Babel Kid

All you have to do is step out onto just about any street in Brussels and you’ll easily hear a few different languages in just a matter of minutes. When you look at the expat community, you won’t have a hard time finding people fluent in 4 or more languages, which personally always leaves me in awe. It was a no-brainer for us, living in such a multicultural hub like Brussels, that our kids were going to be multilingual.

We are a multilingual family. I am native bilingual in English and Portuguese, and I’m becoming fluent in French as well. I understand a few others, both spoken and written, but can’t really speak them. My husband R is native Portuguese, and is fluent in English, French and Spanish, and has limited knowledge of a few more. Right from the start, we settled on the “one parent one language” approach for bringing up our Sprouts to be bilingual. I speak (almost) exclusively in English, R speaks (almost) exclusively in Portuguese. Since we have Portuguese as a common language, and since it’s the one the Sprouts have least access to, we use it as our family language. What this looks like in action is me speaking English to the kids, them speaking English to me and we all speak Portuguese with R. Dinner-table conversation is, for the most part, in Portuguese. Notice there’s no French or Flemish here. That’s because it’s neither of our native languages, and therefore, we’re really not in a place to pass it on correctly. The Sprouts will pick up French, and eventually Flemish, from their environment.

Older Sprout is now just over 3 and a half years old, an age considered to be a real turning point in multilingualism. It’s the age when children are truly able to separate languages, having a big enough working vocabulary in their native tongues. It’s truly wonderful to hear him now, and to see the intentional “work” we have been doing show it’s fruits. It’s also nice to be able to show doubting family and friends that indeed children are capable of learning multiple languages from birth, and no it doesn’t confuse or delay them.

At just over 3 and a half, Sprout 1’s dominant language is clearly (American) English. He is perfectly fluent (for a kid his age, anyway) and capable of having entire conversations without resorting to words in any other language. His accent is clearly American. His second language at the moment is Portuguese. He’s fluent, but many times uses English grammar rules and conjugates some verbs as if they were English. Funny enough, I remember doing this myself as a kid, more out of laziness than anything else really. He also, oddly, has a strong American accent in Portuguese. I can’t really explain why, because I don’t and he learns Portuguese from Dad anyway, but the truth is it’s there. I have to real perception of his level of French. He doesn’t speak it to us, other than a word that slips in here or there. We know he speaks it at school because his teachers say he does and seem to understand him. I’ve overheard him speaking with friends who don’t share one of his other languages as well. Hilariously, he seems to think he can just grab a word in Portuguese and use the French rasping r sounds and call it a French word. He’ll sometimes try with an English word as well. Cracks me up!!! Sometimes he’ll slip in a word in a language other than the one he’s using and crack up saying “did you hear that Mommy? I made a mistake! I sad (blank) instead of (blank)!”. Cracks me up.

I expect his language dominance to change to French over time, although it does sadden me a bit. I’m ever so curious to know what language my sons will be speaking between themselves! I always spoke in English with my sister, even though we only ever spoke Portuguese to our parents.

It’s funny hearing him speak about languages as well, and he likes making up his own. He’s very aware of others speaking different languages, of languages spoken in different countries and even within a country. He frequently asks questions about why so and so speaks such and such language. It’s really something I don’t think he would be so aware of anywhere else. And we don’t even speak that many languages! I know other kids who speak 2 different languages to their parents, have another language their parents speak between themselves which they pick up passively, learn another at crèche, and then yet another in school! Wow!

How about you? I’d love to hear from other multilingual families and how you handle the dynamics of speaking different languages!

Fans of Flanders

This post was originally written for the Fans of Flanders website, where you can find me and many other great contributing bloggers. Go check them out!

My blog is carbon neutral

It’ s no secret I’m passionate about social causes and the environment, so it seems to be only natural to join in this great initiative: “My blog is carbon neutral”.

This initiative first started in Germany by the “Make it green” program with the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Petits gestes écolos is carrying this project out in France.

From their site:

According to a study by Alexander Wissner-Gross, PhD, physicist at Harvard University and environmental activist, an average website causes about 0.02g (0,0008oz.) of carbon dioxide for each visit. Assuming an average blog gets 15,000 visits a month, it has yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 3,6kg. This can mainly be tracked back to the immense energy usage from (mainframe) computers, servers, and their cooling systems.

The trees will be planted in France.

If you want to participate as well, it’s quite simple :

  1. Write a quick post about the initiative + add the badge you prefer
  2. E-mail us your link to blog-zerocarbone@bonial.fr
  3. They plant a tree for you !

