Before I had kids, I was absolutely sure that television was the very devil.
But, as I've said before, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. My kids have taught me a lot about the inadvisability of ideas that include “always” and “never” in them. Over the years, the entertainment center has become free range, and we're the only people I know who rearranged the components to be more in reach, instead of out.
Recently, a cousin introduced Rowan to Dora the Explorer. He was instantly entranced. He'd had his own backpack for a few years, and I think he identifies with a cartoon girl who also has a backpack she loves. We discovered that you could download episodes of the show from iTunes, and thus, an entertainment odyssey was launched. Two or three times a day, Rowan would ask to sit down and watch a Dora or two. I figured it was unobjectionable, and that was that.
Last week, my family had the opportunity, unexpectedly, to travel to Puerto Rico for a few days. Being Californian, you can't escape a basic familiarity with the Spanish language; it's built into the street names, the history, and the people. So while I don't actually speak Spanish, the accent and cadences are as familiar and comforting as home. I wasn't terribly worried about getting along; we had a phrasebook, and to quote one journal article, “significant numbers of Puerto Ricans are adept in English and can be characterized as competent bilinguals”.
I had not counted on Dora.
It turns out that while I was not looking, not forcing, and not teaching, Rowan had picked up bits of conversational Spanish, and with a child's unembarrassed enthusiasm, was practicing on the people we met. He made brilliant conversational assays, and managed to find ways to try out his vocabulary whether it fit into the topic or not.
It would never have occurred to me to start introducing foreign language intentionally (teaching) at this stage. And if we hadn't had the trip, I don't think the information would have gelled in quite the same way for him. But now, Rowan sees the connection between Dora's vocabulary, and communication and connection in the real world. He's re-watching old episodes with renewed intensity, and throwing Spanish words into daily conversation.
Gracias Dora por la "desenseñanza" del español.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveller, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The Elemental Mom.