Friday, December 16, 2005

The Usual Whirlwind

What do you get when you combine a growing family business, two rambunctious boys, an entry into homeschooling and the Christmas season? Well, the first thing you get is one very tired mom :) We need to get a bigger coffee pot!

Surprisingly, we have all weathered the holiday season without too much stress so far. The kids are having a blast playing with each other and thankfully we have help! What would I do without our wonderful babysitter and my hard-working assistant who does all the shipping? The kids helped carry out 88 packages to the mail truck this morning! It's by far a new record for Alphabet Garten. I'm pleased that I've been able to keep almost all the popular titles stocked for Christmas delivery. Now I just need to do some online shopping myself!

I think part of the reason we're still pretty relaxed (if you know me, this is VERY unusual for me!) is that we don't have a lot of outside committments. We have karate lessons and we have to meet our package pickup every morning but other than that, we can adjust our day as needed. I can't imagine having to get kids out the door and picked up on time on top of running the business. I'm so glad we're homeschooling and can take advantage of the flexibility that offers. Who would have thought that taking on the responsibility of homeschooling would actually reduce my stress?! A pretty cool side effect.

The kids are both really into German DVDs right now. Maybe it's because they know I'm a sucker for it and will pretty much let them watch one whenever they ask. But it seems to be paying off for Niklas, 5. He is almost exclusively a passive German speaker - he understands most of what he hears but rarely speaks any German. However, he's started to spontaneously speak German to his brother and when talking about a DVD! Hooray!!! I was beginning to think he'd really lost interest completely. And his accent is still excellent even if he is way behind in vocabularly for his age. I'm very pleased with this development.

- Sarah

Friday, November 25, 2005

Busy Books for Toddlers

We're currently away for Thanksgiving and so we don't have access to the piles of toys at home :) We brought a few books with us and Max has had a great time with one our of our lacing books, Fädeln, schnüren, zubinden, with Shoelace Each page has several places to lace up and complete the picture - lace up the tent, create a rope ladder, etc. Max loves the pictures, especially the animals playing with the "Kinder" as he says.

Another fun choice for traveling is Sesamstrasse, Wir lernen die Uhr. Our favorite Sesame Street characters introduce telling time with a movable clock.

So help ease the holiday fidgets with some fun and educational books, auf Deutsch natürlich!

See all German books with effects from Alphabet Garten...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

German Music Recommendations for Toddlers

I have a a 16 month old daughter. I'm trying to expose her to German in a fun, age-appropriate way. I already purchased 2 CDs from your site: Schnappi and and Zehn Kleine Krabbelfinger (or something like that). Can you give me your top 5 favorites for other CDs that would expose her to German and be fun?


Alphabet Answer
Hi K.,

Thanks for your message! Here are my top five for young kids:

Anything by Rolf Zuckowski, in particular "Im Kindergarten" and "Rolfs bunte Liederreise"

Erste Lieder fuer die ganz Kleinen
Traditional nursery songs with a modern instrumentation

Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt (Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar)
Songs and story on a CD.

Targeted toward older kids but also fun for little ones. My toddler (21 months) loves this CD and demands it on a regular basis :)

Either 3CD set or the single CD, Unsere Buchstaben. Lots of fun!

Let me know if you have any questions.

Viel Spass!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Book Review: Drachenreiter

I love reading Cornelia Funke novels and Drachenreiter was my latest indulgence during a weekend at the Jersey shore. Drachenreiter is the story of Lung, a wise and beautiful silver dragon and his search for a home safe from the prying eyes and bull-dozing machines of people. Lung and his loyal friends, Schwefell, a grouchy Kobolde, and Ben, an orphaned human boy, have many narrow escapes as they travel the globe in search of the Der Saum des Himmels, rumored to be the last haven for dragons in the highest part of the Himalayas. Funke's magical creatures practically spring off the page as she describes fairies (beautiful and delicate but mischevious and trouble-making), dwarfs blinded by a lust for gold and jewels, the deadly basilisk serpent, and others that inhabit the earth ignored and unseen by most humans too busy to notice them. I was in constant fear that the dragon would be discovered during his daily stops to rest but somehow he always managed to escape detection.

