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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Expecting a Kindergartener

It is that time in mother's life when your child turns 5, others close to 6 depending where you live, and the daycare that was your first big decision for them, is now wiped by another challenge, KINDERGARTEN!  That big word indeed creates a big change for our kids, leaving the secure home setting, or small class in a daycare to go and face their own real and little world in school. As a mother I feel like expecting again, expecting a Kindergartener!

Many kids have help from siblings that are already in elementary school, and love the fact to be with their big brothers or sisters. But for the first timers this can be a little scary.  My 5 yr old attended a great Pre-K program since he was 4,  in which he learned social skills, routines very important in school, respect a place in line, transition times, he learned a lot of the curriculum not everything (not thriving for perfection here he is only a child), but most important he made great friends, he loves his friends~

But what we can not avoid is the child losing some of these friendships, as entering Kindergarten he will not have all his friends together in the same school.  My son will only be with maybe 4 of his classmates in a school with 7 kindergarten classrooms with 20 kids each, so he will need time to get used to the new environment, and new friends.

Here are some of the tips our elementary school provided to get kids used to the transition, and you can add or implement your own so the change is not so strong:

- Setting playdates in the school playgrounds:  Normally the PTA from schools will arrange a list of new parents to attend these playdates; you can ask to see if there is a program set up like this in your school.
- Once you get to know some of these parents, set up the playdates yourself!
- School tours:  The school was kind enough to offer a tour for parents, and one for kids to visit the Kinder classroom ahead of time. 
- Eating in a cafeteria:  Your child is used to be catered by mommy, or his/her teachers at daycare, which is nice and playful.  But attending themselves in a cafeteria can be a liitle challenging; the suggestion we got was to take him to a restaurant cafeteria style and let him make the line, get the tray, and choose the items himself, opening a carton of milk, get the basics, choose healthy options. 

- Eat, enjoy, but don't take too long: Our children like to play, talk and dream while they eat, but in elementary for sure eating time is limited.  It is good to teach your child to eat and not get too distracted, so time will not be an issue when they enter school.

- Reading school themed books:  there are many choices now to read a child about first time in Kindergarten. I did not have those specific books as a child, but now there are a wide range in your local library.  Some of these are:

1.  Caillou The School Bus (Chouette Publishing)

2.  Biscuit goes to School by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

3.  Morris goes to School by B. Wiseman

Either approach you choose, will make your child feel more confident and thankful to have a parent by his/her side.  Showing interest is important for a child's self esteem, and this is a milestone that has no repetition like the ones before this.  School will continue for sure, but Kindergarten will be only once!!  Good luck in expecting and giving birth to your Kindergartener :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Peter Rabbit encounter

It is that time in childhood when you dream to have the characters of a children's classic tale to come alive and real. My children love the Beatrix Potter' classic Peter Rabbit, and we read this book almost four times a week, the book has been read so many times that the cover shows a little wear now.

Yesterday, we had the cutest encounter of all in our backyard; after we heard something chirping in a corner, what we thought to be a little bird turned out to be a baby wild bunny, exactly as Peter Rabbit.  The children and I were so delighted to see this, that not knowing how to proper care of a bunny we rushed to get a basket and filled it with some leaves  while I find out what to do. 

Living in Central Texas we are among wild life, and this seems to be common.  Rabbits look for a safe place for their babies and often create the nest in family's backyards. Luckily we don't have a dog or a cat, so the babies were safe;  We brought the little fellow to our living room while I investigated how to handle him.  The children took care of him and even read him the Peter Rabbit book!

The truth is we should not have brought the little bunny inside the home because it wouldn't survive.  So the best thing was to put it back on his nest, and not feed him with anything since they only feed from the mother, who I learned only shows up at night to take care of the babies.  Mother rabbit is very wise, she stays far from the nest during the day, that way predators do not spot the baby bunnies.  Mother Rabbit only comes twice a day at night, and early morning to feed them for 5 minutes, and that is plenty for a growing bunny before it adventures on its own.  We put then the little baby back on his nest, and for our surprise he had a little brother in there as well.  We helped him going back and covering the nest the way their mom left it, with fur, hay and grass.  And as I read I left a tic tac toe pattern with some twigs, this trick would tell us if Mother Rabbit came in the night. 

