The challenges may become more complicated as children grow older, but there are a few tricks of the trade that work miracles with the younger kids. I shared one of my favorite, and highly motivating, activities here. (It involves treats, making it Motivator # 1 for little ones!)
Coming in just behind treats, the second most motivating schtick we found to elicit foreign language participation when Mag was younger was a...
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Yep, it's a little trick we picked up from our time at Language Stars, and it's an easy $3-ish investment: the echo microphone!
If you have a toddler or preschooler who likes to be in control of anything mamá or papá is holding, then the echo microphone could be your new best friend! If you have an older sibling, or even a puppet on hand, simply model a verbal routine with a partner a few times, and wait for the little one to be grabbing for a turn. You won't have to require, or even coax participation. Almost guaranteed! (No, this is not an infomercial... but it is sounding like one, isn't it?)
Here's how it might go down with Mommy and Big Brother Johnny interacting within range of Little Sister Sally.
Mom holds the microphone and puts it to Johnny's mouth when it's his turn to respond.
Mom: Bonjour, Johnny. Comment ça va? (with the sing-songiness of "motherese")
Johnny: Ça va! (with great enthusiasm that can be coaxed beforehand)
Mommy: Ça va bien, ou ça va mal? (with exaggerated facial expressions... you know, the kind 2-3 year olds love!)
Johnny: Ça va bien, bien, bien!
Mom repeats the routine with a few puppets or stuffed animals, using exaggerated, funny voices for the animals. In the absence of other environmental distractions, Little Sister Sally will, at the very least, want a turn holding the microphone sometime during this routine. She may or may not try to ask or respond to the target question at first, but it invariably comes.
Once you've maximized this routine, you can expand the repertoire. Include questions such as "What is your name?" and "How old are you?", questions that kids love to answer in those early years.
Of course, the microphone can be used any time, not just in formal practice time. As the family comes through the kitchen at meal time, ask each one what s/he wants to drink, "jugo o leche," and hold the microphone to them for their response (game-show style!). If you're feeling energetic, you can even repeat each person's response in a full sentence, with a little sing-songiness and a dance. A little one will not want to be left out of this exciting event that makes everyone's drink choice a big deal. You can picture it already, right?!
At your wit's end, hoping for more language participation?
Try an echo microphone, then come back and tell us how awesome it went!
You can order echo microphones from amazon (affiliate link here), or just as easily pick one up at a party store, dollar store, or a big box discount store (usually in the party favor section).