communicating without words

Drawn Together: “I Can Communicate Without Words!”

“Mama, I can communicate without words!” Mr. Mischievous stated proudly.

“Yes, you sure can,” I confirmed. “Tell me all the ways you can communicate without words.”

“I can draw,” he always starts with this one.

“What else?”

“I can sing… I can dance…” He hesitated.

“You can play ball,” Mr. Justice reminded him.

“Yes, I can play ball,” Mr. Mischievous agreed.

And I was one proud mama.

My older boys are starting preschool!!!

I have all the feelings, as I get ready to send my boys to school in TWO MONTHS time. 

(Yes, the school year in Thailand starts in May.)

How do you get your kids ready for preschool?!?!

My kids aren’t going to be easy on the teacher.

Maybe not everybody shares this anxiety, but, well, I’ve been a teacher before… And I’m not convinced my kids will be the easiest for the teacher. Let’s just say Mr. Justice has BIG FEELINGS.

I personally know the battle that rages inside the heart of a teacher with the student that causes a chronic challenge.

It’s so easy to pigeonhole a child as a problem child. Even the best teachers struggle with this.

And… they’re going to be so young. Their fourth birthday will be in June, which will make them two of the youngest kids in their class. At first, we thought they’d go into the 3-year-old class, but the school thinks they’ll “fit in” better in the 4-year-old class.

My kids can't fit in.

My kids cannot fit in.

Alas, the idea of “fitting in” fills me with anxiety…

“Fit in” is one thing my boys cannot do.

They are entering a Thai school and cannot speak Thai. Mind you, they understand a good smattering, but the two languages spoken at home are English and Shan. 

They will not fit in.

Also, their skin and hair look different. You know, they’re in that unique multiracial category, which makes random children want to come up and touch their hair… all the time.

And let’s not forget, they’re twins. They come in a double package. Twins are particularly unique in Thailand (somewhere between 3 and 8 births out of a thousand will be twins in Thailand).

And. They. Don’t. Speak. Thai… yet.

I do not predict them fitting in for a while.

So how can I prepare my kids to not fit in?

I have no clue. Talk to the teacher? Talk to the principal? Make sure everyone is looking out for them?

I don’t want to hover, and I know the teacher will be looking out for all the kids already.

The best I can figure is some other introverted child will be lonelier than they are on the first day of school. After all, they have each other. 

So, I’m preparing them to find him/her. I’m preparing them to look for the lonely child and make friends.

We talk about looking for somebody who is playing alone or who looks scared.

I can only hope my kids remember this message when the opportunity arises.

Of course, my kids won’t actually be able to make any meaningful conversation at that point…

Kids don't need words to communicate.

But they ARE ready to communicate without words!

I did something right. In other ways, I’m not sure they’re socially ready for school at all, but we’ve had a lot of conversations about communicating without words.

In fact, they keep listing all the ways they can communicate without words!

There’s drawing, singing, dancing, playing ball, etc.

But confession: We did not get to this point on our own.

As usual, in our family, stories have been one of the most powerful influences on my kids.

And this time, somehow clicking through ideas on Amazon for their Christmas presents, I stumbled upon the Disney book, Drawn Together by Minh Lê. It was the perfect book for multilingual, multicultural family.

Drawn Together has empowered my boys to communicate.

If you have children that spend time with others that don’t speak their language, this book is special.

Especially if they have family members that they struggle to communicate with, but even if it’s just classmates…

Using a very minimalist text (probably so people with minimal English could still read it), the gorgeous artwork of Dan Santat carries the story of a Thai-American boy who is not excited to stay with his Thai-speaking grandfather.


They begin to draw. Each of them in his own unique style. Each representing the major culture they relate to.

Through their combined artwork, they find each other. They see each other.

There’s a little bit of Thai text in the book, but Disney assumed that the average reader wouldn’t be able to read it… and that’s the point. You’re as clueless about what the grandfather is saying as the boy is.

But it’s also fun when my husband reads the book to them, and they get to hear the Thai.

Speaking of artwork…

Drawn Together IS a work of art. Just watch this:

Fast-forward to my kids’ preschool…

Mr. Mischievous’ statement that he can communicate without words was 100% rooted in reading Drawn Together again and again.

At first, our conversations centered around the family members that they struggle to communicate with. We talked about all the ways they could love on their aunts and uncles and cousins, even without words.

But now we’re talking about preschool. We’re talking about that first day when everyone is speaking all around them, and they’re totally overwhelmed. What can they do?

We list the ways you can make friends without words, again and again.

  • Draw a picture
  • Dance together
  • Play ball
  • Sing songs
  • Build a tall tower
  • Etc, etc, etc.

I know that the first day will be overwhelming. I’ve talked to parents of other non-Thai speakers on their first day in preschool/kindergarten, and I know some kids have headaches or don’t want to go back.

But I’m hoping they, at least, will be confident they can make friends, even without words.

“Look for someone else scared…” I keep reminding them. Here’s to hoping they realize a moment of kindness is never determined by language.

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"I Can Communicate Without Words!"
  • Five stars from my 3.5-year-old boys!


Drawn Together’s minimalist text means my husband (who isn’t perfectly confident in reading in English) can still enjoy the book with my boys. In fact, several pages have no text with comic book-style imagery.

The gorgeous colors and mixture of Western and Eastern artwork means that my boys feel their two cultures represented.

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