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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.

School uniforms… yay or nay?

uniformMy daughter starts school this September- in Austria we’re a little later than other
countries round the world, so she’ll be 6 by the time she walks through the doors for the first time. Friends in the UK, Australia and the USA have already made the big step, fondly photographed and posted on social media by the parents. So I watch and (patiently) wait for my turn.

Am I the only mother who loves the look of the Grade 1 child in his or her new school uniform? The too big skirt and still bright-coloured jumper? The excited smile on the child’s face, as they have now graduated from Kindergarten to the ‘big girl’s school’? I remember finally being old enough to go to primary school in the UK, four long years after my sister had started. Weeks, or maybe months before the term started I had tried on my new uniform, loving the look and feel of it far more than I did once I was actually forced to wear it in class. And from then on I didn’t really think about the uniform, except on those days when we had ‘home clothes day’ and could come in looking different from usual.

There are many nay-sayers, who cannot agree with the concept of uniform- hate the colour, the style, the necessity of wearing something not their choice. So not everyone loves a uniform! But in school there are definite advantages that one can bring, and here are a few:

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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