Making Homework in a Second Language Fun for Children – 10 Minutes at a Time

by contributor · 11 comments

Making Homework Fun for Children in a 2nd Language - 10 Minutes at a Time

By Franck & Cristina
Photo credit: spiritinme

Stories, games, music, conversations are all great ways to expose children to a second language. And best of all, our kids will be learning without really realizing that they are learning. They soak things up while having fun: Slowly developing understanding and fluency in a second language.

But what about homework?

Time is obviously limited. Not many of us have time to spend an hour with their kids going over a French grammar lesson or reviewing Chinese tones.

In our family, we believe that structured homework helps us focus.  We believe that it helps our children, Pablo and Elena, make a little progress every week. It also gives us confidence that we cover different aspects of what we believe children should learn when studying a 2nd language.

We know it is important. But we have little time. So we do it 10 minutes at a time.

After our workday, it is challenging to do homework for the second language. We use a low-pressure approach: an activity, or a page of the homework book, for 10 minutes. Although the time is short, the satisfaction of doing it together feels great and has a great benefit.

Here are a few things we have to keep our kids engaged with homework, with the limited time we have on our hands:

  • Tip #1: Finding the right homework method
    We get homework books from Spain and France and we do what Spanish and French children do: In Spanish we use the Santillana books. In Chinese we use, Better Chinese. In French, Elena loves Lecture silencieuse, story books with homework associated with each page of the book.
  • Tip #2 Creating a fun routine
    We created with Elena and Pablo a routine we call “Aperitif en Francais”. Instead of calling it homework, we call it “French Appetizers”. Our kids are more motivated to do a page of their French book with baby carrots, almonds and nuts. When we come back from work, we sit-down for 10 minutes with a light snack  of their choice, and we do a page of French. Once it became a routine, the initial “whining” about homework disappeared.
  • # 3: Letting them choose what homework they want
    Our homework in French is less structured with Pablo. He is 4-year old and does not have to go from lesson 1 to 2, 3, 4 and so on. The book has different topics. So I let him choose a page in the homework book he feels like doing in French: reading, math, science,  with stickers, or coloring, whatever he feels like doing that day.
  • #4 Doing  it together
    Pablo and Elena are 3 years apart. We all sit around the kitchen table for homework. We do not do any chores during that time. It is “family time”. We tried to do two things at the same time (cooking + homework for example), but the kids would easily become unfocused and it would not get done.
  • #5 Doing it first thing in the morning on week-ends (or at least trying to…)
    Our kids, just like most kids, focus better in the morning. When we can get a page of our homework book done in the morning right after breakfast, we feel great about our accomplishment for the rest of the day.
  •  #6 Giving stars
    Giving stars works with both our children. When an exercise is done right, they get a star. It motivates them to stay focus and to do a effort.

We’d be delighted to hear about your tips and tricks to help your child with homework in a 2nd language. Please let us know in the comments below. Every tip helps!

Don’t miss Franck & Cristina’s other “10 Minutes at a time” posts:
Helping Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time

Technology to Help Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time
Music to Help Children Learn a New Language: 10 Minutes at a Time

Franck & Cristina are from France and Spain and now live in New Jersey, USA. Cristina grew up in the Basque Country, in Spain. Her best high school memories come from teaching English to young school children. She learned French when she met Franck. Cristina works for a consumer goods company. Franck grew up in Alsace, France, speaking Alsatian (a German dialect) with his parents and friends and learning French in school. He started learning German in elementary school and English in high school. He came to Boston where he was inspired to learn Spanish when he met his wife Cristina. Elena (7) and Pablo (4) are Franck & Cristina’s children. They live in New Jersey with their parents and speak English, Spanish and French. The whole family is learning Chinese. In order to expose Elena and Pablo to their first Mandarin Chinese words, Franck and Cristina created a free iPhone and iPad app, “Princesses Learn Chinese”. Since then, they also released “Princesses Learn French” and “Princesses Learn Spanish.” You can visit their blog at

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Aaron October 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

Great post friends and so timely! We are homeschooling the kids this year and working to add Turkish to the routine – this helps.


2 Franck October 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hello Aaron, if you could write a post later on about your experience in homeschooling and sharing tips, that would be great.


3 Be Bilingual October 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Such great tips! I LOVE the idea of “l’apéritif en francais”. Brilliant! Our children go to school in French and in Finnish (and thus have homework in both), but we are always looking for ways to do just a little bit more in French to make them ready for school in France if our relocations plans become a reality. I got inspired by this bingo board and the coupon rewards.

We’ve agreed that the coupons can’t buy things, just fun activities together. So far so good!


4 Andrew October 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I couldn’t agree more, and making it fun is just as essential for adults as children. What you’re doing with time segments reminds me of a technique that I recently learned and used to great success, it’s designed to help people be optimally efficient by making the right combination of work time and breaks, it’s called the Pomodoro Technique, and it’s elegantly simple, essentially just 25 minute work periods with 5 minute breaks in between them, then once you hit 4 work periods you take a 30 minute break. You could do something similar with children and their homework, though I definitely think you’d need to change the time lengths to something like 10 minutes, which you were using, or maybe even 5 minutes depending on the age of the child.

I also really like your use of rewards (stars) and thought maybe you could combine the two, that is you could have 10 minutes of work rewarded by 5 minutes of play, e.g. they work for 10 minutes, then they get to play video games (or whatever) for 5 minutes, then back to work for 10 minutes, play for 5 minutes, etc.



5 Franck October 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thank you for the link Andrew, I had fun watching and learning about it! It is right that the reason we stick with 10min or less is because of the attention span of our kids, but also because we, as parents, are just too tired to do more than that after a busy day!!


6 Fiona October 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm

What a lovely post! Great ideas – and I especially like that you are all learning Mandarin together and make Chinese homework time family time. It sounds like a lovely thing you can all share as a family.


7 Franck October 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Hello Fiona – It is true that learning a new language together as a family creates a common goal. And my daughter has a lot of fun when she quizzes me about chinese characters and I get in wrong…


8 Adina October 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm

These are all great ideas, thanks for sharing them!


9 Joselyn October 7, 2012 at 3:06 am

Thank you for your post. I find that the most difficult is to persuade my daughter to start doing her 2nd language homework (Spanish). Once she’s doing it, she sometimes forgets about the time. So I agree with you that creating a routine is extremely important!
To motivate Isabel we try to do different types of homework: reading, writing in her workbook, playing language games …


10 Franck October 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Hello Joselyn – I really like your little word games in Spanish a lot. It gives us some good ideas. Thank you!


11 Azadeh November 12, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Such great tips! We as parents need the second language for improving our children. So we should encourage them in innovative ways that make them enjoy it. Parents can play an unbelievable role in children’ life.


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