The children were so fond of the baby, that even we wanted to keep him, they understood he needed to be in his nest so his mommy will find him.  They learned a great lesson of paternity and motherhood at the same time.

Saying a nice farewell for our friend, we covered the nest.  This morning we checked, and Mother Rabbit did come!!! The twigs were moved, and she left a little uncovered so we fixed the nest a little without disturbing it.  Later the little Peter Rabbit came out, he seems very active, and we had to put it back on the nest so he doesn't get lost for tonight's feeding.  This has been quite an experience for the children, and they now cherish more that wonderful story of Peter Rabbit that came alive in their own backyard.

Now, we need just to let them be, and wait until they grow and make their way back into the forest. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mommy, who are the Spaniards?

Yesterday morning my  4 yo son came to me with a question and a confussing expression in its face:

- Mommy, who are the Spaniards?  (Mami, quienes son los espanoles?)

- Why? I asked, and immediately answered: people from a country called Spain. 

But he told me:  no!  they say that the Spaniards made something very bad! 

Then, I understood.  A commercial on TV that was teaching history in Discovery Familia was talking about Christopher Columbus, and how the Spaniards came to America, and indeed did some damage back in 1492 to the native americans. 

At this moment I knew my son needed a history lesson, and his curiosity by the horrible news about the Spaniards needed an explanation.  I decided to make my first history lesson, talking about the continents, how Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon)  wanted to prove there was something else across the ocean, and how he embarked in a mission after being approved by Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragon, Queen and King of Spain.

The discovery and late conquer of America, the three boats La Pinta, La Nina and la SantaMaria, sounded like an interesting story to him, and even though as adults we know those were not very happy times, is history and we need to tell it as it happened.

I assured my son how this was long time ago, and now people understand that is not the right way to conquer territories (some people understand) and native american or any world tribe should be respected in their culture and own way of living, and the Spaniards- the people from Spain are very nice and don't  do such things turned. Indeed, our Spanish we talk at home come from them, and many other wonderful things as well.

Don't be surprised to find a history question here and there, and be prepared to answer; children are inquisitive and want real answers! I'm glad Discovery Familia had this commercial, because it fostered my child's curiosity for history.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Preschool after a month for a bilingual child

I wrote a month ago about the first experience for a child that enters preschool without attended a daycare setting before, and how different can this be specially if the child is bilingual or in the process of acquire a second language.

My 4 yr-old  son speaks a fluent Spanish (we chose to speak Spanish to him before he can lose the ability of learning it later at least with easiness), and he is now in his first month of Preschool in an English exclusive environment.  How is he managing this environment? quite well and recomforting for us. 

The first weeks the anxiety of being alone in a world in which people speak different scared him, but his resilience made him understand the basic instructions.  It is important for those parents in the same situation to help the child with basic instructions at home about what the child will encounter in the classroom. And always praise its efforts to help its self esteem.

We did some classroom practices at home, how to seat correctly with the instructions he listens  from the teacher, how to ask for permission, to go to the bathroom and basic manner sentences.  This seemed to work because he is already used to the routine the teachers have for activities, lunch time and even he went into two practice fieldtrips.

He is not yet talking English fluently but he is learning to understand it and works around the instructions, and does his classroom practice sheets with the accuracy of someone that understands instructions.  I think this is great for any child that is learning a second language.  I also had the opportunity to know in depth a dual language immersion school recently that works with the International Baccaularate (IB) model, which works very well for children that English is first language, and Spanish is second, or for parents that want children to continue in Spanish instruction.  So the process there is inverse, teachers speak 80% Spanish and 20% English, and as they grow the English increases; the immersion works great.  I saw first graders speaking a fluent Spanish like my children do.

I write this post to assure myself and other parents in the importance of having children exposed to different languages, hopefully before they are seven years old, in which the brain is acquiring the language skills naturally.  At home it is important to keep speaking the native language of your choice (some parents choose the foreign language even if they speak English as well), and continue the effort until the child masters the new language.

It is very interesting to watch this linguistic process, and even his little friends are acquiring some Spanish words by interacting together. Those are the wonders of diversity!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Waffles for breakfast

My 3 yr old son is in love with playdough, and everything that he can grab along to mix it with it.  His latest creation was to make breakfast for me, while he discovered that some of his toys can make shapes as squares, and triangles, until he used an innovative tool not used before at home:  a Badminton racquet.

