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How Messages in the Minority Language Can Boost Literacy (and Much More)

My message to RoyToday is Roy’s last day of kindergarten—and tomorrow morning is the “graduation” ceremony. In April, he’ll enter first grade at our local elementary school. (The school year in Japan begins in April and ends in March.)

It’s hard to believe our time at this kindergarten (really, a combined preschool-kindergarten for ages 3 to 6) has come to a close. Both Lulu and Roy spent several happy years there—from the start of Lulu’s enrollment to Roy’s graduation, the school has been a central part of our lives for the past five years.

Just one more reminder of how quickly life flashes by and how the days should be appreciated before the years have disappeared.

Throughout these five years, I took advantage of the fact that the kids brought a lunchbox to school each day, and I included a short message with these lunches to help nurture their growing literacy in English, our minority language. I shared the details of this strategy in Today’s Appetizer: Daddy—How to Boost Literacy (and Love) at Lunchtime, but I thought today would be a fitting chance to follow up on that post with a few further suggestions. And, like last time, I’ll also offer examples of the actual messages I wrote.

More than literacy

My primary aim, of course, was to reinforce our efforts at home to develop their emerging literacy in English. I can’t quantify how much these daily messages in their lunchboxes contributed to the growth of their reading and writing ability, but I think it’s safe to say that the hundreds and hundreds of additional opportunities they had to stretch their reading skill, via these notes, had a valuable impact.

At the same time, I could also tailor the content of the messages in various ways so that the notes became a vehicle for addressing other aspects of their development. For example, let’s look at a selection of notes that I wrote for Roy over his last year in kindergarten.

I tried to emphasize a positive attitude toward reading and homework…

Roy, let’s read a book when you get home after school! I like reading together with you! It’s fun! Love, Daddy

Roy, thanks for doing a great job with your English homework every day! Love, Daddy

I praised and encouraged his efforts at favorite activities… (And drawing, of course, has an important role to play in learning to write.)

Roy, you’re getting good at drawing pictures! Can you draw a cool picture for me? Love, Daddy

I could nudge along basic math concepts, too…

Roy, how many fingers and toes do you have, all together? I have twenty-one! Love, Daddy

Roy, if I ate three elephants for lunch, and you ate four, how many elephants did we eat all together? Love, Daddy

And reinforce other concepts that he was struggling with, like recalling the days of the week…

Roy, do you remember the days of the week? (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday) That’s right! Love, Daddy

I sought to engage his imagination and sense of humor…

Roy, if you could be a super hero, what kind of super powers would you like to have? Love, Daddy

Roy, would you be surprised if you opened your lunchbox and there was a big eyeball staring up at you? Love, Daddy

And I appealed to his playful side by posing riddles and tongue twisters

Roy, noisy boys enjoy noisy toys, but noisy boys enjoying noisy toys are annoying. Love, Daddy

With Roy about to enter elementary school, where a school lunch is served, I’ll no longer be able to provide the exposure of these little notes at lunchtime. But I’m now trying to do something similar with a mailbox at home (see What Positive Action Have You Been Putting Off When It Comes to the Minority Language?), which has the added benefit of encouraging them to write messages back to me.

If your children are a suitable age, and you’re not already writing messages to them in the minority language, consider how a routine of this kind might not only boost their literacy level, it could impact them in other positive ways as well.

How about you? Do you write messages to your children in the minority language? What methods do you use?

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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