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Waldorf storytelling for multilingual preschoolers

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone,


my boy is 25 months and we speak to him three languages: French, English and Russian. He understand all three and he starts speaking. As we live in France and naturally he has more contacts in French, I try to speak to him mostly in Russian and English.


But I am a bit confused: I try to alter our activities (mainly storytelling) in Russian and English, first I spoke English in the morning and Russian in the afternoon, but now we have just mornings at our disposal so on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings we speak English, on the other days Russian. I use different stories and vocabulary for each language.


I really hesitate if I should reconsider the approach and use the same story and the same language for several days in a row (for how long?) or tell the same story but in different languages or continue as we do now. 


Thank to everyone for the help.

post #2 of 16

is it working for you? is it working for him?


if it's working, stay with it. if it's not working, then change it.


if i were to change it, it would be same story, different language. :)

post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 

At this age it is difficult to say which way is better for my Hugo, as he doesn't speak yet (at least not a lot), but I think whatever we do he thrives on it. as for me telling two stories is a bit complicated as I prepare everything myself: puppets, scenery...Moreover it's like living in two different worlds at the same time. I was thinking of telling the same story in different lansguages as well but later when he will relly speak. Moreover, Russian and English are so different, i do not mean grammar or vocabulary, but the way of expressing yourself, of thinking, of seeing the world, it's like looking through glasses of different colours. So I don't want to make a mess in his head.   

post #4 of 16

i think his head will figure it out, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. Lots of children are bilingual (and more). 



i think one story in two languages is much easier, and i think that the variant perspectives of how to tell and see one story is really cool. I dont think it would be a problem.


and at this age, stores are really simple. The farmer feeds his animals. Friends go on a picnic. The boy picks apples and Grandma makes an apple pie. In our neck of the woods, we  did a Maori story of a grandmother and granddaughter digging up kumara (sweet potato) and then going to bed under the matariki (constellation that indicates the new year). Very simple stuff about daily life, really.


I like it a lot. I tell simple stories. I make the characters out of origami. 



post #5 of 16
Thread Starter 

thank you for reply.

may be i make my stories too complicated as i try to integrete the rhymes which is not so easy to reproduce in both languages. i will think it over. that's when I make the puppet show during storitelling time.

I tell the simpler stories as well, when I dress my boy or when we play in the garden or when I take him for a walk, something like you say feeding the animals or riding a horse. No problem with that. I do it in whatever language i want to speak. I just thought that according to Waldorf we should establish a special time (storytime) at the same time of the day (we do it in the morning after brekfast) during which time one story should be told and retold for sevaral days. Am I wrong? 

I used origami charecters as well but they do not survive even a day, very often he tries to give them a bath or put them into his pockets, so i stick to something more solid.




post #6 of 16

that's generally how it works, yes. we usually tell the same story for 12 weeks, so 4 stories a year. with a different story at the week before and leading up to a holiday, and then back to the original story until the seasonal change. It makes it easier on me, less planning.


I also teach children's yoga this way. I come up wiht a routine that is seasonal. we start with making a circle song, lighting a candle, and then i tell the story, and then we live the story with yoga poses. then we do a small relaxation. after this we do some songs/rhymes (usually with movement), and then a breathing game, and then free play while parents chat.

post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 

now it's becoming clearer to me. i did not know that one story could be told for such a long time, it's been recently that i started interested in waldorf method, and I've read that a story should be told for 2 weeks, in the other article for 3 days. we change a story every week. now i can see how I can tell it in both l-ges if i swift to 2 or 3 weeks' period.

I have some other questions as well. Do you tell EXACTLY the same story during 12 weeks or you make some modifications? how long does it last? You've mentioned s circle time as well. We have not started it yet but I was thinking about it. I just do not really understand its purpose. And what song do you sing? Do you have some other activiies during the circle time? Can it help to catch the attention of my boy if we do it right before the storytime? Even during the story (it lasts just 5-7 minutes) he plays with something. First I was desperate, I thought he is not interested, but later I understood, that it's his way of listening, as he replies immediately to my questions and he remembers what we were doing. Though it i still frustrating to me.