The tiny squares made him marvel about the new shape
As he maneuvered the racquet with the playdough he saw the tiny squares, and then offered me what he identified as a "waffle", and it really was.


He continued playing with the racquet and made new shapes as a corn, and more waffles in which he played a pretend breakfast.  Breakfast was good, we probably have to try a new version of Belgium waffles next time.

Yummy corn!
This game was totally invented by him, and it always amaze me how children find tools from nowhere to make new stuff you did not even think about.  In this case there was just playdough, until he found new things to add up as the racquet.  No need to buy expensive playdough tools or machines, if the machine is already in the child's brain, right?
At the end, a sensory experience took his attention away, to feel the playdough through the tiny holes of the racquet, good to try as well.
how does it feel?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Paper Office

Children often mimic what adults do and say.  How people work is something very interesting to children.  They can play to be doctors, teachers, scientists, chefs and all that adds to their imagination.  But to play these roles you don't need to buy expensive sets if you can make some of your own, that they participate and have double fun.

This week we played Office at home, replicating what my children see in his dad: working in the computer, while attending phone calls.

Paper made laptop and cell phone with alphabet and numbers

Making these elements with paper add a new symbolism to the game, as children can help folding the paper, decorating or writing the letters themselves. 

Adding a question mark to the game allowed them to incorporate a new way to ask a question and wait for turns by holding the question mark, or if an imaginary customer has a question they don't know they used the question mark to find out.

They replicated exactly how his father works from home sometimes, and they felt this was a very important task to be completed, and not being interrupted.

This activity teaches them also how communication works, how people use these channels to work and learn in a game setting, in which you are not worried they are breaking the actual phone or laptop.  We even practiced some greetings to answer the phone so they had fun playing as an actual office.

This can be a good activity combined with other variants; it is good to see how engaged in the game they were and it is also an opportunity to practice the alphabet and numbers. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The bilingual child: adapting to school for the first time

It is a hard beginning for a child that grows bilingual to enter the school system.  For a child used to speak just English, his native language,  entering school can be hard because of adapting to new routines and the separation anxiety from the parents if he is not used to be in a daycare setting, but language is not a barrier.

But for a bilingual child, that speaks a foreign language and it is starting to learn English this adds a third ingredient to be nervous about.  My oldest son just started Pre-K and he is a fluent Spanish speaker, but his English is limited to listening and some basic survival sentences because we taught him Spanish first.  Even though we know the advantages of this in the future, as he grows up bilingual, it is hard to watch his little mind adapt to a whole new environment.

Imagine yourself entering a classroom where everyone speaks a language you do not understand [blahshiwnijinsidhu] it is certainly scary; how do you help your child to cope with that?  here are some of the things we did as parents, and in this road we will implement maybe new ones as we see his progress:

1.  First, we toured the school several times before beginning classes, so he recognized the classroom, playground, where the bathroom was, and we met some of the teachers.
2.  Days before the Great Day I explained to him the routine he was going to have: I read to him the classes, and told him about the snacks and lunch he will be given there.
3. We told him to use the bathroom exactly as he did at home; luckily the bathroom is inside the classroom, and another one in a hallway.  We told him to go freely to the bathroom when he needed it, and this worked pretty well as he did that the first day.  Basic instructions are always needed.
4. Also, we told him if he was in the playground or other site in the school tell one of the teachers he needs to go to to the bathroom.  This is specially important, because a child in a new environment may feel nervous and reverse his potty training, which will add even more anxiety.  He learned to say this in English.
5.  To add some security we gave him a special card made at home with our family pictures.  The card he could fold it and keep it in his pocket like a little lucky charm, but we call it the Power Charm.
6.  Another way I explained to him how good was about going to school, is how he will be like a detective with the mission of learning English: each day he will listen and learn something new, and since he loves to play detective this was a way to reduce his anxiety.
7.  This morning he cried a little, his second day away from us and his little brother; so the detective mission worked and he was back on track. The drama did not escalate.
8.  We promised him a surprise after we pick him up: the surprise is a craft made by his brother, or a special dessert, something he can be excited about.

We hope this transition goes fast and successful; a child needs a lot of support in these first experiences as he enters the real world.  I hope if more parents are going through the same situation this can help a little; I also would love to read more similar experiences.