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bilingual children: Summertime Travel Activities

Summer is a wonderful time of year to travel: Children are out of school and the warm days beacon for lazy hours at the beach or walks through cool forests. Whether we are traveling by land, air or sea, we can make bilingualism part of every bilingual child’s summertime adventures.

Both parents and teachers can engage bilingual children in fun travel activities, whether it is during a bus ride with a summer class or as a family on the way to visit grandma and grandpa. Nothing helps the time pass more quickly (and more enjoyably) than with travel activities. Why not make bilingualism a part of it?

Here is a list of some favorite travel activities to do with bilingual children: 

  • Alphabet search: Many of us can remember road trips with our parents where we scanned the roadsides for letters of the alphabet. Q and X were always impossible to find! This summer, pass on this fun game to bilingual children by using alphabets from both languages! To play, everyone goes through the alphabet, one letter at a time, calling out the letters they see on billboards, license plates, road signs, storefronts and more. The letters can be at the beginning, middle or end of words. Everything counts! Once someone has found the letter, everyone moves to the next letter in the alphabet.  If the bilingual child speaks a language that uses a non-romanized alphabet, see if they can find the first sound of the characters in the words they spot.
  • Things that start with… : Another fun alphabet game is to call out items that start with each letter in the alphabet. For example, start with A and everyone calls out what they see that starts with A. For example, “automobile,” “Annie’s Restaurant,” “animals,” etc. Once enough items have been called out (or if no one can find anything that starts with that letter) then move onto the next letter. Make sure to decide ahead of time which language is going to be used (or if both are allowed) so that words in that language will be searched for. It is fun to go through the alphabet in one language and then to switch to the alphabet in the other language to play again. This game can be played while driving along the highway or sitting in a busy airport waiting for the flight to board.
  • I spy: Most children and adults know the game “I Spy.” It is fun because it is easy to play and everyone can participate. The way to play is for one person to choose something and then to say something about the item, starting with the words “I spy with my little eye…”. For example: “I spy with my little eye something green.” Then the others try to guess what it is. It is important that people pick out things that will be able to be seen for a while – “spying” a cow on the side of the road while driving along at 60 miles per hour doesn’t give enough time for others to guess. Items in the car can be used or items that are general, like grass, trees, clouds, lines on the road, etc. It is much easier to play this game while sitting in an airport lounge or while in flight.  Again, the target language can be used during this game or you can make those “spying” say the words in two languages!
  • Scavenger hunt: Before you head out on your trip, put together a list of items (in the target language) that you think you will see along the way. For example: trees, grass, road signs, and restaurants. You can also throw in some things that are unlikely to be seen (moose, chicken crossing the road, dancing gorilla) just for the fun of it. Print out the list and give it to everyone just as the journey begins. Each time one of the items is seen, a mark is put next to it on the paper. If you are flying with kids, then include things in the list that are most likely to be seen in the airport and during the flight: seat belt, flight attendant, captain, no smoking sign and magazines are examples.
  • Pack a picnic: A fun memory game to play with kids is the “picnic basket” game. It is another game that goes through the alphabet and can be done in any language! The first person starts with the letter A and says “I am going on a picnic and packed…” and then says something that starts with A, such as “an apple.” The next person adds something that starts with the letter B and also repeats what the first person said. For example: “I am going on a picnic and packed a banana and an apple.” This game can be done with any of a number of items: clothing, countries, sports and more. Just change the first sentence to make more sense. For example, “Today I did archery and basketball.” It is especially fun to play while stuck on a long airline flight!
  • Apple tree (hangman): Another way to bring language into the mix during travels is to play the game hangman (but with apples rather than the gallows). One person thinks of a word or a sentence and then puts a line on a piece of paper for each letter. Then an apple tree with ten apples is drawn above or underneath the word. The other people guess letters that might be in the word(s). Each time they guess a letter that is not in the word(s), an apple is crossed off the tree. If all of the apples are crossed off before the word is guessed, then the players are told what the word is. Another option is to draw a stick person, one body part at a time, until the whole person is drawn (no need for the gallows here!). For younger kids, don’t worry about keeping track of the number of incorrect letters called out. The fun is in figuring out what the word(s) is in the target language, so just write down the incorrect letters and let them continue until the word is figured out.

These are just a few ideas for how to bring languages into summertime travels. Bilingual children will not only enjoy traveling, they will be working on their language skills without even realizing it.

Try to remember travel games that you played when you were young and see if you can do them in the target language. This is a wonderful way to pass on fun activities from your childhood to bilingual children and to help strengthen their literacy at the same time.

Photo credit: joejiang.sg

What are your favorite summer travel games from your childhood? Which language travel games do you enjoy playing the most with your students/children?


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    a part of group where I can get advice from other knowledgeable individuals
    that share the same interest. If you have any
    suggestions, please let me know. Many thanks!

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