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.
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?
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
We are American expats, voluntary nomads due to career choice, of Ukrainian and Polish heritage. Raising our children bilingual, English and Ukrainian, we have experienced firsthand the challenges of teaching Ukrainian outside Ukraine.
As we were buying books for our own use, we realized that quality Ukrainian educational materials for preschool and kindergarten age children are limited. As parents, we wanted only the best products to facilitate our daughters’ language development. Ideally, we were looking for materials that were comparable to what is available to children in the well-developed English language market; those that offer creative, modern, intellectually stimulating original content and avoid outdated stereotypes and gender roles.
We know it is possible to produce such materials in Ukrainian, as we ourselves were inspired by the creativity and quality of Ukrainian publishers such as Ivan Malkovych’s Publishing House A-ba-ba-ha–la–ma–ha and Stary Lev, for example.
It was in this context, while living in Central Asia in 2017, that we met Maria Zapadinska, a professional artist and entrepreneur who happened to be Ukrainian. Working with our girls, Maria created custom Ukrainian language activity sheets that we used to teach them numbers, letters, animals, professions, Ukrainian traditions, etc. – with great success. Recognizing that this could benefit other children, we decided to collaborate and bring thematically structured Ukrainian language coloring and activity books to market.
Smallest Scholars was created so that other parents, grandparents, family members and friends can have the same access to the quality resources we did and support the language development of little ones in their lives.
We hope you and your kids enjoy the books and thank you for your support.