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7 Easy, Fun & FREE/ Low-Cost Activities For Raising a Bilingual (or Trilingual) Baby and Toddler




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Are you planning to raise or are currently raising a bilingual or even trilingual baby? Here are 7 easy, fun, and free (or ultra-low-cost) activities you can do with your baby at home today!


My philosophy is that you absolutely do not have to spend a fortune on fancy equipment or apps to raise your child to speak more than one language. It is within every parent’s reach!


Why The First Two Years Are Crucial For Language Development


For today’s post, I really want to focus on the baby and toddler years in particular.

Why is that?


Because the period from birth to around age 2 is considered absolutely critical for language development, especially for raising a bilingual or trilingual child.


There are many reasons for this, but for the purpose of today’s post, let’s look at the top three reasons why those first two years are so crucial.


 

Reason 1: Neuroplasticity 


Did you know that at birth, the average baby's brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain, and then incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year and keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age 3?


During the first few years of life, the brain exhibits high levels of neuroplasticity, meaning it is highly adaptable and capable of forming new connections in response to experiences.


This makes it easier for children to learn multiple languages simultaneously.


That’s why every expert will tell you that when it comes to raising a bilingual kid, the earlier you start, the better!



 

Reason 2: The ability to acquire a new language with little effort


Children are naturally predisposed to learn languages during this period.


Exposure to multiple languages from birth or early infancy allows them to acquire the phonetic, grammatical, and syntactic structures of each language more naturally and with less effort compared to learning later in life.


(Maybe that’s why my kids’ fluency in Russian surpassed mine by age 5 – go figure!)


 

Reason 3: Native-like Pronunciation


Did you know that if a child is exposed to different languages during the first two years of their life, they are more likely to develop a native-like pronunciation for those languages?


However, as children grow older, it becomes harder to produce accurate sounds of a language, although it's not impossible with practice.


In my other video and blog post, I’ve also covered the numerous cognitive and brain benefits of being bilingual, so definitely check them out if you’re interested!





 


So, now that we know why these two years are so critical, let’s look at some activities that you can do at home with you baby today.


Activities


1. Sing nursery rhymes to your baby or toddler in the target language


This is such an obvious one, but singing nursery rhymes is really the single most beneficial thing you can do for a baby in terms of language development.


Not to mention the wonderful benefits it brings in terms of strengthening the parent-and-child bond.


Your child will love hearing the sound of your voice, and they will enjoy the lovely mishmash of sounds and words, even if their comprehension is limited at this stage.



Singing nursery rhymes together is extremely benefical for language development, especially when raising a bilingual or trilingual baby
Singing nursery rhymes together is extremely benefical for language development, especially when raising a bilingual or trilingual baby



If possible, incorporate movements and actions to make it even more fun for the baby (and you!).


If you’re in the UK, check out your local library for “Rhyme Time” sessions targeted at very young children.


Your local children’s centre should have “Stay and Play” sessions too, which will give you lots of opportunity to learn such “action songs” and have fun with your baby. These council-run activities should be free for all residents.


If you’re looking for paid classes, Gymboree (NOT sponsored!) runs very good ones for young children, which incorporate singing, dancing and plenty of action.


Or even just go on YouTube, and I guarantee you’ll be able to find some nursery rhymes you can sing along to with your baby in your target language!


 

2. Read picture books together


I cannot emphasise enough the benefits of reading with your child cannot be overstated – there’s simply no better way to help your child expand their vocabulary and develop a love for language.


Don’t know where to start? Check out My Everyday Life, a series of bilingual picture books my sister and I created that introduces more than 120 everyday words with beautiful illustrations.


Each book also includes QR codes so readers can access free MP3 files to help them with pronunciation. The books are also interactive, with activities on every page and right at the end.


It’s currently available in English and Chinese, English and Japanese, English and Russian and English and Spanish, with more language combos to come!


So, what’s the best way of using books such as this?


For children who are not talking yet, you can say the name of an animal or object and encourage the child to point to the correct picture.




