I must confess, when I first read the news that our school was shutting down due to COVID and that we were all to learn the ins and outs of Google Classroom, Loom, and the likes, my first thought was: may I be exempt? I teach Spanish at a small private school, and since my class is just an elective, surely they could do without it…right? The answer was no, of course. All elective teachers were required to teach their courses as regular.
This was my main reason for resisting to teach an elective during COVID: do kids really need it? I know why electives are important. They’re an essential way to broaden a child’s horizon and provide them with a well-rounded education. But during a pandemic? Pandemic means (or should mean, anyway) going back to basics. Keep your essentials, forget the rest. Learning a second language hardly seems like an essential during a global emergency. Not forgetting how to add and multiply? Yes. Reading? Definitely. Conjugating Spanish verbs? Not so much.
I fought long and hard to convince my principal that I was not an essential worker during this pandemic. But alas, my objection was in vain. I was expected to pick up my textbooks from school, learn how to upload worksheets, record myself teaching, and be available to answer students’ questions at least three times a week. I negotiated, again. I would teach upper-grade levels what they were supposed to learn from the textbook without using a textbook, and I would review everything we had already learned in lower grade levels so that language acquisition would not be lost, but I would not teach any new concepts or vocabulary. I would not quiz or test. My requests were granted (mainly because my supervisors had so much to take care of, they probably skimmed through my long texts and replied “okay” without much thought).
In times of physical distancing, everyone seems to be looking for ways to connect socially. From Zoom happy hours to birthday parades, we’re all adapting.
Trying new things
For E, it’s been hard looking out the window and seeing the neighbors that she typically plays with and not being able to join them. Early on, we allowed bike riding with neighbors, but with time, we’ve cut back. There have been a few times when we’ve run into them while walking our dog and the girls end up riding around the block. This small amount of contact with her friends does wonders, but it doesn’t happen very often anymore.
Most of her socialization in the past two weeks has come from Minecraft. She didn’t play video games before this but her friend down the street invited her to play and it has become their social hour. They talk to each other as they work on building tree houses and hiding spots out of virtual chunks of stone and wood. It’s the closest thing to building the pretend houses they used to build when they had in-person playdates.
Another thing we’ve done is play bingo with my family in Colombia. I use a bingo card generator, which gives you bingo cards and the ability to call the numbers on their site. During the Zoom call, I share my screen so they see the numbers as I’m calling them. It’s been a hit and we’ve been playing once to twice per week, but E usually plays a couple of rounds and is then off to do something else.
And then there is FaceTime. We’ve been using it a lot more than before with my parents, who also live in Houston, and with family in Colombia. An added bonus has been that all of her conversations with them are in Spanish at a time when she’s missing on the Spanish input she would get in school. None of these options replace face-to-face interactions, of course, but it’s what we have to work with for now.
Strange but necessary
We are still finding our space in distance connections. The one-on-one interactions we’ve had with family and friends tend to go better since the interaction allows for plenty of two-way input. I have a tiny extended family, so now that we’re home, we speak on the phone daily. Z is a part of these conversations, she pops in from time to time to say hi. It works because I let her come in and out as she pleases. As time goes by, we will have to get more intentional with these interactions. Our family conversations are our primary source of Spanish input, and they continue to be crucial as Z develops her language skills.
We used to be a low-tech house, opting into more hands-on experiences. Now, Z has a Chrome book and uses it for at least two hours every single day. This is undoubtedly weird but necessary as there is no other way to reach out to the world outside. A few weeks ago, we video called one of Zoe’s preschool friends for a chat. The call turned into an almost two-hour-long drawing session where they were telling each other what to sketch and then comparing their works. In between they would talk about their life: school, friends, what they ate, their favorite movies, everything. It was a moment of peace for everyone involved. As parents, we were so happy to see our kids at ease and engaged without much adult intervention. That was the first and last time a virtual connection went smoothly, but we’re hoping for more.
Distance learning: it’s the new thing. Most of us with school-age and even preschool-age kids have started some form of it. What it looks like seems to vary from district to district, school to school, and even teacher to teacher. It’s no surprise because this is a massive change for everyone, not only us as parents and our kids as students, but also for teachers completely new to this way of teaching, so it’s natural that there will be bumps in the road and some trial and error. We wanted to share our experiences so far and would love to hear about yours.
We started distance learning about two weeks ago. Emilia’s teacher sends us a weekly schedule with tasks and assignments to complete each day of the week. She also broke up the class into four groups, and each group meets via Microsoft Teams three times a week for 45 minutes.
