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Jul 28, 2009

Meeting Thomas The Train

Last weekend, we brought our 18-month old toddler to "meet Thomas the train" at Roaring Camp Railroad. While Roaring Camp Railroads is open all year around and hosts various events, this one was special. It staged the characters of the Thomas The Train series, a children's favorite. The whole event included a 25-minute ride on Thomas the train, a Thomas puppet theater, Thomas tattoos, hay bale, bouncy house. Daniel had great time.

At first, we were not sure if he liked it... He was very serious during the ride and didn't want to talk to us or do anything with us. He wanted to stand by himself in the train and stare at it. Nothing could distract him from his "mission". We were concerned that it might be too much for him to absorb in one day... When we left, though, we realized how much he had enjoyed the ride, just in his own way. He was so sad to leave that he couldn't stop crying for maybe 10 minutes! Our typical, very communicative Daniel was back!



Fortunately, there were other activities for him to do, which he ended up enjoying as well. The hay bale and the bouncy house were a hit.



I am not sure Daniel know what this was exactly, but he liked hiding behind the set.


The drive there was quite long (1.5 hours each way), but we think it was worth it. Daniel is currently in his train phase, and he definitely learned a lot from being own a real train. We went there with 2 other families with other kids, so it was a great way to catch up and keep the kids entertained.

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Jul 24, 2009

What's the word for "bus"? A trilingual baby's challenge

Over the last few months, Daniel's vocabulary has grown tremendously. He can now pronounce most sounds, which allows him to say any word he wants. Daniel likes to repeat everything he hears from us, and he doesn't need much time to make these words part of his active vocabulary. Every day, the list grows. Daniel is now at the point, where he is able to call several objects, animals, body parts, etc.. in 3 languages (we are raising him with English, French, German).
Examples would be flower/Blume/fleur, foot/Fuss/pied, bread/Brot/pain or more/mehr/encore. In most cases, he clearly picks a language when talking to us and he sounds quite self-confident when communicating. He doesn't always use the right word for the right person (he might speak to me in German for instance), but he definitely clearly expresses what he wants.

Interestingly enough, the one word he seems to be struggling with right now is the word for bus. The names in German and French are Bus and bus, respectively. Yes, same words in all 3 languages, just with a slightly different pronunciation.
When Daniel points to a bus, he often says the word 3 times, with the 3 different sounds, as if trying to test which one is the right one. He knows that my husband and I can understand all 3 words, but that we have preferences (the way we have preferences for the other words in our native languages). While Daniel usually focuses on one word for everything else he talks about, when talking about a bus, Daniel gives several options for us to choose from. This is an interesting exception.

I am wondering if Daniel is getting confused because the sounds are so close to each other. So, instead of learning them as 3 distinct words like he does for flower/Blume/fleur, he learns "bus" as one word and he doesn't quite know how to pronounce it. So he tries everything.

When I hear him propose the different options, I wonder what to respond. I could just repeat the word in French, ignoring all other sounds, to reinforce what is the right word in my language. This is usually the tactic for all other words in uses in the wrong language. In this particular example, though, this might make him feel that he made a mistake pronouncing differently and lead him to believe that this is only one right option for "bus". I could also try to explain along the lines of: "yes, this is a bus (in French). Papa also calls it Bus (in German) and friends at daycare call is bus (in English)". I am not sure how much Daniel would understand for now. But he might notice that I use the different sounds different contexts, so these are not just the same words. The confusion might come from hearing me use all 3 options, not helping to tie back one sound with one language.

In the end, I think Daniel will be able to sort it out, the same way he already understands the distinction between the other words in his vocabulary. That said, I anticipate that this confusion might happen a few more times for very similar words (think bed vs. Bett; chair vs. chaise). Hopefully at some point, he will "get it" and the issue will disappear for all the tricky situations all together. It might take a while. In the meantime, patience, encouragement and repetition will be key.

Has anyone experience a similar situation?

