Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer of Parks

After the park-aversion of the last two years and the parkless wasteland that was this spring I am now making it all up to my children by going to the park almost every day.

This is the first year M has been old enough to play (as opposed to crying while refusing to nap a la last summer), which is great except when he chooses to do a runner which is, like, always. This is why I refuse to go to any playground that doesn't have a fence.

Fortunately, there is one park near us with a nice solid fence, gate that stays shut, plenty of shaded seating and things to play with for both my children's ages, so that is our park of preference. K would like some variety, but the huge gorgeous playground and family area near our house is too big and spread-out to keep an eye on two children, especially if one of them is a 21-month-old escape artist. Maybe next year.

For now, almost every afternoon we spend two or three hours at the playground. M rides his motorka or plays in the sandbox, K practices various flips and climbing maneuvers she has seen the big kids do, and I sit on the bench and (not being forced to trail after the toddler to keep him in the area) quietly read a book. It's the best thing ever.

I've actually been managing to keep up this park schedule while having one of my busiest work months of the year, so that time sitting on the bench reading is often my only down time all day. I often find myself answering work emails from the park, so it's not unusual to come home with more projects than when I left. Unfortunately it isn't practical to do actual work from the park, but then it does give me the perfect excuse to take the time to just read.

I also love watching the little ones play, though, in their own different ways. K is a daredevil and has completely mastered almost all playground equipment. She can climb the rock climbing wall, do a back-flip off the soft climbing equipment, slide down the pole and actually very nearly climb back up it again. She has also made friends with a couple of other park regulars, so she usually has someone to play with.

M likes playing with the playground stuff (sandbox, slide), but is happy to zoom around on his motorcycle the whole time, too (all Czech kids have a motorcycle/motorka). Some days he only gets off it to borrow someone else's motorka (while someone borrows his). Most of the time he plays on his own, though he is interested in watching and standing close to the other little children there, and sometimes he follows K and her friends around. She is a good big sister so they are nice to him.

I am pretty pleased that he hasn't hit anyone or flipped out when someone touches his motorka, takes a toy away, or similar. He handles it very well so far. We don't have any playgroups to go to so this is his main opportunity for social interaction.

It was in that park a few months ago that I taught K to ride her bike without training wheels. She got the hang of it ridiculously fast (I had, um, significantly more trouble as a child) and now after some sessions with Apo she is a confident rider and considerate of other people (riding carefully, avoiding getting too close, letting people pass).

Basically, what I'm saying is...wonder where I've been? In the park!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Conversations: Do YOU like making small people happy?

Earlier this week at park: "Mommy, that's my new friend Nemonika (not-Monika)."
"No, Nemonika."
"I just heard her mom call her Domi, so I'm pretty sure it's Dominika."
Today at park: "I have to go, Mommy, I see my friend Demonika."

"Demon" means the same in Czech as it does in English, FYI.


(after K let M do something he normally isn't allowed)
"He really wanted to, and I wanted to make him happy. I like making small people happy. Do YOU like making small people happy, Mommy?"

Something about her tone in that last sentence made me feel kind of guilty...though as it turned out it wasn't a trick question.


The Slovak has had some late meetings this week, making him get home late three days in a row. Yesterday she told me, "Mommy, I'm sorry. You're probably going to miss me, but you'll have to come get me late from school tomorrow, after druhá sváča (afternoon snack, about 3 pm). I have a lot of work and meetings to go to. Kid meetings."


K knows all the words to (the chorus of) "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in English and is learning it in Czech and French (we have a lot of soundtracks). She also knows almost the whole "Confrontation" song because the Slovak likes to burst out singing it at random. I know Rach will appreciate this.

K can also belt out all the words to "Mně se líbí". I have never been prouder as a parent.


It has also come to my attention that K is introducing her friends to French historical fiction. Recently she told me she and two friends were playing "Valjean and Javert" and K's friend had to be the policeman and chase her. I asked in surprise if her friends knew the story, and she answered, "No, but I told it to them."

Wait, NOW I've never been prouder as a parent.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sibling Interactions

On the way home from school, K told me, "I have a lot of work to do with M. I have to teach him a lot of things and also train him."

When I asked what kind of training she had in mind, she mentioned the following:

walking properly
not getting in puddles
throwing/catching a ball
talking with his mouth [not signs]

She was as good as her word: she guided him around the puddles (is it ridiculously rainy anywhere else right now?) and picked him up around the middle to make him jump.

She has also been trying to encourage him to talk. "M, say DINOSAUR. Say DISHWASHER. Go on, say DISHWASHER." She doesn't see the point in starting small.

We have been relying on the closed-door system (all inside doors closed so he can't get anywhere he's not allowed), but a few weeks ago I noticed an open door that had been closed... I mentioned it to the Slovak (I think M may have opened the door, watch out) and K said, "Oh, I taught him that." I asked, "WHY would you show him that?? Now he can get in our rooms!" She gave me a withering look and said, "He has to learn things. I wanted to teach him something new. You want him to LEARN, don't you?"

Now when she complains that he went in her room and played with her toys, I say, "That's so sad...too bad someone taught him how to open doors, huh?"

She says I didn't sufficiently warn her of the risks beforehand. I probably didn't. (And, of course, it was only a matter of time before he figured it out anyway.)

Last week while I was picking her up from school, a slightly smaller boy showed her his gap where he lost a tooth. K admired it and I could see the wheels in her brain turning, going "But I haven't lost a tooth yet..." (she has already voiced her dissatisfaction with this situation).

After a second she turned to her brother (standing next to them) and opened his mouth to display his teeth. "He's growing lots of teeth. Well, he doesn't have a lot. But more than he used to have." M is easy-going enough that he didn't resist.

He just wants to be helpful. I'm sure he was also trying to help when he broke about a dozen and a half eggs on the floor in front of the refrigerator last week. Right?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fitting It All In: Reading and Time Management

Evenings are hectic around here, as I imagine they are in most homes.

