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Kids and Language

As a mother of 2 small children I am continually astounded by their language development- the words they pick up and the way they manage to play with multiple languages already. As we're currently living in Vienna they are having to master German on top of English… so here are some of my ponderings on the linguistic theme.

Online safety

1280x720-vpfDespite our good intentions to limit television time to a minimum, most of us parents do allow our children to watch the odd show. I know that if my children are being particularly rowdy, then 30 minutes of Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol will calm them down and allow me a few minutes peace.

However, we need to be vigilant of what they are allowed to watch, especially when using sites like YouTube to access different shows. My 5-year old daughter is now able to find the YouTube app and get to her favourite shows relatively easily, which means that I slack off and cease to monitor exactly what she is clicking. But I have to be more aware and pro-active about what my children are watching, especially because I know that there are loads of dodgy sites out there just waiting for their innocent little fingers to click the link.

Currently, thousands of seemingly innocent videos are available on YouTube, but which are actually dark parodies of the well-known children’s shows. BBC Trending has found hundreds of videos of children’s cartoon characters with inappropriate themes. In addition to Peppa Pig, there are similar videos featuring characters from the Disney movie Frozen, the Minions franchise, Doc McStuffins, Thomas the Tank Engine, and many more. Often they contain disturbing content and can pass for the real cartoons, particularly when viewed by unsuspecting children.

Fortunately there are ways that we can make the web safer for our children, and many sites which support parents in monitoring what our kids see. YouTube has suggested that parents use the YouTube Kids app, which is available for mobile phones and tablets, and turn on “restricted mode” which limits flagged content. However, some content can still slip through the net, so more simple solutions can also be found:

Set up parental controls

Parental controls are software and tools which you can install on phones or tablets, games consoles or laptops – and even your home broadband. You can also use them to help you block or filter the content your child sees when searching online. Family-friendly public WiFi can help when you’re out and about.

Parental controls are also available to help you to:

  • plan what time of day your child can go online and for how long
  • stop your children from downloading apps that they are too young for
  • manage the content that different family members can see

Talk to your children about staying safe online

When your children are old enough, start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what’s appropriate. Talk to your child about what you yourself think is appropriate – but also involve them in the conversation. Ask what they think is OK for children of different ages – they’ll feel more involved in the decision-making and therefore more inclined to follow the rules.

Be aware that your child might talk about friends who use apps or visit sites that you’ve decided aren’t suitable. You need to have good reasons why certain sites aren’t allowed, especially if their friends are allowed to access them.

Monitor the web yourself

Have a look yourself at the sites your children are keen on. If they love Minecraft, for example, go and have a look and see if it’s what you think us acceptable for your kids. Every one of us has a different opinion on what is appropriate, and children with different responses to action on screen, so don’t just take your friends’ word for it that something is fine.

Avoid inappropriate videos on YouTube

The YouTube Kids app filters out most – but not all – of the disturbing videos. YouTube suggests turning on “restricted mode” which can be found at the bottom of YouTube pages, and also turning off the Search feature in the app

Finally, visit the NSPCC Net Aware website (https://www.net-aware.org.uk/)

This site provides so much support and has lots of ideas on how to approach the subject of online safety with your children. The NSPCC stands up for children’s rights and works towards protecting children as well as possible. They have information on different sites that children regularly visit, and advice on how to stay safe.

Whatever your child is doing online, there’s always a way that you can help keep them safe.

 

Dealing with a late bloomer

late-bloomer-quotes-4Slow to speak, slow to walk, reluctant to write…

And that’s just my son! OK, I’m exaggerating here- I mean he’s only 3, so the lack of ability at writing is acceptable! (I am joking, BTW!) Each child has it’s own clock, set to it’s own time, and nothing (much) that we can do will change this. However, that doesn’t stop our internal discussions with ourselves, wondering when the next milestone will be reached.

I’m as guilty of this as the next Mum- with two children it’s impossible not to ask the million questions like: “Wasn’t Gen singing ’round and round the garden’ by now? What’s wrong with Sam? Is he EVER going to get there?!”

It’s the waiting game that’s so hard. Although we all know that we shouldn’t be pushing our children beyond their limitations, the sigh of relief when they do finally manage to do what their peers have been winging for months is huge. And it doesn’t help when there are often comparisons from other parents on Facebook etc- posting pictures of their little wonder typing on the pad,  singing etc… reinforcing our fears that our darlings are delayed in some way.

Continue reading “Dealing with a late bloomer”

When language summer school actually works

skateboarding-to-summer-school-in-color-clip-art-gallery

A lifetime ago I worked as a teacher on a summer school- and what an amazing, fun time it was. We had kids coming from all over the world to learn English on 3- week courses, staying in schools or colleges over the south of England, with the main requirement to have a good time and speak English “B2B”: breakfast to bedtime. Of course this didn’t always work 100%, but there were some wonderful success stories too, making me realise that the trip abroad was beneficial to the kids.