For toddlers who are starting to talk, encourage them to use words by asking lots of questions about the pictures: “Where’s the horsey?” “What’s the cat doing here?” “What colour is the fairy’s dress?”



One thing I’d like to point out is that when you read to your child, try to sound as enthusiastic as possible and use lots of dramatic facial expressions and gestures; children respond to this “dramatic” style of reading a lot better, and it’s highly beneficial for language acquisition.


Another trick is to deliberately make silly mistakes as you read.


 

3. Play hide-and-seek with toys


Give your child a toy and ask them to hide it.


Count to 10, and you have to go find the toy. Then swap.


Young children find this game incredibly entertaining, and it’s a great way to spend time at home on a rainy day.




Playing hide-and-seek with toys can be a great way to enhance a child's language skills when raising a bilingual or trilingual baby or toddler
Playing hide-and-seek with toys can be a great way to enhance a child's language skills when raising a bilingual or trilingual baby or toddler

Incorporate lots of position words and prepositions into the game:


“Is the dolly hiding under the table?”


“I think the puppy is hiding inside the wardrobe!”


This is such a fun game in itself; as a bonus, your child will also be improving their language skills.


 

4. Play in a sandpit, either in your garden or in the park, ideally with some sand toys


Most children love playing with sand. It also has the advantage of being one of the less messy “messy-play” activities, as sand comes off easily once it’s dry, which is great for mess-averse parents.


It’s a great way to incorporate lots of action words and prepositions, and your child will love exploring various textures and learning about the physical properties of objects.


Use lots of sentences like “Use the spade to scoop sand into the bucket” – the more varied the vocabulary, the better!



Playing with sand offers ample opportunities to teach your child action words and prepositions when raising a bilingual or trilingual baby
Playing with sand offers ample opportunities to teach your child action words and prepositions when raising a bilingual or trilingual baby

 

5. Get some paint and brushes out, or even some crayons and pencils (for minimal mess), and start drawing/ painting!


Drawing and painting is a fantastic activity on so many levels – it helps children develop their fine motor skills, sense of colours and shapes, imagination, and an appreciation for beauty.


When you draw or paint together, use lots of words related to colours and shapes to help them build their vocabulary.


Drawing and painting can help bilingual children learn new vocabulary as well as develop their aesthetic sensibilities. Raising bilingual baby and toddler
Drawing and painting can help bilingual children learn new vocabulary as well as develop their aesthetic sensibilities.

If you’re painting, cut up some kitchen sponges to add interesting textures without having to buy any new equipment!


Discarded cucumber and carrot bits can also be used as “stamps”. And of course, your little one’s hands (and even feet) make excellent painting tools, too!


 

6. Make playdough animals and objects


You can use store-bought playdough or make your own.


Just Google “homemade playdough” for some recipes, and make sure you get your child involved in all the mixing and kneading action!


Your child will enjoy the physical sensations of manipulating playdough with their hands; homemade playdough, in particular, has a lovely squishy texture, which is quite addictive.


Take this opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary in shapes, colours, and names of animals and objects. Jazz up your works of art with toothpicks, pasta shapes or whatever else you have to hand.


 

7. Play with kitchen pantry staples such as pasta shapes, lentils and rice (or even flour, if you can handle the mess)


Pour them into the largest bowl or pot you can find, give your child some spoons, ladles, cups or any other containers, and let them have some fun!

You can pretend to measure things out, cook together, or even start a kitchen concert using wooden spatulas as drumsticks –make sure to incorporate lots of action words and position words into your sentences to maximise the language-learning benefits.




Humble kitchen pots and pans can make great toys and language learning tools for bilingual babies and toddlers
Humble kitchen pots and pans can make great toys and language learning tools for bilingual babies and toddlers

 

Summary


I hope you found today’s video helpful!


In my book Bilingual and Trilingual Parenting 101, I offer a wealth of practical tips and advice for parents who want to raise bilingual and trilingual children.


The activity ideas from this post come from the book, which offers many more activity ideas for age 2 and beyond.


Do check it out – it’s jam-packed with tactical tips that you can implement straight away!


Thank you for reading today's blog post!

 

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