We usually have only 1-2 hours, sometimes less, between the Slovak getting home from work and bedtime, and in that time we have to cook dinner, eat dinner, read a chapter book, do a reading lesson, and do the bedtime routine (story and songs).

Cooking dinner earlier doesn't really work for me most days, nor does doing the reading lesson. The 18-month-old really requires adult supervision, so getting anything done when the Slovak isn't home comes at a cost of, for instance, pulling everything out of the kitchen cabinets, rummaging in the trash for a snack, coloring on the refrigerator or climbing to unacceptable places on the furniture, to name a few favorites. K also finds it understandably hard to concentrate on a lesson when M is in the same room.

So we have to fit it all in to the after work - before bedtime window. Most nights this means leaving something out - sometimes we have leftovers so we don't lose time cooking, but it is still a stretch to fit everything in without being too rushed. Most of the time it ends up as a choice between doing a lesson or reading a chapter.

I would like to finish the lessons, but when I weigh the long-term benefits of learn-to-read lessons and reading together as a family, I think reading together wins out. So we've dialed back on the reading lessons a bit. We do a couple a week and we split them in half unless we have a lot of time to spare, and that is working well for now.

If we had continued doing a lesson every single night without fail we would be done with the book already; as it is we are around 2/3 to 3/4 done (or so). The important thing, though, is that we have already achieved our goal in doing the lessons in the first place: K's reading anxiety is essentially gone. Maybe entirely gone.

K finds the readings challenging but manageable and she enjoys counting the lines of each story to see how long it is. Last time I showed her the beginning of the book, where you read two letters together and the first story is three words long, and compared it to the 17-line story she read that day. She loved seeing how much progress she has made already.

She is also motivated to read books, signs and things we see around the house or around town. She likes to practice writing on paper or on a computer, usually self-directed and involving creative spelling. Occasionally I am allowed to suggest something she might try writing.

With this positive attitude I am comfortable pulling back on the formal lessons and we can finish slowly. I imagine that in the long run memories of reading together will be more valuable and contribute more to literacy for both children.

We finished Farmer Boy over the weekend and I asked what we should read next: the next Little House book or mix it up with something else? Both K and Apo put in immediate and enthusiastic votes for LITTLE HOUSE!! So we are working our way through Little House on the Prairie.

I hope we can make our evening readings such a habit that we continue them for years, even when the little ones are old enough to read for themselves. I think it's good for all of us.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cultural Competence and Belonging

Yesterday my daughter handed me a book of Czech nursery rhymes and asked me to read. Some of them are actually song lyrics; in fact maybe all of them are songs and some I just haven't heard before.

When I was finished reading one particular poem, the Slovak burst into song (because the poem was apparently a song I haven't heard before). Almost immediately K joined in, because she knew the song from preschool. It is hard to explain, but I had this moment of complete dissonance looking at them, realizing that they share a culture that I don't.

It makes me proud (that my girl knows her father's culture, knows lots of songs, can carry a tune...), but also makes me feel a little left out! It occurs to me that this must be how people feel when they don't speak the language of their spouse or one of their children's languages. I can't imagine feeling like this all the time...

Guess I need to brush up on my lidovky [folk songs]. :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Starting the Language Explosion - without actually talking

M is signing up a storm. I know I said that before, but the storm is even bigger now. He is constantly on the look-out for things he recognizes so he can point them out to us and do the sign. And if it happens to be a word he can say, then he joyfully proclaims it: "Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball!"

I remember K using words and signs at his age and generally wanting to communicate, but I don't remember her being so insistent and enthusiastic about it. I mean, she would point out an airplane and sign 'airplane' and then keep on playing, but if M sees an airplane, it's BANG BANG BANG on your shoulder, AIRPLANE AIRPLANE AIRPLANE signing, with bouncing and smiling and waving arms. And it's the same for anything he knows the name of. Going on walks is now an I-spy-style hunt for things to sign (or make animal noises) about.

I also don't think K took to signing as much as M has. She used them, and made up some of her own, but M uses them constantly and learns them very quickly (like, immediately). He would learn more if I would just look some more up to teach him. (Note: look up some more signs later.) It really is like his language explosion has started in his brain and hands and his tongue just hasn't caught up.

M's favorite signs (and things) are 'gorilla' and 'butterfly'. He is also drawn to flowers, it seems, and kept using 'butterfly' to mean 'flower', so I looked up the sign for flower and taught it to him. He is now learning to distinguish butterflies from flowers.

His new favorite thing to do is make me do image searches on my laptop for whatever he signs. He usually starts with 'gorilla' (because gorillas are awesome) and then car or train, though he also enjoys butterflies, flowers, elephants, and babies doing various things such as yawning, sleeping, crying or eating. I like looking up 'babies yawning' just to see him open his mouth wide, too.

The Slovak is on a business trip at the moment and for the past day or so M has been pointing to random men and signing Apo. Today on the subway it was every man he saw, including a poster for Iron Man 3. I think M will be relieved when the real Apo comes home so he can stop searching for substitutes.

We are planning to go to the zoo on Saturday (where they have gorillas!) so I need to come up with more signs for the animals we will see there. M is going to LOVE it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reading Out Loud: Lots of Questions!!

We are still in full swing with reading chapter books together. At the moment we are working on Farmer Boy as a family (the Slovak has gotten sucked into Laura Ingalls and wants to know what happens!) and K and I are reading the first Lemony Snicket book when it's just the two of us. She likes to go sit in a coffeeshop together once in a while and read a chapter there.

Last week we read a chapter of Lemony Snicket while drinking our coffee and eating a cookie. We had some paper and colors with us, so K drew a picture of Count Olaf's mansion while I read. It is described as being large and extremely dirty, and there are a number of eyes (pictures and carvings of a single eye, which will probably become a plot point later on). K drew the mansion as described, including a few details about the kitchen, children's bedroom, and so on. Then she scribbled on it to show it is dirty. She also wrote the letter i (lower case i with a dot) several times in different places, so I asked what it meant. She said, "That's the i. You know, there are lots of i's there."