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Jul 19, 2009

18-month toddler milestone: Patience and concentration kick in

Today, my husband and I witnessed a drastic change in Daniel's skills and behavior. This was probably in the works all along, but today, it clearly struck us for the first time.
As a matter of fact, my husband and I were still discussing yesterday how it could sometimes be difficult to entertain Daniel over a few hours, and how he could get easily frustrated when playing by himself. Every time, he got "stuck" (one of his favorite words right now), he would complain and cry for help. We were wondering when we might come to a point where Daniel could play by himself for more than a few minutes at a time and be happy with it.
Well, today, this happened!
My husband and Daniel had come back from shopping with a balloon (like every Sunday; this is one of the activities they both enjoy). For the first time, Daniel learned how to pull on the cord to be able to hold the balloon in his hands. When he mastered the skills, he asked to go and play in his bed (his favorite place for time alone, except that he only likes to stay for a few minutes usually). This time, he played for at least 10 minutes, pulling the balloon and releasing it, enjoying seeing/hearing the balloon hit the ceiling every time. I am sure pulling the cord was not easy, since it was his first time learning how to do it. But I didn't hear any complain during this whole time.
Later, Daniel mastered how to tie small vehicles into a train and drive the train through a tunnel. There again, he played in his bed for a long time, building the 10-piece train over and over, without complaining when things fell apart (which happened). He was so proud of his new train, and so focused in doing things right! The patience and the sense of purpose were definitely new to us, and so interesting to watch!
At the end of the day, Daniel also played well in the backyard, pushing his wagon across the yard, filling it in and emptying it as he saw fit. He seemed to make up the rules as he went, commenting on his activities with long sentences (which we couldn't decipher, unfortunately).
It was very interesting to observe this new behavior, especially in light of yesterday, where Daniel was not always in a good mood. I am sure it will take time until this new pattern establishes itself as the rule, and I expect that there will be a few setbacks (and writing about the great progress probably jinxed it for now). But it's very encouraging to see this new level of patience, focus and fine motor skills.
I will need to remember it on days when Daniel needs more help or gets frustrated more easily. He is definitely on his way to become an independent toddler!

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Jul 18, 2009

So passionate about everything, so many heartbreaks

Our 18-month old toddler is a curious and interested little guy. In general, he is quite easy-going and adapts well to new environments. He doesn't need to carry a comforting object (except for his collection of 4-5 pacifiers for sleep time) and he usually does well with new people. His ability to find every new experience exciting and to enjoy it to the fullest has been a great advantage when traveling to new places (for instance our Turkey vacation). However, the drawback is that our baby hates leaving places/things that he just learned to like.

For instance, during our vacation, he had a hard time leaving the planes (had to kiss them many, many good-byes). He also found it heart-breaking when we left a taxi we had taken for a short ride through town... It was his first taxi ride ever, and he was so excited to try it, except that it was over much too quickly for his taste. He cried so much when we left, the poor cab driver didn't know what to do!

On more regular basis, I find myself having to comfort Daniel when leaving daycare, the playground, the car, the grocery store (yes, he already loves shopping like me... actually, it's rather because they have these carts with play cars attached, a hit!), etc... In short, he hates leaving pretty much every place we visit. It doesn't seem to matter that each of these great places is usually followed by the next great place/activity. He doesn't yet understand that he has to leave a place to get to the next. So going away is hard.

I have also noticed that Daniel is usually very sad when the neighbor cat goes away after crossing our backyard, or when a train passes by and goes within a few seconds, etc.. Why do all interesting things go by so quickly?

However, in these situations, it's not him who leaves, but other "things". It's interesting that Daniel seems to have learned to cope better with these situations. He usually spends a few minutes saying "bye-bye", "all done", "parti" (gone), probably to process the "loss". But he very rarely cries.

After realizing this, I have tried to apply it to situations where Daniel is the one who has to leave. I try to prepare him as much as I can for the emotion of leaving. I let him say as many good-byes as needed. Sometimes, it works well and I am impressed that my cooperative toddler will quickly walk with me to the car, waving bye-bye to the place we are leaving. In a lot of cases, the process takes longer and I need several attempts to get him to accept that we need to leave. And in the most difficult cases, I end up having to take him and carry him to the car as it seems to be the only way to leave. Usually, desperate cries accompany us in these situations.

