Monday, July 30, 2007

Jump Little Children

Last week I took on an entirely new teaching challenge: children. Three years ago, the New Yorker developed a "Summer Day Camp" program. Children come to camp for a week, three hours a day. During that time, the children play, draw, sing and speak English. It is all designed not only to teach English in a non-threatening environment, but also to awaken an interest in the language. This way when the students get to school, they don't just say, "Oh, man! English! Yuck!" The New Yorker teaches the 5 to 8 year olds, and I decided to tackle the 9 to 11 year olds. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

First, teaching children is an entirely different type of work. It is more strenuous and involves a lot more activity. There is a constant up, down, worrying aspect that I just do not experience with adults. For example, the children get a 15 minute play outside period. During that time, I stand by the side with my ice handy in case someone accidentally gets hit while playing basketball. I have a new respect for elementary school teachers.

Second, I was in no way prepared for the amazing mimic ability that children have. Their accents are fantastic. I only have to repeat something a few times, and the students can soon repeat it on their own. In one week, they mastered three new songs. Also, the children understood some structures and functions in English much faster than some adults. After one hour, they could ask their fellow student, "When do you . . .?" and respond. I once had an adult student, who needed three weeks to master that structure.

Third, the children give back emotionally in away that adults do not. I become good friends with lots of my students, but none of them hugged my like the 9 year old last week, who wanted to know if we can have a camp in the fall break. It was also beautiful the way they showed their work to their parents, so full of pride.

Teaching children is something that we would like to expand in our business. Three weeks ago (July 8, 2007) there was a large article in Die Welt (, "Why Children Should Learn English Early." In the article, the newspaper quoted studies that show that students who learn English at an early age (i.e. 4 to 5) go on to do better in all subjects in school, including math.

I am also interested in this topic because I would like to raise my child to be bilingual. I am already surfing through the Internet for books and tips. Uh, oh. I smell research coming on, which I just love. It is the nerd in me. I cannot help myself. If anyone has any tips or book suggestions, let me know.

I have a new group of kids this week. It did not gel as well this morning, but I blame the rain. I am sure it will get better. There is a third and final group next week. By that time I will most definitely need my vacation.


Bek said...

I also noticed that the younger the kids get the more challenging it is for me as the teacher. I was used to 14 year olds. The difference to 11 year olds is enormous!

Juanita said...

It's amazing how fast kids learn when they are very young. When my oldest son was 4, my mom took him to Germany for four weeks. He came back speaking fluent German. To this day (he is now 38), he still understands most everything.

Carrie said...

Claire- you know my area of expertise in in teaching children, so if you need anything- just let me know. Hope you still have the children's books I sent you- I stuck a bunch of tried and tested activities in there for you. Learning language is easier the younger you are, so I'm sure you will find an entirely different flow with these kids. 9-11 is a good age b/c they want to please everyone- their parent and teachers- once they hit 13, though it's an entirely different story. Haha! What did Jimmy Buffett say? Bury them when they turn 12 and dig them up again when they turn 23! Good luck with them! _carrie

hexe said...

Now I have to disagree about burying them at 12 as I have a classroom of sixteen year olds. Each class was different but there were two that I really developed a great rapport with and teaching was fun because they trusted me and they were willing to take chances.

Good luck with the bilingual child - my brother in law speaks only english to his daughter while his wife speaks only french. At two, my neice speaks mostly french but when visiting us she easily switched to English within two days.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely nothing more rewarding than working with children. One of the groups I work with at the library are the tweens (your age group) and man oh man can they be a handful. But the payoff is always the greatest.

How is it you don't need your vacation now? You're like Super Woman!


christina said...

My volunteer class at the elementary school library consisted of 6 9-yr-old boys, and lordy were they a handful! You do develop a rapport with them though and they sure learned a lot.

Teaching English to children is waaaaaay different than raising your own child bilingually. My well-kept secret for raising bilingual kids is to forget the books and the flashcards and the videos and JUST DO IT. I'll send you a bunch o' links though to start you on your journey. :-)

Mike B said...

I have a few friends whose children are learning english. The parents are very proud of that fact, but when the children are faced with an actual English-speaker all of them have been afraid to try their skills out, so I hear what you say about a non-threatening environment (although I don't recall actually threatening a child since my own childhood days).

vailian said...

My boys are biligual, but it wasn't easy to keep them speaking English when they started school here. But I insisted that they speak only English at home (none of this understanding a question in English and responding in German) and it worked-- they have perfect accents in both languages.
There are disadvantages though. They didn't get the fairy tales and folksongs in German, and there were spelling and grammar problems in school in both languages.

J said...

I taught kids/teens when I loved in Poland and had a great time with them. Give me them over adults (which 99% of my students are) any day. I was delighted late last year when I got a class of 16 year olds (now 17).

Haddock said...

Happy Birthday!

The Juniorette is bilingual. We never used any books etc. Our approach was easy. I spoke only English to her and my wife only German. It's that simple - We still do it to this day. The only downside is that my German is terrible, but I can live with that! :)

Anonymous said...

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