The ending, which I of course won't betray, was wonderful and satisfying. I always end a Funke novel with such a feeling of affection for her characters and Drachenreiter was no exception. I can't wait to find some time for my next indulgence, the brand-new Tintenblut!

Drachenreiter at Alphabet Garten
By: Funke, Cornelia
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Dimensions: 6.25 in. x 8.5 in.

Book Review: Im Tal der Dinosaurier

We haven't spent a whole lot of time in intensive reading lately (yikes - and we have a bookstore under the same roof?!) but my five-year-old and I greatly enjoyed our latest read, Im Tal der Dinosaurier, the first in the Magische Baumahaus (Magic Treehouse) series.

Dinosaurier explains how the Magic Treehouse came to be and takes us back to prehistoric earth. Siblings Philipp and Anne are magically transported back in time and get to observe living dinosaurs and almost become a bite-sized snack for a maurading T-rex! There's just enough excitement and action for my little thrill-seeker without being too scary.

Niklas' German comprehension is intermediate for his age. This book was great for him because it doesn't skimp on the vocabulary but it does clarify potentially difficult terms through restatement and when Philipp explains something to his younger sister. I love how the ever-rational Philipp enjoys taking notes about what he sees and how the kids often turn to their books to look things up. I supplemented with additional explanation in German where I thought my son might not understand what was being described. Plus the illustrations which appear every 1-2 pages helped Niklas confirm his understanding of the story. Another bonus - dinosaur names are the same in English and in German!

My son got to hear some realistic dialog, learned some great new words (Ungeheuer, Strickleiter), learned some interesting facts about dinosaurs, and spontaneously used deductive reasoning when he volunteered his guess for the ending. This is one hard-working bedtime story!

Das magische Baumhaus - Im Tal der Dinosaurier at Alphabet Garten
By: Osborne, Mary Pope
Format: Hardcover, 80 pages
Dimensions: 5 in. x 8 in

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Caterpillar Conclusion

Well, we've been back from vacation for a couple weeks and it's been a whirlwind as always :) Many of you were wondering how the caterpillars survived the trip - all I can say is that nature is truly amazing. These four little caterpillars (turned pupa) weathered a bumpy 600 mile car ride and hatched into beautiful butterflies right on schedule once we reached our destination! The kids loved watching the butterflies drink from the flowers we put in their habitat and after a lot of discussion, Niklas decided to release them. Max still talks about "Raupe, Raupe" (caterpillar) and I think he is also saying "Schmetterling" (butterfly) when he sees one.

Russell Island (see picture above), where we spent a week and a half, is the perfect place for relaxation. Golf carts and footpower are the main modes of transportation, and with no cable tv, we had plenty of time to re-connect with family. However, on this "vacation", I saw my kids learning all the time. Niklas spent a couple hours working on the word games on the back of cereal boxes. He showed me he knows most of the letters even though we haven't focused on learning letters this summer. The word search progressed to rhyming games and a discussion of fractions over waffles which are conveniently divided into quarters. Some thoughtful neighbors brought us some fat hornworm caterpillars and Niklas discovered how they could hang by their munching little jaws from a leaf.

People ask Niklas how he likes having his mom for a teacher but the truth is that it is the KIDS who are continuously teaching ME new things - I am just their assistant, here to help them follow their passions.

Ahh - vacation! The view from Grandma's front yard. Island life on the St. Claire River in Michigan is wonderful.  Posted by Picasa

Our painted lady butterflies survived the trip from NJ to MI! This is the release :) Posted by Picasa

Tomato hornworm caterpillar. These guys are huge! What an appetite. Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 01, 2005

Our very hungry Caterpillars

Raupe, Raupe, Raupe!!! Max (18 months old) has this word down pat. We have been observing 5 little caterpillars grow into big fat caterpillars and yesterday they started changing into pupa! This has been an amazing experience for all of us to see. I have to admit that I'm the most excited about the process.

