By Cheryl Chepusova
Why learn a heritage language?
In our family, we have two children under the age of 5 and we speak four languages with them regularly: our community language, English, along with three of our heritage languages: Chinese (Cantonese Chinese and Mandarin Chinese) from myself and Russian from my husband. Before our children were born, my husband and I decided that it would be important for us to share our mother tongues with our children. Later on in their lives, our children may still want to study a foreign language of their choice, but their heritage language learning is about exactly that: heritage.
While neither of us have a background in linguistics or education, we can still be our children’s most effective teachers, leveraging the trust and relationship we have with them to integrate a language we know into their lives. Sharing our heritage languages with them gives us another layer of expressing ourselves to our children so we never feel we have to translate or be at a loss for words. We teach our children our languages to build connections–with us as parents, with our relatives, and with our culture.
But isn’t learning a language really hard?
Deciding to teach your child a language is a long-term commitment and requires dedication and perseverance. It is very much a marathon – one in which you need to adjust your pace and direction as your child takes the lead. You already know the language, so the work is in how you add it to your life. Our approach to this has been to introduce the heritage language gently to our children, building it into our home naturally from the day they are born.
Practical strategies we’ve tried at home
Balancing the heritage and community languages
As your child interacts with the larger community, their English skills will eventually catch up to or even overtake their heritage language. You can rely on your existing language relationship with your child, and gently nudge them to switch to your shared language by recasting, but don’t translate. Even if they might speak more English, stay the course. Inspire and encourage them to continue conversing with you about their interests.
Continue to teach by modeling, echoing, recasting, but don’t test. While your child might not speak on the spot when you ask them to, they’ll also surprise you with beautiful long sentences you didn’t realize they knew. Language learning can feel more like a lifestyle and less like extracurricular, and that’s because teaching a heritage language is also about passing down your culture to your child. The language your child learns becomes a part of who they are, it’s more than a skill, and it can be a really special thing.
Cheryl Chepusova is a designer, writer, and the author of the children's book series, Big Cities Little Foodies, and others.
Photo by JACQUELINE BRANDWAYN on Unsplash
Welcome our new members for April!
Happy birthday to all our April kids!
One parenting goal is to help raise resilient and independent children. Fostering independence on the playground can be tough whether you have a daredevil toddler, willing to go where you're afraid for them to be, or a reluctant child who clings to your hand, unable to give you a break while they explore. No matter where your little one falls (no pun intended) on the playground skills spectrum, one thing all children benefit from is specific feedback and opportunities to explore, discovering their own abilities and limitations through play. One way we can encourage their development is to try to avoid using one of the most common adult warnings out there: Be Careful.
Be Careful, in the context of infants and toddlers, is a very abstract and nebulous term. We as parents can assess the dangers around a child, but a young child cannot comprehend what those might be. Often Be Careful becomes reinterpreted as "Stop"... but that begs the question "Why did I have to stop?" And further "What have I learned in this moment?"
One way we can reframe playground talk for adults is to make a subtle shift whenever we have the impulse to say Be Careful into an opportunity to give feedback about how the child is interacting in his or her environment (slowly, fast, head first, unsteady) or draw attention to the environment itself (wet, steep, high, open) and then help our child navigate through the environment. We can also help develop executive function skills by specifically calling on them to communicate what they intend to do or how they hope you will be a part of their exploration. This shift helps reduce giving commands, which can result in a cortisol response and subsequent emotional overload and tantrums.
Another subtle shift is complimenting a child when we see them being safe, drawing attention to their body in motion or at rest in a way that we hope to see repeated in the future. This positive recognition helps emphasize a particular movement, speed, or strategy that their growing brains benefit from -- such as identifying how to stop safely at an intersection on their scooter, or moving along an uneven surface. This strategy also limits compliments that can be as nebulous as Be Careful, such as Good Job (when said on its own).
These targeted communications as caregivers offer several positive benefits to our children's development; they nurture problem solving, expressive and receptive communication, body awareness for gross motor and fine motor skills, and provide opportunities for building resilience and self-esteem. We can point out how our child perseveres and overcomes while also helping them know that seeking support from an adult is not shameful and that we all learn at different paces.
These graphics are jumping off points for your own chance to reframe Be Careful and shift into growth mindset language whenever your child is playing. Hopefully they will be useful to you and over time allow you to feel confident knowing your child is exploring the world safely, and you can sit back and chat with your own friends on the playground.
Independence builds confidence, and confidence builds independence. Independence opens the door to freedom, and freedom gives more opportunity to develop independence. Independence is a key to childhood development.
To speak in practical terms, a child’s independence makes the task of parenting much easier. As a mom of 3, the simple task of getting onto the car requires each of them to have at least a degree of independence. I need them to take care of themselves.
Now I don’t have much wisdom to share, except through my personal experience. I have also adopted a lot of Montessori thinking. Take what works and leave the rest.
It’s never too early to start fostering independence, neither is it ever too late. First step is to convince yourself that deep down, underneath this toddler body or entitled tweenager, there is a human being hungering self-respect, curiosity, and growth. This may be hidden by a baby’s physical immaturity or an older child’s habit of reliance. But it is true. We all strive to be independent.
Developing a child’s independence involves letting go. And you cannot let go if you do not truly believe that it will work.
Prepare the Environment
Even the youngest children are ready to exercise and grow their independent mindset. An important step to fostering that is to prepare the environment. The world is designed for adults who are 5-6 feet in height to live in. Children have to struggle with not only their developing fine and gross motor skills, but also giant houses, furniture, and cars. Some examples that come to mind are the faucet and the light switch. An easy fix to that is a step stool. What about a child’s clothes; is her closet organized in a way that she can access it? What about tables and chairs; are there child-sized spaces where he can focus on a task, whether that be eating a snack or putting together a puzzle? Are mornings too rushed to allow for time for her to dress herself? Look around you and spot the items that a small person would have difficulty physically handling. Hear the child saying, “Help me to help myself.”