They use these virtual meetings mostly to review what they’re learning at home, but I’ve found there’s so much value to them because even if they don’t get a ton accomplished, it’s good for the kids’ wellbeing to have some connection with their teacher and classmates. It’s also amazing how much they’ve learned about the features of Microsoft Teams – and Zoom – in just a couple of weeks.
From my end, it’s been good having a curriculum because it gives us structure, but some days are easier than others in terms of getting her engaged. It’s almost as if her interest wanes as more time passes. For me to fit in some work, I break up her schoolwork work into two blocks – some to do in the morning and some to do in the afternoon – and it’s worked so far, but there are days when she’s just not that into it or when I simply can’t sit with her for extended periods of time because I have to get other stuff done. I realize that working only part-time, I have it easier than other families, but striking the right balance isn’t always easy.
We’ve also been having dance classes via Zoom. Pre-COVID-19, she attended a modern dance class every Saturday morning and I hadn’t anticipated for them to continue, but the dance studio she goes to has been doing a great job offering the kids their classes via Zoom. It’s not the same as going to class in person and she sometimes dreads connecting to Zoom, but it’s an activity she enjoys doing so I’m glad we have it. It helps that her dance teacher really pays attention to what the kids are doing during class and gives them feedback.
One thing I’ve noticed is that getting feedback or knowing that the teacher “sees” them is key to keeping the kids engaged and enjoying a virtual class, whether it be dance, art or music.
When I stop to think about all of this, it’s amazing how life for us and our kids changed in a matter of weeks, but I’m thankful for how schools, dance studios, and others have adapted, even if it’s not always perfect. When she got her first schedule from school, Emilia told me: “I’m so happy to have work. I don’t know why, but I am.” The following week, she said: “I know I love being on the iPad at home but I miss school.”
Our experience with distance learning has ranged from frustrating to fulfilling. Zoe is in Kindergarten, so schoolwork is not very intense. Her teacher just started sending us a weekly schedule organized by day with very clear expectations of “must do’s” and “may do’s”. This is helpful because we can prioritize the “must do’s” for those days when we can only manage the bare minimum. We have about two hours a day of work, an hour of which is entirely online. This is a very big change for her because we had opted her out of these online courses only to now see them being transformed into grading tools that are required. Zoe does the things she enjoys fast (reading, math) and the ones she doesn’t (writing) with as much friction as possible. Last week she decided that wearing her uniform made it easier to do schoolwork from home and to that I say, go for it! I am grateful that her teacher is taking it easy on the children, putting their well-being first before anything. Working full-time while also managing family life creates real frenetic energy, and it truly feels like I am getting nothing done. At the end of the day, I remind myself that within these four walls, we have accomplished two full days of work, a full day’s worth of school work, and stayed sane (mostly) and fed through it all.
It was vital for us to keep as much continuity as possible with Zoe’s interests, so we have kept up with her art, theater, and music classes. All of these have been delivered live via digital software service, and they’ve had varying degrees of success but getting better as time goes on. My main takeaway for online classes is that they need a proctor on the kid’s end, no matter how good the instructor is on the other. You also need a certain amount of warm-up and preparation. For young children, these activities serve as transitions, and they should be treated as such. You need to prepare them and yourself for the activity so that it goes smoothly. This can mean making sure you have all of the materials needed for the activity, creating a space in the house that is quiet so that focus is possible, and giving your child notice that the activity will be taking place soon. Piano class is in the morning, so preparing means finishing breakfast and getting dressed. Our piano routine is very similar to our pre-COVID days, so it brings a certain amount of comfort.
Zoe’s beloved Imago Art and Theater classes have transformed more drastically. This was an activity she used to do after school and was a much needed artistic relief. Imago is a space that she has been going to for three years now, and it’s like a second home. It has been harder to adapt to not seeing her friends and teachers in person, but we have made it work. Zoe is very chatty and asks lots of questions, so she struggles with the new interaction dynamics where she is not able to communicate with everyone freely. When she begins to get frustrated, I jump in to answer any questions and get her re-engaged. This is happening less and less as she becomes more comfortable with this type of interaction. Like Paula, I am so grateful that our village has swiftly transformed into our online support team keeping our kid engaged and connected to what she loves.
This situation is as strange as it gets, and we are using our entire toolbox of coping mechanisms to get through it. There really is no right way to go about it. I think about people close to me that have lost their jobs, are worried about getting themselves or their loved ones sick. People that were already living in very stressful situations only to be made worse by this one. There’s this nagging sense that the future, always unknown yet familiar, is now untethered.
The other day I noticed a new note on our fridge. Zoe put the affirmation there quietly as if she wanted to make it subliminal. Now my purpose is to embody these qualities by making it my main priority to be kind to my loved ones, myself, and everyone I encounter. Leading with empathy fills me with a sense of purpose and serenity.