This is what our caterpillars looked like, although I didn't take this picture :)

We ordered the caterpillars from Uncle Milton's and received them in a little transparent container. They've been eating and eating and eating since then. Then yesterday, they congregated at the top of the container and were noticeably slowing down. I figured they would slowly change and develop their chrysalid - but it only took a couple hours for the first two to change. It was amazing! The process was quite dramatic. They changed from being dark brown / black and hairy to being light brown and smooth (and of course tucked inside). Later I'll take the pupa out and place them in the net butterfly habitat.

This is a great activity for kids of all ages. I wish I had done this years ago! I can't wait to see the butterflies emerge! We're going to have to take them on vacation so we don't miss the show.

Here are some German websites with info on caterpillars.
German / English diagram of the butterfly lifecycle

Die bunte Welt der Schmetterlinge
Lots of information and pictures

Planet Wissen
Includes some great pictures of caterpillars and butterflies plus a wonderful video which shows the lifecycle of a butterfly from beginning to end.

Now that you've gotten hooked on caterpillars, why not try out some stories?
Eric Carle's Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt (The very Hungry Caterpillar) in a German boardbook version and in a German/English version and as a Singspiel on CD.

We're off on vacation for a couple weeks but I'll try to blog while we're away. I hope you are enjoying your summer! I'd love to hear what other projects your kids enjoy. Keep in touch!

- Sarah

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Holding your child's attention - Strategies for reading in German with non-native speakers

A customer wrote today to ask for some book recommendations for his 3 year old son. He mentioned he was looking for books with short sentences to keep his son engaged. Certainly having interesting and appropriate books is important. But this also got me thinking about what kinds of adjustments can be useful to make when reading with kids in a language other than their strongest language (in our case, of course, German).

Preschool-age kids have one distinct advantage over older kids when it comes to reading books in German - they are not expected to actually be able to read! They can just listen and enjoy. They may also be less hesitant to ask questions when they don't understand and so it's easy to tailor the story to their individual comprehension levels.

In most cases, a child's fluency in a second (or minority) language will lag behind his comprehension in his first language. It's a challenge to find books that are interesting but not too complicated for him so he can enjoy the story. I'd like to suggest the following ideas and books for preschoolers (and older children who are being read to) to help maintain the interest and enjoyment.

Shorten and simplify harder stories.
Read through the story without the child to get the gist and refresh your own German vocabulary if it's helpful. Then paraphrase and omit sentences as you go. For instance, the Conni and Ich habe einen Freund... books are actually quite long, although they are written with 3-4 year olds in mind. These stories can easily be shortened and difficult words and grammar can be replaced with more familiar choices. As long as your child isn't yet truly reading along, he probably will not mind the modification.

Elaborate and expand on simple stories
Bobo Siebenschläfer and the Max series are great books to build upon. They are both written at about a 2 year old level but you can modify them to suit your child's needs. Discuss the pictures or ask questions about the story. These books are both in use in kindergarten classes with non-native speakers - your child may be happy to find a book that he understands word for word.

Non-fiction (Sachbücher)
The Meyers kleine Kinderbibliothek series has books on a wide range of topics like Am Strand, Die Biene, Licht an. Wunderwelt Körper. Similarly, the Wieso, Weshalb, Warum series (Die Uhr..., Das Wetter, etc.) packs lots of little bits of information on every page. It's very natural to pick and choose what you're going to read when looking through these books. They can appeal to kids in a wide age range and of varying degrees of German fluency. My 18 month old likes these as much as my 5 year old.

Take frequent breaks to discuss
This is always a good idea when reading aloud, but it's even more important with your child's minority language so you can gauge his comprehension and perhaps repeat key elements of the story. Ask "why do you think she did _______?" or "What do you think will happen now?" or "How do you think she felt when _______ happened." Ask "Do you know what _____ means?" If your child says no, then simply explain the new word. Reading together shouldn't turn into a quiz session.

Think aloud about the story
This provides alternate vocabulary, helps the child understand what's going on, and provides a chance to hear important details again. For instance, "Hmm Ich mag wenn Susi und ihr Vater die Klippen herunter klettern - es sieht so spannend aus!" Your child gets another opportunity to understand what happened with different words.

It's ok to not understand everything
Make sure your kids know this and model it yourself - if you come across a word unfamiliar to you, say "Hmm I wonder what this means? I wonder if so-and-so knows." Or talk aloud about your best guess based on the things you do understand. Your child will see you modeling deductive reasoning and will see that you are still learning things too. I learn new vocabulary every time I read through some of the Lesemaus books!

