While it’s vital to provide ample language exposure to our children through continuous efforts like talking to them a lot and reading to them a lot, another productive option for language input involves short-term projects. Over the years I’ve shared a variety of ideas for creative projects—projects pursued by myself or other parents—that can give a significant boost to your bilingual journey by engaging your kids in fun, effective activities that make use of the target language. These projects with kids have included making creative videos, producing a podcast, publishing a book, and even blogging about a stuffed animal that was sent on a trip around the world.
This year, because local schools were closed for several months as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, my 13-year-old son and I took up a new project together. And in fact, our pet was involved, too. She’s a bearded dragon and her name is Fifa. Here she is sitting on the kitchen table…
In a way, Fifa actually played the most important role in this project because she inspired the whole thing. You see, as bearded dragons tend to do, Fifa spends quite a lot of time just sitting quietly and staring off into space. So Roy and I were wondering: Just what is Fifa daydreaming about all the time? And from that question came the idea of creating a coloring book of imaginative daydream scenes. With the support of an illustrator friend, we then developed the book, day by day and page by page, over the course of about three months—and all this interaction was in English, our minority language.
The final result, recently released, is Bearded Dragon Daydreams, a fun-filled coloring book for all ages that consists of 30 illustrations plus two “challenge pages” for creating your own bearded dragon daydreams.
Coloring books as a useful language tool
Through this project, I also came to realize that, beyond the fun factor, coloring books can be used in strategic ways to promote exposure in the target language—any target language! In other words, by viewing coloring books as a resource for language development, they can become another useful tool in your efforts to advance your child’s bilingual ability.
In Bearded Dragon Daydreams, I stress this idea by including a page of suggestions for making the most of any coloring book with your kids. Here is that page in full…
Useful Ideas for Parents
Bearded Dragon Daydreams is not only a fun activity book for kids, it can help fuel their language development, too. Whether your child is learning one language or two (or even more languages than that), give these ideas a try to boost his or her ability in the language of your choice.
Talk with your child about each image. Prompt him or her to respond by starting with the question: *What do you see?* This simple, open-ended question offers children, of any age or ability, the opportunity to express themselves according to their capacity. From there, continue by asking suitable questions about the image and about the child’s experience related to the image. For instance, a few questions about the very first image—the flying dragon daydream—might be:
*What is the bearded dragon doing?*
*What is he/she feeling? How can you tell?*
*Do you like dragons? Why? (Why not?)*
*What do you know about dragons?*
*Do you wish you could fly? Why? (Why not?)*
The more you can playfully engage with your child in communicating about each image—before, during, or after the child colors it—the more you’ll be stretching his or her language development.
Write something on the back of the image. Promote your child’s literacy development, too, by making use of the blank back side of these images. If your child isn’t writing yet, you can take dictation. Write down what he or she wants to say about it. Maybe one short sentence; maybe a whole story. In the same way, children with some writing ability can be asked to write as much as they’re able to, from a single word to a single sentence, from several sentences to a full story. You could even create a story together by taking turns writing sentences, or portions of each sentence, to develop the tale.
As these ideas suggest, there are a range of ways to make the most of the coloring pages in this book—as well as the many other images you come across in daily life—to encourage your child to engage more actively in the language or languages of your family. And when you do—mindfully, creatively, playfully—your efforts will continuously help to advance the child’s language ability, bit by bit, over the days and years of childhood.
Two resources for supporting any language
Of course, with a little creativity, you could come up with many more ways to turn coloring books into tools for promoting language exposure and engagement. In this sense, they’re similar to wordless pictures books, a kind of resource I often recommend, which tell a story through illustrations alone (or very minimal text). While coloring books don’t typically have a storyline, the fact that they, too, emphasize pictures rather than text means that they can potentially be used to support any target language—yours included!
So keep this potential of coloring books in mind as you move forward with your efforts to nurture your children’s language development. And remember, too, that short-term projects can be a really fun and productive way to strengthen your bilingual journey with additional language exposure and engagement while also enhancing your children’s creativity and deepening the bond that you share.