Easy-peasy!

Recentering, reconnecting and taking it easy

I’ve had an impromptu hiatus from the blog these past 2 weeks. First The Sprouts got sick (yet again – will it ever end?) and then we had mid-term break, which meant Sprout 1 was home all week along with baby Sprout 2. I tend to switch the screens off more around the kids (setting the example and all that), hence no blogging.

Finger painting hand

We pondered signing him up for this holiday “stage” (kind of like day camp for the non-bruxellois) at Turtlewings, which sounded wonderful and he was actually interested in, but in the end decided to keep him home.

Finger painting

You see, this son of mine is of the sensitive, introspective variety and sometimes just needs to be in a safe, quiet, familiar environment in order to recenter and calm down. He has been moody and angry (which many times means aggressive) ever since we came back from our 3 week Christmas holiday in Portugal. He loves going to Portugal, but it ends up being quite a sensory overload for him, with the different routines (or none to speak of), presents galore, lots of travel, and plenty, plenty of attention from family and friends. Add sugary treats to the mix and we have a time bomb!

fingerpainting

What he was really needing  was quiet, relaxing time at home. He actually realizes this himself, which is great, and asks to stay home in pj’s all day. One thing he sometimes complains about at school or in other settings with lots of children/crowds is the noise. He doesn’t like it when recess is longer than usual because of this. I must admit, as a highly sensitive person myself, I totally get this. (If you click-through the link, you can take the test to see if you are too.)

Finger painting scratch

Something which really helps him reorganize himself and settle down is painting. Any kind really, but no other beats finger painting for the sensory experience.

Brothers playing

I’m happy to report that, although I was a bit overwhelmed going into a whole week with mostly just me and both kids – especially with the mammoth meltdowns we had been getting every. single. day. – it was a truly wonderful week and no sign of meltdowns. We had ample time to reconnect, which I really think is what every child needs, even if in smaller doses. As an added bonus, my two sons had a blast playing together.

Anyone else have highly sensitive children? What is your experience?

If you think you might have a highly sensitive child, I wholeheartedly recommend this book:

The Highly Sensitive Child

Home is where the heart is…

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…which for me is a bit all over the place, so I suppose I’m a citizen of the planet (cue Paul Simon music) in a sense. As an expat, and especially as an expat or immigrant child, it can sometimes be hard to know where exactly home is, and your heart seems to be constantly pulled in all sorts of directions. Is my home the place where I was born? Is it my parents’ homeland? Is it my passport country? Is it where I’m living now? For many expat children, each of these places is in a different country. Maybe even a different continent.

This has been on my mind a lot lately after getting back from 3 weeks winter break in Portugal, the land of my parents, the land I lived in for 17 years, my husband’s land, the place where my children’s grandparents live. Having family living far and wide always made me hurt a bit inside as I grew up, and to be honest it still does. And now I’m starting to see that in my oldest child (3 years, 9 months). It starts with simple questions: Why does (insert relative) live in (insert city or country)? Why do we live in Brussels? Why don’t they live here too? Why do we have to leave? Why do I miss home (Brussels)? And on and on. Transitioning back to Brussels, where we have no family, has been hard for him. He misses the attention, he misses the people, he’s having a hard time with all these big feelings. He’s taken to playing a game where we make believe a family member is waiting in the car for him when I pick him up from school. Yet sometimes, when we’re “skyping” with family members he refuses to speak to them. Sometimes he visibly chokes up. It’s hard to see, especially since I know how it feels.

This seems to be quite common with expat/immigrant children, the not knowing where we’re from, which can sometimes lead to not knowing who we are. There’s not much we could do about relatives being spread far and wide, however there are things we do to try to make this a bit less difficult and to help our sons maintain some identity. One thing which has helped enormously is Skype. Even my computer illiterate Mom is able to use Skype, and while it doesn’t replace being together in the same room, it definitely does help maintain a certain connection with family which just doesn’t happen on the phone.

Other things we do is look at pictures, hear stories recorded by far away family members, and talk about them (a lot!!!), about the countries they live in, about their customs and traditions, about who we are as a family.

Because maybe home isn’t a place on the map. Maybe home is family.

How do you handle being away from family? Any tips?

Fans of Flanders

This post was originally written for the Fans of Flanders website, where you can find me and many other great contributing bloggers. Go check them out!