After story we do some practical exercies like making tea for the characters or building a house, something appropriate to the story, then one or two songs with movements and after that painting or woodworking or sewing, before he was just an oberver now he tries to participate.

post #8 of 16

first, your guy is really young, so don't worry too much. :)


second, I think that as a child gets older, they like the story to change more, but little ones really like repetition. 


Third, kid's yoga meets once a week, so we do that story 12 times (or 11 or so because of the holiday story). The circle gets them to come together to do the yoga class.


Fourth, we go to a playgroup, which also meetings once a week. it's circle time is different. I"ll write more about that later. I have to go and teach a yoga class.

post #9 of 16

Ok, I taught that yoga class. :)


And then, finally, we have our own circle time.


Now, circle time in general is just a set aside time for these activities.


At home, the circle consists of -- singing the song to bring us into a circle (let us make a circle, let us make it now, let us make a circle, let us make it now). Then, we do some movement songs/verses (I'm a little tea pot; the train song, itsy bitsy spider). Then, we do our story time. Then it's a snack. After the snack, DS goes back to free play. We do this 2-3 days a week, with the same seasonal story.


The same is true of pretty much everywhere else. The playgroup has free play, circle time that leads to fruit picnic, then free play, then a second time indoors (story time then morning tea), and then free play indoors. The yoga class is essentially free play (children enter the space gently), then the circle song to bring us into the circle, then the story, then the movement with the story (story is repeated), and then relaxation, then games/verses, and then free play again.


Now, DS is in a changing space, which is to say he's transitioning from "toddler" to "little child" ("preschoolers" or "kindies" they call them here). The playgroup is designed for toddlers and babies. The yoga class for toddlers and little children. At home, it's where ever he is at that moment.


I don't think that it has to be too over thought or formed or what have you. Like i said, I make origami for the puppets, or even use something very simple like a clothes pin person which I use over and over with different names. I have two larger and two smaller clothes pin people, and sometimes a large one is a farmer and the small one is a little girl, but the same clothes pin is grandma in the next story and so on. I actually do not put a whole lot of effort into it. LOL Perhaps I'm lazy, but really, I think i'm just busy.


Does this answer the quesitons?

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 

yes, thank you. you really helped me to realise what I do.

post #11 of 16

I am a teacher in a multicultural class and my main job is to teach Finnish as a second language. Most of my pupils are Russian, but there are children from all around the world. I always encourage parents to speak only one (their own first language) language to their children, even when parents speak two different languages and third one together. A child needs a mother tongue (and this says it all: almost in every language the first language is called mother tongue, because it has such a massive meaning in emotions and expressions). Children can and will quite easily become multilingual, but the ground rule should always be one language with one adult. If you change language every now and then, it will confuse your child and it might effect negatively on his speaking. We have a term "half tongue", which means that someone has no language at all, even though he is supposed to have several. That´s a very difficult situation, because a child needs as comprehensive language(s) as possible, when he later studies abstract stuff and needs to figure his substance in the world.


My linguistics professor used to compare languages to wheels, and becoming multilingual with riding a bike. She said that you can ride a bike even when one wheel is bigger than the other, and the best situation is if you have two equivalent wheels, of course. The bike goes on and on, but only if the person who made the wheels knew what he was doing (and then she showed us a picture of a bike with angular wheels). The moral of the story was of course to encourage everyone to speak their own native language and give that as a gift to their children. That is always the one you know best and you can almost never do anything harmful by doing it. It will only give your child a firm ground to build many languages on.


I hope I do´n´t sound too harsh, I am only trying to help you. You haven´t damaged your child or ruined his development, but you can change the way you support him becoming multilingual. Give him the best in your best language, and let the others do the same thing with theirs. If you can, ask someone else tell the same stories in different languages, but you stick with your mother tongue. Then your child won´t be confused about mother changing language by day or time. He can always have you in one language and other people with their languages. He will learn to communicate fluently in different situations and he knows when to choose one language over the other. Later he will know how to study in French, but he has a sturdy "emotional vocabulary" in your language and you will always know how YOU taught him to see the world. Language is all about thinking, seeing the world.  

post #12 of 16
Thread Starter 

Vellamo, thank you for reply.

