Menu

8 expert-backed tips for boosting bilingualism from a young age

6. Take advantage of their sponge-like brains.

8 expert-backed tips for boosting bilingualism from a young age

From the moment they're born, mamas take seriously their job to teach little ones all about the world around them. And fortunately, as a child's curiosity explodes in the toddler years, opportunities to set them up for a life of learning abound. While there are certainly many ways to raise a life-long learner, research continually points to the benefits of bilingualism as a way of opening young children's minds and boosting their educational advantage for life.

"Research shows that bilinguals have stronger executive function skills in comparison to monolinguals—that is, bilinguals have been proven to outperform monolinguals on tasks that involve multitasking, paying attention and focusing, and mental flexibility," says Ilana Shydlo, Speech-Language Pathologist and founder of Polyglot Parenting.

That's because even when a bilingual is speaking one language, their brain is actively suppressing the second language, resulting in a cognitive "workout" that strengthens the part of the brain responsible for executive function and the ability to focus and multitask. "Bilingualism even helps maintain cognitive flexibility for a lifetime—research shows that bilingualism has been proven to delay the onset of symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease," Shydlo says.

As they enter the school system, the benefits become even more apparent in bilingual children. Not only does knowing a second language help children pick up a third (and even a fourth) more easily, but strengthened executive function skills make it easier for them to pay attention in class, switch focus, and multitask during the school day. And the benefits only increase as they get older.

"Knowing another language can be a key in many opportunities," Shydlo says. "Being bilingual gives you a competitive edge in the job market, increases access to a greater number of careers, and allows bilinguals to command a higher salary in their chosen field of work."

Beyond the educational advancements, speaking multiple languages can have a variety of cultural benefits for children, enriching and expanding their worldview in countless ways. For example, when a child learns a heritage language, it unlocks their own background and strengthens bonds with relatives who speak the language. And the ability to communicate with more people around the world across generations allows for opportunities to connect and empathize with others across cultures.

Looking to boost your child's bilingual skills? Here are eight expert-backed ways parents can support bilingualism in their children:

1. Immerse them in the language as much as possible, from an early age, so it’s part of your child’s routine.

Books and short-form video content can play a crucial role in supporting bilingualism—in fact, foundational literacy skills in one language support literacy in the child's other language too.

Set aside time for story time in a heritage language, or make use of short-form videos like Nick Jr.'s Canticos, which introduce familiar songs and nursery rhymes in Spanish to establish a cultural connection that fosters a positive attitude toward the language.

2. Find ways to get consistent language input for your children that is realistic to maintain.

"For instance, a home with two parents who both speak the same minority language (for example, French) may choose to make it a rule to speak only French at home ("minority language only at home" method)," Shydlo says.

"A home where one parent is monolingual in English and the other parent is bilingual in English/Spanish might try the One Parent One Language Method, where one parent speaks only in English to the child, and the other parent only speaks Spanish to the child."

3. Be consistent and persistent.

It can be easy to slip into English in the U.S., but parents who successfully raise bilingual kids to be bilingual adults keep persisting despite that temptation. Incorporate language learning into things you already do every day, like reading Canticos books or watching one of their videos while waiting in line at the grocery store.

4. Make sure your child gets a lot of consistent minority language input from a variety of sources.

Forgetting a language can happen quickly if that language falls into disuse. Look into boosting your child's exposure through heritage language school programs, playgroups, dual language schools, or with regular exposure to books and videos in the heritage language.

5. Keep it positive!

Children are more likely to practice something enjoyable, so find ways to keep the fun in language learning. Make up silly stories in the heritage language, sing songs, play games, take trips to places where that language is spoken, or plan a weekly heritage night where you cook foods from that culture and exclusively speak the language being learned.

6. Take advantage of their sponge-like brains.

"Young children are constantly absorbing language, including from what they overhear," Shydlo says. "Playing heritage language music at home in the background can be a fun and easy way to add more of the minority language into your child's day."

Canticos makes it even easier by using familiar songs and rhymes as well as heritage tunes in Spanish. Simply play a couple in the background every day and watch in amazement as your child picks them up in no time.

7. Connect with relatives who speak the language.

Schedule weekly video calls with faraway relatives to boost your child's exposure to the language, as well as increase their sense of connection to their heritage culture.

8. Consider hiring babysitters and caretakers who speak the heritage language.

If your caretaker is able, consider having them speak exclusively to the child in the heritage language, or designate a time of day or week as "heritage language day" to boost exposure.

This article was sponsored by Nick Jr + Canticos. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Ilana Shydlo is a Speech-Language Pathologist, mom to a bilingual toddler, and the founder of Polyglot Parenting. In her role as a Bilingual Parenting Consultant, she acts as a resource and expert guide for families as they navigate effectively raising children to speak two or more languages. Visit http://polyglotparenting.com/ for more information.

There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for two minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills.

"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.

Keep reading Show less
Life