On my side, I always feel bad to think about the emotion that must be going on inside him. He always seems to be so happy where he is. He has to learn how to process the difficulty of leaving and it's not easy. I know this is part of the toddler learning process, and that this is necessary for him to be able to go through more difficult transitions as a more mature person. It still breaks my heart from time to time when I think of how heart-broken he is himself.

Has anyone found good ways to deal with this situation?

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Jul 12, 2009

How was your weekend?

When going back to work on Monday mornings, my colleagues and I often ask each other how our respective weekends were. Most of them don't have kids, and they usually talk about the great unique things they did during this particular weekend: went to a live concert, went rafting in the wilderness, spent an entire day at the spa, etc... Against these exciting activities, my weekend summary sounds quite dull (and pretty much the same every week), and yet, I am usually happy with my it. I used to be the type of person who has a full weekend schedule, from working out to taking all types of classes to meeting with friends. But things have changed when our baby came along...

My husband and I both work full time. Since our son was born, our weekend plans have shifted from traveling and enjoying the great outdoors as much as possible, to catching up on sleep and spending time with our 18-month old son. By now, we have established a routine that usually allows us to do just that. And, honestly, at this point, this is just the right thing. Incredible how one's perspective changes when kids are added to the equation!
For our weekend routine, I usually take Daniel on Saturday morning (I go to an excellent Baby Boot camp class with him - a great way to stay in shape, meet other moms and other kids), and my husband does the Sunday morning shift (he and Daniel regularly do our weekly shopping together, which Daniel enjoys a lot). That way, each of us gets a chance to sleep in once a week. Then, in the afternoon, we usually enjoy activities such as going to the playground, meeting with friends, going to the pool, going out for coffee/dinner locally, etc... We might do some of these activities together or we alternate, depending on how much work each of us has to work over the weekend. When we have a lot of energy, we might include a bigger program, such as going to the Oakland zoo (very well done for young kids), Deer Hollow Farm, or going to see the beach. Daniel really seems to enjoy going to the playground or the pool, so it sounds like this routine works for him as well.
Spending this weekend time together allows us to notice Daniel's progress better, and most importantly to enjoy being with him more than during the week. This weekend, highlights would be: his excitement when playing with bowls in the water; his sharing his toys with another baby at Baby Boot Camp (so cute), and his first attempts at driving his tricycle by himself (almost there but not quite).
Is it too little to expect from a weekend? Would we want to trade these experiences for the times when we could have true adventures during the weekend? Not sure for now.
We still have more exciting adventures with Daniel during our vacations, but we like the current pace of our weekends when we have to work all week. I expect that, when Daniel is older, we will probably want to go back to more active weekends, and it will be fun to have him around when we do so. It might take a few more years until he is able to participate in the type of weekends we had before he was born, though.

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Jul 3, 2009

Do coupon code boxes deter online shoppers?

I shop a lot, especially online, and I would describe myself as a methodical shopper who likes good deals. In most cases, I start shopping with a specific goal in mind, and I only put something in my cart when I find the exact product that corresponds to my needs. Then, if I hear that I just need to add another item to be eligible for a discount/free shipping/etc... I might respond to this promo and check if there is something else I might like. But I will only buy a product that I deem useful enough.

Lately, I have started to be really annoyed when going through the check-out process of some online retailers. And it's too bad, as I might not include them in my list next time I look for a product they carry.