I admit it. I didn't tell her about the eye/i mix-up. It was too funny to allow her to fix.

We are also quite enjoying Farmer Boy still. Last week we read the chapter called Sheep Shearing, which is one of the ones that stuck with me as a child. I had to pause after each time I said the word 'sheep' so that M could say BAAAA! In a chapter on sheep shearing, that was a lot of repetitions. Then a few days ago we read the chapter where the main character makes a big black stain on the wallpaper of the parlor while his parents are away. As I read it, K's eyes got as big as saucers and even the Slovak let out a shocked gasp. It was gripping. :)

I wasn't sure that a five year old would be able to understand a historical book with as much unfamiliar detail as this, but it really holds K's attention. She doesn't understand it all, especially the farming details - I mean, the child doesn't know what a cassette tape or phone with a cord is, much less a plow - but she loves listening and asking questions. And making a mess and being afraid of getting in trouble for it, well, that seems to be universal.

K is full of questions about our reading even when we aren't actually reading. She often brings up questions during the day or at bedtime, showing she has been thinking about the stories. They are sometimes plot-related, something she didn't understand, such as why Almanzo's father doesn't trust him with the colts, but more often to do with character motivations and more theoretical issues. She continues to return to Harry Potter even long after we finished reading the first book, for instance, because it is full of rich characters and themes.

Here is an abbreviated list of questions I've had to answer in the last few months:

Why are Harry's aunt and uncle so mean to Harry?
Why are they afraid of magic?
Why did Harry's parents have to die?
Why did Voldemort want to kill them?
What is a prophecy?

Why did the Sorting Hat say Harry has a little bit of Slytherin in him?
Why did the Sorting Hat put Hermione in Gryffindor even though she loves learning like Ravenclaws?
Why did Ron say Hermione is awful?
Why do people in Harry Potter think that all Slytherins are bad if every House has some good and some bad in it?

Why is Mr. Filch so mean?
Why doesn't Mr. Filch like children?
Why can't he do magic?

Why is Draco so mean?
Why doesn't he like Muggles?
Why does he think he's better than other people?
Why didn't his parents teach him to be nice when he was little?

(repeat for every character in Harry Potter)

Why does Voldemort want to kill Harry?
Why does he hate Muggles?
Why does he want power?
Why do people choose to serve Voldemort when he is scary, evil and crazy?
Why do they care more about money and power than about other people?
Why does Voldemort want to live forever?
Why is he afraid of death?
Why does he like hurting people?
Why doesn't he have any friends?
Why doesn't he understand love and friendship?
Why did he grow up in an orphanage?
Why did his mother die?
Why did his father go away?
Why did his mother do a love spell on his father?

Please note that the answers to most of these questions are REALLY COMPLICATED. I have become a Slytherin apologist (they aren't all bad, all Houses have good and bad, imagine if your parents taught you from a very young age that you really are better than everyone else...), but it is very difficult explaining Professor Snape, for example, to a five year old. The anti-hero and spy is very difficult to grasp - he does one thing but thinks another. He is ugly but not evil. This goes against a child's understanding of the world.

And then most recently,

"Who did Harry get married to when he grew up?"
"Ginny, Ron's sister."
"And who did Hermione get married to?"
"Yes, in the books it was Ron. But I don't think she really would because Ron and Hermione would not be happy together."
"(disappointed groan) But I wanted Harry and Hermione to get married! Because I love them both!"

Okay, I could handle having given birth to a Gryffindor. I mean, she's five, right, so she'd fit right in. But a HARRY/HERMIONE SHIPPER? I have to work on this.


Coming up with truthful answers to K's questions that a five year old can understand can be a challenge, but I have to say we're having fun.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Baby M: Language Update 1.5 years

Baby M is turning one and a half in three days.

He can say a few proper words, mainly bye-bye/papa (hard to tell which he's saying), baba (grandma), mama, possible attempts at ball and his sister's name. He is not prolific in the word use at the moment.

If you count animal sounds and signs, though, then his word count goes way up. He loves pointing out to us all the animals he sees, making sure to tell us MOO or BAA or CLUCK CLUCK. I'd say he knows ten or more types of animals, with a mixture of sounds and signs - for a dog he says HAF HAF, for a butterfly he signs 'butterfly', etc. - and he is very eager to learn more. He is always bringing me a book of animals to look through together. I am becoming hard pressed to come up with unique sounds or gestures that he can make for each one. :)

He watched part of Disney's Cars recently with K, and he kept tapping me on the shoulder and making his sound and sign for car. He didn't let up until I agreed that yes, those are cars. Then again a few seconds later, and again, and again, for at least twenty minutes.

We are pleased that his comprehension in both languages is good. He is able to point at things or pictures that we name, follow instructions (when it pleases him, obviously), and so on. Now if we could just get him to stop throwing toys at us...

Seriously, he is an unstoppable force when he gets in a throwing mood. His favorite position is toy in hand, with his hand cocked behind his head so that you never - quite - know when he is going to pull the trigger and throw it at you. One morning the Slovak came into the living room to find K innocently absorbed in play and M standing right behind her, big toy truck held up over his head, huge devilish grin on his face. Apo got there in the nick of time.

K puts up with it really well, and I can't even say I blame her (as an older sister myself) for occasionally losing it and beating him over the head. As a mother, though, I have to discourage that sort of behavior.

M loves books and has a great attention span for his age. His latest craze, as mentioned above, is looking through animal books - big children's encyclopedias with lots of pictures. If someone says an animal he recognizes (even in passing), he will sometimes go retrieve the book and find the picture of that animal to show.

He also loves rhymes and finger plays and if you do one, then he wants you to do them all. He will hold out one foot for This Little Piggy, then the other foot, then point to his belly for Round and Round the Garden, then hold out his hand for Varila myšička kašičku, then the other hand, then grab your hands to make you sing Row Row Row Your Boat, on down the list of all his body parts with songs or rhymes attached to them. It's really not acceptable to do one and then quit.