Listeners of our show may have heard Monika mention Imago in Miami, a wonderful creative space where kids can learn and enjoy activities in Spanish. While they’re currently closed, they’re offering a series of activities to do at home and, luckily, those of us who don’t live in Miami can partake. So, join us as we participate in the ImaGO Challenge, an effort to document our days at home.
Here’s how it works (translated from Imago’s post):
¿What did you do during the day? Draw it.
1. One drawing per day. 2. Add your name and the date. 3. Share it on Instagram and tag @imagoartinaction. 4. Use hashtags #imaGOatHome #imaGOchallenge
We’re together in this. Share this post and more people will draw their days at home. And remember to wash your hands!
Things are beginning to settle in. The reality of intentional isolation is the new normal and we need to figure out how to get through this as best we can. We love to share ideas on how to make sure the kids feel engaged and keep a sense of continuity but today, we want to check in with you.
With all the free resources, online classes, schedules, and more making their rounds, it can feel overwhelming to keep up. It’s probably a good idea to let go a little and focus on the basics: keeping our kids safe, comforted and healthy while we go through this situation. We like this advice for moms from Vanessa at PsicoKids: “This quarantine is not a time to take advantage of or to get ahead, it’s to live (while caring for our mental and physical health).”
Things are hard, especially for those who don’t have help with childcare and are expected to keep up with their jobs, whether from home or physically at work. Give yourself grace, relax your expectations, spend time with your kids and do what you can.
We’ll leave you with some articles we’ve found useful:
As we mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, we want to be a resource to you during these unprecedented times. We will be posting resources we find interesting to help you keep your kids engaged – and practicing their language – while they’re at home. Our goal is to post daily but we’re taking it day by day.
An upside of all of this is that people are being very creative and generous with their talents, offering virtual story times, concerts, classes, and more. Here’s what we’re loving today.
Talking to your kids about the virus may help them process what is happening.
COVIBOOK – Colombian psychologist and play therapist, Manuela Molina created a book to explain the virus to kids and to gauge the feelings they may be experiencing as a result. You can view the PDF in Spanish here. Other languages are available for download on this page.
Hello Entre Dos Community! How are you and yours holding up? We hope you are safe and with your loved ones. We hope that your local community is coming together in solidarity to get through flattening the curve of this outbreak.
Most of you are likely triaging your home right now for what might be weeks of homeschooling. We are, and it’s both exciting and daunting. It’s important to keep a sense of normalcy and structure while being flexible to what these rapidly changing times may bring. Make sure you create an open and safe space for everyone to talk about how they’re feeling, this is an unprecedented circumstance that some of us have only imagined. We are comforted, in a way, by the fact that we are all together in this. We will be in all of our usual spaces – Instagram and Facebook – if you want to vent, give/get advice or just want to talk to other parents going through the same thing.
This situation is a work-in-progress, we will be blogging and recording episodes more frequently in the next few weeks but, for now, here are a few initial thoughts on how we plan to get through this.
We’ve seen a flurry of useful and ambitious daily routine schedules in social media, but we won’t share them here (yet). Instead, we offer a modest proposal. While structure and predictability are essential maybe also use this newfound time to rest and reconnect with your family. Everyday life is exhausting, take some time to get back to basics and then slowly build your routine around what feels right for your family.
Can’t stop, won’t stop. This is a great opportunity for immersion! If you live in a heritage language-speaking home, use this time to infuse your child’s learning with it. We will be sharing lesson plans and activities for all sorts of subject matters.
Technology is on our side here. Check-in with loved ones regularly. Make sure your neighbors are well. Make time to catch up with friends.
Tough times call for extreme goofiness. Let loose!
We’re two months into our elementary school experience, and I underestimated how much work it would be. Kindergarten is nothing like I remember.
Homework has been the biggest shock to our system, but we’re getting in a groove. All of Zoé’s homework is in English so, she does some in her aftercare program and the rest with her dad. Part of her weekly homework includes a book report, and we’re doing all Spanish language books because reading comprehension works in any language. I feel comfortable doing this because at the beginning of the school year, I met with Z’s homeroom teacher to talk about our bilingual home project, and she was very supportive about doing some of the curricula in Spanish at home.
Part of our weekly routine involves going to the public library to pick out information books about areas of interest and subjects covered in class. It has been a great way to supplement her conceptual vocabulary and spark discussions that go beyond the textbook.
