you are conversing with your child, avoid the temptation to resolve the situation by directly translating

Homeschool Guru gives two reasons why not: (1) translation shuts down the child’s brain to thinking and operating in the language you are using and (2) it is simply untrue that all words and terms directly translate. Take a look at the full post.

What are your thoughts?

Ukrainian Alphabet Song

Ukrainian Alphabet Song (Пісенька про АБЕТКУ) features animals corresponding for each letter of the Ukrainian alphabet. Fun and easy way to learn new words while singing. The same YouTube channel also has other foreign languages such as Russian, Spanish, and others.

Easter (Великдень)


Major holidays are great for teaching new words and concepts, because these holidays are visible, recurring, and hold a special meaning in each family. Easter or Великдень (Velykden) in Ukrainian lends itself to various ideas of how to teach children language through shared traditions:

  • Color Easter themed coloring pages featuring pysanky, Easter basket, etc.
  • Tell your child about your family’s Easter traditions and the meaning of each, focusing on introducing some key words specifically related to the holiday – pysanka, paska
  • Dye eggs (yes this is a common Easter activity), but then discuss how & why we do that in relation to the technique & history of pysanky

Enjoy your holiday!

How to raise bilingual & multilingual children

Speaking multiple languages has many advantages: languages open doors to other cultures, broaden your world outlook, and often make you more competitive in the job market down the road. Parents decide to raise their children bilingual or multilingual for many reasons. Two reasons seem to be most common: heritage and future prospects. Whatever the reason you decide, here are three quick tips we found useful in our experience:

Immersion is key. Provide similar early education materials in both the majority and minority languages
  1. Speak to and interact with your child in the target language from the earliest age. It is never too early. Infants or toddlers may not be able to speak back right away and may only speak in one language for a few years, but that doesn’t mean their passive knowledge of the minority language isn’t growing. By speaking to the child in your life you are not just helping them build their vocabulary, you are developing their listening skills, training that ear, and building a foundation for her or his speaking skills.
  2. Read books together with your child. There is a difference between interaction, i.e. “kitchen talk” on the one hand, and reading “ABCs” and children’s literature. Books often often convey diverse themes critical to language development that adults tend to skip during routine daily conversations. When children are little, alphabet books offer simple words and concrete ideas: a cat, a zebra, etc that are easy for kids to digest. Additionally, picture books offer stimulating illustrations that can be used to build up more complex ideas and abstract concepts, such as “a hungry orange cat likes to drink milk after a long nap.” One of our favorites in Ukrainian is АБЕТКА published by Ivan Malkovych with excellent illustrations by Kost’ Lavro.
  3. Immerse your child in the target language. It is important to offer your child diverse language immersion settings that reinforce your daily efforts. Anything your child does in their majority language should also be done in the minority language/s. This can take several shapes:
    • Provide similar early education materials in both the majority and minority languages – coloring books, pre-K workbooks, alphabet flash cards, etc
    • If you as the primary caregiver are not fluent in the minority language, seek out resources that will make your job easier: listen to nursery rhymes in the target language on Youtube (you can always cover-up the screen of your phone or tablet) or play audio books for children
    • For older children, allow them to watch cartoons in the minority language – either original content or dubbed American series & films (much of this is available for free on the internet)
    • Organize playdates with children who also speak the target language or even just have your child be present while you and other adults socialize in the minority language
    • Visit and/or travel in the country of the target language if at all possible

Lastly, the internet has many misconceptions about raising children bilingual or multilingual. Think critically about the information you receive on this topic and seek out authoritative sources. For example, we found this article on bilingualism to be highly informative. In their scholarly article, Dr. Krista Byers-Heinlein and Dr. Casey Lew-Williams review what the science says about six of parents’ most commonly asked questions concerning early bilingualism – such as are bilingual children confused, does bilingualism make children smarter, and others. Make sure to inform yourself so you feel confident in your child raising decisions.

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