M is at a trying age right now, with lots of thoughts and not enough words to express them. He is on the path now, though, and we know he won't be a toddler forever.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Multilingualism Really Looks Like

We have a system. To successfully pass on your languages it is really best to have a system, and our system works.

But it's also important to be flexible, okay, and that is how I'm explaining how we found ourselves in the following situation this week:

Apo reading a book in English to K on one couch while I read a book in Slovak to M on the other.

That's what multilingualism looks like in our house!


Apo and I also spontaneously forgot how to speak our own languages while out on a walk last week: I spoke to K in Czech and claimed to know no English while Apo insisted he actually ONLY spoke English. Gave K a big fit of the giggles.


This week K picked up a book and started reading. She read several words / a sentence or two out of a couple of books, including from one Czech book. That was a little more challenging as I have been focusing on English only, so she didn't know how to sound out all the words - but she managed it. I told her that reading Czech is actually pretty easy compared to reading English, because each letter has only one sound.

Then I suggested that she find a Dr. Seuss book, as that might be easier to read. She got One Fish, Two Fish and read about 10 pages before I asked if she wanted to stop and finish later. "No!" she said, "I want to read it all! And then all of M's books and my books!"

Dr. Seuss is challenging but not impossible for her, since we have not had all the letter combinations and such from our 100 Lessons book. It is supposed to finish at about a 1st grade level, so I had planned to read Dr. Seuss after finishing the lesson book, but K had other ideas it seems.

Later that day she told me, "I can't believe I read that book on my own!!"

She has also started picking words to read out of chapter books (or my Kindle), such as HARRY POTTER or FARMER BOY (titles at the top of each page) from the books we were reading together, or finding some of the words she recognizes from her lessons. I think it is exciting for her to see that what she is learning in her lessons can be applied in the real world.

Then yesterday I read a Charlie and Lola book to K and M, the one where Lola is scared about starting school. After we finished, I said,

"Lola was nervous about going to school, wasn't she? Do you remember when you were nervous about starting big kid school?"
"Yeah, I was scared about it."
"Are you still scared about it or do you think it's going to be ok?"
"I think it's going to be ok now."
"Because you thought you couldn't learn to read. But you caaaaan!"
(self-satisfied nod and grin)

And THAT is why I'm teaching the child to read.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Picture Identification, Blueberries and Nursery Rhymes

Recently my daughter was practicing writing lowercase letters, each with a picture showing the sound the letter makes. She got to W, which had a stone wall. "Wock," she said confidently.

I couldn't say R at her age, either. She actually can say it now, but doesn't always remember which words it is in. It reminds me of the time my six-year-old sister gave me a hand-written note that said, "Have a nice twip."


Also while practicing writing, K identified the V picture as,

"Vesta. Why is this in Czech and not English?"
"It's a vest."
"Yes, but what is it in English?"
"In English it's a vest. In Czech it's a vesta."

K still looked at me as if to ask, "Are you sure??"


A new favorite nursery rhyme for both my children is "Káže Katke prísna mať" - Katka because she feels is it autobiographical (no comment) and Marek because of the "Ty ty ty, ty ty ty" part. He can find the book and page it is on and bring it to me, waving his finger back and forth and saying "ty ty ty!" until I read it.

He is a boy of few words, but he loves his books.


Also the lack of posts this week is brought to you by a particularly profitable work week for me. And gumbo. I made gumbo in the several hours on Monday between turning in finished translations and accepting new ones. It was delicious. Then I took yesterday off except for turning in and accepting a new one. But other than that, a busy March so far.

Oh, there were also blueberry muffins on Monday. We had a tense moment when K froze with her first bite half-way to her mouth, demanding to know if the muffins were made with FRESH OR FROZEN blueberries. I really thought she was going to refuse to eat my from-scratch muffins because the ingredients were not sufficiently organic and grown from a balcony garden, but it turned out she just wanted to know if frozen berries put into non-frozen dough would cook the same in the oven. Good save.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reading Aloud and Reinforcing the Community Language

My five-year-old just finished 'reading' the one-year-old a book, in almost the exact words as it's written.

When I was her age it was Ernie and Bert's "I Can Do It Myself" (a.k.a. my personal motto at the time). For K, it's O Perníkové chaloupce, about Hansel and Gretel.

We bought the book for M's birthday, but it caught K's imagination somehow, and she loves me to read it to her and M both. She even insisted for a while that I pause in between sentences so she could repeat them after me.

I think it's good for her Czech, because most of the Czech children's books out there are either very simplistic (for babies, one or two words per picture) or else quite complex (for elementary age, lots of text, high vocabulary level and not many pictures). This is one of the few I've found that is in the middle, so it is accessible but still stretches K in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure.

For instance, she's asked me before about the sentences "Děti vzaly nohy na ramena" (an unfamiliar idiom) and "Tatínek hořce rozplakal" (crying 'bitterly'), and she 'read' them to M today. I also heard her use several other complex sentences or phrases from the book while reading - a level of language that, even when she interacts with the Slovak or me in CZ/SK, we just don't use in everyday conversation.

I know we need to read to her more in Czech, but as I've mentioned before, it's just hard to find suitable material. The other day the Slovak decided he wants to get in on the chapter book reading with a book in Czech (rather than Slovak, to help with Czech vocabulary). He decided on The Jungle Book (Kipling), because it was one of his favorites as a boy. I expect we'll give it a try someday soon.

For now, I'm just enjoying listening to my big girl reading to my little boy, neither one stopping to think that they're both learning something while doing it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Playdates and Extroverts

K had a playdate with a friend from school this week. We've been planning it for several weeks, waiting for everyone to be in town and healthy, so when it finally came she was thrilled. She went home from school with the friend and her mom, and I came over after about two hours to have coffee and let the little boys play (we both have an older girl and younger boy).

