Sep 24

Questions to Ask During Back to School Night

It’s that time of year again. Your child is heading to school, backpack and lunchbox firmly in place, to join their classmates for school. While your child may or may not have back to school anxiety, you may have reservations of your own.

To ease your conscience, many Preschool Directors are willing to sit down and answer any questions you may have about your child, his/her interactions with new classmates, and beyond. To get you started, Jump! has compiled a list of smart questions to ask as your child starts school.

Questions to Ask Your Child's Teacher During Back to School Night

What is your philosophy?

If you haven’t already gone on a private tour, consider asking the preschool director to accompany you around the center, personally meeting the teachers your child will interact with, and asking your child’s main teacher their philosophy, training, and qualifications. This will ensure that you have a solid idea of the environment your child will spend the next nine months in. Not to mention, if you have a relationship with your child’s teacher, your child is bound to feel more comfortable because of that connection.

How do you discipline your students?

Discipline is one of the most important facets of preschool education. How does a teacher focus on the strengths and weaknesses of a child? If one child is unruly, how will the teacher react? Will they lash out, discipline them with anger, give the silent treatment, or passively ignore it?

Since discipline is essential, we recommend you brief your child’s teacher on how your child reacts to discipline. Perhaps he/she shuts down at harsh discipline, or only responds to “tough love.” In either case, it’s very important to make sure your child succeeds in a way that’s best for them, and by fostering a relationship with the teacher, you are ensuring that success.

What are your academic standards?

Depending on which level your child is at, academics may be assessed loosely, or, if your child is at a more transitionary phase where grades are introduced, some insight will be useful. If this teacher is known to be tough on academics, you will have enough preparation at home to help with homework and assignments. Or, perhaps your child loves a challenge – in which case, you can ask the teacher to keep an eye on his progress to prevent boredom.

What can I do to facilitate academic and social success?

It’s always important to know how to answer the age-old question: “Mom, can you help me with my homework?” Your child’s teacher can provide valuable insights to help retention, knowledge, and learning progress at home. Perhaps this means challenging your child with mental math flashcards, or writing exercises. The best way to find out is to ask.

Do you have any references?

It’s always important to connect with other parents that have had successful experiences – they can act as a support system for you and make the transition for you and your child much easier. If you’re experiencing some doubt, helpful references can clear your misgivings and rest easily that your child is getting the care he/she needs.

In all, the most important reality to face is that your child will be successful – your job in asking questions is to discover how to continue that success.

Jun 09

How to Prevent Summer Break From Pausing Language Growth

The final bell rings. Your child tosses away all of their papers, stashes their backpack somewhere deep in their closets, and leaps into a summer, free of homework and classrooms. However fun this may be, it has been proven time and time again that not revisiting any of that old homework sets you back both mentally and academically.

In fact, summer learning loss is a common issue that parents encounter over the summer with their children. If there is no reinforcement, children can lose several months worth of academics and start the school year on a setback. For language-learning specifically, this is even easier to forget since language classes don’t make up the majority of the academic experience.

To maintain your child’s language growth and retain the lessons they’ve learned either in school or after-school, we have compiled 5 ways to reinforce their learning and even advance them over the summer break.

Set Aside Time Intervals for Speaking

At Jump!, we believe conversation and exposure are key. If your child has been learning Spanish all year in a classroom and you want them to continue over the summer, try having them watch their favorite TV show -- but with subtitles in the target language. Or, if you’re going on a long road trip, play some music in the target language to get them moving. These little integrations are key in sustaining language development.

Even more so, setting aside designated “language time” is incredibly helpful for preventing a summer slide in learning. Integrate these into weekly, or even daily “meetings” where you go through flashcards, watch a movie, or even have full conversations (if you speak the target language). We believe that the more exposure, the better.

Grammar Exercises

We know, we hear the universal groan, too. However, grammar exercises are essential when learning a new language, and when coupled with having actual conversations, can be extremely powerful.

If you or a member in your family speaks the target language, conversation is key in learning grammar. The more you do it, the more you learn. If you don’t speak the target language, try working through flashcards with your child, offering fun rewards for getting the right verb conjugation. It can be tedious, but essential for learning any new language

Use Fun and Games

Now, it’s easier than ever to make learning digital. If you have an iPad, tablet, or laptop, you can use games online to help them learn. There are a plethora of learning apps like FluentU that are fantastic for learning Mandarin and Spanish. (Read this post for more iPad apps great for learning Spanish.)