No, you are not beeing harsh, I know what you mean. When my boy was born I read a book on bilingual children and i remember the rule: one parent - one language. nevertheless i gave it a try and I started to speak English as well ( my native language is Russian) and I see the results, but may be you are right, I mean about seeing and thinking in other language. I agree that that beeing bilingual it's not just having two similar vocabularies and using two systems of grammar, what is more important it is two different ways of thinking and as you say seeing the world. I don't think i will give up easily.I know how it's difficult to study a foreign language (french is my fourth foreign l-ge)and I want to do my best for my kid. He starts to speak now and he speaks French. Neither russian nor English. My husband is French and he does not understand Rusian, so when he is a home we speak French, I like his way talking to our baby and when we sing together to him in French it's just so natural for me... So you see it's not possible to speak just one l-ge all the time.

On the other hand at what age/period of life it is more appropriate to start to teach children a foreign l-ge? and who is the best person to do it? if I should wait untill some other person will start to do it, it's going to be not earlier than at the age of 10, that's when children are taught FR here in France. To my mind it's too late.

As far as I understand you live in Finland and there are two official l-ges there Finnish and Swedish. How do children manage to learn them and in addition one or two other l-ges?

I have some Russian friends living abroad whose children were born in the countries of their fathers and whose mother's l-ge was Russian, and though they understand perfectly or not very perferctly Russian they do not speak it. 

post #13 of 16

i have a friend in sweden who is an interesting example.


his  mother is french, his father is swedish, and his nanny was russian. Each spoke to him in their own mother tongue. He didn't actually speak until he was 5, but for some reason no one was worried (in the 1970s). One morning, he simply woke up and started speaking all 3 languages fluently. Go figure.


another friend of mine is from a bilingual household as well. Her father's first language is english. Her mother's is spanish. Raised in the foreign service, she went to french schools. At home, they alternated days -- one english, one spanish. At school, they spoke only french, and she studied german there as her second language (they could choose english, spanish, german, and japanese). In university, I think she studied another language too, but I don't remember which. I always thought it was pretty cool how it all worked out.


i think that, no matter what you do, your child will have many languages in his life. :) it is such a blessing.


my DS is expressing a great deal of interest in german -- largely because there are so many germans here and they tend to be our best and most reliable baby sitters. we're looking at getting a smidge of child care for a few hours a week, and so we are considering a couple of young german women who may be interested. Also, there is a german-speaking play group. 


i think he picked german because my ILs are really into german (no clue why), and FIL likes to use rather funny german words like "schnurrbart" (mustache) and remembers a few quips from his childhood (his father was in the military and stationed in germany when FIL was a child), and I think DS likes the words.

post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 

The question how to teach the children a foreign l-ge is really so important for me that i started a new thread in multicultural families, so if you prefer write there.

Dear Zoebird thank you for support, i have plenty of examples as well, but the problem is that every time the child was exposed to a native speaker.

there is no doubt that speaking Russian to my child is more natural, English seems to be artificial, but I can't simply stop now and i do not want to. and I can't find here someone who would speak English to my DS. we live in the country and the nearest English courses for preschoolers is at least one-hour ride.

On the other hand I realize that my DS will never be Russian as I am, he will be French with some Rusian roots who can speak English and may be some other l-ges. So I wonder if it is really so important to worry how we do it and isn't better to take it easy and make it simple and have fun speaking several l-ges? 

post #15 of 16

i believe in the take it easy approach.


i think that even if it is unnatural, it is still beneficial.


at our play group, we have a lot of different families with different backgrounds. we speak english, but sing songs in french, german, spanish, chinese, and maori. seriously, those languages (other than a smidge of french) are really terrible on my tongue. and, they are probably complete gibberish when i sing those songs with DS outside of play group. Still, i do it because it is fun.


I think that *fun* is a massive part of parenting. If you are overworried, then it's no longer fun.


If you *enjoy* doing this with your son, and speaking english with him and stuff, then *do it* and don't worry. :) Just do what you love, and he'll love it too. :)

post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 

I share your opinion, nothing to add :) 

I really enjoy speaking different l-ges witg my DS, so I don't think I will give up, just may be from time to time  I will change the techniques , and even if he will not speak other l-ges right now it will be easier for him to study them later.

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