It's been so miserable outside that we haven't even been able to go to the park or for longer walks since last fall, so I'm glad K had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with a friend. We have toys and things to do at home, but for such a people-oriented child as K, that just isn't enough. I know it can't be easy being the lone extrovert in a family of introverts (I even think M might lean more toward introversion when he gets older, but we'll see).

I'm sure it can't be as exhausting as it is being the introvert parent of an extrovert child who just - can't - understand why anyone would want to be alone with their own thoughts, though. :)

Anyway, I'm pleased the girls had fun, because I like this mom and talk to her a few times a week. She lives on our route home so we often walk home together and talk while the girls play together like maniacs as if they hadn't just spent all morning together at school.

I still need to make arrangements to meet with Russian Friend, K's best friend since she started at this school two years ago, when neither one of them spoke Czech. Her mother is also very nice.


In reading news, K is still getting more confident and less frustrated as we go along. She has started spontaneously trying to read signs or words in books. Over the weekend we went to Starbucks and she read "coffee", "bus", "tram", "push" and "tam" (the last two on a door). It is kind of hard to find English (or short Czech) words in public, but there are some. One afternoon this week she spontaneously read "Angry Duck" (on Happy Hippo book) and tried to read a children's encyclopedia (managed a few words, but the reading level was too high otherwise).

I think this is important because she is starting to see that reading is both useful and possible, and most of all it is her own initiative. She is very motivated to do her lessons, of course, but that is still guided by me. I love that she is starting to see the benefit on her own by finding "real" things to read. She is determined to learn among other reasons because she plans to teach M to read next. After he learns to talk.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Languages: Fun or Normal?

My daughter seems to enjoy this show we see on TV sometimes called "Say It With Noddy" (I think - it's dubbed into Czech). Each short episode introduces one English phrase that is repeated several times. I'm not sure why K likes it, frankly, unless she gets a kick out of already knowing all the phrases they teach.

It always ends with the phrase "Ta angličtina je legrace!" (English is fun!)

This week K took exception to that statement:

K (sounding kind of offended): Hey, English isn't fun, is it?
Me: (going along with her) Um, no. So English isn't fun?
K: No, it's just normal.
Me: I see. And is Czech fun?
K: No, it's just normal, too.

And you know, for her - for us - that's true. English and Czech aren't something fun or unusual. They're NORMAL.

That's kind of great, if you think about it.


Also, today I settled something for the children by doing "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe", which I haven't said in at least twenty years. I realized as I said it that K has never heard it before. She did, however, know all the words to "En ten tyky", the Czech equivalent. Her English is still dominant, but I guess you can tell what language she hangs out with other kids in.

She hesitated before saying the last line, telling me they weren't supposed to say that. I asked why, and she said it had the word *whisper* kakat (poop) - and immediately clamped her hand over her mouth with her eyes open wide.

I was very careful not to laugh.


We've now been doing our reading lessons for just over a month (tonight was #32). We had a brief backslide in week two or three where K was battling nerves again, but we worked through it - I think she might believe me now that really, nothing bad will happen if she doesn't know the right answer, no seriously - and she is progressing right on schedule.

We love the fact that each lesson (after the first two weeks) has a story with it. They started out as just two or three words each, but there was a story and a picture and that is SO EXCITING for K. Currently she's reading stories of three to four sentences of several words each. It's such a dramatic improvement that I think she's finally starting to believe that she can learn to read after all. (That has been the problem: she was irrationally convinced that she would never learn to read and all the other kids would be smarter than her. Definitely not true.)


Have a good weekend! I started this post when it was still Friday but it appears to be Saturday already...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reading Up a Storm

Since writing this post a (mostly) wonderful thing has happened: my son has fallen in love with books.

For the past couple of months he has been bringing me books to read him several times a day. His books, his sister's books, he loves them all. He'll sit still while I read them, too. It's great because if K is around then she can sit with us and I can read her books to both children, which is impossible when M is not in the mood. Our children's bookshelves are getting a lot more use now.

The bad part is...he WON'T STOP BRINGING ME BOOKS. He can do the sign for 'book', but usually he prefers to hand it to me repeatedly, hit me with it, or chew on it. He is doing some serious damage to board books that have already withstood the mild wear and tear of Baby K. And since he loves the big kid books (with paper pages) just as much as his board books, and because we have nowhere to put them where K can get them but M can't, he is also doing some damage to our big kid book collection. So far the only book he has torn badly was one we didn't like anyway, but it's sure to happen.

Oh, and of course there's the constant pulling the books off the bookshelves. On a day when he has really been at the books, the whole floor is carpeted with books, because obviously the floor is a much better place than the shelf to keep them all and obviously if mommy picks them up, she really wants you to spread them back out again.

So there's somewhat of a down side to a toddler who loves books...but I am still thrilled that M is enjoying books so much, and that we are able to read so much more now.


M isn't the only member of this family on a reading kick, though. When we traveled after Christmas I loaded my Kindle with a bunch of books I've been meaning to read, starting with The Hunger Games. I read the first book almost completely on the airplane while the little ones slept, and tore through the next two over the next few days. Then I started another set of books, finished it, started another... Part of it is that I'm doing better about reading while other people are awake instead of waiting for the house to be silent (and then being too tired to actually read). And of course part of it is that I've had the good luck to find a string of very engaging books that don't let you put them down for long.

I should probably make a point of reading paper books so the little ones see me reading, etc., but at this point reading words of any kind that aren't on a computer screen is a win. I'm also afraid my little book monster would destroy my book. And I'm trying to tell myself that since my Kindle cover looks kind of like a book that it TOTALLY COUNTS, especially since I showed K the words and told her there are books inside... Haha :) Let's just say I'm glad to be making time to read again.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Baby #2 Language Update - 15 months

Baby M is really on a roll lately. I'm going to have to stop calling him "Baby M" soon. Maybe.

