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Jun 26, 2009

Happy 25th Anniversary, Children's Pre-School Center

A few weeks ago, Daniel's daycare (The Children's Pre-School Center in Palo Alto) celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was a great milestone: a daycare welcomes quite a number of children in 25 years and some of them are already adults by now!
But the main reason why this was a significant event is that the school's founder, Rachel Samoff, is still the director - and a great one- after 25 years. What a dedication to taking care of children over the years! The celebrations included well-deserved recognition for her fantastic work and achievements.

Daniel joined CPSC in October 2008, at 9 months. Since then, he has been thriving: looking forward to daycare every morning (eager to leave the house as soon as he wakes up!), and learning a lot. He loves his teachers: they really spend time with the children, and offer activities/learning opportunities that fit each kid's development stage. At the end of each day, the teachers can tell me a lot about Daniel's day: his new achievements, favorite activities, etc... I know he is only one of 12 children they have in the classroom, but still, I get a very personalized report.

I have had the chance to meet with Rachel a few times, and I have been fascinated by her knowledge of children development and her care for the children. As a director, she oversees the entire school and makes sure everything goes smoothly, from staff, to finances, facilities, etc. (and things run smoothly indeed). At the same time, she takes the time to observe the children, their particular characters and skills. I am impressed that she knows them so well, although she isn't the one spending time in the classroom all day. She even documents her interactions with the children in her blog, which is very informative for first time parents. (and I personally liked that one of the first articles talked about Daniel!)

Every time I talk to Rachel about Daniel, not only does she know a lot about him, but she also puts her observations in context with her knowledge of children development. She can explain to me what might go through his head when he does this or that. She makes recommendations on how to support him in his development given his own characteristics. What a great learning experience for me, and a true relief to know that Daniel is spending most of his time with people who understand him at least as much as I do. I know that, if I have a concern about Daniel, Rachel and her staff will be able to give me an informed - and objective- perspective on the situation. It's good to be part of this community.

And indeed, the Children's Pre-School center is a true community. Not only do teachers make an effort to establish strong relationships with the parents. But the parents are encouraged to interact with each other a lot. Events such as classroom breakfasts, Parents' Day celebration, and parent meetings are a great way to get to know other families with similar situations. The parent meetings are particularly useful: Rachel shares her knowledge about a particular topic, and shows related videos of the children, pointing to best-practices the teachers use to address a specific situation. These meetings also encourage discussions among the parents, so there is a great sense of support among the group.

Overall, we are very happy to have found CPSC for Daniel. He loves it, and we as parents feel really good that he is surrounded by such a great group of teachers. Kudos to Rachel for the success of CPSC over 25 years, and for the impact she has on so many children.

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Jun 24, 2009

10 reasons I love the toddler age

A good friend whose son is 1.5 year older than Daniel encouraged me through the first year by promising that the time from 12 to 18 months would be so much better. Now that Daniel is almost 18 months, I have to agree with her. The last couple of months have just been a blast, and I sometimes wish I could freeze time at this stage.
Here are 10 reasons why I think this phase is so great.

10. Fewer - and less messy - diaper changes.
(although accidents still happen from time to time)

9. No need to carry an entire bag of food/bottles with us when we go out.
Daniel can eat pretty much everything we can find outside, and he can drink from a straw (the greatest invention of all times!)

8. Baby clothes last longer.
Growth starts to slow down and toddlers are not picky about their clothes yet (they don't have to follow new trends by the minute). A set of clothes at this age lasts us at least 6 months.

7. Less carrying, more running.
With Daniel becoming more and more comfortable on 2 feet, there is less carrying involved (good, because he is about 30 pounds now!). However, running becomes more critical since he is very fast and loves to change direction whenever he feels like it... Oh well, different workout!

6. Rewarding Activities.
Daniel can now focus for a longer period of time, remember things well and he interacts in games a lot more. This allows for new activities that were not possible a few months ago: reading books, building towers, playing hide & seek, visiting the zoo, etc... A lot more rewarding for the parents (although it will still take a while until he can really play interesting games).