Stop as soon as your child shows signs of fatigue
Even if the story is exciting and your child is enjoying it, he may get antsy after a while. It can be hard, even exhausting, to read or listen in German! I know I don't like to read more than one newspaper article at a time - it's just too much - although I can happily sit with a Cornelia Funke book all day long.

Above all, have fun and follow your child's lead! Viel Spaß beim Lesen :)

- Sarah

Some other books recommended for kids ages 3-6 at an intermediate level for reading aloud:
Bildermaus - several stories in each book make it possible to get in a quick read.
Stellaluna (simplified if necessary - the pictures are fantastic)
Mein Esel Benjamin (may require simplification of some vocabulary but the narrator is a small child and the tone is straightforward)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Sendung mit der Maus

I just wrote about the website from Die Sendung mit der Maus on my newsletter but I wanted to elaborate a bit (if you're not subscribed, sign up and see what you're missing!)

I am constantly looking for interactive and multimedia websites where my kids can listen, play and learn auf Deutsch. Both Niklas (5 years old) and Max (1.5 years old) love anything on the computer and it's great to be able to keep a list of favorites and load them up quickly when we need a change of pace.

The Sendung mit der Maus has soooo much to do! I didn't realize it upon first looking but they have 20 short cartoons (MausSpots), over 30 full length music videos under Lieder, and the Lachgeschichten are great for curious kids. Everything loaded very quickly over our DSL connection.

Many of the songs on the Maus website are from Ritter Rost which is a new favorite of ours. I love Ritter Rost because it's got such a great reversal of roles. Ritter Rost is quite timid and reluctant to fight and is encouraged by his competant and brave Burgfräulein, Bö. The King is full of himself and the knights compete in completely silly events like thumb-wrestling. And the music is so much fun! Check it out for yourself. Ritter Rost at Alphabet-Garten...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Homeschooling auf Deutsch

Our older son, Niklas, has just turned 5 and we have decided to homeschool him. I am very excited about this decision and interestingly enough, I owe a big thanks to several of my own customers for helping me find this path for our family!

I'm not sure if it's because they prefer not to order online or they're just especially friendly, but many of my homeschooling customers like to call in their orders. This has given me the chance to find out why they homeschool and what they do with their kids. So thank you, Molly, Kerstin, Jane, and Cindy!

So now we are able to incorporate German into the entire day and time normally taken up by school can be better utilized learning, playing, reading, and "doing" in German. We are enjoying using several of the Bastelbücher we have. We are also looking forward to doing some correspondence with Oma and Opa auf Deutsch. Of course German DVDs are always a hit and are easily labeled "educational" and time well spent. We are looking forward to Pokemon Heros in German which is expected online in the next week or so.

We had a tremendous rainstorm the other day and my kids decided it would be cool to create a wildlife blind on the deck. So we got umbrellas, raincoats, and a play tent and they happily ate breakfast in the middle of the downpour while listening to me read Eine Nacht im Zelt from the relative dryness of the kitchen. This is the kind of activity I'm looking forward to in the coming months as we learn and grow together. Lots of "subjects" can be covered at once and the kids just have a great time.

Are your kids homeschooled? I'd love to hear about your experiences. Send me a note or give me a call!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

German the Musical Way

One of my primary goals with Alphabet Garten is to make learning German FUN! I try to find interesting, colorful, exciting materials so that parents and teachers can share their love of German with their kids. One of the best ways to do this is with catchy music.

Niklas and I were lucky enough to attend a rock concert (and German lesson in disguise) a couple years ago put on by Uwe Kind. Uwe is a musican and performer who travels the country and around the world singing songs in German for junior high and high school audiences. His music is upbeat, catchy, modern, and LOUD! The atmosphere in the junior high auditorium was like one I have never before experienced! Kids from schools all around the area had been bussed in to take part in the concert and were bursting with energy. Kids from other language classes had begged to be allowed to attend and had certainly picked up many German phrases in the process. Kids were invited on the stage for every song and participated in the choreography, showing no hesitation to dance and sing on the stage in front of hundreds of their friends! The words and movements were shown on a screen so everyone could sing along. The energy in this place was amazing! We were hooked. We have been listening to Uwe's CDs ever since.