This is a sure-fire way to get your child excited to learn more of the target language -- what could be more fun than playing with an iPad?

Improve Reading Comprehension

If your child is more drawn to books than tablets, consider buying books in the target language that they can try to read. We realize this is more challenging and can be frustrating for many children, but working through even one page a day is helpful for developing a more robust vocabulary and a deeper ability for reading comprehension.

Enroll in a Summer Camp

If the time in your schedule doesn’t allow for any of these tips, or you don’t know enough of the target language to help your more advanced child, we recommend enrolling in some sort of summer program that encourages language immersion.

Here at Jump!, we understand how summer can set children back by months if they don't maintain the skills they've learned during the school year. This is why we created our Summer Camp and Saturday programs. As a full-time (or even part-time) student in a summer camp, your child’s skills are sure to be reinforced and enhanced as the summer continues, leaving them to be very well-prepared for the school year.

We hope these tips helped you decide on an action plan for this summer, and how to maintain your child’s language skills! If you have any questions on language development, or want to inquire about our summer camp program, feel free to call any of our centers in Livingston, Edison, or Westfield.

Apr 29

Feria de Sevilla ("Seville Fair")

sponsored by the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre

  • Where: Parker Press Park, 428 Rahway Ave, Woodbridge, NJ
  • When: Sunday, May 3rd, 2015, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
    (Rain date May 9th, same time)
  • Admission: FREE!

"The history (both past and living) of flamenco is unclear. Many scholars cite South Asian (i.e.) Indian dance, gypsy dance, with threads of Caribbean and jazz influences woven in. It is a passionate form of expression; serious dancers search for "duende" or the spirit within us, to bring out the fiery aspects of the dance. There are also European influences, such as ballet, to pick out. Come judge for yourself!"

This day promises to be an afternoon of cultural delights. The "Feria" will provide performances by Alborada's widely-acclaimed professional dancers and musicians throughout the afternoon. "Sevillanas" dancing throughout the park by dancers in traditional costumes, arts & crafts for children, flamenco dance and castanet lessons, a flamenco fashion show, artists creating works "en plein air" inspired by the dancers and the outdoor festival, Spanish food and drink for sale, and much more.

Irish step dancing is another variation or permutation of flamenco, in this author's humble opinion. Riverdance, anyone?

Jump! Immersion School will be participating at the fair. Come say hello! (or "ole! ")

Apr 17

Motivating Your Kids to Do Things On Their Own

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio
Source: Karol Molina

I have little children. And, as they grow and mature, they spontaneously make up their own minds...which sometimes do not follow my own ideas. (Raise your hand if this has happened to you!) My friend, Karol Molina, the Program Director at Jump Immersion, has shared the following theory with me, the "Theory of the Coin."

"Theory of the Coin" At a glance

Plastic Gold Coins
  • Who: Ages 4 and up, roughly.

  • What: Pick 2-4 areas that your child needs reinforcement on.

  • How: Using positive reinforcement with direct & clear instruction.

  • Why: The goal is to get your child to do what you want...without a reward system ad finitum.

  • How long: Just a few short weeks.

The intent is to start working on an area of weakness or a certain objective. The difference with this Theory of the Coin, is that when you achieve the goal, you stop, or better stated, taper off, the experiment. Otherwise stated, you do not want the goal linked to the assistance/tangible encouragement. Some might call it bribery, I choose to call it "encouragement."

Depending on your child, the whole experiment may take 1 month (or more, if the child is older), for a few specific areas that you would like to see some improvement in. Then, sporadically and spontaneously, you will reinforce the behavior. For example:

"Maggie, these last two weeks, you have not needed any help in completing your homework; you are completing your tasks; following instructions the first time stated and I am noticing this. You did a great job. Here is a reward, because I have seen your good choices!"

[Parent is observing, from a silent distance, while the child is self-policing her actions.]

Read on for a more in-depth explanation.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks--the How

1. Make Some Coin!

The parent will gather/buy/make some "coins." They can be large plastic gold coins, home-made wampum, or perhaps one dollar coins or quarters. Karol has used the plastic gold ones. The monetary value is not what is key; the significance given to the coin will be the key.

