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Feb 26, 2010

Loving the 2-year age

I had been thinking about the day Daniel would turn 2 with apprehension. Everyone talked about the Terrible 2s and how toddlers can drive their parents crazy. And it looked as though we were in for a tough time in January. Daniel had started showing signs of strong personality and bad character in December, when we were visiting family in Europe. We weren't sure if we should attribute this to a development phase or just the change in environment. We hoped it was the latter, and that things would get back to normal after coming back home.

As we returned, Daniel turned 2, and he showed us very well what 2-year old tantrums were about. Right in the first 5 days after his birthday, we had to face crisis for anything he decided he didn't like, from getting out of the car or cleaning up toys to brushing his teeth or getting dressed. He was questioning everything that used to be part of the routine and testing whether he could create his own rules. It was though! But we stayed consistent as much as possible, repeating that there was no negotiation around the routine. After 5 days, the tantrums stopped, and it seems that Daniel has learned the lesson: he has been pretty cooperative since then.

He even tries to "help" us a lot, even when we don't need help. It's cute. Also, he is really starting to use the polite words like "thanks" and "please".... and to say "I love you", completely unprompted! Definitely much easier to deal with, and all worth the couple of days of trouble!

So, we can now focus on enjoying the very positive sides of raising a 2-year old: the steep learning curve and the creativity. The learning curve is impressive, both in term of language development as well as understanding the world (e.g. how Daniel already understands the upcoming arrival of his little sister).

The creativity is so fun to watch too. It makes playing with toddlers so much easier: they drive the show by themselves. Recently, Daniel found the hose of a vacuum cleaner toy, and for the next hour or so, this hose became:
- a firefighter hose
- a doctor's syringe
- a cord to hold horses
- a tennis raquette
- a necklace
- a elephant nose (with Daniel making real elephant sounds... I should have recorded it!)
- a flute
- etc...

It was so much fun to watch, and we really didn't have to do anything to keep the game going. The perfect solution!

Also, this is a short extract of one of the daily summaries for Daniel's daycare. Imagination hard at work. I can see that the teachers are having a lot of fun with kids this age.

"Whenever Daniel is playing with pegs, his creative imagination is always working. His creation could turn into something else in an instant. Today he decided to use what he created as a flute. Last time it was a guitar. Anyway, he marched around the table making the sound of a flute and it really sounded like one. He was an enthusiastic musician. Noah was encouraged to join in. Max was also encouraged to join the jubilant group. Jun saw the fun activity that was going on. Although she was very engaged with Lego play, she took what she had created and joined in the fun. When Bryce came into the door with his mom Brooke, our jubilant band stopped in front of them and started dancing and serenading them.”

I wish I had been there! The 2-year phase is not that bad after all. Hope it continues to be as much fun!

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Feb 19, 2010

Raising trilingual kids: language at 25 months

Until a couple of months ago, Daniel's language skills were progressing steadily, and he was generally at the same stage across all 3 languages at any given time.
Recently, his English has definitely started to pick up, and it is now a lot more advanced than his French and German. It's not really surprising: he is surrounded by English-speaking teachers and friends 9-10 hours a day at daycare. And he has a lot of incentives in communicating about all kinds of things with them.

Among the recent achievements:
- Daniel can -finally- make sentences using the 1st person (I bring Mama the truck instead of Daniel bring(s) Mama the truck). Granted, he is also trying to make 1st-person sentences in French and German too, but they usually sounds like "I manger", "I werfen" (using "I" and the wrong form of the verb in the respective language).

In hindsight, this is not surprising. Once Daniel started speaking in the 1st person, we realized that we hadn't given him a lot of opportunities to learn this form in French and German. Not sure why, but we had gotten into the habit of using the 3rd person when talking about him or us (e.g. "mama is coming back" as opposed to "I am coming back"). It might have been an easy thing to do at the beginning, when we knew he understood the concept of "mama" and "Daniel" much better than the concept of "I" or "you". But this would explain why Daniel doesn't have a lot of experience with first-person sentences in French or German. Also, the changes in verb use depending on the person might make it more difficult to embrace the first-person form in French or German. That said, it's probably not really an issue, because

- Daniel is starting to use various forms of tenses correctly - in English only. For instance, he will say "I broke the toy", "the toy is broken", using the correct form. Wow, starting with the irregular verbs!

- Daniel is now using more complex sentence structures, with a lot more qualifiers (e.g. negatives, "any more", "many", etc...)

At this point, Daniel's sentences in French and German are still very basic: mostly the key nouns of a sentence. So he is a little bit behind there. However, it's great to see that he is starting to understand how to put sentences together. Eventually, once he masters English, I hope that he will be able to apply the learnings to the other languages and adapt to the specific grammar rules.

