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May 31, 2010

Learning proper English in a trilingual environment

As I mentioned in a few earlier posts about Daniel's progress in language development, English has now become his primary language, by far. It's not really surprising, since Daniel is surrounded by English speakers for 9-10 hours a day at daycare, TV from time to time and American friends we meet during the weekends. At almost 2.5 years, Daniel is able to make correct complex sentences in English, while his sentence structure in French and German is very basic, if existing at all. In most cases, he just starts a sentence using the English filler words (e.g. the, with, tomorrow, etc...) and just includes the main words in French and German as he sees fit, depending on the person he is talking to. Interestingly enough, when we explain to him a complex concept in French or German, Daniel repeats the explanations almost word by word... in English. He definitely understands everything we tell him in the other languages, but he processes things in English. In a way, it's a good sign: it means that he is now self-sufficient in English to be able to create his own sentences from scratch. It doesn't look like he is eager to speak full sentences in French or German, though.

As a way to continue to boost his French and German, my husband and I make a point of repeating most of what Daniel tells us in English in our own language. This way, we think that at least, he gets familiar with the vocabulary around concepts he is currently thinking about. Over time, we hope that it will encourage Daniel to make his own full sentences in French or German when talking to each of us.

That said, we regularly have some concern that Daniel doesn't really get a lot of support in learning the proper English. While his sentence structure is good, Daniel still makes a lot of mistakes in English. Recent examples include: "I ate all of them" (when talking about eating all the yogurt), "He is crying" (when talking about his sister). Since we repeat these sentences to him in different languages, we don't have the opportunity to correct his English at the same time. I doubt that the friends he mostly talks to at daycare correct him either, and the teachers probably don't have time. So, how will he know how to correctly use "all of" or the right words for the right gender? I guess it will take him more time to fit all the pieces together. And in the absence of someone repeating right away with the proper form, he will have to use long-term memory and deductive reasoning to come to his own conclusions on the grammar rules.

Hopefully, it's not a big deal... He has already made it this far without any support from us in English. We need to be patient and hope he will listen well when other people speak proper English around him. We will see. To be continued...

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May 16, 2010

Toddler fun: visiting farms in the South Bay

Our 2-year old son has been interested in animals from the youngest age. And indeed, many of his first words were animal sounds. In the past year, we have looked for ways to foster this interest in animals, and have tried to find farms to visit around the Bay Area. Today, we discovered a new one that we are very excited about. We now have quite a few options, which will become handy as we will need to find entertainment options for Daniel and his new sister for the next several years.

The farms we have visited include:
* Hidden Villa Farm: Animals include pigs, cows, chicken, sheep. There is also a nice garden with a variety of plants and crops. The farm is easy to walk to from the parking lot, and it's quite compact. It has a limited number of animals, though.

* Deer Hollow Farm (Rancho San Antonio park): This is a small farm with one cow, sheep and goats, pigs, rabbits and chicken. It's about a mile away from the parking lot, so you will need to take a stroller (preferably jogger) or your kid will need to be able to walk long distances.

* Ardenwood Farm: This is actually more than an animal exhibit. It is a complete farm, restored over the grounds of an old one. It includes the mansion, nice lawns incl. gazebo, various barns, a collection of old tractor pieces, a blacksmith, an old train. As far as animals are concerned, we could see sheep, goats, a cow, horses, chicken and turkeys (free range) and birds in an aviary. The size of the farm is quite extensive, but still manageable for a 2-year old on foot (one-way... we took the train on the way back). I think it could be a great destination in the summer, it could be very pleasant for picnics, and there are many picnic areas.

Daniel running after the free range chicken
ardenwood farm free range chicken

On the way back to the entrance in the historical train
ardenwood farm train

I will add to the list when I come across other interesting destinations. Do you know any other interesting farms for kids in the Bay Area?

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May 4, 2010

Big brother Daniel

Having a new baby is a lot of work, and there isn't much reward at this age. While Charlotte is developing every day - and a good baby in general, her progress is slow and she doesn't really give a lot of positive feedback. So far, I find it a lot easier to take care of a baby with a toddler around. Daniel is so much fun at this age, that I get a lot out of just watching him. And this makes a big difference to my days spent alone with a baby.

For instance, we discovered that Daniel had made a lot of progress with drawing. Not only can he draw a couple of shapes by himself, but he is really good at concentrating now. He tries really hard to draw what he plans to do. It's really fun and interesting to watch. We can have discussions about the stories he is laying out. This is such a fun interaction.

Also, the other day, we were watching a kid movie where the main character was sad and frustrated. It was interesting to watch how Daniel kept suggesting that the character should go to his daddy... I guess his assumption is that Daddy can make things a lot better when you are not doing well. How cute!

Finally, on the big brother front, Daniel has been great so far. He gets very excited when Charlotte wakes up, and he pays a lot of attention to what she does, asking a lot of questions (it also turns out that he is in the "why" phase, so he applies it to his observations about Charlotte). He is also very protective of his little sister. When people approach us to look at her, he always want to make sure they are nice to her. He also makes a point of pushing her stroller when we go out... So nice!

We still have to teach him to be gentle. Daniel wants to help her, but patting on the back or offering the pacifier sometimes takes the form of pushing things on his poor baby sister. I know he will be able to learn it, and hopefully, he will continue to be a caring big brother.

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May 3, 2010

Welcome, baby girl!

A week ago, I was writing about all the changes that were happening in our family, and wondering if our baby girl would wait a little until Daniel had adapted to the new environment before making her grand entrance.

Well, it turns out, she didn't.

She came in 10 days in advance, and rushing to come out. The entire birth process took less than 2 hours! It almost started as the worst case scenario I had been afraid of: baby coming in early (before grandparents were here to be baby-sitters for Daniel), labor progressing very quickly (very little time to get organized for plan B). But fortunately, a couple of things played in our favor.

Labor started when we were all home, at night. We didn't have to rush back from work and think about the logistics of picking up Daniel from daycare. This would have been a major issue given that we barely had time to make it to the hospital as is (I only stayed in the birthing room for 20 minutes!) Our back-up baby-sitter, who lives 1 hour away, turned out to be closeby when we called her, and she was able to come in within 20 minutes. She probably wouldn't have made it on time if she had had to come from home, and we would have had to take Daniel to the hospital with us, I guess. Not ideal.
We were also lucky that we left close to Daniel's bed time, so he didn't have to spend too much time wondering what was going on and waiting for us. When he woke up the next morning, Daddy was already back. And he was the most excited big brother to come and say Hi to little sister Charlotte at the hospital. And then, the last piece of luck was that Charlotte was born during the week, so we could send Daniel to daycare while adjusting to the new baby for a few days. By the time the weekend came around, we were back at home, which made it much easier to handle.

Baby Charlotte is a healthy baby: 3.5kg, 51.5cm. Strong lungs and a good appetite!
I have to say that I didn't really start realizing what was happening until about 30 minutes after she was born. Initially, I was in a weird phase, where I didn't have enough energy to enjoy her much. I was still processing the quick change of events. 2 hours before, I had been cooking, talking to Daniel about the book we would be reading before bed time, and thinking about all the work I would have to do tomorrow. Things had changed so drastically and I had had to leave my first born at home and had now a new baby. There was no chance I would finish the work I had left pending! I was also in terrible pain for some time after the birth, the after effects of things happening so fast.

Fortunately, things got better and the recovery went fast too. I quickly started enjoying my little girl. I will report on Charlotte's first days in the next post. Stay tuned!

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