Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can we talk?

Please join me at apple seeds, Saturday December 5th from 10:00AM-12:30PM. I will be answering all your developmental and parenting questions, for free! Pass along!

Question of the week: Sometimes I feel like I am just battling with my 3 year old son all the time. What can I do to connect with him and not feel like we are screaming all the time?

When my son was seven months old I placed him in a home-based daycare that took two busses to get to. I had two daycare centers across the street from my home but there was something about Joanie, the woman who ran the daycare center, that made me feel like this was the right place for both of us though it was far away. "Mud Pies" daycare, was housed in a two room, small NYC apartment and had children ages from two months to four years old.

Joanie was loving yet firm with the children and the parents. She had a few mantras that you needed to accept if you sent your child to the program: "discipline and love go hand in hand", there was "no baby talk" and "conversations are important and make a difference for children at all ages and stages." The last idea, I used to snicker at a bit. I mean really, how can you have a conversation with your seven month old and expect him to understand? But Joanie believed and she told us parents we needed to as well. When our children would misbehave, begin to throw a tantrum or hit she would look at them in the eye and have a talk with them. "We don't hit. That hurts others. If you want to hit something, hit a pillow." She would say to us parents at pick up "make sure you go home and have a talk with "E" about hitting." So I would. I felt stupid but I did it. The next day Joanie would say "your talk worked, the behavior is better today."

Joanie's approach if nothing else, opened up an opportunity for me to speak with my child rather than shout or do worse. And over time, I began to see that using my words and not just telling my children to, did make a difference. By talking with our children we send a message that we need to tell others (even our children) what we expect from them.

I use "I have to talk to you about something" or " we need to have a conversation" as a constant in my household. When I want to discuss something, such as a behavior that I do not approve of, I try to make time to have the conversation when it is not in the heat of the moment. I find when I do this my children are more responsive to my thoughts and tend to have perspective on their actions. For example, a conversation that might be held at dinner or before bedtime "I notice when we arrive at school that you hit your friends instead of greeting them with a 'hello' or a 'good morning.'" "I'd like for you to think about another way with which to greet your friends." After a discussion of why it happens, etc. and a solution is reached, I would probably say on the way to school the next morning, "remember what we talked about hitting our friends last night?" "What's your plan this morning?" Another example was my daughter throwing a tantrum when we had to leave the playground. Trying to have a conversation while she was kicking and screaming was worthless and almost got me kicked! Once we got home, (yes, I practically dragged her!) I let us both cool down. Later that evening and on the way to school the next day, we talked about if we wanted to go to the park after school we would have to understand when it was time to leave. We have had very few problems since that discussion.

I also find that when I anticipate a potential meltdown or stressful event (like before we go shopping and I want to make it clear we are not buying everything on the shelves) and make time for a conversation and even negotiation, I notice that my children really listen and have an easier time handling themselves when the discussed situation arises.

What is even nicer is that my children have begun to set aside time to talk to me too. When they want something or something is bothering them, they say "mom, we need to have a conversation." As parents, we want our children to feel comfortable talking with us and not shut down as we talk at them. It is a hard and there is no guarantee that the conversations will always work or that the conversations will always have the outcome we would like but as Joanie taught me, it is never to early to start.

So get talking!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Practice What You Preach

Please join me at apple seeds on December 5th from 10:00AM-12:30PM. I'll be on hand to answer any parenting questions you may have, for free! Come check out the beautiful facility and the boutique is stocked with super books and goodies! Put it on the calendar now!

This week I'm not going to answer a question but share a personal anecdote about something that happened to me this past weekend. I guess one of the greatest joys of parenting is when you experience your child putting into practice the very values you wish to instill in them and while doing so, reminding yourself that you too, must adhere to the same values you preach.

Last week my husband was away on a business trip for four days. Our kids were great the entire week. I have to say, setting daily up routines early in your child's life makes all the difference when you need your children to pull together and be independent. The only time that they seemed to get a little crazy was the night before my husband was coming home (they wanted to wait up for him - they didn't but they pushed the limits on bedtime). He came home at about 8:00AM on the red-eye. The kids were overjoyed but frenetic from the excitement of staying up so late the night before. After hugging the kids and sharing a few stories, my husband just crashed. Unfortunately, the kids and I were up for the day and it was really hard keeping three riled up kids calm and quiet in a small apartment. It was a gloomy, on and off rainy morning but even so, I knew I had to get them out of the house. So I rounded up my rowdy bunch and rushed them out concsiously allowing the children to skip minor hygenic tasks and not preparing for the possibility of being caught in the rain. In other words, they smelled, they were underdressed and noone had an umbrella or a raincoat. I never said I was supermom!

