Although many families believe that introducing two or more languages results in language delay, research suggests “monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times” (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2006). It is, of course, important to understand that bilingual children can develop the same speech and cognitive disorders as monolingual children. However, prevailing research shows that bilingual children “do not suffer language confusion, language delay, or cognitive deficit” because of their bilingualism.
SLA’s language structure is divided into three distinct phases.
Phase 1 (K and younger): Systematic immersive learning for non-speakers of the target language; solidifying and expanding the target language for children with exposure
In Pre-K and Kindergarten, children are almost fully immersed in the target language. Enrichment in a third language is two class periods weekly.
Phase 2 (Grade 1–2): Solidifying academic skills, concepts, and language
Grades 1 and 2 are highly important academic years for children. This is a time they are learning to read, beginning to write, and developing a core understanding of critical mathematical concepts. During this phase, their main teachers instruct in the target language, but they have 1–2 periods of instruction in English daily (English Language Arts). The rest of their day is conducted in the target language. Children learn to read in both the target language and English. Enrichment in a third language is two class periods weekly.
Phase 3 (Grade 3–5): Consolidating, solidifying, and independent learning
By Grade 3, most children are reading in both English and the target language. Children are expected to have the language skills necessary not only to learn in both the target language and English, but to explain their thinking processes in both. They are also expected to be able to use sources in both languages to inform their studies in the sciences and social sciences. All instruction outside of English Language Arts, an English component of math, and the occasional enrichment class, is conducted in the target language. Enrichment in a third language is two class periods weekly.
Grade 6 is an entry point for both fluent speakers of the target language as well as beginners or students with only minimal exposure. These students’ classes in the target language (Language Arts, and components of Science, Social Studies, and Math) are differentiated by language level. Math is taught primarily in English in Middle School.
As children become more fluent speakers, they develop a deep and multifaceted understanding of language structures and rules. It is in their mistakes that we see this process at work. A typical example in English is when a child who has seemed to be using the past tense correctly suddenly starts saying things like “I runned in the park” or “We writed a letter in school today.” These errors are actually examples of language development. They are a sign that the child has recognized language patterns and figured out the rule that regular verbs take -ed in the past tense. As their language skills develop further, children will eventually sort out regular and irregular verbs.
Researchers on second language acquisition have a name for this phase of language development, when learners (adults and children) sort out the patterns of two or more languages. It is called interlanguage. Here too, what we may hear as mistakes are signs of a developing language system. Mistakes are integral to the process of becoming a fluent, flexible, comfortable speaker of multiple languages. It is also interesting to note that most grammatical mistakes in a second language are not a result of transfer, or transferring the rules of one language to another. Rather, they are, once again, a sign of pattern recognition and development, as the learner makes sense of two separate sets of grammatical rules.
We encourage you NOT to correct your child’s mistakes. Error correction plants firmly in the short-term memory and does nothing to help your child sort out language patterns. Rather, model the language by finding natural ways to use it correctly.
SLA’s approach to teaching math uses a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. In the first step, students engage in hands-on learning experiences using concrete objects such as chips, dice, and other manipulatives. This is built upon by having students draw pictorial representations (using hash marks, drawing the number story, etc.) of mathematical concepts.
Students then solve mathematical problems in an abstract way by using numbers and symbols. In other words, teachers use models (number lines, manipulatives) to convey concepts and strategies for problem solving, and games to help achieve mastery of math facts. Research has shown that rote practice leads only to short-term memory gains. The result of the SLA approach is deeper understanding as well as sharp-and-ready mental arithmetic skills.
SLA’s pedagogical approach, involving small-group collaborative work, allows teachers to get real-time feedback during the learning process. This constant feedback enables teachers to make micro-adjustments to their teaching in order to meet individual students’ needs.
Formative assessment provides children with encouraging and constructive feedback that helps them fine-tune their learning process (this might take the form of notes in a writing notebook, a short conversation with a child, or targeted work outside of class).
Summative assessment informs teachers where children are and what they need to move forward. At each grade level, we use internal checklists that outline benchmarks of skills. Teachers use these to keep abreast of the individual needs of each child. In this way, rich information about a child’s particular strengths and challenges is available for discussion among teachers, and with families in the form of narrative evaluations. Though we do not administer tests, we know that test-taking skills are important. In the upper grades, we expose children to test-taking strategies as well as standardized test question formats.
SLA’s curriculum is informed by national, state, and local standards, and in many cases exceeds them. It is an amalgam of the top existing programs we have found and our own expertise and research. It is copiously cross-checked against state and national standards, including Common Core. There are certain stages in the intellectual development of children, well documented through research, that are not taken into account in the Common Core Standards as they now exist. Furthermore, we believe that it is important to introduce skills and ideas when children are developmentally ready to grasp them. Our geometry curriculum, for example, is highly advanced, and exceeds Common Core standards at every grade level, as does our science program. Our full curriculum is designed for a smooth transition to any school or program of study after a child’s time at SLA.
Read aloud to and with your child. It is important to continue reading aloud long after your child has learned to read independently. Read classic children’s literature as well as a variety of nonfiction from sources such as National Geographic and your newspaper. “Old-fashioned” natural history books by authors such as Wilfrid S. Bronson and Ernest Thompson Seton are treasure troves of delightfully written stories about animals and the natural world, and the illustrations are beyond compare. Age-appropriate biography is an excellent way to infuse history into your nonfiction mix and to ease gently into discussions about difficult topics such as war, slavery, oppression, and natural disasters.
To support your child’s learning in math, use math games and number conversations. Ask your child’s teacher for appropriate games and how to gear them to your child’s level. The games should be playful, and not played for speed or in the form of tests or drill. Talking about money, playing money exchange games, and letting your child help you figure out prices and how to make change are great ways to develop math skills, as are games with dice and cards. Try not to ask testing or “fact” questions.
To support second language learning when you are not a speaker of the language, ask your child’s teacher for resources. Get books with an audio component. We do not encourage screens, but if you need a moment of distraction, use it as an opportunity to find short cartoon episodes in French or Mandarin. Find videos online in French and Mandarin of classic stories such as the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. Your child knows the story already, and can follow along. Native language favorites are Trotro, Tchoupi, and Petit Ours Brun, as well as Da Tou Er Zi (Big Head Son, Small Head Father), and the episodes are between 3 and 30 minutes long. Many movies in English will have a French track available.
In general and for children of all ages, mazes, origami, and activities involving cutting, folding, and gluing are a fun way to exercise fine hand muscles and practice hand-eye coordination. Puzzles, logic games, building with blocks or Lego, and board games are perfect for brain development, as well as family fun.