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My Favorite Way to Get a Bilingual Child Reading More in the Minority Language

Our humble bathroom.
Our humble bathroom.

See this? It’s our bathroom. Why am I sharing a picture of our bathroom with you?

It’s not because I’m particularly proud of it. I mean, it’s nothing special, right? It’s a typical tiny Japanese bathroom, functional but not comfortable. And completely unheated, too, which means that when the temperature drops, it’s only human nature to flee to a warmer room as soon as possible (even unzipped).

But my kids, bless them, they actually linger here in this cold, uncomfortable little room. Why?

Look at the walls. (And watch for a free download below!)

Filling the cracks of busy lives

In Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with this Fun, Simple Strategy, I detailed the idea of “serial stories,” where you post page after page of a running story on the walls of your bathroom over time—an advanced form of captive reading.

I won’t repeat the whole step-by-step procedure here—definitely see that earlier post for full details—but now that I’ve been using this strategy pretty continuously with my kids for well over a year, I’m happy to say that this idea has been a tremendous success. Not only has it filled the cracks of their busy lives with a significant amount of reading time in the minority language, thus nurturing their literacy development over hundreds of short sit-down sessions, the stories themselves have been great fun for us all.

So the sheets of paper you see on the walls of our bathroom (and the door as well, out of view) are what make them linger here. These pages make up the 31 parts to my latest story, which just concluded this week.

Grabbing the interest of silly kids

Before I describe the four serial stories I’ve written to date, I should probably back up and tell you that my strategic use of this cold, little bathroom to promote literacy development began five or six years ago, when my older child was around three. It started with a whiteboard (see Why You Must Put a Whiteboard in the Bathroom), on which I wrote simple words, sentences, and riddles; then progressed to my original versions of fairy tales and fables; and finally led to the serial stories I’ve been writing since the fall of 2012. (Over the past year, I’ve also posted poetry from books, as I discuss in How Rats in the Bathroom Can Boost a Child’s Bilingual Ability.)

Now, about my serial stories, I must warn you: this isn’t high-brow literature. It’s deliberately childish stuff, designed to grab the interest of two silly kids, ages 9 and 6, as they sit captively in the bathroom. (They were 8 and 5 when the first story appeared.) My aim here isn’t to enlighten, it’s to entertain—and keep them reading.

To achieve this, the stories I dash off (I’m literally just making them up as I type), are focused primarily on two things: 1) I usually make the main characters Lulu and Roy (along with other people and elements in their lives); and 2) I stuff the stories with wacky action that appeals to their young sensibility.

My serial stories to date

Here, then, are the serial stories I’ve written so far, with their length and approximate duration. (I generally post a new part every few days.)

Super Poop (8 parts, which means 8 pages; September~October 2012)
A talking poop with super powers (it was Roy’s poop) mistakes me for a “bad guy” because I tell my kids to clean up their things. Super Poop tries to flush me down the toilet, and the whole family jumps into action to save me (including our pet hermit crab). A fierce battle rages in the toilet bowl, and in the end, Super Poop is flushed.

Super Poop Returns (32 parts; October 2012~January 2013)
Super Poop returns from the sewer, with apologies and a treasure map. Roy, Lulu, and Super Poop head out into the rainy night to search for the treasure. They hike through a forest, up the side of a mountain—braving wild animal attacks—and reach the summit. There, they find the treasure chest…filled with chocolate eyeballs.

Bad Baby (20 parts; March~May 2013)
A baby, not yet born, sneaks out of his mother’s belly button during the night and makes a mess of the kitchen while getting into the cookie jar. The parents try to catch him in a shark net, but he jumps on the back of the family’s cat and rides away (without any diapers). Bad Baby causes more mischief in the neighborhood before the parents are finally able to track him down. (I wrote this story because my kids find babies very funny, especially naughty babies.)

Download the whole story for free! Use it with your kids or in any way you like! (Because my kids aren’t featured as characters in this one, I feel more comfortable sharing it than I do the others.)


America’s Got Talent (31 parts; July~November 2013)
Based on the popular American TV show (which we enjoy watching), my children and other family members appear as finalists and perform a series of nutty acts for the judges. Lulu dances while brushing her teeth (and does beautifully, despite swallowing her toothbrush), while Roy burps up, one by one, the whole line of Lego “Chima” mini-figures (“Chima” has become his obsession). The winners, naturally, are Lulu and Roy.