5. Independence, i.e. more time for the parents.
Daniel can even play by himself for a while, without needing to be around papa or mama. This frees up a lot of time!

4. Relationship building.
Daniel now recognizes not only "papa" and "mama", but he knows the names of all his friends at daycare, neighbors, and even our far-away family in Europe. He can remember people several days after seeing them, and usually expresses huge excitement when seeing them again. He also tends to spontaneously greet anything he sees: mailman, dog on the street, plane in the sky, aunt on the ground, doll... So cute!

3. Communication.
The ability to learn new words at this age (on a weekly, even daily basis) is fascinating. It's so much fun to notice new sounds, new applications of words, and an increased understanding of the world. How do they do that? And then, there are the mistakes toddlers make when confusing or misinterpreting words (e.g. Daniel calling a poodle "bee-bee" for sheep.) So cute!

2. More talking, more laughing, less crying
With more words to express what they need, toddlers don't resort to crying as much. Fortunately, tantrums are still a few months away (although starting to happen from time to time). This age is a great balance.
And then, there are the laughs, proud and yet innocent, when Daniel manages to overcome something difficult or play a trick on papa and mama... Priceless.

1. Sleep, sleep, sleep
Not only can Daniel sleep through the night, but he can also express when he is tired and needs to go to bed ("dodo" in French). No more crying at bedtime, and a more relaxing night for the parents. Yay!


So, if any new parent reads this blog, don't get discouraged... The infant age might be rough. But the fun is coming, and this will be a greatest reward.

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Jun 14, 2009

Why the Bay Area is great to raise multi-cultural kids

As a parent who speaks exclusively French to my baby Daniel while living in the US, I often feel unsure when talking to him in public places. I always wonder if other parents are thinking that this is strange or even worse, that this represents a lack of respect for the country I live in. It's true that it makes things more difficult: people around us don't understand what I tell Daniel, so they don't know if I am suggesting him to play with the other kids and be gentle, or to do something completely different. How can they know of my and my baby's good intentions if they don't understand what I say to him? After 17 months however, my brain has gotten so used to speaking French with Daniel, that I can't speak with him in English even if I try hard. Words will come in French, that's all.
Today was a typical Sunday for us: brunch with friends, visit at the playground. Nothing special, but plenty of time spent with other people. This could have brought a lot of my concerns about speaking French in public. However, a few situations reminded me why I love raising multi-cultural kids in the Bay Area.

First, during brunch. Some of the guests were German families with kids. Most of them speak German at home. We had a lot of discussions about the choice of schools (bilingual vs. English only or German only), and how to help kids know which language to use when. This felt very familiar.
Then, there was the playground. There were about 5 families when we were there. Daniel shared a toy-bus with another boy whose father was speaking to him in Spanish. I felt a lot better already. The father probably couldn't understand me when I spoke to Daniel, but I couldn't understand his interactions with his son either (well, I actually can understand Spanish, but this was just coincidence). In any case, the father didn't seem bothered to continue speaking Spanish in public. And it's something I have observed a lot around here: you can hear a lot of different languages in the playgrounds. And people interact happily with each other despite the language differences.
As I was playing with Daniel at the swing, a mother approached us with her 2 daughters, saying "bonjour". It turns out that she is French too, and her husband is Italian. The girls are learning French, Italian and English and they speak to their mom in French... If Daniel was a little bit older, I am sure he could appreciate the similarity to his situation.
So at the playground today, about as many children spoke French as the ones who spoke English. At least, another one spoke Spanish. While this doesn't quite represent an accurate sample of the Bay Area population, today reminded me how lucky I am to be raising a multi-cultural kid around here. There is a great openness for people speaking all kinds of different languages. And chances are Daniel will easily be able to find friends that speak his languages too. He just needs to go to the neighborhood playground on a typical Sunday...

