Friday, 24 June 2011

Bilingual Playgroups work. Really.

Roxana Soto of Spanglish Baby posted today about how successful and powerful a Spanish playgroup has proven to be. Her post reminded me that it's high time I give our own playgroup, the Kinderclub Glasgow a thumbs up.

I was more than sceptical when we started attending once I went on maternity leave. It's a large playgroup, with a minimum of 20 mums (and sometimes even a dad) and about 30 children attending. At first, I felt like the newcomer, the only person who didn't know anyone on the playground. Which, in fact, was far from the truth (I did know some people and just like me, there were other newcomers as I soon found out). My older daughter is reluctant to engage with large groups of children and it took months to see her interact with any of the kids. The parents usually have a chat over coffee and cake, which was lovely but I didn't see how this supported my child's bilingualism.

Almost one year on, I've more than changed my attitude. First up, the impact of attending a space where there are people, real people, who speak German is not to be underestimated. So far, Cubling heard me speak German to her, and English to everyone else. It was an oddity that I spoke German and there was no reason for her to follow suit. Suddenly she realised there were other people like me, and children who speak German too. It took a while to sink in, but the importance of this realisation is not to be underestimated (as testified by Cubling's reaction when she saw a German DVD that wasn't animated but had children speaking in German: "Mami, Mami, diese Kinder sind sprechen deutsch!!!").

Secondly, we made new friends. Smaller play dates have been organised, and on the days off, we often arrange smaller meetups too. No doubt that play dates in the homes of children work best - somehow a German space is as important as German people in it. Cubling knows which house is German speaking and which house isn't and she'll now switch and stick to the relevant language much more than ever. Just two play dates with one family markedly improved her fluency and willingness to speak German.

Thirdly, we had fun. I soon realised that Cubling wasn't all too keen to play with the other kids so I spent more dedicated one-to-one time with her than on other days, and this one-to-one time was definitely German as I didn't feel apprehensive to speak to my daughter in a language that those around me don't understand (as may happen at other play groups). It's the most natural environment for us to speak German and dedicated focused and engaged play time with your child is worth its weight in gold to support the minority language. We also had fun at cultural events of course.

Forthly, even the short group singalong at the end provided me with much needed singing material in German. The songs sung at the Kinderclub have become our favourites so that more fun time is spent in German at home too.

Finally, without doubt, Cubling loves going to the Kinderclub. Tired of nursery, not one to enjoy being at home, the Kinderclub is as popular as our weekly Nurture in Nature day. There has been many a Monday where I wasn't up for the treck to the other side of the city, but Cubling insisted that she wanted to go to the Kinderclub. So while I may not get what she likes so much about the Kinderclub (she doesn't play much with the other kids, and there's nothing she wouldn't also do at nursery), there's certainly no doubt in her mind that it's a fab thing to attend. And creating positive associations with German culture is simply the best way to keep the motivation going.

So bilingual playgroups in general and the Kinderclub in particular definitely have my tried, tested and approved badge.

(As have trips to German islands in the north sea with German only speaking kids... It's quite astounding. Must do more often)

5 comments:

germanintheafternoon said...

Thanks for the inspiration! I've been trying to start a German playgroup with my German friend and her son. We've gotten off to a slow start, too often letting other things get in the way. It's great to hear your success story - and what a large group!

mudpiemama said...

We used to attend a German playgroup when we lived in the USA and it was such a wonderful group - my boys enjoyed it very much and we had a similar experience, not too much direct play with the other kids but also my then 3yr old realized other children had bilingual parents and spoke German etc... I'm hoping to start up English and German playgroups now that we are in Switzerland.

Lynn said...

Your playgroup sounds great! I do wish I could find a Spanish-language playgroup for my son and me in our area (Detroit, MI), but I so far haven't been able to find anything:-(

Sarah said...

I am so appreciative of the French playgroup that my son and I have been a part of for nearly two years now! It's very informal (I like the idea of your groups' closing sing-along, though) and like Cubling, my son doesn't really play with the other kids unless a parent is engaging them to make a puzzle or a block tower together.

Still, he hears kids speaking French, which is sooooo important to me. And I love the practice too (most of the other parents are native-speakers, unlike me), and we have even had a few outings just for the moms!

And I never would have been able to start up a French storytime without the help (and participation) of these other parents.

Yay for language playgroups!

Sarah said...
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