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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