Raising Multi-literate Children: Four Lessons and Five Reminders

I am a father raising multi-literate children. Two and a half years ago, I decided to teach my eldest, aged six at the time (and later on my youngest), to read and write in our home languages – French and Korean. Being a foreign language teacher, I had the technical knowledge, but teaching my own sons has been a steep learning curve.

Here are four lessons I have learnt from this experience (and five bonus reminders). Whether you are a teacher by profession or not, whether you choose to teach your child yourself or send them to a Saturday school, I hope these lessons will help accompany them on their multi-literacy journey.

4 essential lessons for parents raising multi-literate children

(Image by 2081671 from Pixabay)


Be a parent to your child not a teacher

(Photo Credit: Image by Tiyo Prasetyo from Pixabay)

LESSON #1 – Don’t try to be a teacher to your child. Be a parent!

Staying a dad to my sons (as opposed to turning into a teacher) is what helped me teach them better, without frustration. Generally, when I play with my sons, we are outside running around, climbing, jumping. When at home, we are mostly on the floor inventing stories with little figurines. Going from this to sitting at a desk was not very well received. When I started to play with my sons, as I generally did, and incorporated some learning, they became a lot more receptive.

Tip: Add some learning to the type of activities your child generally enjoys.

LESSON #2 – 80% play, 20% learning

As a teacher, I use games to teach my students French and Spanish. The school environment means that “serious” tasks are expected, and that means games are welcomed and appreciated. With my children, I started with the same logic, i.e., 50% games and 50% work.

Except at home, our children want to play with us. And reducing the necessary work to 20% or less has been a real game changer. We tried bowling (with paper cups), going on treasure hunts, playing with cards, jumping on a trampoline, etc. They were games. I just made sure that a little work (i.e. reading and writing) was what enabled the fun.

Here is a YouTube video with a couple of examples of such games.

The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children also contains 70+ ideas of such games and activities. Click here to read the first chapter for free.

LESSON #3 – Start when your child is ready

I first wanted to start teaching my eldest to read in Korean when he was five, while we were on holidays in Korea. At first glance, being in an environment where everything was written in Korean seemed an ideal place for raising multi-literate children. I introduced it through games … but he wasn’t really interested, and it didn’t take off. His multi-literacy journey only started a year and a half later when he wanted to be able to read his books.

We need to be patient and remember that children go at their own pace.

LESSON #4 – Don’t be too overjoyed by your child’s progress

When I saw my eldest reading a few words accurately, I was overjoyed! There is nothing bad about that, but I probably went a bit overboard. I thought it would encourage him and make him feel proud of his progress, too. Instead, it had a very different effect. He felt pressured to carry on improving and started to push back.

Simply acknowledging his progress and giving him a high-five took away the pressure. I now match his level of enthusiasm but never exceed it.

5 Bonus Reminders:

These are reminders to myself and to you to make sure your journey in raising multi-literate children goes smoothly.

(Photo credit: Tumisu from Pixabay)

BONUS REMINDER #1 – Create frequent, genuine opportunities to read and write

Our children need to see reading and writing in their home languages as a way to access new opportunities, not as a school(-like) subject. Therefore, whether our children learn to read and write with us, or in Saturday school, it is crucial to create opportunities for them to have a genuine need to do so.

This can be done by having books our children WANT to read, sending messages to family members and friends, etc. Then, learning and perfecting their reading and writing skills will be what helps them do all the things they WANT to do.

BONUS REMINDER #2 – Make it manageable for yourself too

The multi-literacy journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you do not overwhelm yourself by planning many activities that take too much preparation time.

BONUS REMINDER #3 – Routine beats willpower every time

When something is part of our daily or weekly routine we don’t need to force ourselves anymore. Reading and writing is the same. There is no one set routine that works for everyone. Each child, and each family, is different. We need to test and see what sticks. We need to determine what is doable and what isn’t (see Bonus Reminder #2).

BONUS REMINDER #4 – Have a supportive community around you

Raising a multilingual and multi-literate child is not always easy. There are ups and downs, changes we need to adapt to, and moments of doubts. Surrounding ourselves with people on the same journey who share their wins and challenges will turn this marathon (almost!) into a walk in the park.

BONUS REMINDER #5 – Enjoy the journey

I put this reminder at the end on purpose because we always remember best what we read first and last. Like the multilingual journey, the multi-literacy journey is not easy. It demands a lot of dedication. And we do that because we know how much it will enrich our children’s lives.

Whatever we do, we need to keep in mind that we need to ENJOY THE JOURNEY.

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Yoshito Darmon-Shimamori

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