I knew the Upper West Side Apple Store had its grand opening day and I was hopeful that they would be giving away some nice freebies. Plus, I knew that there would be a kids computer game area that would keep them busy at least for a short while. As we walked over to the newest trendy business of the UWS, it began to drizzle. We approached the store and there was a long line of people and they were being admitted in a few at a time while they received a rectangualar box and cheers from the staff as they entered. As we watched the line it began to rain badly. We waited under a nearby awning. My kids began to incessantly complain that they were "starving" and wanted a lunch. Of course my two older children could not agree on where they wanted to eat and my 16 month old did his infamous, impatient yelp which indicated he wanted me to "get moving". I pointed out that they were handing out free stuff at the Apple store and it was worth it to get wet. It worked, and we got on line and let the the rain pelt us. As we approached the front of the line an Apple store employee handed us an umbrella and said "you can borrow this and we'll collect it on your way out." I gladly took the umbrella and we were thankful that we were close to the front. We quickly made it into the store and each received our door prize (a t-shirt). We enjoyed our time in the new, sheik establishment. We played with some games and it was nice to chat with some other neighborhood friends who had come to check out the fanfare.

When we were ready to leave we made our way to the front exit as we weaved in and out of the crowds and tv cameras recording the opening event. I was truly a bit frazzled from the morning but would be lying if I said "what if they didn't collect the umbrella" did not cross my mind. Sure enough, with my two older kids walking close to me and pushing a stroller, I made it out the door without anyone asking me to return the umbrella and luckily the rain had stopped. We began to walk up the block leaving the excitement of the apple store and were on our way to find something to eat. When we reached about half way up the block my oldest son exclaimed "Mom, you still have the umbrella! We were supposed to return it!" With a cross between embarassment and apprehension, I said "Oh wow...I forgot...thanks for reminding me..." At that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could have made up something like "They told me we could keep it." or "It's okay, they have plenty, they won't miss it". But my son's voice was so innocent and filled with righteousness. He was being honest, responsible and proud of it. How often did I preach these values to him? My child was putting into practice what I thought so often fell on deaf ears. I had an opportunity to honor these ideals, and that is what I did.

We walked back to the store and I made a point to tell one of the employees how my son is the one who noticed that I had "mistakenly" taken the umbrella. I secretly hoped the salesperson would let us take it anyway (remember a parents goal is to have your child be better than you!). She quickly took the umbrella, thanked us and then said to my son "thank you for doing the right thing" and handed him another t-shirt. "You see" she said, "doing the right thing has its rewards!" While the umbrella would have been nice and it was clear that the extra t-shirt was kind of a waste, my son did not care. He was proud. Proud that he did the right thing on his own and proud that someone knew it. That my friends, does a proud Mama make!

I reflected quickly on a sign one of my teaching colleagues had posted in her classroom: "Doing the right thing is hard, but it's right!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Polyglot Primadona

It seems that my posts are getting out as late as Wednesday, these days. So I'm going to say that my weekly posts will generally come in, early to mid-week from now on because life with three kids and working freelance is pretty darn crazy!

Ask the Educator, went off nicely at apple seeds this past week! If you are new to the blog via apple seeds, welcome! Glad you're here! I will post the next date that I will be at apple seeds as soon as it is settled. Please make sure to stop by!

So, I think it is appropriate to use a question that was asked quite frequently by parents at apple seeds as the weekly question:

"What can parents expect from a child that is multilingual and how can they foster learning?

I'll never forget when my music theory teacher in my sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of the Arts, said, "music, math and language are subjects that are all connected." I remember thinking to myself , "that must be the reason why I am failing all three subjects!"

Not so long ago, the United States had a great deal of controversy about the topic of multilingual children. There was fear that young children whose first language was not English, would hold them back from succeeding in academics. As well, failed programs such as bilingual education classes were being used in the public schools as a crutch and not providing non-English speakers with the tools they needed to graduate and to go onto higher education.

Now, more studies seem to shed a more positive light on bilingualism or multilingualism. In one study in Italy, children who were spoken to in two or more languages from birth -10 months were able to identify and distinguish sound at a much quicker rate to their monolingual counterparts thus creating a child who seemed to connect to sounds more readily and could speak more like a native. As well, children who are multilingual have been shown to be very strong in the subjects of math, music and science. You can read more about why that may be, here. In addition to what seems to be the "academic" benefits, parents of bilingual children are thrilled to foster cultural bonds. The idea that children will be confused by learning a second language or more, have also been quelled. While there is always some initial confusion for the child and even some speech delay, it is most often worked out before school age.