Storytelling with children

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I am very lucky to be married to an excellent public speaker. I think what makes him such a good public speaker is that he’s actually a natural storyteller. Our son loves listening to his stories, but so do other children. In fact, the other day we were at a little friend’s birthday party and just towards the end, at that time when the children start going wild, he pulled everyone in for a story and all went silent. Their faces were priceless…

So today I’m handing the blog over to him so he could tell you a bit about how he does it:

The other side of the story

I tell stories to Sprout 1, my 3 ½ year-old son, and he loves it!

I think telling stories is a great way to bond with my son, a special one-on-one time when we can be together just the two of us. It is also a good way to help him settle down and do something calmer (plus, I get to rest too!).

I want to share the way I do it and encourage every dad (editor’s note: or MOM!!) to give it a try. If you have another way to do it I would also like to hear about it in the comments.

The first thing is to decide what story to tell. I never tell a story that has been written by someone else like “the three little pigs” or “Cinderella”. For those, I prefer to read the book to him. The stories I tell I always make up. They are always different and new. Even when he asks me to tell the story again I always change it, simply because I would not be able to tell it the same way even if I wanted to. Sometimes I record the story on my wife’s phone and if he wants to hear the same story again, we can just play it back for him. And he does. A lot!

Sometimes I do not have to decide what story to tell because Sprout 1 does it for me or I simply ask him what kind of story he wants to hear.

When I have to decide I simply think of a topic like “pirates” or “super-heroes” or “walk in the park” and I build it from there.

I do not build a plot in advance. I make up the stories as I go along. I have realised that the interesting thing about the stories, for my son, is not the plot or the logical sequence of actions. Of course, it is important to have some logical sequence between what happens before and what happens next but not for the story as a whole. For example, I may say “there was a car that had wings and began to fly. It flew to the moon and back and when it got back, it had no place to park”. It is not logical but there is a logical link between the different parts. This way I can just say (almost) whatever comes to my mind.

My intention is not to write a children’s book but simply to entertain my son for 5-10 minutes per story. And, (believe me!), I’ve already spent an hour and a half telling these short stories and if I don’t say “this is the last one” he keeps asking for more.

The main elements that I believe make these stories interesting for my son are:

–          I make them personal. There are always things that relate to him and his own personal experiences. E.g. the characters are either his toys or a cartoon he knows or even himself. “This is the story of how Sprout 1 helped Santa Klaus”;

–          I make them short and simple (unlike this post) and I tell them in a simple way. Short, direct sentences with clear ideas;

–          I make them realistic; almost real: I use characters that exist (even if only in books or cartoons) and put them in real situations even if with fantastic twists;

–          I enact them. I modulate my voice, whispering when there is a moment of suspense or roaring like a big dinosaur, or simply acting silly.

On the contrary, there are things I try not to do:

–          I do not convey moral messages or try to preach a lesson. My stories are pure entertainment. They may contain ethical messages but that is not the purpose of me telling them;

–          I do not make them too realistic. I always try to make fantastic things happen in my stories but in a simple way like “the cat jumped over the house”.

This is MY recipe, my son loves it and that’s good enough for me. It is far from perfect! The other day Sprout 1 did not want to give me a goodnight kiss because he didn’t like the way the bedtime story ended. I let the pirates get away with the treasure and he wanted them to be caught by the police. Smart boy. What did I do? I retold the ending. He was pleased and I got my kiss.

Do you do storytelling with your children? We would love to hear what works for you!

And the winner is…

Tristan-book-read-again for mum-n-more

Thanks to everyone who participated in our very first giveaway! Rafflecopter has picked a winner *cue drum-roll* – Katia! Congratulations Katia! You will be contacted directly by Diana in the next couple of days with the details.

For those of you who didn’t win or missed the giveaway, there’s still time to sign up for the online course by following this link: http://ourmamasrock.com/bxlsprout-registration/ If you haven’t done so yet, please do have a look at the interview with Diana, where she explains a bit more about signing with your hearing child.

Hope to “see” you in class!

Snow Painting

If you haven’t done so yet, today is the last day to enter our giveaway!

We’ve had some beautiful snow here in Brussels this past week, and by the looks of it, it’s here to stay! We have been out enjoying it with our sled and some sand toys – yes, they’re great for playing in the snow too! Sprout 1 (3,5) particularly loves his hand drill. But it gets to a point where my feet are freezing and/or baby Sprout tires of being outside, so why not enjoy the snow indoors?