2. Trading

What, Dear Parent, are we trading these mythical gold coins for? Pick 3-4 areas that you know your child is attracted to. "Maggie," a 10 year old, could be attracted to Minecraft gaming, extra reading (but only if this is a true passion, otherwise, with a reluctant reader, this will backfire miserably), roller skating, etc. As the parent, you know the best areas that captivate your child. Like bees to honey...

3. The Written Reminder for the Fridge (or Signage)

A. The Trade

Parent, list a few items/areas to work on. This is not the time to "kitchen sink" it.

Some examples could be:

  • Put clothes either in the hamper or folded in drawers [not "clean your room"],
  • Make your bed,
  • Brush your teeth (if your child is prone to cavities or is a reluctant tooth brusher),
  • 20 minutes of focused homework,
  • 20 minutes of independent piano practice, focused,
  • No talking back
  • Listening to Parent the first time
Child doing homweork

It may be a good moment to include some examples of desired/undesired behavior, particularly if you have a little lawyer-in-training in your household. For example," it is good to ask questions to clarify any instructions from Mom & Dad, but if you are asking questions to procrastinate or weasel out of a chore, this is not the goal." I have heard one child say, "Dad, you just said to 'put your clothes away,' not 'take your clothes to your room and put them in your drawers.'" See what I mean? Be clear and direct.

If your child is 4 or 5 years old, they are not reading full sentences, so you may need to use some images or "clip art" to get the point across.

What is essential is to be clear and direct, for the ears of a small child/tween.

For example:

Mom or Dad Says Child Hears Meeting of the Minds?

"Behave & listen"

Wah Wah Wah (said in the voice of the teacher of Charlie Brown) No
"Pick up your shoes &
put in your closet"
"Pick up Shoes & Put in Closet" YES!
"Do your Spanish homework
to get ahead in life"
Wah Wah Wah No
"Do your homework with a 'happy face'" [meaning a positive attitude] "Do my Homework with a Happy Face" YES!

Furthermore, the child should be able to verbalize the desired behavior. This will come into play in a short while.

B. Frequency of the Reward/Recompense

The adult decides the frequency. It should never be daily. Depending on the child's age and maturity, it could be 1x a week, or 1x every two weeks. A four year old cannot sustain this type of good behavior for 2 weeks; she will forget what she is supposed to do. On the other hand, one week may be the "just right" amount, with recognition of daily progress to keep the child on task.

C. The Coin

One coin = one reward. After the desired amount of time has passed, with the desired behavior followed. Scenario: "Maggie" has done her homework daily, for 20 minutes of focused work, right away, without procrastinating. The script could follow this:

  • MOM: "Maggie, I am taking out & giving you one coin because of your good behavior. What good behavior am I talking about?"

  • MAGGIE: "Mom, doing my homework right away, focused."
    [The child has linked the desired behavior with her concrete behavior.]

  • MOM: "Maggie, you listed 3 favorite things: an extra hour of Minecraft, an extra 30 minutes of reading before bedtime, and a pack of Pokemon cards. Which will you choose in exchange for the coin?"

  • MAGGIE: "Oooooh, such a hard decision...Minecraft!"

Another scenario could revolve around tooth brushing:

  • MOM: "Katherine, I am taking out and giving you one coin because of your good behavior. What good behavior am I talking about?"

  • KATHERINE: "Mom, brushing my teeth in the morning and at night."

  • MOM: "And you have done this for 5 days without any reminders." Katherine, you listed 3 favorite things, a Barbie doll, some colorful washi tape, and some nail polish. Which will you choose in exchange for the coin?"

  • KATHERINE: "Oooooh, such a hard decision...the nail polish!"

D. Next Steps: Lengthen the Timeframe when Successful

If your four year old put his blanket on his bed for 3 days straight...then lengthen the next timeframe to 6 days. If your six year old brushed her teeth for one week, then lengthen it to two weeks. If your ten year old did her homework for two weeks, then lengthen the timeframe to three weeks. You tell the child of this permutation, and remind them of the "coin" [a/k/a the secret goal.] The lengthening of the frequency will depend on when your child "conquers" the task.

E. The Twist: Surprise them Early!

So, little Katherine has brushed her teeth successfully, day and night, from 5 days to 2 weeks and she's working on the third cycle. Here is where you "blow their minds." Before the end of the third cycle, you give them the coin early.

  • MOM: "Katherine, you have done so well, brushing your teeth day and night, without any reminders...I am giving you the coin EARLY in recognition of your hard work. I am proud of you and your hard work." [Remind them you are proud of their efforts!]

