I'm really getting the hang of teaching English to the kids. I finally decided on a specific method and we are having a great time! Having Chris and Patty here really helps, too, since they are being required to learn Russian while Ruslan and Nastia are learning English.
I am teaching the children from only one book (Russian Phrases for Dummies that just happened to be sitting here in the apartment we are staying in) which is really focused on helping a tourist get around in a Russian speaking country. At first, that seemed to miss the mark a bit, but then I realized that teaching them the survival phrases will not only help them start grasping the language, but it will give them some confidence in communicating. It will also be very beneficial as we are traveling home together for them to be able to express their needs easily. They will use these phrases over and over and over, so they might as well learn them now and learn them well!
Our last few lessons have been focused on greetings. You know, the "Hi! How are you? My name is..." kind of stuff. I want them to feel confident meeting all the new family members and friends when they get home, so I started with that. We practice with all the kids speaking these things back and forth to each other in Russian and English so everybody has a turn being uncomfortable! ;)
After scripture reading, which I will explain in a minute, we begin our English lesson by practicing everything we've learned so far. The boys turn to each other and speak what has been taught the previous day and then girls do the same, taking turns so everyone is listening. The repetition is important for retaining the knowledge and they get that repetition through listening to others and then doing it themselves a few times. We do a lot of praise and thumbs up and smiles because everyone is doing their best!
After "practice" (a word I don't know in Russian, so I use a hand signal and say the word "practice" when I want them to take turns speaking...the hand signal is making circles in the air with my pointer fingers to exhibit them speaking to each other around and around), we learn something new.
Yesterday, we learned the names of different things they like to eat and how to say, "I like___" Today, we learned "I'm hungry.", "I'm thirsty.", "I'm tired." and "Where is the bathroom?" Kind of important stuff!
Now, remember, I have no resources here except what we brought because everything that I could buy here is for Russian speakers to learn English, not for English speakers to teach Russian! I did buy curriculum here for the kids to work on at home during the last trip, but we took it home. I would much rather use the conversational approach in this setting, anyway!
The reality is, I didn't know what this situation would be like. I didn't know how it would feel to be here day after day for a couple of hours at a time. I didn't know if there would be other children to interact with or not, nor did I know what approach would best benefit the kids or how I would feel about the whole situation! We were really focused on court and making sure we didn't make mistakes there, acclamating Chris and Patty to everything they would experience and filling our bags with donations for the orphanage and packing for Ruslan and Nastia, too. Taking a small Russian/English dictionary (which I would HIGHLY recommend!) never occurred to me and I didn't bother to bring the flashcards back because we had so little room in our bags, thanks to all the generous donations of everyone back home! I have been totally winging it since we got here and maybe my account here will help you families, that have yet to go through this, prepare a little better! ;)
So, today I wrote each phrase in English on a piece of paper from a small drawing pad Patty brought. Underneath, I wrote the Russian phrase or question that relates to the English phrase. Then I drew a picture of what it relates to. I think you would have been impressed with my toilet...the kids were! ;)
We've done a lot of auditory work where the kids listen and repeat and practice again. But, not everyone learns well that way (I don't!) and because I don't know the learning styles of my Ukrainian kids yet, I figured I'd better get some visuals in there quickly! So, the papers were left on the table as prompts and they could refer to them whenever they needed to throughout our practice.
We had a lot of laughs and they really got these phrases down! We'll see how well they are retained over night. :) During practice, when someone would choose to say, "I'm hungry" their practice partner would grab something from the table (we always bring snacks) and hand them food...same thing with drinks for "I'm thirsty." The boys were just silly enough to make it fun and entertaining!
I also introduced Joe Blow. Joe Blow is an imaginary character that I use to teach lots of different things. He is a little stick figure guy that usually has a hard time. In our house, he has traveled to and from mortality, ended up in spirit prison and occasionally has made correct enough choices to find his way through various degrees of glory. He does math, bakes cookies that need to be divided and multiplied and experiences various consequences for his choices. Today, Joe was tired. He was so tired, he had to say, "I'm tired" and go to bed. Joe and his bed were our visual representation of the phrase "I'm tired." Good ol' Joe. I'm sure he'll thank me later for all I've put him through. At least it got a laugh out of all four kids...Ruslan and Nastia loved his name and his tired little face and my kids completely lost it when I brought him up in Ukraine. Joe has a LOT of history in our family!
Quickly, here is what we do for scripture reading:
We have taught our kids to read using the scriptures. We find that if they are consistently reading from them, they pick up the skill so much faster than if they didn't. The scriptures introduce huge, important words but also repeat all the sight words and repetitive words in our language. They not only feel the Spirit as they read, but their understanding is expanded and their confidence grows as they do the hard thing of reading and learning to recognize big words like "resurrection". So, we have been having Ruslan and Nastia read directly from the scriptures almost every day.
Ruslan reads English remarkably well. Nastia needs to have the words read for her first and then she repeats them, keeping her eyes on the words as we go. But, without Marsh here to translate and teach, I became frustrated with my inability to help them understand what they are reading...which is the most important thing! So, I got a Russian Book of Mormon from the missionaries and now have Ruslan first read the verse (I'm using scripture mastery scriptures solely) in Russian so they both can understand what is being taught, then both kids read the scripture in English using our Kindle and Nook (boys have one, girls have the other). These technologies have allowed us to have all the Standard Works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) and several books in a tiny, light weight, compact device. HIGHLY recommended for families traveling over here...or anywhere for that matter!
After scripture reading, we practice English and then open the snacks as a celebration of all we've done. Then we play games inside or out or do projects together. It's a good schedule, though I think I need to add a little more structure somewhere, I'm just not quite sure what to do. We've been visiting twice a day which gives us about four hours each day together. That's a long time when you can't really talk to each other. Ruslan and Nastia requested that we come both visiting hours so I know they want us there, but I think I need more structure in the afternoon. You can only eat so many chips and make kids practice a new language for so long! They love to play outside, especially Nastia. I know at her age, pretend and games are the main focus but it's hard for Patty to initiate that kind of thing with such a language barrier. I'll have to brainstorm this one. They've done really well so far, so maybe I need to just butt out.
So, today was the most fun day at the orphanage so far! We played with friends for the first time. I got to know a lot of the girls going to America for the hosting program on Friday and I've already decided that we need to adopt about six of them ourselves. They are precious kids!
Chris taught the boys how to throw the American football we brought for the orphanage. Ruslan has really mastered his spiral and Chris helped another boy really get it down, too. It's amazing what can be done even when you don't speak the same language.
Nastia took great video of her friends and the boys playing catch with the football. I forgot the camera so all I had was the iPod. I promised the girls I would bring the camera tomorrow and take pictures of all them them and send them once we got home. They were really excited at that prospect! Most of these kids don't have pictures of themselves or their families, so these will be treasures.