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.


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