  • KATHERINE: "What?" Oh, THANK YOU, Momma!"

Why is the Parent giving the Coin early? For two main reasons: (a) more concretely, to avoid a relapse given the longer timeframe; and (b) more abstractly, to show the child that she is being observed constantly... and yet, she is choosing to engage in this positive behavior while she thinks she is unobserved.

Three Important Lessons

Does this all sound sneaky? Perhaps but you are teaching your child important lessons:

Lessons Learned (1) Following through
(2) Staying on track
(3) Doing things on their own

If that doesn't get the handkerchief for the Valedictorian Acceptance Speech, or the Oscar, I don't know what will. (Smile.) I am trying this out next week and reporting back!

Mar 02

Learning Language through Movies

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

It's Friday afternoon, or a weekend day, and what to do with the children? Depending on your parenting philosophy on "screen time," consider a movie in a foreign language.

If your child is on the younger side, you can decide if the goal is to have a more "passive" movie experience, such as playing with toys while having the television on, with either an "original version" of a movie on, or a "dubbed" one. Do you want "Toy Story" in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese?

On the other hand, if your child is older and/or more proficient, then it might be a day to announce, "We are watching Peter Pan in Spanish!" Either something the children have seen (so they can follow along more confidently) or something new. Finding suitable foreign movies for children may seem daunting at times, but the rewards are great: "a-ha moments" when you see your child following along; gaining a real sense of life outside of the U.S., being exposed to different cinematic styles; learning idiosyncratic expressions; continuing on life's language journey. It's fun; it's thought-provoking.

Who is going to help you? YOU!

Look around the Internet. Talk to your librarian. Query your friends and acquaintances if any are language buffs, foreign language speakers or travelers. Any film fanatics out there? Do not be shy asking around; just caveat it with "My child is learning Mandarin Chinese and I am looking for a movie. Can you recommend one?" Aside from your librarian, consider YouTube, Netflix, Apple TV, Roku, etc.

NEXT, if it is a foreign movie, preview for visual content at minimum. THEN, you decide if it is acceptable. Perhaps it is a good idea to have a short talk before the movie starts about how movies are chosen/produced in different countries to cover yourself as All-Knowing Parent.

NYC International Children's Film Festival

If you happen to live in a major cosmopolitan area, a children's foreign film festival is a good option! This is like manna from the sky: serving up to you movies that "should" have children's themes. New York City is having its International Children's Film Festival this year from February 27th – March 22nd. Grab a friend and make it a family play date! At the time of press, it appears the movies are presented in English, however it is an excellent starting point to search for the original versions. For more info see

Sometimes, arguably, you do not have to push the "target language" all the time, but expose your child to other cultures. For example, consider the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who has made many films, such as "Spirited Away," etc. For a discussion thread on French movies, see On the right side, there is a "Best of" series of tabs; scroll down and you will find "French Films That Are Not Freaky."

Any advice on Spanish or Mandarin Chinese films for children? I plan on starting my review with the children's film festival!

Jan 27

Learning Language Through Cooking

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

One weekend, or during a Snow Day (like today!), how about cooking a dish with your child? Depending on your child's interests, you can borrow or purchase a book specifically geared towards "cooking with children" or you can find a recipe to try and give it a go!

Book: Cocina Sana para Niños Book: Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family!

In our house, on "my" side of the cookbook area, I have "Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family!: Recipes to Get Everybody Cooking" cookbook. Hmmm. I also have a cookbook in Spanish called "Cocina Sana para Niños" of Parragon Books. Both are standard recipes, one in English, one in Spanish. Perhaps you would like to look into "ethnic" cookbooks, for further inspiration.

At Jump Immersion, cooking is another way to practice and round out your child's Spanish or Mandarin. Even if you do not speak the "Target Language" (or "TL") this can be your child's opportunity to school you. It is clear that, more than toys or gadgets, our children want to spend time with us, their parents. Put two or more people together in the kitchen, cast worries or judgments aside, and focus on cooking and on the process or the results--something delicious to delight in.