About a month ago he said his first words ("tam" - there, and "bye-bye") after using a couple of different signs for a few months before that. He understands the signs that we use, but tends to use "more" as a catch-all. Makes for a guessing game when he signs MORE and hasn't had anything - more what?? His preferred communication method, however, is usually a little more direct.

For instance, if he wants to nurse he picks up the pillow and hands it to me. When I'm out of the room and he is really desperate, he hands the pillow to the Slovak, looking at him like "If you really loved me, you would figure out a way, FATHER."

Also, if he wants to read a book he does one of the following: hands it to you, starts chewing pieces off of it, hits you with it, or occasionally uses the "book" sign. All these methods are equally valid. And frequent, actually, because in the past couple of months he has fallen in love with books and being read to. Surprising attention span for 15 months, too.

He tries to say "up" to be picked up, as well as repeating many words we say. He also seems to have picked up on shaking his head for no and nodding for yes, which he uses to its full extent.

M only says a handful of words, maybe five total? But what is striking is his comprehension, especially compared with our first child at his age.

He has been pointing to his nose on request for a while - in fact once he learned how, he did it all the time because we were always so pleased (That's right, that's your nose, good job!). I would look down at random and notice him pointing to his nose and grinning a big over-achieving grin like "Look what I can do! Are you still impressed?"

Then this week he pointed to his nose, eyes, ears, head, belly, hands and feet - in English and Slovak both. I was sure he would only know one or two in Slovak, but I watched as Apo went through the whole list with him. When they finished that, I asked M to get me his car, so he crossed the room and found a car for me.

We nearly declared him a boy genius right then and there, but then we remembered this is the same child who thinks the garbage can is a snack container.

This may not seem like a very impressive list of words, but our babies are late talkers. With K, it took a very long time for her even to understand what we were saying to her, much less communicate something back to us. For M it seems to come a little easier, a little faster.

He does all the motions for "patty-cake" and lifts his shirt when you say "Round and round the garden". Then he makes you do them 8 more times with him. Generally he's getting the point of games and basic pretend play. Last week he carried a box of animals (dinosaurs and sharks mostly) from K's room into the living room and proceeded to play with them for most of the day. He is also very partial to K's My Little Ponies. Part of having a big sister, I guess.

He is entering an exciting stage, decoding and starting to reproduce what he hears. Soon he'll have a real language explosion and the real fun will begin. The Chillest Baby Ever has just become the Chillest Toddler Ever.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Conversations, Circuses and Michaels

(K coughs)
Me: Stop that coughing, please.
K: I'm trying to stop but sometimes it just comes out.
Me: Well, please stop, because I don't like coughing.
K: (coughs)
Me: I believe I asked you to knock that off. (I pull out phone and make imaginary call to circus to arrange the sale of two disobedient young children)
K: You're just teasing me. You aren't really going to sell me to the circus.
Me: You think so? You know, when I was a little girl Grandmama told ME to stop coughing.
K: Did she sell you to the circus?
Me: No, she never had to, because when she told me to stop, I stopped.

As a bit of background to the above conversation, it is true that my mother used to tell me to stop coughing. Specifically it was "Knock it off!" and "You're just doing that for attention", and the whole family does it now.

And when K was a screamy baby, the Slovak and I amused ourselves by coming up with outlandish ideas for what to do with her if she didn't stop. One of our staples was selling her to the circus. We even wrote down the phone number from a circus poster and put it on our wall...for just in case.

Don't worry, though. We're not complete monsters. We made sure to stop that line of joking well before K was old enough to understand what we were saying, and now that she is old enough to judge when we are serious and when we aren't, it has started popping up in conversation again occasionally.

I like to think of that as Good Parenting.


Okay, I know I put this one on Facebook, but I have to put it here, too.

K: (Hungarian girl) speaks Czech now.
Me: Does she speak a lot of Czech or a little bit of Czech?
K: Medium. Like you.
Me: EXCUSE ME? I speak better Czech than you!
K: (looks offended)

And this from a person who can't say R! :)


Also, did I mention before that in the states she ate a lot of Michaels? We always eat plenty of bagels and cream cheese while we're there and K kept misremembering the word "bagel". So now the whole family enjoys an occasional Michael.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bring Your Favorite Book to School

K went back to school today after almost a week off sick. After the absolute disaster that was the entire month of December, you may imagine the kind of fear a single cough inspires in the Slovak and me now. (It always starts with a single cough.)

M did come down with K's cold but by some miracle did not immediately progress to severe bronchitis, even though his cough is pretty ugly. So all in all it could be worse.

The little ones were surprisingly sweet during their enforced week at home, though as always M can never sleep when his sister is around. So he's been napless and cutting a new molar is hardly helping.

Well, to be honest there was one day when they acted so much like wild animals I thought they might eat each other, but otherwise they were sweet.

January was book month at school, so today K brought her favorite book to school to share. Picking a "favorite" book to share with her classmates was kind of a loaded question, since we had to balance books she is actually excited about with books the other children will understand (most of our favorites are in English).

She really wanted to take either Harry Potter or Little House - definitely a chapter book, she said - but when I suggested one of her Czech books, she went with O perníkové chaloupce (Hansel and Gretel). She actually loves that book so much she tries to memorize the exact wording and sometimes repeats each sentence after me as I read.

It would have been fun for her to share some of the chapter books she is reading, but I'm not sure how accessible Laura Ingalls or Harry Potter (in English) would be for the other children, and K certainly wouldn't have the vocabulary to explain it in Czech, since we read them in English.

Because as it turns out, "Gryffindor" isn't "Gryffindor" in Czech :) (I've read the first few books in Czech, but K hasn't.)

Anyway...all of that is to say...YAAAAAY back in school. A week off in summer when we can go places would be more fun, I have to say.

And I don't think it was a coincidence that K went back to school today and M took a three hour nap.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Conversations that Make Me Laugh

When she really wants something, K has taken to kneeling or prostrating herself in front of me and saying, "Please, Your Majesty. Your kingdom needs this!"