When children reach school age, there are certain things that we want them to achieve: ABC’s, counting, reading, addition, multiplication, history, science, sports, music, art, a foreign language. These being things that we ourselves might think of as “hard work,” we emphasize the external rewards that we, or the teachers or coaches, offer for successful completion. External rewards (such as sticker charts, ice cream, money) aren’t bad per se, but they do require an external being for delivery. For a person to develop independence, to do the hard work even when no one is looking, the person must recognize the intrinsic rewards for putting in the hard work. Intrinsic rewards develop intrinsic motivation.
When recognizing progress, phrase it as a natural reward for the child’s hard work, not as a praise from you. “You can now read words with two syllables, not just one! That means you can read so many additional words!” When looking at a piece of work (whether completed or in progress), admire its beauty. “Your piano playing is music to my ears!” Emphasize the intrinsic value in character traits such as grit and integrity, even in failure.
Let Them Struggle and Even Fail
If you help a child every time he is facing difficulty, you take away opportunities for him to learn independence. The younger they are, the more you can let them fail. A child learning to walk needs to have a scratched knee. Have you ever watched a child try to fit in a puzzle piece? The 15 seconds of struggling may seem like a full minute. But hold back your hand! Remember that confidence develops from independence, not from not failing. “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed,” said Dr. Maria Montessori. This is different from, “Never help a child with a task where he is already successful.”
As they grow, you do need to watch more carefully for truly unsafe situations. Physical and mental health and safety are a priority. But is not getting into a top Ivy League college truly an “unsafe situation”? I don’t know how I will actually react when senior year rolls around, but my hope is that I will be able to say to myself: it’s better to “fail” at college apps than at life as a whole.
Show Them You’re Busy
Everyone should contribute to the family. Yeah… but how do you make a child see that? In the child’s mind, you’re more efficient at everything (you are likely in fact 10x more efficient at toy cleaning than she is), so it makes sense that you do it.
When you are working from home, or doing household chores, explicitly tell the kids that you are working. You aren’t complaining, or angrily making a list of things you do. You are simply sharing about your day, inherently being a role model for being independent. The benefit of having 3 kids is that I can often say, “I’m busy,” or “When I’m finished helping your sister, I will come to you. And while you’re waiting, try it yourself.”
Additionally, you can explicitly tell them that you have already worked hard and would be grateful for them to do their part. If they can help with wiping the dining table, then you can focus on washing the dishes. If they can wake up on time by themselves, then your drive to school won’t be so rushed. Always say “thank you.”
No Pain, No Gain
Remember that fostering independence means that they are not yet independent. Intentionally fostering independence often does mean taking the less efficient way–I am the one who has a hard time holding back my hand, rather than waiting for my child to struggle with the puzzle piece–but it does promise greater gains in the long run.
Daisy Yau, a new SPMC Board Member this year, is the children ministry coordinator at New Life Community Church, Burlingame. She is a mom of three and enjoys going to neighborhood parks.
Photo by Filip Urban on Unsplash
Pi Day is March 14! Pi, represented by the greek symbol π, is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Draw any circle, and that ratio is always 3.14.
According to Wikipedia, “Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant π. Pi Day is observed on March 14 since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π. It was founded in 1988 by Larry Shaw, an employee of the Exploratorium. Celebrations often involve eating pie or holding pi recitation competitions.”
Simply put, Pi Day equals yummy math. What better way to promote a love for math? Here we have compiled some kid-friendly pie recipes. Have fun baking together. And incorporate more math by having the kids do the measurements or unit conversions, keep track of baking time, and dividing the pie into equal slices.
Kid’s Kitchen: Apple Pie at Sugar, Spice, and Glitter
Easy Mini Apple Pie at Kidstir
Mini S’Mores Pie at Mess for Less
Kid-Friendly Raspberry Hand Pie at Driscoll’s
Alligator Pie at Crazy for Crust
Thank you so much for clicking through to our new blog! Welcome! Our Newsletter and Web Admin teams have been hard at work setting up our new format, and our Advertising Team has been finding ways to bring more value to our members and sponsors.
I’m including in this first message a small orientation through our new format. The first week of the month, you can plan to see our New Members, our Monthly Birthdays, and an overview of upcoming Events (or keep scrolling). Our first feature article will be up soon, and we will then have weekly articles that publish to the blog covering topics that matter to you. (Have an idea? Shoot us an email!)
This month’s blog topic is one near and dear to my heart: fostering independence in young children. A friend of mine in Berlin told me once that his goal for his children was automation -- enabling them to be able to do as much as they could without him as early as they could. It looked super appealing; we sat at a cafe while his young children watched my two year old play on a playground. We laughed about how robotic this idea sounded, but parts of this plan stuck with us as we started our own family (especially now that there are a lot more moving parts).
We soon learned that independence isn’t just automation, it’s about having a path for each unique child to feel valued, competent, safe, and involved in their routines of daily living. These skills may come more easily for some children than others, and even with an independent child, there may be areas where they require more support (potty training or daycare drop off). Sometimes the path toward independence requires early intervention from an occupational, physical, or speech therapist. Sometimes parents aren’t aligned in what independence looks like, and it can be stressful to try to navigate those conversations about safety, risk, protection, and expectations. Luckily there are some excellent resources out there to help find ways of promoting independence all through the infant and preschool years!
Our upcoming baking event is a great way to explore playing to learn in the kitchen! We can all practice supporting our kiddos while they make something beautiful and tasty!
Happy birthday to all our March kids!
Sierra Ruby G.
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