Z’s school requires families to keep a reading log of all books read at home. Guess what our reading log looks like? Yep, all in Spanish. Right now, we’re going full out with the Spanish exposure at home. All media is in Spanish, and as a family, we are speaking more Spanish at home, even making Z her dad’s Spanish language tutor. They read books together, she regularly corrects his pronunciation “a la mamí” and encourages him to use his Español outside of the house.
The Spanish tutoring classes did not work out as planned. I noticed that after being in school all day, Z wasn’t happy going to another heavily didactic environment so I took her out. It was a tough decision because she had made tremendous strides over the summer in terms of literacy, but the structure of the class was just too restrictive.
Next year, I will look for a school or tutor with a different approach, one that’s more developmentally appropriate, because there’s only so much sitting a young child can take. On the other hand, she’s enjoying her Spanish language art and theater classes. We are very fortunate to have that resource available to us. It has been lovely to see her use the language with peers in a more immersive environment that’s genuinely fun.
I was expecting a Spanish dropoff by now, but it hasn’t happened. I want to think that my awareness of this potential issue has counteracted the effects of monolingual instruction. Although it’s challenging to be in an environment where Z’s Spanish skills are not valued, I have found opportunities to inject the language into her school life. It has been a big change of pace since we have to be even more proactive with the language and I keep thinking about how our efforts will have to evolve with an ever more demanding school curriculum.
On a recent volunteer experience at the school, I went in to read to a small group of kids during lunchtime. I read several books to Zoe and five of her classmates while they ate lunch outside. I carefully picked two Spanish language books knowing that the odds of getting a bilingual group were high in Miami, and as soon as I pulled them out, the kids lit up. They all rushed to tell me that they spoke two languages and showed off their Spanish skills. I could see that this was a point of pride for them and me recognizing that was a moment for them to shine. It was a revelation. Children deserve a chance to use their entire knowledge spectrum in their educational environment.
Back-to-school season has been deemed as one of the most
stressful times for parents. I would say it’s on par with the summer months where we have to quilt a mix of summer camps, vacations, and “quality time” at home with our brood. This summer was emotional for us as we left behind Zoé’s amazing preschool and embarked on our journey through the US public school system. Beyond the real concerns one might have about the state of our current K-12 system, this posed a real existential crisis for our family because the preschool we left behind was bilingual (English/Spanish) and her Kindergarten classroom would now be English-only.
Three months ago, I was nervously awaiting the lottery results for our local dual-language programs and I am glad that luck is not something I’ve ever counted on because Z didn’t get into any of them. Even though I knew the odds were against us, I still felt devastated and angry. It felt like everything we had worked so hard on was now under threat because in my district and really, the whole country, second-language learning has been devalued. I live in an area that’s 69% Latinx, most of which speak Spanish. We also have large numbers of Hatian Creole and Portuguese speakers. How is it that we have such scant options for dual-language programs? This is not a rhetorical question; we will be exploring US dual-language education in an upcoming series.
There is still a chance she can test into the program in 1st grade but, for now, I will have to maintain her Spanish as an extracurricular. Right now, Z is a very balanced bilingual so my plan is to maintain what she already knows and slowly introduce more skills that run parallel to what’s she’s learning in school.
I’ve determined thatI need to monitor her Spanish language exposure on a weekly basis, ideally I want about 25 hours of exposure a week. This means reading in Spanish every day, continuing to speak Spanish at home, and finding activities that incorporate the language. The latter is by far the hardest one to accomplish with our busy work schedule (hubby and I both work full time) and I am still not sure how we will do it but it’s the only way.
This summer I enrolled Z in a weekly Spanish class. It’s an hour a week where she will be learning literacy and grammar in a structured enviroment. I wanted to get the habit started prior to the begining of the school year to build it in to her week before the Kinder transition begins. So far it has been succesful, she’s reading and writing as well as developing an understanding that this is a part of her life. In the fall, we will enroll her in art and theater classes in Spanish. We are so lucky to live in an area where these things are easily accesible but limiting our extracurriculars to Spanish means that we have to give up soccer, which she enjoyed, because it just demands too much time (two nights a week plus Saturday games) and I don’t want to overschedule our family.
” …there will be a spike in English after a few months in the new monolingual curriculum… “
After speaking to some parents that have gone through a similar transition with the minority language, I learned that there will be a spike in English after a few months in the new monolingual curriculum. I am trying to get prepared for this by talking with her homeroom teacher about what we’re doing at home in the hopes that she can share her curriculum so I can model it in Spanish. One of my main concerns is that Z will not be developing her academic language in Spanish so subjects like science and social studies will have to be addressed in español at home. I will also try to get a Spanish club going in the school, but that’s the subject of a future post, so stay tuned.