Uwe's CDs and concerts are a great way to energize learning in homes and classrooms alike. And Uwe is so much fun to talk to in person as well. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend attending a concert. I also have several of his books and CDs on the website.

More information on Uwe is available at his website at Tell him Sarah says hi!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A strange mix of German and English

You may think that since we run a German children's bookstore and since our kids are surrounded by wonderful German books, our kids would rattle off in German all day long, right? Well, unfortunately it's not quite that simple. But then, who said life was simple?!

German with Mom
I speak to the kids in German about 75% of the time. Niklas (5) usually responds in English - his English vocabulary is huge and he just can't find the words in German quickly enough to express himself. He can, however, have a very nice conversation in German and his accent is excellent. He loves all his German CDs, books, CD-ROMs, and DVDs. Although I try to stick to German, I revert to English when it gets too complicated! I'm not a native speaker and it's just too difficult to talk about space travel or bugs or Scooby Doo or many of the myriad of other topics that come from my 5 year-olds busy mind during the day!

I have made an extra effort to speak 100% German to Max (16 months) since he was born and as a result, his German vocabulary is larger than his English vocabulary. He is an early talker, already saying "trinken, essen, Ei, Mama, Dada, Wasser, Ball, Balloon, up, hoch, sitzen, and bye-bye," among others. His "ja" is perfectly pronounced! I'm sure the balance will shift as he gets older and as he interacts with others more but for now, I'm able to give his German a head start.

So it may seem a little odd to strangers on the playground to hear me addressing my little one in German and then my older son in English. But it's a pattern that works for us for now. I see both my kids making progress with their German and that shows me we are on the right track!

A standard piece of advice for bilingual families is to keep it consistent, no matter what your pattern happens to be. So while our pattern may be a little unconventional, it is consistent and the kids know what to expect.

I hope that we will be able to take an extended vacation to Germany sometime and give the kids a chance to socialize with German kids. Until then, we'll just keep reading and talking and popping down to the basement warehouse when we need a new book. I started Alphabet Garten because I couldn't find German books I loved for Niklas and the effort has paid off in so many ways!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dual language edition: Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar has long been a favorite of parents and children in the U.S. and in countries around the world. But did you know that Eric Carle speaks German and actually grew up in Germany? He moved to Germany at age 6 and stayed throughout high school. Read more about Eric Carle on his website at

The dual language English/German version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt) tells the story of a little caterpillar who eats his way through an assortment of yummy treats throughout the course of a week. Kids can count along and actually see through the holes in the page that the caterpillar makes in the apples, oranges, blueberries, etc.

Kids will get experience with days of the week, counting to six, fruits and other foods, and the simple past tense.

This book makes a great present for new parents or those just starting out with German as it's simple to compare text with English and German side by side. This book is also available in boardbook (German only) format.

Go to Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (English/German) on Alphabet Garten.

So many books, so little time

I have been looking for convenient ways to let everyone know about all the great new German books coming in and decided what better way to do so than to start a blog! As you may know, Alphabet Garten is a home-based business so time is precious around here. :) But we do spend a lot of time reading the books we sell - so now hopefully we can tell you in a more informal way what we like about them.

Anyway, to the books!

Max und der Ball

Since we have our own Max and he loves balls, this book is very popular right now in our house! In fact, "ball" was one of his first word - a nice bilingual one at that. Both the English and German sides of the family can take credit.

This book is great for toddlers like Max because he really understands the whole book. It's about Max and how he doesn't want to share his ball with the cat. Here are a few sentences:

Max will den Ball haben. Die Katze faellt runter. MIAU MIAU. Max nimmt den Ball.
I have been searching for books at this level for months! We do have some at this level (notably Bobo Siebenschlaefer) but the vocabulary is often too much for elementary age beginners. So I'm pleased to have found this series. It's perfect for kindergarten and first grade!

The sentences are short and he likes the pictures. It's illustrated in a classic children's literature style. I've ordered several more in the series.