Cooking with Kids

Do not fret. A one-hour activity such as cooking, in Spanish or Mandarin, is a marvelous way to expand your child's vocabulary (not to mention math skills with fractions or science skills following steps & observing). You will be adding words such as "mix," "add," "combine," "smell," "taste," "savor," etc. This low-key activity is taking place at the kitchen table, the heart of the home. With older children, this can be a neutral ground to listen to them and perhaps even get them talking about their day, their interests, their worries. To this day, I have fond memories of watching my grandmother cook, and later on, helping her with her signature recipes. This added vocabulary helped broaden my Spanish quite a bit.

Once you have made your recipe, ask others how they make it. Or better yet, ask your child to ask a friend/acquaintance that speaks the "TL" how they make it and discuss any differences. Easy conversation starters also include where the person finds their ingredients or special spice mixtures.

Enjoy!, ¡Buen Provecho! and Xiang Shou!

Jan 22

Visit Your Local Museum... in Spanish or Mandarin!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

[NOTE: Be sure to also check out "Museums Flex Their Multilingual, Multicultural Muscles" an article by The New York Times 3/16/15 published after this post.]

There is no denying it, we are squarely in Winter. There are times for unbridled outdoor play and there are times to explore the nearest city and its cultural offerings. Consider a visit to the local or the major museum in your Spanish or Mandarin!

For more proficient language learners

Option A: Many museums have pre-recorded audio tours in several languages, such as Spanish, Mandarin, and others.
Option B: Check out podcasts. Our family once used one for the grown-ups during a one-hour tour of The Louvre. (Thank you, Rick Steves!)

Some museums may even have docent-led tours in these languages. One such example is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tours are monthly, but it can be scheduled as a family trip. (Click the image above for free kids' guides from the Met!)

Family Museum Tour Idea

Another interesting option is to find/hire an art teacher to customize or highlight a particular museum's offerings for your family. Look around: any friends with art degrees, or any "target language" teachers with an interest in art? One such company is Art Smart, a NYC-based provider of museum & gallery tours for families and groups. (I did not look into their pricing, but this idea definitively "has legs.")

Further Tips

No matter who the "leader" is, I would humbly advise a "highlights" type tour, perhaps 6-10 pieces, to review and discuss, depending on the age and interest level. (See if you can find any fun worksheets online, in English or another language, ahead of time, to whet the children's artistic appetite.) Talk to the art "leader" to see if a scavenger hunt for clues can be done, to keep up the kids' interest level, in small, quiet groups.

Good luck!

Jan 15

Volunteer in Your Child's Classroom this Year!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Take a moment to review, in a non-judgmental fashion, how involved you have been this school year at your child's school. If you can swing it, I urge you to consider volunteering for a half hour in your child's classroom.

For Young Children

For youngsters, you can read the class a story. Perhaps a story about friendship near Valentine's Day or a Dr. Seuss story* for National Dr. Seuss Day on March 2nd.

Green Eggs and Ham book in Spanish Green Eggs and Ham book in Chinese

This is a wonderful time to actually get inside the classroom, see the student dynamic, and see how much of the "Target Language" (or "TL") your child is willing to speak... on that day. Don't speak the TL? Read the story in English, and ask another parent to stand with you to serve as “interpreter” if the teacher is having difficulty translating the story on the spot. Or have each of the two parents read a page, in an animated fashion, to keep the children engaged.

Watch out for the quality of some of the translations of the Dr. Seuss books; a few have caught my eye over the years as linguistically...awkward. But Seuss is surely a challenge to translate!

For Older Children

Is your child older? Dust off your talents and areas of expertise and ask the teacher if you can do a simple presentation on your favorite topic (in English or the TL) for ~15 minutes with Q&A afterward. (It would be wise to email the presentation to the teacher ahead of time for time management, etc.)


  1. Law & Order
    I once did a slide show with fun "clip art" on the legal profession for preschoolers, and then had them take a stand on a position ("More Recess Time") and had two teams argue each side. A plastic hammer or a gavel was a resounding close to the "oral arguments." I was the advisor/cheerleader; the teacher played the Judge.
  2. Pick a Country
    Another visit, I spotlighted some key facts about Cuba--music, food, notable animals, etc. Again, I used the "clip art" to signal key words to the Cuban song, "Guantanamera." This really helped the children learn the first two verses.
  3. Culture Cooking
    Or, if you like to cook and the teacher approves it, bring in a typical dish (bought at a deli or home-made) to discuss. From my Latin roots, how about empanadas (pasties or turnovers), arepas (a corn meal savory thick "bread") or black beans and rice? This will definitively score as a conversation topic at the dinner table that night!