If you're wondering how to homeschool bilingually for preschool and kindergarten, this is the post for you!
I recently hopped on an in Instagram LIVE with Dani, a fellow non-native mom raising bilingual kids. She asked me all her burning questions about how to start a bilingual homeschool with her oldest, who will be PreK age this coming fall! The following post contains an overview of the main points hit on during our chat.
If you want to hear all the extra details and nuanced answers to the questions in this post, you can watch the LIVE here. However, if you just want the high-level overview - keep reading!
Dani is a non-native Spanish speaker and mama to two little kiddos ages 3 and 5 months. Their family’s language strategy exists somewhere between OPOL (one parent one language) and MLAH (minority language at home), since Dani’s husband uses his intermediate-level Spanish as much as possible with his kids. (Good job, dad!)
Without further ado...Here are Dani's questions!
1) Are We Crazy for Wanting to Homeschool Bilingually? Especially as Non-Native Speakers?
Yes. Yes, we are all crazy. It’s insane! First of all, making the decision to homeschool is crazy enough. Wanting to homeschool bilingually, especially another language that is not your mother tongue is insanity.
But, I think it’s worth it! My passion for it and my heart for it overrules the insanity. So yes, we’re all crazy but our kids are going to thank us for our insanity some day.
Also, it’s okay to be crazy. A lot of people will tell you you’re crazy, and they’ll tell you it’s not going to work. That’s simply because they’re someone who doesn’t think outside the box, and they’ve never tried it. But if it’s something that is on your heart to do, go for it.
The last thing I would say in terms of being crazy, is that if it becomes too crazy during certain seasons, it’s okay to take a step back. When we moved to the East Coast that was a hard move for me, and I really stepped back from speaking Spanish for the first six months we moved there.
We felt that. Our Spanish dipped down until I could get my footing back and we would find our community. So, I had to make up for that, but it was okay.
There are seasons of life, and if the insanity gets too much, don’t feel like you’re failing if you need to take a break. It’s okay. Get back to it when you can.
2) What about curricula? Do we get the same curriculum in two languages? Do we piecemeal it together?
This is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. When we first started homeschooling bilingually for Kindergarten I bought a curriculum in English and decided we needed to get through the whole thing in BOTH languages.
It was an epic fail (read all about it here: The Time I Failed Bilingual Kindergarten). I had to step back and realize that we don’t have to do everything in both languages.
The more I’ve studied and the longer I homeschool I realize that knowledge and skills are transferable. So for me, it’s helpful to think about what subjects I can teach in Spanish, and what subjects I need to teach in English.
For example, history is something we study in English because the language is too difficult and the vocabulary too varied for me to keep up with and learn as we go. On the other hand, we study math in only Spanish because the vocabulary is contained and I can look up and learn new vocab as we go along.
Another thing I will say is that over the years I have bought curriculum simply because it was in Spanish. For example, I bought a math curriculum that was in Spanish, but it wasn’t a good curriculum and it didn’t work. It was an expensive learning lesson. But it taught me that the curriculum itself is more important than the language.
If you have a weak curriculum you will be spending your time online looking for other curricula and trying to fill in the gaps. But if you have a strong curriculum, you won’t have to do that.
Case in point: We scrapped the expensive math curriculum in Spanish, and I purchased a Montessori-based math curriculum in English. Because it was hands-on, I could present the lessons in Spanish.
And yes, it was extra work to look up and learn all this math terminology I didn’t know. But we were doing math in Spanish, versus with the curriculum in Spanish we couldn’t even get off the ground because the curriculum was bad.
Also, I'd rather spend my time learning Spanish than filling in curriculum gaps.
3) Are there PreK Curricula in Spanish You Recommend?
My favorite all-time preschool curriculum is called A Year of Playing Skillfully. It’s a beautiful, gentle, play-based curriculum for the early years. It’s in English, but you can present all the material in Spanish no problem.
That said, there are now a couple options for Preschool curriculum actually IN Spanish! One caveat is that while I have seen samples or previews of these curricula, I have not actually used any of them with my children. But if you want to give them a look, here they are!
Puramente Prescholar - This is a literature based PreK program that is organized by units. Each unit contains four weeks of activities based around a theme like insectos, comida, or noche. At $5 per unit, you can’t beat the price. The units are also available in English.
Con Mi Familia - This is a screen-optional Spanish learning program for littles. It could easily be used as a Spanish immersion PreK program by simply doing the activities in Spanish only. This program is unique in that it is firmly rooted in Montessori and Waldorf philosophies, meaning there are no worksheets and many activities are nature-based. ***Use code BILINGUALTOGETHER for 15% off any purchases from Niños and Nature.***
LinguaLearner - This is a more traditional preschool program with worksheets and activities based around a monthly theme. The cost is $10 a month, to access all worksheets and activities for the month. You can upgrade your subscription to access online classes for your preschooler.
Lelu STEAM + Spanish - While this is not a PreK program, I couldn’t list resources for a bilingual homeschool without mentioning Lelu Boxes. This subscription box comes with everything you need to implement an amazing Spanish immersion experience at home. While they are known for their boxes for older kids, they do offer a box for younger learners. I am planning to use Lelu along with A Year of Playing Skillfully for my Kindergartener’s Spanish immersion homeschool this year! ***Use code BILINGUALTOGETHER10 for $10 off your first box.***
4) Even with a great curriculum, how do you organize your time and balance languages in a homeschool?
This is another thing I have done many ways. However, I will say that in the early years I strongly recommend having a minority language immersion homeschool, rather than a “balanced” bilingual homeschool.
It only gets harder and harder as they grow to maintain the minority language. For example, now, as a non-native speaker, I don’t have the time to keep up MY Spanish to an adequate level to have deep discussions about race relations or WWII.
So for as long as you can, certainly for PreK and even Kindergarten, I would highly recommend doing all your formal schooling in the minority language. I didn’t do that with my first two, but with my third who will be in Kinder this fall, I will do all his formal studies in Spanish this coming year. Including, starting him with Spanish phonics first instead of English phonics.
5) Speaking of phonics, what is the best way to develop literacy in both languages?
All the research I have read says that you can teach children to read in different languages simultaneously. I tried that approach with my first, but was met with a lot of frustration. If you want to read more about that, and how I dealt with suspected dyslexia with my second, you can read this post: Spanish Phonics - How I Teach My Kids to Read.
There is also research that says you should begin teaching a child to read in their dominant language. However, I happen to think that it’s okay to begin phonics in a minority language.
This is a conclusion I’ve come to by way of experience rather than research, and it goes back to my previous point that it’s best to emphasize the minority language in the early years. Learning to read in Spanish first is just one more way to give Spanish an edge over English in our homeschool.
This is my plan for my third child, who will study Spanish phonics only over the course of next year (his kindergarten year). And YES, I have started to create a program for teaching Spanish Phonics at home. You can sign up here to receive the first 5 lessons for free.
And that was the end of our conversation! If you take nothing else from it...remember:
Homeschooling in two languages is crazy and hard!
So go easy on yourself, give yourself grace, and have FUN!