Reading to Your Children in a Second Language

Reading to your children in a second language is not different to reading to your child in your first language especially from a young age. Here’s why:

Children learn their first language through meaningful input with others. They learn to speak by copying what they have heard. They build their vocabulary by linking words to images when their parents are talking to them or reading to them. When you read, sing or speak to your child in your first language you don’t concern yourself with their ability to understand your words. You know they will learn it.


Our English library. It’s small now but soon it will be a proper library

It should be the same with a second language. If you are reading to your children in another language the pictures give the children the context to understand what you are saying the same way it would in their first language. Reading to your children in a second language is a great way for you and your child to learn that language. It doesn’t have to be scary either. You can start from the very basics the same way you would with the first language. One word per page books to one sentence per page to two or three sentence per page to a whole paragraph per page. It is possible and you should try it. Just grab a book from our English library if you live nearby or ask for book suggestions if you don’t.



Our Stories: Is your child Bilingual?

When I am with my children I almost always speak English to them. I sometimes speak Japanese to them if I am speaking to a Japanese person. When people around us here me speaking English to my children they always ask me:

“Is your child Bilingual?”

“Does your child speak English?”

“Does your child speak Japanese?”

For our oldest child, 5 years old, the answer is yes. She speaks both Japanese and English and understands both languages. Our second child started speaking more and more English this year. She is very proud of her English ability and often shouts “I can speak English.” or 「私は英語を喋るよ!」Our youngest child is only 1 and a half. He understands both languages but still only has a small vocabulary.

At home I speak only English to my children. My wife also does that but she often also uses Japanese. Since they all go to kindergarten they get lots of practice speaking Japanese. My oldest used to get very upset with us speaking English in the home. We were really worried she wouldn’t want to learn English. We showed her lots of English shows but it wasn’t until we went to Australia that she realised that not everyone speaks Japanese. After the trip she said “I have to learn English so I can speak to my cousins.”

It has been much easier with our second child. She sees our oldest talking English all the time with me and wants to copy.  Recently my oldest said “Why do we have to speak English at home?” Our second child copied her and started complaining about it too. I’m not worried though because I know she is just copying what her sister says. When they say they don’t want to speak English I just tell them, “OK, I’ll stop speaking English too. That means no more stories, no more singing.” That usually gives them something to think about.

Do you want your children to be bilingual? Why? Why not?



What does my second child often say?

What helped my first child want to learn English?

What do I say when my children say they don’t want to learn English?



Memories of a four year old

It’s been a while. I’ve got three children now. A soon to be five year old, a two year old and a recently turned one year old. I haven’t really posted anything about my experience as a parent because I didn’t really have anything to post about. Now though I suddenly have quite a lot to post about. I guess I’ve been reflecting more on my own childhood as well as fundamental parenting believes I had that have changed or solidified with time.

This post will be about the former. Memories from my own childhood. I’ve often heard people say, ‘Don’t worry they won’t remember it anyway.’ Referring to the early childhood years. I’ve always had a problem with this. Well several problems with it, but the main one is that I do remember it. I have several memories from when I was so young that I can’t actually tell you how old I was. One thing i remember is the yellow automatic swing that I loved. My mum explained my ability to remember that away with the fact that we have a photo of it. However there are a few other memories that there are no photos of.  The reason we have no photos of them is because they weren’t with my family. There are probably photos but i don’t have access to them.

My parents both worked at a time where there was no daycare. In order for my mother to continue working she needed to find someone to look after me, it was the same for my older siblings too. Thus for a sizable amount of my most formative years I was looked after by an Indian woman who lived in the neighbourhood. It’s funny, my mother would often point out where she lived to me later in life and I’m fairly certain I could drive there right now if I was in the neighbourhood. I’ve never been inclined to seek her out though until now. Last night I was thinking about how truly influential the first few years of life are to a person’s sense of the world and how to live in it. It made me wonder what was her parenting philosophy? I only ever remember her being kind and understanding. Never angry, always there but also going about doing the housework. I know that’s where i get my love of Asian food but what else did she teach me? Is she the reason why I feel a strong connection to Buddhism despite my family being firmly atheist? Side note, those don’t actually connect because Buddhism is an atheist believe structure. Well fundamentally it is anyway. That’s a different discussion. My point is from birth to five we form some of our core believes on what it means to be human. I understand my own parents’ views on what it means to be human but I don’t know my Indian mother’s core values except in that there is probably some mirror of those values in my own views of reality. I’m now quite excited to try and meet her again and talk to her about parenting.