"Mommy, I have a present for you. Close your eyes."
(I close my eyes, then she comes over and starts putting strings of beads around my neck)
"Is it a pony?"
"No. Don't guess."
"Is it a puppy?"
"No, I said don't guess. Don't even think about it, because it's not necklaces. Uh-oh, I didn't mean to say that... You don't know what it is!"
"Of course not, I don't know what it is."
"Okay, you can open your eyes now."
"Wow, it's necklaces!!! I didn't know that."
"I know."


One of M's new board books has the word "Bravo" in it, so when we read it I had to explain to K what it means.

Me: "Bravo means something like 'good job'."
K: "Why don't they just say 'good job' then?"
Me: "Well, there are some cases when it's more appropriate to say 'bravo'..."
K: "I don't like the word 'bravo'. It's too much like 'brother'."
Me: "How is it like brother??"
K: "It sounds like brother. You know - bra-vo, bruh-ver."

Ah, yes. She can't say TH yet.


Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When Reading Becomes a Mind Game

I always thought I would want my children to be early readers. I remember being 8 and coaching my 2-year-old sister on her letter sounds, or 10 and making up worksheets for her to practice writing at 4. I think it improved my handwriting but didn't have much effect on her.

Then I grew up and had children. I started reading and thinking about early childhood development and education, and changed my mind. I decided to neither deny nor force learning on my child, teaching her what she asked, when she asked. In Europe (at least our part) preschool and kindergarten are about play-based learning with no pressure to learn to read before first grade (fall 2014 for us), so we haven't had any outside pressure to step up the academics.

Then K asked me to teach her to write when she was less than 2. So we started a very slow introduction into formal learning, mainly using things like Kumon workbooks. They're great for the very young child who wants to 'do school'.

We eventually got to the point where K knows most/all of her letters and can write simple words by sounding them out, but she couldn't read by sounding out (or by word recognition). I wondered if she had some kind of block or if she just wasn't developmentally ready for it yet.

Then she started developing this kind of love-hate relationship with learning and reading in particular. She would passionately insist that I teach her something, wanting to keep going and going instead of just doing a short session, and then she would turn on a dime and say she hated learning and never wanted to go to big kid school, ever, not even a little bit. Often this happened when she made a mistake, even the tiniest mistake.

She went from yearning to go to big kid school (first grade) to regularly saying that she is afraid of big kid school and doesn't ever want to go. She wants to stay in preschool until she grows up and enter the workforce straight from there.

She finds it difficult to articulate why she is afraid of big kid school, but the main factors seem to be that she will not be able to learn to read, the other children will know more than her, she doesn't want to make new friends and she doesn't want to sit down at a desk and not play.

I believe other complicating factors are a strain of perfectionism, high expectations of herself and a tendency to be easily discouraged. Not to point fingers, but the Slovak has also been known to make dramatic NEVER statements when frustrated. And, of course, high expectations and emotional intensity also describes me as a child, though according to my mother I didn't really lose my temper, I just wouldn't give up until I mastered whatever I was trying.

I first decided to slow down the 'reading lessons' (occasionally we would sit down and practice writing or reading some simple words) and focus on me reading to her instead, since she seemed to be getting more and more anxious, but that didn't work. It still came up at odd times and she would break down during the day or at bedtime, saying she would never learn to read and didn't want to go to school.

Then it occurred to me that maybe by not teaching her to read properly I was just dragging things out and contributing to her anxiety, allowing her to build it up in her mind as this impossible, terrifying thing. Maybe instead of backing off I should just TEACH HER TO READ now so that she would see she can do it and stop being afraid.

That's my current theory.

I had already ordered Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and brought it back with us, because several people, including Perogyo, recommended it specifically.

When we got home from our trip I decided to make time every day (with a jealous 15-month-old and as little as a one-hour window between Apo coming home and bedtime, this is an issue), buckle down and go through the book one lesson per day.

The first day K breezed through Lesson 1 with no difficulty and wanted to do the next lesson right away (as usual). I said no, let's keep it short and just do one per day. She lost it. She went in a heartbeat from 'please can we do more, it's all I've ever wanted' to 'fine, I won't do any more lessons ever, I don't want to learn to read, I don't want to go to big kid school, I don't like words, I only like dressing up and playing and I do like writing because that's different, but not reading...'

It was not a very coherent rant but I did like the part about not liking words. I talked her down from the ledge and she cheerfully drew a few pictures before putting the book and paper away. The next day she skipped in from being outside and asked if we can do our lesson now please.

Yesterday we did Lesson 11 and I have to say - it works! I can see the logic in the way things are presented and within two or three lessons, when you start actually sounding out two to three letter words, K could do it. She had a couple of specific difficulties with the concept of sounding out and the book addresses these straight away (probably common problems then). She still gets frustrated sometimes but not as badly and she is very encouraged by her success when she reads words on her own.

I hope to report in three months' time that we have finished the book and K is reading with confidence!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Christmas in the Home Country

Okay, we've been back from our trip long enough that it's starting to seem long ago and I can't quite remember what I wanted to write about. It's ridiculous.

The main thing is that we spent two weeks with my family and there were plenty of opportunities for bonding with grandparents and cousins. We got there December 27 and the very next day I helped mastermind a full family Christmas from which my husband (an only child) is probably still recovering. All my brothers and sisters and their children were there - there are five of us and three of us have two children each. It was crowded. And kind of overwhelming for two introverts like the Slovak and me.

The next day we went to a Christmas celebration for the other side of the family, where my aunts were playing the mastermind role and I didn't feel even a little bit bad about not helping coordinate logistics. I had just done that the day before! I sat back and chatted with one of my sisters. And a cousin who it turns out is into Doctor Who. We may have more in common than I thought.