Here is the scenario: after spending several hours browsing retail sites, comparing prices, reading reviews, I have finally made up my mind for what I want to buy. I found the right item at the right price. Thinking "finally, almost done", I enter my password, take out my credit card and decide which shipping address to use. It should only take a few minutes from there. Relief!
But then, there it comes, my dreaded encounter: the "do you have an online coupon/discount code?" box! Well, no, I don't have a code since I found the product through methodical research and not through a promo... But I want one, now that I know I could/should get a discount on this product. Panic kicks in. How do I find a code now?
I frantically go through my inbox to see if I received a recent email with a relevant code (in most cases, I didn't). I browse all the coupon sites I can find, and look everywhere for a coupon for that particular retailer. Still nothing, at most, expired codes... I go on affiliate websites, customer forums, etc.. I pray that Google search can point me to the code information I am looking for.
After spending another half hour searching the web for that magic code, I usually end up empty-handed.
Now what? This is the critical point. By then, it's usually late, I am tired, frustrated, and feeling that I am going to waste money if I can't find a coupon. I can either wait a few days and spend more time looking for the coupon (or hoping a new one will show in my mailbox soon) - this means I will probably never buy that thing. Or I can click the "buy" button now, and have forever buyer remorse that I didn't get the best deal on a product I had so carefully chosen.
In either case, I leave the retailer site with a bad memory of my experience, and I might not even buy the product I was interested in.
Is this really what retailers want?

This might be due to the recession or it might have always been the case and I didn't notice, but these "do you have an online coupon/discount code?" boxes seem to have become more prominent with e-commerce websites lately. I understand why they need to exist from time to time, but I would argue that
1. they should be removed when the retailer doesn't have a promotion going on.
2. they shouldn't be as prominent as to discourage shoppers who don't have a discount.

I might represent a small minority of shoppers. Those who like a deal but don't start their shopping based on the codes they have (but rather based on what they need). Maybe most methodical shoppers might not care whether they get a good deal at the end after all, but I do.

And I am willing to spend money online. I just don't want to feel I am being cheated. As long as these code boxes are prominent with some shopping sites, I might just ignore them to avoid the frustration. I will stick to websites that don't require codes, and where their promotions are easy for everyone to see and enjoy.
Retailers who rely on discount codes might want to think of the negative impact as well...

What are your thoughts?

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Jul 2, 2009

Resources to teach American kids French

UPDATE:
I discovered an online store that sells books and DVDs in a variety of foreign languages (DVDs coded for region 1). It's World of Reading. Among others, they have a lot of Dora DVDs in French, and they are a hit with our 18-month toddler. They require toddler participation in speaking, dancing and pointing at objects, which he enjoys a lot.
Although they look like a small company, customer service was great and shipping was fast. Highly recommended.

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Recently, I was at a park with our baby, and I met a mom who was fascinated by the fact that Daniel is learning 3 languages. She heard me speak to him in French and him respond in French and/or English and/or German (yes, it's still a little bit random at this age), and she thought it was exciting. As I have written in previous articles, raising a trilingual kid isn't an easy task every day. But the expectation is that Daniel will be able to sort out the languages eventually and find himself trilingual at a young age.
The mom I met has a good knowledge of French, and she started thinking that she might want to pass this along to her kids from an early age as well. She asked me where to find resources to support her, in order to surround her kids with French, were she to start teaching them French. I told her the following, and I thought other people might be interested too.

Overall, there are a lot of resources to teach American kids French, from books, DVDs, music, etc... Buying online is probably the easiest way.
* Online Search results show a high number of hits for searches around French titles, and I would definitely recommend starting there if you have something specific in mind.
* Amazon.com itself has a lot of titles in various languages. For French alone, the current offering is 48,000 books, ~100 DVDs and ~200 CDs. This is more than enough for a young kid to absorb!
* Additionally, you can look for the Canadian websites of Amazon and eBay. Amazon Canada has a francophone section, and eBay Canada offers a lot of deep catalogue/older French titles.
* Finally, visiting playgrounds in the Bay Area turns out to be another great way to surround kids with French, as I have found out myself: I met 3 other French-speaking families in 2 different playgrounds in the last month! OK, I admit, this was just coincidence, and I wouldn't count on this as a plan to help kids learn French. But still, many kids around here are raised with various languages. You might be able to find French-speaking playgroups in your area that would love to invite you.

Finding resources shouldn't be the bottleneck in trying to teach American kids French, and I hope you will find this encouraging. I think the key is consistency and discipline, and this is harder. That said, I would argue that any exposure to a foreign language is a great starting point, so go ahead and try it!
I hope this is helpful, and I welcome other suggestions to find French-speaking materials for kids in the US.

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