Snow Painting - BxlSprout

One way we’ve been enjoying our snow indoors is by painting it. Now, before you think this is too messy, hear me out! It really is simple to set up – you probably have all you need around the house already – and if you put a drop cloth underneath, it’s a cinch to clean up too!

Here’s how we did it:

Snow Painting

Snow painting - BxlSprout

You will need:

  • Drop cloth – we just used an old oilcloth; an old shower curtain would do just fine
  • Shallow container for painting the snow
  • Container and scoop/spoon/sand shovel for clean snow
  • Food colouring or liquid watercolours
  • Droppers – you can buy them at Casa just like the ones we have, or you could save old medicine droppers
  • A container for the colors – we use an ice-cube tray. Lots of compartments for mixing and only small amounts required
  • Rag for cleaning up spills
  • Salt
  • Magnifying glass

snow painting - BxlSprout

Sorry, I don’t have pictures of the entire process because I was an active participant ;), but it’s quite straightforward. the important part is your child has fun!

Have everything set up so once the snow gets inside the kids could just have a go at it.

  • Set the drop cloth on the floor. We have an old kids sized table we scored for free on Freecycle that we plopped on top, but directly on the floor isn’t a problem either, or if you’re worried about the table, a plastic tablecloth or old newspapers should do the trick.
  • Prepare your paints/food coloring by pouring some into a container – I love ice-cube trays for this! We always only use the 3 primary colours and Sprout1 mixes up any others he wants out of those. Great hands on way to teach color mixing!
  • I also have a little container with some coarse salt in it for sprinkling on the snow so Sprout1 can see how it melts. Also seems to liven the colours.
  • Now go scoop up some snow from outside into your container (we just opened our window and used a combination of ice cream scoop, plastic cup and sand shovel) and get out of their way!

sanow painting - BxlSprout

It’s great fun for the kids to use droppers (and great for fine motor skills needed for writing, etc.), but even if you don’t have them, you could always try dripping colour with a small spoon. The colours spread out beautifully in the snow!

snow painting - BxlSprout.com

We had a magnifying glass handy so Sprout1 could have a closer look at the snow. Remember, just let them explore the items; there is no right or wrong way here! It’s all about the process and having fun.

Sprout1 then wanted to see if water would melt the snow faster… can you guess the answer?

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Once they (or you!!) have had enough, just throw everything in the sink. Easy-peasy! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, food colouring is washable (we haven’t had any staining) and so is our brand of liquid watercolours, though you can’t find the same brand in Belgium. I imagine it holds true for all liquid watercolours, but can’t promise!

Have you been enjoying any indoor snow activities lately?

Weekend links from around the web

I keep finding interesting information from around the web, so I thought it would be nice to do a weekly post with weekend links. Here goes the first; feel free to add any interesting links you’ve come across in the comments!

Oh, and don’t forget –only 2 more days on the baby signing giveaway! If you haven’t done so yet, enter now!

Snow Art

We’ve been enjoying playing with snow. Here’s some of Sprout1’s Snow Art.

Belgium- “Researchers at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) have found that the concentration of hormone-disrupting substances is 20 times higher in pre-schools with plastic furniture and toys than in classrooms with only natural materials, such as wood. Researchers examined the air quality in classrooms at 12 Flemish pre-schools. The substances don’t pose an immediate toxic danger but do increase the risk of diabetes, infertility and prostate and breast cancer in the long term. The quality of the plastic is also an important factor.” (source: http://www.flanderstoday.eu – unfortunately couldn’t find link to the actual research paper)

If you have boys, you MUST listen to the Raising Playful Tots Podcast this week – Calmer Easier Happier Parenting of Boys, with Noël Janis-Norton, author,teacher, trainer speaker learning and behavioural specialist.

Snow day activities- With the wonderful snow we’ve been getting here in Brussels, it’s time to get outside and enjoy it!

Juliet from I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here has a few ideas for outdoor activities in her post Snow Fun

Amanda of Not Just Cute has a Thematic Unit on Wintertime for indoor and outdoor learning activities for winter

Nicole from Life of Bear and Dragon has been out watching people sledding at Parc Woluwe and has some beautiful pictures to show for it!

sledding in Brussels

We’ve been out sledding at the less spectacular but less crowded slopes nearby 😉

Indoor winter activities with kids- If going out in negative temperatures isn’t your cup of tea, have a look at The Artful Parent‘s latest e-book with wintry crafts – The Artful Winter

For more wintry inspiration, why not have a look at my Winter Play and Art Pinterest board?

Enjoy the winter wonderland!