Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First Grade

Today marks one month into the new school year. We had some changes this year, because M is going to preschool half-days (has to learn Czech somewhere) and K finished preschool/kindergarten and started homeschooling first grade.

We did our Official First Day of Homeschool on the first day of regular school. We went to the Sea Life Aquarium and had a play date. Think of it as a sort of school independence day. Then we started regular lessons on the second day of school.

We had a bunch of unforeseen circumstances, like M staying home from preschool for a week because he was sick, followed by a week of school, a nasty virus for me (while the Slovak was on a business trip!) and then several days of (planned) travel to a translation conference in Athens while the little ones stayed with the grandparents. And of course I came back home with bronchitis/pneumonia and had to stay on bed rest for several days.

With all of that, it's actually kind of surprising we have done any school at all! We're busy with math, spelling and handwriting (English print and Czech cursive) and spent quite a bit of time on prehistory over the past several weeks. We're doing ancient history this year just because history is fun. The extracurricular schedule of afternoon activities is just about complete, with things scheduled three afternoons per week.

K is still a reluctant reader, but she is capable of reading when she tries. She is much more willing to write, so she is learning to read through spelling. She enjoys math so much that she has mentioned the possibility of being a "math superhero" who saves people by doing math problems for them.

In fact, K enjoys math and science so much that I almost wonder if we have a STEM child on our hands. She complains to high heaven about history (I read a child's history book and then we do activities or look at books on the same topic), and yet a day or two later comes to me asking questions and wanting to learn more about...archeology, cave people (she objects to the term cave men), early farmers... She actually really enjoys history once I've introduced a topic.

K's new stated ambition is to be an archeologist. Maybe a paleontologist. She has asked me if kids can do archeology or if she has to wait until she grows up. There's a place an hour or two from here that shows a medieval Bohemian village with traditional crafts you can try and also apparently has an archeology section for kids. We are SO going there as soon as it re-opens (closed for the winter already, unfortunately).

As far as reading, K has acknowledged that it might be a useful life skill to acquire someday. She just doesn't want to rush into anything, so she told me she thinks she will be ready to learn in second grade. Maybe third.

Also, during spelling today, she flawlessly spelled ten words I gave her, then for the last, bonus phrase...drew a detailed picture to illustrate the phrase, instead of writing the words.

That girl still cracks me up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Little Brother M at 2.5

Okay, okay, it's more like 2.75. But he's not three yet!

M's speech has made lots of progress over the past year. As in, he does it now. As I wrote last year, he has been a late talker and enthusiastic signer.

He is in that awkward two-year-old stage where the family understands most of what he says and other people mostly don't. In his case it is partly complicated by the fact that he pulls from all three languages and that he leaves out or changes at least half of his consonants. For instance, we were watching a Slovak video and I pointed out a rabbit (in English), which he corrected: "No, ha-ha-hik." Králíček? (CZ) "NE, ha-ha-hik." Zajačik! (SK) But who could get that from hahahik on the first try??

That said, however, he is clearly a more balanced bilingual at this stage than his sister was (since we lived in UK at the time). His CZ/SK and English have developed more evenly, though English is still stronger. He has started preschool already (the same one where K went), which has certainly had an impact.

If you can get past the pronunciation barrier, he actually has quite a bit to say! I've noticed some relatively complex sentences and ideas coming from his direction, cogent arguments aimed at his sister, that sort of thing. Like when she was interfering with his Angry Birds game: "You no touch my Angry Birds. Me touch you Angry Birds? No. So you no touch mine either." An irrefutable argument.

And of course, while we're on Angry Birds, there's the oft-repeated question: "Why you so angry, Angry Birds? Don't be angry - be happy! See? (big smile)"

We've also been seeing the difference between an only child and a younger child in terms of learning - M has plenty of inspiration and opportunity to learn in a way K didn't have, because he is exposed to what she is learning, too. The main thing being the day he pointed to a letter and said A...and it was an A! He also knew M. K, of course, has been learning to read, so he was apparently paying attention.

