My daughter started attending a public kindergarten, which means she’s started to interact with the industry I have been involved with for my time in Korea. I started teaching (but really, just babysitting) children her age and younger when I first arrived in Korea. I worked in a posh kindergarten for parents with more money than sense, who wanted their children to be exposed to English before they could read Korean. My initial employment was secured by my boss preying off parental insecurity and competitiveness to make parents think that a foreigner interacting with their children for an hour a week was going to make a difference to their development of English skills. I sang songs and read books, and generally just tried to have fun with small children so they wouldn’t run in fear if they saw me walking around the corridor on the way to a class.

My daughter doesn’t have the xenophobic “run away!” reaction my students a decade ago had because she’s grown up in a biracial household and she speaks both English and Korean well enough for her age for us to be comfortable with her progress. We’ve invested in some educational programs that deliver toys, books, and videos to our house so that she would have content to watch on television that wasn’t hyper-violent or focused on selling her sugar. She knows what materials she wants to watch, and will tell us if she finds something “too scary”. She can’t read or write yet, but she loves books, wants to be read to, and will look at books and tell stories about the pictures, which is all perfectly normal and very encouraging at her

We’ve also  set up a mutual cultural exchange with parents that are bilingual, being Korean citizens that speak Chinese at home. The Chinese speaking family will come over and my daughter will learn a few words of Chinese each week, while my wife will share a few words of English with their child. I have yet to be introduced to this situation, and I’d probably need to spend some time at the fringe before trying to speak because the Chinese student does not know me. The child is my daughter’s age, and they both find it a curious game where they speak three different languages. They refer to things in another tongue only when this particular friend is around.

My wife has the task of trying to introduce phonics and reading to children too young to write for this informal “class”. Having been in that situation for years when I used to work with very small children in schools, I don’t envy her because teaching phonics is really hard when you get into higher level blends and the inconsistency of the English spelling rules. There are so many exceptions and stupid things that children need to remember about how words sound to be fluent.

Anyway, we went to a book store and found the lowest level, simplest materials for children to learn that do not require any kind of writing. It’s all stickers and coloring, with lots of pictures and words that kids will already know. My daughter got bored putting stickers on a page after the first lesson, which is impossible because she’ll carry stickers with her to bed if she didn’t get a chance to stick them yet. While the sticker book was a start, I think my daughter wants something slightly more challenging.

My daughter ended up finding a book my mother sent me from the United States for phonics and coloring that was now appropriate for her age that was languishing on a shelf, forgotten for years. It had phonics activities and coloring for the children to enjoy, then lots of matching and whatnot to improve their letter recognition skills. Glow told me to take to work, make some copies, then bring it home, which is what I did at work today. My daughter gave me homework. I set up the copy machine, talked to someone in the office, and made a few copies to pass the time.

My daughter was happy with the result, as I brought it back bound with a folder I had laying around so that she could keep the papers together. I’ve not sat down to “teach” anything to my child yet. All the language she gets is from interactions with myself, my wife, or media we have in the home. While I help curate the media she sees, I have yet to sit her down and try the whole “A is for Apple” approach to get her reading anything. The process was so painful when I taught low level students in my first few years that I developed gray hair in my 20’s. While watching my child read something would fill me with overwhelming joy, the steps involved in reaching that process in two languages (or three!) is going to s-u-c-k.