Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Homeschooling Through Language Barriers

One of the scariest parts of our adoption has been how to homeschool children that do not share my language and I do not share theirs. 

When they first came home to us and we were living in Jinotepe, Nicaragua school was really impossible. I tried to do a little but the language barrier was too great. So we hired an Nicaraguan English tutor and let that be the extent of "school." He was not only a great teacher but became a friend.

Once we were home in the states, it was time to set a schedule and try again. It was very hard at first, I won't pretend it wasn't (a whole 'nother issue for another day is the challenge of mixing the role of being their teacher while trying to bond as their mother). But once I realized I needed to concentrate on what I COULD do instead of on what I could NOT do, things started to improve greatly. 

Science became very "hands-on". We drew the kids on butcher paper and put in organs to label. We labeled body parts and bones. We look up birds and animals and insects as they see them outside and learn what they are called and I find interesting ways to label their life cycles. 

History gave way to geography as we learned the planets, the continents and oceans. We did a "where am I?" project of our planet, our continent, our country, our state, our town, our street, our house. Through out all these projects and exercises, I was thankful for Google Translate to get me out of a pinch when I needed a word or description! And when they looked at me like I head three heads with Google Translate, their big brother (9) Fransua would read the words or help me figure out what word they use in Nicaragua and I could see the light dawn on each face!! 

In Math, a friend gave me some Math workbooks that had instructions in English AND Spanish. This and other basic math with manipulatives gave me information to place them curriculum wise. I would say Math has required a lot of patience and redoing stuff they likely already knew. But it may be the stress of so many life changes that sends Math concepts flying out the window. We just keep at it, day by day.

I have learned the most about teaching through a second language by teaching reading and spelling! At first I was so hung up on what they knew for English. How can I teach them "a" is for "acorn" if they don't know the word "acorn". But I had to get over that and teach what I could teach each day. AND I had to be flexible and consider other methods of teaching children to read than I might have used in the past. Teaching sight words was the key to beginning to read. I stumbled upon Sight Word Journals free online and they have turned out to be a treasure!! Not only did it launch my girls into reading but also helped them to really speak English in full, correctly constructed sentences. (Why do I mention my girls? Well because Fransua figured out the pattern of English reading and can just read in English. I can't take credit for that at all!! So he reads sentences in both English and Spanish daily.). 

Speaking of speaking, none of the kids have lost any of their Spanish! I don't know WHEN or IF that will happen. For now they speak to each other in Spanish, they speak to us in a mixture of both, and others in English. (I am trying to add to my Spanish day by day!)

Sometimes I am asked how I am teaching them...the short answer is: "I teach what I can teach them day by day!" And day by day, I can teach them more! 


  1. I was just talking to Donald & Alondra about how great your "school" was. From the look of the pictures - everyone needs to be sending their kids to the Twombly's for school! So happy things are going so well.

  2. What a wonderful job you're doing. They look so happy!

  3. This was amazing. You are a treasure.


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