At a certain point in a multilingual education the question of what to do with reading and writing comes up. Scarlett got first intrigued by letters when she was 4 years old. She proudly started writing “SCARLETT, MAMA, PAPA or NONNA” on paper. We were happy to foster this interest, bought a big illustrated alphabet poster she studied intensively and wooden letter cubes she loved playing with. After some time she lost interest, but every now and then her passion rekindled. It never really went beyond the playing stage, but I suppose one day it might pay off.

When Scarlett went to school one and a half years later we had to think more seriously about a strategy. In bilingual schools children learn reading and writing in different languages right from the start and from what I understand they do it without problems. I suppose it would also work with three languages but time becomes the limiting factor. Children don’t become multi-literate along the way, they have to sit down and do activities. Of course there are beautiful playful approaches, but they still need time and concentration.

For Scarlett time has become a precious good. She goes to school full-time, from 8.30 in the morning to 4.30 in the afternoon. Afterwards she loves going to the park and play with her friends or her brother. When we come home, we play some more, do activities or I read stories to the children. There simply doesn’t seem enough time to do serious work on reading and writing in German. Thus the strategy we chose for Scarlett’s first year in school was not to do any additional exercises on top of her learning Italian in school.

Scarlett goes to a wonderful primary school with a Montessori approach, so they learnt reading and writing in a playful way. One day the children made a letter from salt dough, the next day from modelling clay. They took their time, seemed temporarily far behind their traditionally taught peers, but now after the second year have caught up with them again. After one year of school Scarlett however didn’t really excel in reading. She read slowly and wouldn’t do it at all if she wasn’t pushed.

When we went on our long summer holidays to Germany (Scarlett was 6 and a half), I still made a first attempt to make Scarlett read in German. I got a story from a series of books called “Erst ich ein Stueck, dann du” (German for: “First I a piece, then you). In these books the parents first read a longer passage written in a normal font, and then the children read a short piece written in a bigger font. It is a brilliant method as the children can still listen to their story, but they also get challenged to read on their own.

I was very surprised how well Scarlett read in German right from the start and how quickly she improved. Reading German is not easy, especially the umlaute, the diphtongs, the different use of the ‘h’  differ a lot from Italian. But only after a few sessions Scarlett could read fairly well. We then made it a habit to read in turns from a book we used especially for this purpose (A big success were Osborne’s “Magic Treehouse”-stories) before I then read the “real” bedtime story. At the start Scarlett complained that she didn’t manage to listen to the story while she was reading. This however improved quickly and now Scarlett reads big parts of the stories while Quentin and I are listening.

In summary I can say that I am quite content with Scarlett’s reading and writing so far. In Italian she has improved a lot and now after two years she reads and writes fairly well. In German her reading is quite good. We haven’t tackled writing in German yet and haven’t touched English at all. But one step at a time, Scarlett is only seven and a half years old. The only fly in the ointment so far is that Scarlett still hasn’t started to read on her own in neither of the languages.

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