Many experts agree that children begin to lose the their capacity to learn another language at about age 10. Distinguishing sounds, using correct accents and the process of switching between two languages becomes much more difficult at a later age and for some, it is so frustrating they quit. Some studies also suggest that listening to language on a cd or video is not enough. There is great importance in a child looking at lips and actively engaging while using language. The process of language learning needs to be active and not passive.

Parents who are teaching children a second or third language should teach with little translation and full immersion at different points during the day. Reading stories, singing songs, cooking and playing games are wonderful ways to get your child enjoying and listening to language. Be sure to remember that understanding comes way before actual language is spoken so keep going even if you feel your child is not actively using words.

If you are like me, just a monolingual gal, consider getting your family involved in a foreign language class. I recently met a woman who hired her Israeli friend, to come to her home weekly to teacher her family and another family, Hebrew, on a weekly basis. Sending your child to a foreign language class alone will do little unless there is some connection happening in the home. If you choose to enroll your child in a school dual language program, consider study groups and summer intensive programs to support ongoing language learning. Another study has found that while adults will have a tougher time mastering a new language, just trying to learn one can help keep your mind young and active! So getting involved has benefits for you as well!


Monday, November 2, 2009

A Most Meaningful Meeting

I can't believe it is November already!

Please come join me this weekend at apple seeds and ask me your questions face to face!

Saturday, November 7th
10 West 25th Street
NY, NY 10010

On to the question of the week:

How do I maximize my time with my child's teacher during parent teacher conferences?

When I was a classroom teacher I remember how rushed I felt meeting parent after parent. Conferences usually end up being less than 10 minutes and the time truly can get away from you if you are not prepared. Here are some varied ideas and questions that might guide your conference to make it more meaningful. You need to have a bit of an understanding of what your child's strengths and weaknesses look like before the conference in order to choose questions and topics to explore with the teacher.

Creating a Mood
Every good teacher should begin with one compliment about your child before discussing any issues that might need to be worked on. When discussing any issues, teachers should be sensitive and parents need to listen. Conferences should end on a high note with solutions or even discussing a project or piece of work your child did particularly well. I instruct all of my education students to run their conferences this way. If you feel a conference is being handled poorly make sure you take notes and make it clear to the teacher that you are frustrated. If you run out of time be sure to make a follow up meeting. Contact administrators as a last resort.

Know Your Child
If you have not been already, make sure you are looking over your children's work (writing, test grades, worksheets, etc.) weeks before the conference. Even with little contact from the teacher, not all aspects of your child's work should be a complete surprise. Begin to write down questions. Do you notice your child's handwriting seems a bit sloppy? Or that you are not clear on some of the new techniques in the math homework? Is the reading a bit choppy or robotic sounding when your children read to you? Or do they throw tantrums at the thought of doing their homework? Narrow your questions to the two or three that are really important to you. This can also help to navigate the conference.

Discuss your childs reading level
Are they on grade level?
What techniques are being used to get your child to the next level?
Do they have recommended books or book series that might fit your child's needs at this time?
How often are children assessed?
What can you be doing at home to support your child?

See Writing Samples
What is your child writing about?
What techniques are being used to evoke language?
How often is writing done?
How do you critique?

Discuss Math
Discuss mathematical goals for year.
Ask your child's teacher to walk you through any unfamiliar or new mathematical techniques that the class may be covering at the time.
What concepts are currently being worked on?
Does your child make careless errors or do they see a much bigger problem?
Any products that might help you to continue the learning at home.

Other topics
Science, Social Studies, Technology, etc. How are these topics being taught in class? These areas often get neglected with the focus being on the Three R's. Don't be afraid to offer any professional help if you work in these fields. Consider sponsoring a trip as well.
Special help - Know your rights as a parent. Your child should not be tested or receive any extra help (being pulled out or otherwise) without you being notified first and your written consent sought. Contact administration and/or your local district if you do not get a reasonable explanation if this has happened to your child.

What is your child really doing well at?
Are they an active participant in class?
What techniques do they use?
Do they seem to interact well with their peers?
Do they transition well?
Can they recommend any special programs that might suit your chid?

End the conference by discussing next steps and what are the best ways to stay in touch with the teacher until the next conference.

Don't forget to visit the special teachers (art, dance, music, etc) they may tell you something about your child that you or even the classroom teacher don't know.

Remember: Don't worry about what other children are doing. Focus in on who your child is and how you can support and foster in them a love of learning.