But in all of that my five year old had a blast playing with her cousins - she has several her age, two other girls within six months of her. Their lives are very different from hers, but they enjoyed playing together. I overheard the following conversation more than once during our trip:

"What's your brother's name?"
"I can't tell you, because it's in Czech and you won't understand."
"What's Czech?"
"His name is MAREK. Do you understand?"

"Katka" didn't seem to strike her as a Czech name. She expected everyone to understand that one.

I remember last year K asked that same cousin if she spoke Czech or Slovak as well as English. The girl had understandably never heard of "Czech" or "Slovak", but also didn't really know what "English" is. Like I mentioned...our lives are very different.

A young cousin on the other side heard my husband speaking to one of the children and started making gibberish noises at him. The Slovak was less than impressed.

This was our first time doing Christmas (even if a bit late) in America, and my first Christmas there in at least ten years, so it was a cultural experience for us all. We do American Christmas traditions at home, of course, but there's a difference between doing something yourself and seeing EVERYBODY else doing it, too. The Slovak alternated between fascinated and repelled at the whole spectacle, I think. He thinks mall Santas are really weird, for instance, and didn't want our kids to go to one. Lucky for him I'm such an accommodating wife... I think he liked the Christmas lights, on the whole, but some people really do go overboard.

I would ask him for his impressions, but 1) he isn't home yet and 2) I'm pretty sure it would boil down to "You people are weird."

I'm still glad we went. I'd like to go day. In several years. I'm glad to give the children an opportunity to experience both sides of their heritage, but that was enough for now. :)

Oh! While we were there we managed to leave the children with my mother for a few hours and went to see Les Miserables. It was our first movie in a theater possibly since M was born? We went to see Brave, but not together. It was also our first non-dubbed, non-subtitled movie (other than DVDs) in many, many years. The Slovak and I both love musicals and we got to go with my sister who also loves musicals, so we weren't alone in being ridiculously excited.

We listened to the soundtrack in the car over the next week or so, and it caught K's attention. She insisted on being told, in detail, the stories of each person singing - mainly the little girl Cosette and the Valjean-Javert dynamic. She is still working on memorizing Castle on a Cloud and, amusingly, the confrontation scene between the two men.

I think I mentioned before that we got several chapter books for K - we already finished the first two Magic Treehouse books and are clearly going to need more, and yesterday we started Farmer Boy (Little House series #2). We're still reading Harry Potter, so we'll alternate for a while.

We also picked up a few seasons of TV on DVD while visiting, so we're enjoying some good shows at the moment. Better than endless episodes of Panelák...even if that does happen to be what we have on at the moment. ;)

...and that was our latest visit to America. With two family Christmases there and our own Christmas at home with Babka and Dedo, our children didn't know what hit them! 2012: the year that Christmas just kept on coming.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Notes from the Road

We are coming to the end of our stay with my side of the family. As always it has been good for our children's English and, more importantly, their relationships with the extended family.

K's new phrase for the trip is "pulling someone's leg". She keeps throwing it into conversation since she learned it from Grandmama last week.

I have heard the following conversation twice, once with a cousin and once with a child met in a store:

"What's your brother's name?"
"I can't tell you, because it's a Czech name and you won't understand it."
"What's Czech?"
"His name is MAREK. Do you understand?"

'Katka' is apparently not a Czech name in K's mind. I'm not clear on how the distinction works.

Marek has started saying his first two words on this trip: first "tam" (over there) and then "bye bye". He is a little warmer to other people this time but he is definitely a more reserved child than his sister. He likes to engage with other people from the safety of mommy's arms.

He did allow himself to be babysat last week for long enough for the Slovak and I to go see Les Miserables, which was fantastic. We hardly ever see movies in the theater and this one was the first in many years that didn't have subtitles (or dubbing).

In addition to buying clothes for the next year (the exchange rate is favorable for us shopping here) we also stocked up on some chapter books to read with K. We got the first five Little House books, the first two Magic Treehouse books, How to Train Your Dragon, Matilda, and maybe something else I've forgotten. We have plans to buy one or two more to read to her from our Kindle.

After hearing the soundtrack to Les Miserables in the car, K demanded to be told the story (the parts about Cosette and an abbreviated explanation of Valjean and why Javert is after him) and extracted from us a promise that she can watch the movie when we get the DVD. This morning she drew me a picture of a castle located on a cloud with Cosette, Valjean and Thenardier (a.k.a. the girl, her new Apo and the cheating man).

Five is such a great age. :)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Five-Year-Olds and Magic

Like a lot of children her age, my daughter is fascinated with magic. She is always trying new things to find her magical talent.

The magical talent she talks about most often - consistently for a few months now - is "making things stop turning". She pushes a ball (spins a top, sets anything in motion), does a magical finger motion and waits for it to stop.

Someday she's going to take a physics class, learn about inertia and come to a sad awakening. For now, though, she is convinced there is a causal relationship between her magic and the laws of physics. She has an answer for everything - it's pretty funny.

(Sometimes I feel like little children are constantly looking for magical connections between themselves and things happening around them. When you don't understand how things work, it's not such a far-fetched idea that stomping your foot might make a clap of thunder. "Hey, I blinked just now and the light went off! I KNEW IT! Okay, let's try again..." K is almost old enough to know better, but she's still looking for the superpower she knows must be there somewhere.)

Today she did some magic on my hands:

“(does magic trick) Look! Now you have new fingers!”
“These are the same fingers I had before.”
“You THINK they are, but they’re really not.”

She is at this great age where she knows that some things are pretend and yet she still kind of believes them anyway. We often have discussions about which one of us is more magical. I say she learned all her magic from me, she says she taught herself. Classic generational argument. :)

A while back she told me,

"You're not magic like me. You can't do this." (magical hand gesture)
"I am, look." (magical hand gesture)
"But there wasn't any magic there."
"There was, but you couldn't see it, because only magical people can see my magic."
(instantly) "I can see it! It's purple! And mine is pink."

So I see that the emperor's new clothes principle works perfectly even in today's world. And K and I are both, perhaps, magical.


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