Wolf is two years old and is right now obsessed with words. Which makes sense since both his parents are authors.
Most of the time, he picks up a book and pretends to read it. He makes up words and sounds and turns the pages as we listen to his story. It’s really cute. And since he is learning new words daily, I thought it was the perfect time to introduce him to his Ojibwe culture.
Each day, we pick a new word in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language). It’s super important to connect the next generation of kids to their ancestors, and teaching is a great way for me also to learn more about the language.
After a few days of introducing a new word to him and telling him what it means, he now uses them on a daily basis.
I make videos of him saying the new words and post them. Wolf now looks forward to a new word every day.
Boozhoo means hello. He now says hello and hi to strangers but says Boozhoo to his mother and me. Niijji means friend, and now he calls all animals his niiji. Especially his cats, dog, and neighborhood turkeys.
He’ll wake up in the morning and tell me we need to feed the hungry turkeys. I’ll gather seeds and take him outside and he’ll shout “Boozhoo, Niiji” to all the turkeys running towards him.
This exercise will not only fill his head and heart with new words, but it will also ensure that our original language lives on.
The cutest thing is when he doesn’t think anyone is watching, he’ll go and teach his Ojibwe words to his stuffed animals. I have now ordered three books on the Anishinaabe language, and I am learning just as much as Wolf is, even though, admittedly, he is the quicker learner between us.
When I read to him at night, I switch out English words with Ojibwe words. And he’ll stop me and ask what it means.This is such a great and easy exercise to do with kids because it teaches them two words and the definition all at once.
Wolf even answers to his Ojibwe name, which is Ma’iingan (Wolf). And the greatest thing about this exercise is, we can do it forever.
Because we never stop learning, no matter how old we are.
About James Bird
James Bird is a screenwriter and director at the independent film company, Zombot Pictures; his films include We Are Boats and Honeyglue. A California native of Ojibwe descent, he now lives in Swampscott, Massachusetts with his wife, the author and actor Adriana Mather, and their son. The Brave is his debut novel. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.
Note from Melissa:
Thank you so much, James, for sharing how you thoughtfully parent Wolf to stay connected to your ancestors.
Readers, for more information on raising bilingual kids, you might like this article written by my friend Christa at Pura Vida Moms with four methods.
Keeping My Son Connected to Our Ancestors