After that he wanted to name all the letters in the title of every book we read, which is how he came to know his alphabet at two years old. He recognizes all four of our names when written down (plus Babka and Dedo I guess), but doesn't do anything like reading. He just knows the letter sounds. More sounds than he can pronounce, actually.

I theorize that he may actually learn to read before he is potty trained, because unfortunately there has not been much progress on that front this year.

Loves: dinosaurs, fish, animals in general, books. His big sister.

Maybe passion would be a better word. M is very, very, very enthusiastic about the things in the above list. We've taken him to the zoo, to a dinosaur bones exhibit, to the aquarium, even to the Pergamon (ancient history) museum, and he loved them all. He engages with things in his own way, on his own level, but clearly gets something out of the places we go.

He's very, very two at the moment, but he's still a lot of fun. And soon enough he will be very, very three...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Translating Poetry - harder than it looks

K has been experimenting with translation recently.

I taught her the old rhyme: "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!" We were on the way to get ice cream at the time. Once she had memorized it, she said, "I know what it is in Czech. Já křičím, ty křičíš, my všichni křičíme na zmrzlinu. (pause) It doesn't rhyme that way. But I said it right..."

I told her even though she said the words right, they won't rhyme in another language necessarily. She's still wrapping her head around that.

That wasn't the first rhyme she's tried to translate - I've heard her sometimes trying out Czech nursery rhymes or schoolyard chants in English, repeating them over and over trying to get them to flow or rhyme the way they do in Czech. Some efforts are more successful than others.

She's a braver girl than I - I won't touch poetry or song translation with a ten-foot pole!

Monday, July 28, 2014

another bilingual mom

Had a pleasant chat with the check-out lady at the grocery store this evening. She asked me:

"Do you mind if I ask - is your husband a foreigner?"
"Well, I guess so, he's Slovak."
"I see...because I've noticed you speak English with your children in the store."
"Ohh, well, that's because I'm American."

She expressed some surprise at that and then started talking about bilingual parenting and how her kids don't want to speak the family language at home and the difficulties of raising children in a foreign country... She and her husband are both from Uzbekistan, but their children only want to speak Czech. And what can you do when you have to work and they are in after-school care until 5 pm?

Probably the nicest conversation - with the nicest employee - I've ever had in that store.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How do you measure a year?

It may have been a year and a day since I last posted, but I have to say the Slovak has never stopped pestering me given up hope that I would blog again.

Baby M is now a few months older than K was when I started this blog.

M will be three in October and is currently in the throes of his terrible twos. Or is it the rest of us in the throes of his terrible twos? Either way, he has opinions and they are loud and emphatic. He started attending preschool and his Czech has really taken off. He mixes Czech and English like a pro but is pretty good at speaking the right language with the right people. We understand most of what he says, but it takes some context clues and/or guesswork sometimes, like "ha-ha-hik" (based on context - rabbit? No! Králíček? No! Zajačik? Yes!).

M has a passion for animals (especially dinosaurs) and modes of transport (especially cars). He recognizes more or less the entire alphabet (apparently younger children teach themselves this kind of thing) and loves counting. He can count in English (up to 7 or 12, depending on if he stays on track) and in Spanish (up to 6 because of a song he learned). This makes for comic looks of surprise when strangers hear a young (to all appearances Czech) child counting in not one, but two foreign languages!

K has now finished kindergarten and is gearing up for first grade this fall. She switches effortlessly between English and Czech and is getting better at holding conversations in just Slovak as well. She can read in English and Czech, though she still asks me sometimes if people really need to learn to read if they plan on getting a job that doesn't involve reading.

K loves drawing, writing (totally not the same as reading) and has been lobbying hard for her own laptop for some time now. She was apparently so eloquent on the subject one morning on the way to kindergarten with Apo that the other passengers on the bus started laughing. She NEEDS a laptop once she starts first grade, she said. Because education. However, she has gone on record that she would settle for her own iPad if we really won't get her a computer.

We are still reading a chapter or so each night. Recently we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and yesterday we finished the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia. K is a very satisfying audience, because the stories are all new to her and she is shocked, tense, sad or excited at all the right places. She has also been reading Pippi Longstocking in Slovak with Apo on nights when I don't read. Loves that one, too.

So, anything new with you?


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