My favourite story from my years in summer school is of 2 girls who met aged probably 14 – 15 one summer, at our summer school in Kent, UK. One was from Greece, and the other from Sweden. They were the only ones of their nationality, so they had no compatriots to chat with in their own language. They hit it off with each other instantly, and had to speak English with each other in order to be mutually understood. Their basic English grew quicker than most of the other students on the course, as they used it all the time. And the girls remained friends, reunited with each other every summer at the summer school, and to this day are still good friends. They went so far as to learn each other’s language- not so good for their English, but a testament to how much they meant to each other.

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It’s about more than just languages

multi-ethnic

Bringing up children is a challenge. No it’s not: it’s a heart- wrenching, tear- filled, laughter- inducing journey of a challenge. Sometimes I feel that I’m not up to it (like it’s a choice!), and then I’m nudged back into life by a comment made by a friend, or something I hear on the news. Today it was: “Why is it so bloody difficult to find little non-pink baby dolls. It’s ridiculous in this day and age. 😡 It actually freaks me out a bit.”

Whether part of a monolingual or multilingual family, we have certain ideals that we want to fulfil, and beliefs that we want our children to grow up with. These may well differ depending on where we are from in the world but the majority of us now believe in an equal society, one in which girls and boys, black and white, straight and gay are treated with the same respect and compassion. As parents, we have the responsibility to our children to bring them up with open and accepting minds. And it’s not always as easy as we hope. Raising children who see beyond the colour of a person’s skin takes a conscious effort on the parents’ part. We must deliberately teach respect and cooperation. We must destroy the “us versus them” mentality that has slowly permeated our culture.

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Thinking games that are easy in any language

Contemplative young girl  looks up.Sometimes our children need a bit of encouragement to use language in a creative way, especially when it’s the minority language. Practicing a language can quickly feel like work, unless you manage to create situations that are fun and subtle. Thinking games for kids are some of the easiest activities you can find, and can fill in ‘dead time’, like when you’re waiting in line, or driving in the car with kids who cannot keep still or stop asking “Are we nearly there yet?” We have played “I spy with my little eye…”? in the car on our journeys until I could strangle the next person thinking of the word “car”… so here are some ideas which can be played in any language, and which while away a good few dull minutes:

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Grandparents are great!

GrannyI flew back home to Vienna recently, after a week in the UK, sans famille. It was a lovely flying experience: I had a good wander round the airport shops without being nagged to buy this and that, I sat back in my seat and dozed a bit, I ate my meal at the same time as everyone else, without spills or whines (just wine!). Travelling without kids- what a luxury!

But when I looked across the aisle I saw a mum who had it even better than me. She was travelling with her son, yes, but also with her mother. Granny sat in the middle seat, mum in the aisle, and the 6-ish year old in the window seat. The whole way through the flight Granny looked after the son- she played with him, read to him, took him to the loo and helped him with his food. Mum did exactly the same as me: flew as if she was alone. Jealous much?!

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Is the Internet good or bad for our children?

child-using-computerThese days it seems that almost from birth, children are immersed in a digitally rich environment, from tablets to desktops and texting to social networks. Despite efforts to keep technology away from children, there is no way that any parent can stop it all from becoming part of a child’s life, or at least maybe at first, but not once they reach 5 or older. But if we step back a little bit, we can see that there are advantages to allowing some access to technology. Digital technologies have potential benefits in the areas of cognitive, social and physical development. They have huge appeal for children, and this can be harnessed to help children socialise, develop and learn. Kids who are old enough to swipe a screen can have access to the world.

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What is it with males and dresses?

boy in a dressI have a beef about men and dresses. Either they love them or they hate them. No middle ground- it’s a polarising topic. Many men would run as fast as they could in the opposite direction when even the merest whiff of dresses comes up, while for other guys the chance to play dress-up is irresistible, and they will never say no when the opportunity arises…

I’m half Scottish. Need I say more?! I was brought up in a kilt- wearing environment, where at a party every single person there, male and female, would be wearing a skirt or dress (OK, OK- not a skirt, a kilt ;-)). I love the things, from the way they look and the colours they have to the way they make men behave- they bring out the gentleman in most men, and they obviously love the feeling and the comments they get from wearing one. Continue reading “What is it with males and dresses?”

When Christmas isn’t just the 25th

father-christmas-saint-02We’re at that time of year again- when you can’t enter a shop without being assaulted by festive music, the waft of cinnamon-infused everything, and hungry shoppers desperate for that last-minute bargain. Ahh, Christmas. How I have missed you.

Can I still call this time of year Christmas though? With friends from all over the world who celebrate different things from me I don’t want to insult anyone. I have even started saying ‘Happy Holidays!’ to my friends and students, complete with an American accent and lop-sided grin to go with it, as it feels so far removed from what I was brought up with and actually feel as the right expression for this season. If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings’ Day, you have a right to have it recognised. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays are all pleasantries. There’s nothing remotely hostile in those words. Sure, they may not be the words that some would choose to receive, but they’re far from insults.

Continue reading “When Christmas isn’t just the 25th”

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