“The plan” is still very much in the theoretical phase and some parts may blow up in our face. I wonder how the Kinder transition will impact Z’s interest in Spanish and how much time we’ll really have to focus on the language. I will continue to share our progress in the blog and you know we are working on a podcast about this. 😉
If you are going through a similar situation or have suggestions on how to navigate language learning as an extracurricular please head over to our Facebook Group. You can also get in touch with us via Instagram and Twitter or by leaving a comment here.
Not too long ago, LA-based singer/songwriter Nathalia shared with us her upcoming bilingual album: En La Radio. While we typically don’t write reviews on the blog, we had to tell you about this album, because we loved it that much.
Nathalia is a Colombian singer/songwriter, music therapist and early childhood music educator who has produced four albums for children. Her newest one, En La Radio, has 10 original songs in English and Spanish spanning a variety of music styles from the US and Latin America.
“It doesn’t sound like kids music,” Paula’s husband said when she played it. He meant it as a compliment. Play the album and chances are you’ll be as hooked as your kids.
Today we’re celebrating one year since we published our first episode, a totally unscripted introduction to Entre Dos. This year has been fun and eye opening. We’ve learned a lot as moms and podcasters, and we have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received and the connections we have made.
To commemorate this milestone, we thought we’d leave you with the seven most-listened-to episodes in our first year.
Thank you to all for listening. Here’s to another year!
We have a big favor to ask: last fall, we applied to the first round of the Google Podcasts creator program – a program that “seeks to increase the diversity of voices in the industry globally and lower barriers to podcasting.” While Entre Dos wasn’t selected, we made it to the semi-finalists round, meaning we were in the top five percent!
Well, applications are now open for the second round and we want to try again, but to do so, we need to know more about YOU, our listeners.
If you like what we do and want to support our podcast, this is the best way to do it. The three minutes it takes you will help us tremendously, not only to apply to this program, which could get us seed funding and intensive training, but also to improve our podcast.
Your answers are completely anonymous unless you choose to share your contact information with us.
Here at Entre Dos, we’re always thinking of new ways to get our kids to speak the target language. Lately, we’ve been looking for resources that can be categorized as “conversation starters” or materials that can help us go beyond the quotidian exchanges of everyday life and even get a little creative with storytelling. Go to our latest episode to hear about what we use to get this done and, if you want a more detailed list of resources, take a look:
Wonder Ponder Books
This book series invites children to think. Ellen Duthie builds an exciting world where anything is possible and there are no right or wrong answers. The illustrations and conversation starting questions are a great way to encourage critical thinking.
Happy 2019! It’s the first full week of the year and we’re ready to get back to work. We’re also ready to continue traveling down this bilingual parenting path with our daughters and our small community of listeners and followers.
In our last episode, we shared the lessons we learned from seven months of recording the Entre Dos Podcast. It turns out that they also make good resolutions, so we wanted to share them with you here on the blog. We hope these five lessons will inspire you and motivate you in 2019.
In preparation for our music episode, we asked our Instagram followers and podcast listeners for their favorite music in other languages. Thanks to all who participated in this discussion! We loved hearing your suggestions. Now let’s go to the music.
Tens of thousands of children and families make the arduous, dangerous journey to the southern border into the United States to seek asylum from conflicts or disasters with the hope of finding a better, safer life. In the past few months, children have been separated from their families at the border, to be detained in separate facilities and it really seems like this humanitarian crisis has no end in sight.
Want to help?
REFORMA Children in Crisis and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) are delivering books to youths in detention centers right now and they need your help. Books and reading save lives and give traumatized children a chance to become whole, contributing citizens as they grow up. It also lets them know we care.
REFORMA , the national association to promote library and information services to latinos and the Spanish speaking, delivers books in Spanish to children and youth in detention centers, shelters, law offices and group homes around the country where immigrant youth are sent after being processed. Donations through their website are preferred so they can avoid the cost of shipping the books to the places they serve. They purchase new books in Spanish, bilingual and indigenous languages and skillfully match the content to the language and social/emotional needs of the reader.
KIND , a pro bono law firm that represents unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system alone, gives books to these children as they enter court proceedings for deportation. These kids and teens read Spanish, bilingual, and indigenous languages but books in English are welcome too. You can send new books to two locations that serve immigrant children and youth in those areas.
Alejandra Tovar, Paralegal and/or American Hernandez, Social Services Coordinator
KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)
UC Merced Fresno Center
550 E. Shaw Avenue, Suite 240, Room 10
Fresno, CA 93710
Katie Annand and/or Alejandra Tovar
KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)
200 Pine Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104.
We care about these children as if they were our own. Let them know you care too.