Try this at home!

I realize that the idea of serial stories demands some effort, but one page only takes 20 minutes or so to produce—that’s 20 minutes every few days. Couldn’t you find this relatively small amount of time for an approach that’s guaranteed to strengthen your children’s literacy development in the minority language and give all of you some special fun?

Again, for step-by-step guidance on creating your first serial story, just head to Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with this Fun, Simple Strategy. Full details are found at that post, but if you have further questions, feel free to ask there or here via a comment.

How about you? If your kids have begun reading in the minority language, would this idea be useful to your efforts? If you try it, please let us know what happens!

9 Responses

  1. I found this post very very nice! I think it is a great idea (as I often find the ideas you post on this website are!)!!! Captive reading has interested me very much, and I tried already in our bathroom, but as I understand, children get involved obviously much more when they are the very characters of the story!

    I will try this as well and will let you know!!!! Thanks for the idea!

    1. Emilia, I’m happy to hear this idea appeals to you and I hope your children enjoy your story. (It’s true, children feel a special delight—and a stronger motivation to read—when they’re the main characters!)

      Please feel free to return here later and share your experience with the world! :mrgreen:

  2. This idea is great! Thank you so much for the free story! Though my son probably doesn’t understand English that much at this point, I will definitely read to him in the toilet, because he loves to come with me to the toilet!

    1. Mai, you’re welcome! And have fun reading to your son! (The more you read to him, the more progress he’ll likely make in his minority language.)

  3. Dear Adam,

    The stories you wrote made me laugh a lot. And I liked that the Super Poop was flushed and than returned back. 🙂 What a fantasy!

    Since my son is almost 3 years old, I will begin probably with some simple words on the white board, like the names of his parents and his nanny… Will see what happens.

    While reading your stories, I remembered about a book I wrote for him, with pictures (he was 2.5 years old). I had to travel to Germany for 3 days and it occurred to me that writing down what I was going to do and see would help him to experience my absence with less pain. (Some of the pictures were drawn, some were collage, some were real photos). While the book is written in Greek (for his father and nanny), I am always telling the story in Romanian.

    The book was opened after my departure, so it was a surprise for everybody.

    One of the interesting parts for my son are the 2 letters I wrote to my German friends, which are included in 2 different envelopes. He just loves to open them. And yesterday he told by heart both letters…a big surprise for me.

    In another envelope, before “the journey” begins, I put a small chocolate. He always is eager to see if there is one waiting for him. 🙂

    To make him understand the meaning of time, I used the sun and moon for every day, where one of them is leaving and another is coming. It seems that it helped him a lot.

    And every time he was asking where I am, his father or nanny would take the book and read it.

    As you did, I used images and stories he would love, like big airplanes, animals, bells etc.

    The moral of the story is that some written stories may really help you in a difficult situation (it was for the first time that I left) and if they are quite interesting, your child begins to talk more and memorize things in the minority language.

    1. Tatiana, I’m glad you liked the stories. And thank you for sharing the book you wrote for your son. It’s a lovely, creative idea and I’m sure it served the purpose very effectively. Moreover, if you can safely preserve that book, I bet it will make a wonderful keepsake for your son when he’s older. I can just imagine him taking it out of a box, as a young man, and feeling the love his mother filled it with years before…

  4. Hey there!
    Just a little note to say it’s nice to know I am not alone in my quest to raise our daughter bilingual!
    I am Greek but my wonderful husband is English and we live in England. I have hardly any Greek friends but I have always spoken to Anna in Greek even from when she was in my belly. Her Greek is amazing at almost two years old and even though she is at English nursery full time!
    Shame there isn’t a Greek toddlers playgroup nearby!
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I find it all very useful and good to see others are doing similar things to me!

    1. Welcome, Anna’s mummy! No, you’re definitely not alone, though I understand how it can feel that way sometimes!

      I’m really glad to hear your bilingual journey is off to such a strong start. Keep up your good efforts, day by day, and stop by to say “hello” anytime! :mrgreen:

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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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