I kind of digressed though. This blog is titled memories of a four year old. There are several memories that often float up to the surface of that time. I have always cherished those memories but never really reflected on them. Just enjoyed them. I can distinctly map out the living room space on the second story of the house that I had crawled and walked in so many times. I can remember my first experience of Indian spices in the form of Bombay mix and my desperate attempts later in my childhood to find that flavour again. I remember playing with a helium filled fish balloon. I was telling a story to myself in which I was fighting to keep hold of it because I knew it would fly off into the sky. Of course I ended up letting go of it for real and was devastated by the turn of events. Fortunately my Indian mother was there to console me. Which brings me to my final memory. A memory which is more the memory of a feeling. The memory of her own son coming home from school and how that made me feel. It’s the memory of a feeling i have often recalled but never really contemplated until now. you see I keep on saying my Indian mother because in my memories that is who she was. At least until her son came home. Then I remember a strong cocktail of emotions. First was the territorial emotions coming from the entrance of a rival. Then came the guilt, for lack of a better word, coming from knowing that she wasn’t my mother. That this was her son. Then to a strong feeling that I should hide or get away from this son. I never befriended him. It wasn’t until only a few moments ago that I thought how interesting that series of feelings is. Of course I haven’t been able to understand that series of feelings until now. Now that I can see similar thought patterns arising in my own children.

I didn’t really have a point to this blog except that you shouldn’t dismiss your children’s memories.

The key to being a good parent

From a son to a dad.

There is something that you can only understand once you’ve become a parent. It’s not even worth explaining exactly what I mean. I just have to say that sentences and the parents will nod their heads and the non-parents will say ‘yeah yeah whatever.’ It’s true though. You are given an insight into your upbringing that you can’t get until you have kids.

When you become a parent you get this little human that is totally dependent on you. Not a little dependent like a cat or a dog. I mean totally dependent without you they’ll die dependent. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had that what it’s like. I’d narrow the experience down to two states. One state is feeling like you are totally nailing this parenting thing and your kid is totally awesome in your eyes, the other state is feeling like you’re just making it up as you go and you have no idea if you are doing right by your kid. I guess I should say it’s a scale. Sometimes you are just in the middle there somewhere feeling like you are making it up as you go but getting it right, or feeling like you’ve got it all under control but something isn’t working. I was thinking about how great it feels to be at the top end of that scale. So the big question is how do you stay in that state?

There’s lots of factors that go into that feeling but it really boils down to two things that you must have if you want to be a good parent and raise healthy well adjusted kids. The first is a positive attitude and lavishing that positivity on your child. it doesn’t have to be over the top. Every day your child is doing something amazing though that should surprise you. Positivity really helps in being happy and energetic around your child too. Two things that really help in interacting with them. The other thing that all children need is for you to be loving. A loving atmosphere helps nurture the child to become a healthy well adjusted adult. It is impossible to enjoy parenting without love.

You may say that’s easier said than done but it’s the other way round. Positivity and love are both states of being. You can think yourself into them. Being positive is just a matter of looking at things in a good light. When your child is eating at the table and there’s a massive mess on the ground you can get frustrated and annoyed at the mess or happy and encouraging that your kid is eating. It’s all about what you want to focus on. Maybe in this particular instance you do want to focus on the mess. That’s fine too but you don’t need to be angry or frustrated about it. You can use it as a moment to teach your child the importance of cleaning up and encourage them to do it. In that way they will clean themselves and not see it as a chore but as another part of enjoying life.

The Micro-managing Parents Trope

Hopefully the title should explain what this is about in a nutshell. In case it doesn’t; have you noticed that parents who micromanage their children’s time are painted in a negative light in movies and TV shows. I first saw it in the 80s movie parenthood although it’s probably been around longer. I started thinking about it after seeing the trailer for the little prince in which the mother has every hour of the next ten years planned for her child. Obviously this is an extreme example to give us a chuckle but is it really such a bad thing to have micro-managing parents to some degree? What is the issue hear?

As Mrs Lovejoy from the Simpsons would say;

“Won’t anyone please think of the children.”

At first glance this would be the heart of it. The idea that we should let kids be kids and not cheat them out of their childhood. That we should pity the child of a micro-manager because they don’t have a chance to play with bubbles or look at a rainbow. I wonder though, why we don’t see the opposite extreme as much. We make fun of the micromanaging parent but what about the zero management parent. The ones that let the kids do whatever they want with no restrictions. While it’s easy to make fun of the micro-manager, making fun of this other parent isn’t as easy because it’s not a pretty picture to look at. Go ahead and imagine them. What do you think the parent is like? How do you think the children are behaving? If you can’t get a picture than you’re probably a better person than me. