Updated: Jan 16
In January, many people make new year’s resolutions. And if you are reading this blog post, chances are that one of them is to teach your child to read and write in your home language(s). Various statistics show that only 1 person out of 5 achieves their goals.
Let’s make YOU that 1 out of 5!!
In his excellent book Atomic habits, the author James Clear divides habits into 4 components:
1) The CUE: This is what reminds us of doing something.
2) The CRAVING: This is the emotion that makes us WANT to do something. We have in mind the immediate reward (4th component) that brings us SATISFACTION. The more satisfaction it brings, the quicker the habit is formed.
3) Response to the craving: This is when you accomplish the habit itself. An important point James Clear makes is that this response to craving depends on your ability. If you want to run 10 km but are breathless just running after the bus when you are late is not a good idea as it won’t allow the fourth step to take place: the reward.
4) The Reward: This is the feeling of satisfaction you get after you complete the habit. It is what consolidates your habit and encourages you to do it again later.
You can see that all of it is based on IMMEDIATE POSITIVE FEELINGS. And it is important to keep in mind that these immediate positive feelings can lead you to good OR bad habits.
The other crucial point to make sure a habit is formed is that the physical or mental effort that the habit demands does NOT outweigh the reward (i.e.: One shouldn’t mind the effort that is required to eventually experience the immediate positive emotion.)
Now that we have detailed the different components, let’s see how you can form habits that will help you teach your child to read and write in your home language(s).
First of all, it is important to keep in mind the following:
When it comes to creating a habit to teach your child to read and write in your home language(s) the TWO people involved i.e. your CHILD and YOU, need to get satisfaction out of it. The REWARD needs to be enjoyed by both of you. Similarly, the effort to get to the goal should not outweigh the positive feeling you both get out of it. If one does not enjoy this new habit or feels like the reward is not worth the effort, it will be very difficult to keep it going.
Now, let’s illustrate each point using two habits you might want to establish: bedtime story and more explicit literacy work in your home language.
This needs to be part of your daily / weekly routine. It must be something that is already established. And because it is already established, whenever it occurs, you and your child are both reminded about the habit.
The cue could be your bedtime routine. Your child brushes their teeth, puts on their pyjamas, and here, you can insert the bedtime story routine. So whenever you start your bedtime routine, you and your child know that you will be reading a book together. This is a routine that you can easily do on a daily basis.
The craving: If you are establishing this routine, or re-establishing it, make sure to keep in mind that the experience needs to be enjoyable. The positive feeling you and your child get from the experience is the key to form this habit. It is therefore important that it is felt as a bonding time. Make sure you do NOT make your language compulsory. Being able to understand and read in different languages should be felt as enabling your child access to more fun and exciting stories. It should be EMPOWERING. If your story time must only be in your home language(s), the message that you are sending your child is the opposite of what you want to transmit. The language becomes restrictive.
Of course, if you feel like you need to have a rule to have a few books in your home language, feel free to establish one, but do not make it about the language. For example, you can decide with your child to take turns in choosing the book to read (and you might "happen to be" choosing books in your language, but it should be seen as you choosing that book because you want to read it, not because it is in your language).
And if you don't want to have any rule, you can of course encourage your child for example by saying: “Oh! I love this story! Should we read this one tonight?” Chances are that if they don’t have a book they really want to read, they will say “yes”.
All your child's languages are part of their identity. It is therefore important to value them all. The important point to remember here is that
your child's multiple languages enables them to access many more stories than if they only understood one.
Response to craving / Habit: Choose a book that your child enjoys (in any language as mentioned above).
Even during this activity, you can work on literacy.
Point at the part of the sentence you are reading so that your child can follow.
You can ask your child to read some words and sentences. It needs to be an activity that builds your child’s confidence, where they realise that they CAN REALLY READ! So make sure that if you are asking your child to read part of the story, it is not too much. The effort needs to be manageable (You can also read this blog post on balancing effort and reward)
Ask questions regarding various aspects of the story. E.g.: Do you think the boy is happy? Why? Understanding the implicit is a skill that is difficult to develop. It could therefore be a good idea to refer to what is implicitly said in the story. This is a skill that is transferable between languages, and it will help your child’s understanding of text they read in school. And vice versa, by working on the implicit message of a text in class, they will develop the skills to read between the lines in their home language(s) too.
Reward: You and your child will certainly enjoy this time you spend together. As parents, we always have loads of things to do and on our mind. This time is a sacred moment that you dedicate entirely to your child. Your child will appreciate it, and you will too!
Reading with/to our children have many benefits that I won’t mention in this blog as it would become too long. But feel free to share in the comments the benefits YOU see!
More explicit literacy work:
The cue: Depending on how much time you and your child have to prepare and do the activities, you can decide to do it less often than the bedtime story. It can be as little as once a week. If for example you want to work on literacy on Saturday mornings, have a precise cue that could naturally lead to these literacy activities. For example, you could take breakfast as a cue. On a Saturday morning you have breakfast and know that immediately after you will be working on Literacy. (Planning to work on Saturday morning is too vague. )
The craving: Your child needs to be waiting impatiently to do these activities. Once you have done this a few times, the memory of the previous activities should bring joy to your child.
You can also create anticipation for example by having a special box from where you take out the material you are going to use. You can, in addition, have a mini white board on where you can announce what you will be working on, or only give a clue and get your child to guess what they will be doing. (Adapt the length and complexity of the text to what your child can read) Whatever it is, you can make it visible to your child while they are having breakfast.
Response to craving / Habit:
Games are an ideal way to create the positive feeling you are looking for. Once your child has played a few games, they will WANT to play (and learn as a consequence).
It is important to make the physical and/or mental efforts required by your child worth the pleasure they will get out of it.
For you, it might mean that the effort you put to prepare the activities it worth it. If you feel like you are spending too much time preparing the material, you will quickly feel overwhelmed if you can only use it with one activity. So make sure that if you spend time creating beautiful resources, you will be able to reuse them (In my Resources Packs, every resource included is editable and/or usable for various purposes.)
And you can of course find more games and activities in my book The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children.
The aim is to make the activities and games your child plays fun enough so that they do not mind the little effort it requires to be able to do the activity play the game. The learning enables the fun to happen, and your child will be happy to put the effort required. They will also be asking for the games, and this should help both of you keep the habit going^^
To finish, I would like to share a few more points that should help you establish this new habit:
1) Be patient:
Keep in mind that you will have to repeat over and over the same things before your child remembers it. If you do not remember how it was to learn to read and write, maybe the number of times your driving instructor told you to look in the back mirrors is fresher in your mind? If this is still too long ago, think about the last time you learnt something with a teacher.
Repeat the same thing in the same way. E.g.: “Do you remember the name of the animal with a long neck? (...) Yes! So how do you read ‘gi’?” Saying the same thing will act as a cue and each time you say it, your child will remember that you have told them the same thing several times before. In addition to the repetition, this realisation will help your child remember the different “rules” that govern the written form of their home language. If a certain combination of letters appears in the name of a member of your family, this name could be the reference word you are going to use to create this cue.
However, make sure that you say it nicely. No irritation or frustration in your voice that could make your child feel guilty (I know! It is more easily said than done!). Remember that learning takes time, repetition, and practice.
2) Learning is a roller coaster
This is the case for both your child and you. Your child will have moments of rapid progress, to then stagnate for a while before improving rapidly again. And there will be phases of what could be perceived as setbacks, where your child starts making again mistakes they were not making anymore. This is likely to be a new rule that your child has learnt but is not applying correctly. This is a sign of learning taking place.
Their motivation will fluctuate as well. At the beginning of their multi-literacy journey, progress will be quick and they will see themselves being able to decipher more words, more easily. Once they hit a plateau, they might feel discouraged. And sometimes, external factors will motivate or demotivate them. This is completely normal. Remember that all these fluctuations are integral parts of the learning process. And this will affect your child, but you as well! So let's accept it and be understanding with each other.
You will certainly prepare some activities that you think are going to be really enjoyed by your child, to realise that for one reason or another they don’t appreciate it as much as you thought. That will surely be demoralising ... This is why I highly recommend that you only spend time on creating material that can be reused in various ways (or use material that is already read to use).
3) Make yourself accountable:
There will be plenty of opportunities to just “let go” of this habit you are trying to establish, especially at the beginning. It can therefore be easier to start on the journey at the same time as others. By seeing others doing the same thing as you will keep you motivated.
You can also announce on social media that you on going to be teaching your child to read and write in your home language, and you can decide that every week you will document your journey: progress, obstacles, challenges, breakthroughs, etc. By keeping a habit to posting weekly (for example) people will be expecting to read about your progress (and setbacks). You will also inevitably attract supporters and people who are on the same journey. This will be motivating and will keep you going! (If we are already connected on social media, tag me! I'd love to see your journey and support you!! - I am @multilingual_dad on Instagram)
If you are a more private person, keep a journal where you document and reflect on your child's and your journey.
Any of the above is fine (and you can certainly find other ways to keep yourself accountable), but the key point is to regularly reflect back on your journey. It ensures that you are not victim of your negative feelings when it doesn't go well! You will see more clearly how to overcome your challenges, and will be able to pick up what made what you have done successful!
4) Don’t be afraid to ask for help:
If you feel like you need help, make sure you get the help you need. It can be simply by searching for solutions online (my blog, youtube channel and Instagram account are there for that reason, but you will easily find numerous other blogs and groups on facebook and accounts to connect with for example, to find help.) And of course, feel free to reach out to me. Sometimes, a simple idea or tip is all it takes to keep you going!
So, is 2022 the year you and your child are going to start your multi-literacy journey? If so, let me know in the comments below.
I hope this blog posts helps you achieve this goal. HAPPY 2022!