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Jun 12, 2009

United Airlines Premier status at 24 months: a frequent flyer baby

Our recent trip to Turkey and France included 6 flights across the US, Germany, Turkey and France. As my husband and I were carrying our luggage and baby through the Frankfurt airport, we reflected about how happy we were that our 16-month old toddler was usually so good with flying. Especially at this age, he was so excited about vehicles, and airplanes in particular, that he was eager to fly. He loved airplanes so much, that he had to blow several kisses to one of our planes to say "good bye" after we got off. (At another time, he also threw a tantrum as he wanted to run to the plane even though the gates hadn't been opened yet... fortunately, they opened soon and we ended up the first ones to "rush" to the plane).
Another thought that occurred to us was that Daniel would probably become a United Airlines Premier member before he turned 2: two annual return trips to Europe and a few domestic flights would make him a frequent flyer baby. Overall, since birth Daniel has spent over 1% of his life in planes or airports. This is more time than he has spent taking baths!

Through these experiences, we have been fortunate to have a cooperative baby most of the time. He never seemed to complain about the altitude changes or any other discomforts related with flying. He followed his usual sleep schedule during night flights, which was great.
The most difficult time for flying was around the time he started walking (10-12 months). It was very hard to keep him on the same seat for so long. We ended up having to walk up and down the aisle of the plane (We made a lot of friends in these circumstances, though) or letting him climb up and down his seat. Now that he is older, Daniel likes to read books and can manage to remain seated in one place for a longer period of time. This helps a lot. Judging from watching 2-year old kids around us, things should get even easier from there. He should soon be able to entertain himself at his seat.

Before walking, our baby was a really good traveler too: he slept a lot and he didn't need to move much. The bassinets for infants are not always much help, though. On one flight, we had one bassinet that had to lie on the floor. We were constantly worried that we would step on it, or that Daniel was too cold.
3-month old Daniel in the bassinet on the floor
flying baby

For our international flights, we have recently been booking a separate seat for our baby and bringing his baby car seat with us. We think this helps a lot, as it gives him room to stand/climb, and also a familiar and comfortable place to sleep. It's more expensive, but it's definitely worth the price.
Another trick was to bring toys Daniel had never seen before. Before each trip, we have replenished our "small toy" collection, so that Daniel's curiosity stays fresh. This has proven to be very beneficial: Small vehicles or animals were a hit. That said, we have found that we didn't need to bring much after all. Between the interactions with the other passengers (peek-a-boo does wonders), reading through the plane's magazines, and watching the activity at the airport through the window, we found quite a few things to do on the plane. Overall, we still manage to travel with hand-luggage only.

As I have browsed blogs in search of parenting information, I have noticed that a majority of soon-to-be or new parents are afraid to travel with babies. Since our families are in Europe, we haven't had the choice: we put our baby on his first intercontinental flight at 3 months. He did great, and we have been traveling with him ever since.

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Jun 4, 2009

First abstract words

During our vacation, I have had much more time to be with baby Daniel than at home, and I have been able to observe his talking skills more closely. I also think that, by hearing French from me and German from my husband a lot more than usual, he drastically improved his understanding of these 2 languages in the last couple of weeks. Maybe, it might have been a coincidence, and a trend that will continue after our vacation: Daniel is just able to master enough sounds now to feel more confident trying to repeat every new word he hears. In any case, these last 2 weeks have made a huge difference in Daniel's vocabulary. New words include "fleur" (flower), "taxi", "ameise"/"fourmi" (aunt), "bateau"/"boat", "frosch" (frog), "gateau" (cookie), "lune"/"mond" (lune).
What I have found most interesting was to observe Daniel start to understand abstract concepts. Right before leaving for vacation, I tried to introduce him to the concept of "hot".

The weather at home was really nice, and it was a great opportunity to teach that the car was hot, the playground was hot, etc... I didn't expect this concept to stick much, though. Still, since then Daniel has not only been able to communicate when an environment is hot, but he also uses the word when expressing that the water is hot, food is hot, etc...Daniel even understands that smoke or a sunny spot on the ground are associated with something hot.
Additionally, Daniel seems to now grasp the concept of ownership. He currently uses English to express it, but the word "my" had definitely become part of his active vocabulary. He uses it in the right context and with a strong expression that shows that he understands how he could use it to his advantage.
With the additional sounds and the ability to understand abstract concepts, I expect that Daniel's talking skills will improve even faster now. We will see what happens when we put English back in the mix, when we return from vacation.

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