Among other news: Daniel also picked up some Chinese at daycare. One of his new classmates had only been surrounded by Chinese until joining the class a few weeks ago. As she had a hard time adjusting, teachers tried to help her by letting her know in Chinese that "mommy is coming back", "everything is OK". Well, guess who picked up these sentences at school? Daniel did! He has been very empathic with his little friend, hugging her when she cries and even talking about her a lot after school. He wanted to help her too. It probably helped that he is already used to picking up different languages. Why not just add a couple of sentences to his arsenal when talking to this particular friend who happens to say things in a different language?

Also, Daniel is really starting to sing a lot, and he can now dissect a song to try to understand what the story is about. I have been playing this CD of French songs during our commute to daycare for over a year, and it's now getting to be a lot of fun (although I am completely bored with it myself). Daniel recognizes some words in the songs, and he asks what this is about. When he understands enough of the story, he wants to hear the same song over and over again, until he knows it all. So cute!
Funnily enough, some of the songs in the CD are the same songs he learns at daycare. But mine are in French while he learned them in English. I am not quite sure what Daniel thinks about this for now. He seems more perplex than anything, usually asking for the English-speaking song when the French version comes in. I try to explain to him that it's the same song in different languages. But I am not sure how much Daniel understands about the concept of languages yet. To be continued...

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Feb 9, 2010

Daniel and his stuffed friend Elmo

So far, Daniel never had a favorite doll or stuffed toy. His most precious property was his pacifier(s), which we are slowly trying to take away - and thinking we are making some progress.
We thought that he is just the type of kid that doesn't need a cuddle object. It's just how it is (and we didn't complain given the horror stories we heard about kids panicking when cuddle objects are lost). Interestingly enough, though, things changed drastically in the last month.

When we came back from vacation, Daniel moved to a new class at his daycare, and the transition was a little bit difficult. The teachers suggested that we should bring his favorite toy to the classroom as a way to make the environment a bit more familiar. I first thought that it wouldn't make a big difference... I didn't know what favorite toy would work. But then, I decided to give it a try and bring a stuffed Elmo to class.
Daniel had been playing with this Elmo on and off for quite a while, and he likes the character on TV. I thought it would be a good choice. Little did I imagine that Elmo would become the companion of choice for anything Daniel now does.
We have to bring Elmo to daycare every day now. Additionally, Elmo needs to sleep together with Daniel at night (before, Daniel would reject any stuffed toy we tried to offer him for night time). Daniel takes him to have breakfast, to play in the park, he makes sure he is healthy, gives him band-aids when he is hurt, etc.... Daniel hugs Elmo when he is feeling sad. in short, Daniel and Elmo are best friends now!

How things change in a few weeks! I think Elmo's presence came at a crucial point: right when Daniel was paying a lot of attention to relationships and people; and right when he felt insecure. Now, I have noticed that a lot of Daniel's friends from daycare bring a stuffed toy too. It sounds like it's a common pattern at this age.

It will be interesting to see how long this friendship lasts. In a way, it's great to see that Daniel has found a way to enhance his social skills and comforting skills. It might also be helping him transition out of the pacifier. At the same time, I hope he won't become too attached to the point of panicking if we forget him. Maybe it's time to buy a back-up Elmo?

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Feb 5, 2010

Things we learn from our 2-year old

Daniel has been going to this awesome daycare, the Children's Preschool Center, since being 9 months old. They offer a weekly music program for all children, starting at the infant level. Daniel has enjoyed it from the very beginning, and he is now a big music fan. He loves to play guitar (with a toy guitar or anything else he finds that can be used as a pretend-guitar), flute (or pretend flute) and drums. Recently, he has also started singing the songs he learns at daycare, and it's clear that he is completely into them. It was particularly striking when he started singing "Jingle Bells" very loudly in the middle of a flight, right when everyone was sleeping. I wonder if the other passengers appreciated the entertainment, though.

Now that he brings back from daycare a couple of new songs a week, it's been an interesting experience for us trying to keep up. Since neither my husband nor I grew up in the US, we have very little knowledge of typical children's songs. I even realized, as Daniel started to sing "Twinkle, twinkle" the other day, that I don't know the lyrics of this famous song past the first line!

So, we are usually left to try to guess what Daniel is singing based on what we can understand from him (his pronunciation isn't always very clear, so this adds to the challenge). For instance: "Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool" becomes "Baa, baa, black sheep, happy boy" when Daniel sings it! Love the creativity, but it doesn't help us recognize the songs!

We usually do research online; YouTube and Google are great resources for this. Or we ask the teachers the next day. Fortunately, because Daniel has a good sense of rhythm, it's quite easy to recognize when he is attempting to sing vs. saying a normal sentence. So, it helps us a little bit.

But, even when we eventually learn the lyrics, we will probably never be able to sing him the songs the way a native speaker would. We won't know any of the other traditions (movements, signs, expressions, etc....) that come with the songs. So we just need to hope Daniel will learn them at daycare, and some day, show us how things are done here... This is only the beginning of Daniel teaching us things!

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