How Should a 7-Year-Old (Primarily) Learn Arabic: Grammar Exercises or Story Times?

Does this look fun to you? Then I bet you're not seven!

Yesterday, both approaches got their due. (Or, in my opinion, more than their due.)

For what seemed like a year—at least!—my seven-year-old sat at the dining-room table, copied words, and wrote in the تنوين

There was no thought involved, except thought about why he was doing these exercises. It was all just:

حول كما المثل

حول كما المثل

حول كما المثل

The exercises did vary a little. Sometimes, he spotted تنوين in a sentence and copied the affected terms. What’s a تنوين? What’s its function in the language? What words did he copy down? Did he learn anything from these exercises except: Sometimes grown-ups make you do things that don’t seem to have a purpose?

My husband, for some reason, enjoys grammar exercises. That’s wonderful. Grammar exercises are appropriate, I think, for older children and adults.

Perhaps a little (fun) grammar for a seven-year-old is appropriate. But, as Bloomsbury-Qatar consultant publisher Andy Smart recently told me:

They [our children] are supposed to understand metalanguage before they can even read a word. If children can’t read, there’s no point in putting a textbook in their hand.

Samar Taher Abdelal reads from ليلى ترتب غرفتها.

How did I get my son to do all this copying, copying, copying? Because he’s just that good? (Masha’allah, but no.) I promised: If he finished his homework, he would be allowed to go to the Arabic storytime at Alef bookstore at 5 p.m.

So my son’s reward for doing his Arabic was…getting to study more Arabic.

Of course, 1) a bookstore is a fun location. There was 2) also a promised art activity, and—the last time he went to a reading (Walid Taher)—the art activity was origami. So cool! Also, 3) you get to meet a real live author!

At the Merghany Alef, kids got to sit in a circle, listen to an author/storyteller, and move their bodies. I was disappointed that Samar didn’t read from her book, but instead summed up each page’s happenings in عامية, but so it goes. At the very least, it had the effect of making Arabic fun and not all:

حول كما المثل

حول كما المثل

حول كما المثل

This was pretty cute...Laila cookies!

In the end, my seven-year-old looked through the books. Alef (Merghany) does not have a great selection of Arabic children’s books, particularly not for the 7+ set. For a while, he thought about getting a collected ميكي, but he wanted something older and more fun-looking, and ended up with an Asterix comic. He would’ve been happy with Asterix in its original French (although he admits he can only read the simple words and decode the pictures) or English or Arabic. But it was only available in English.

The best of all worlds, of course, would be to have fun middle-grade (8-12) graphic novels written in simplified Arabic for Arabic-reading children. Some geared to more typically “boy-like” interests, and some geared to more “girl-like” interests. I pawed through the stacks. I upturned things. I downturned things. I didn’t find what I wanted.

But it was a start. It was better than حول كما المثل.

More about Samar’s Laila books here and here.

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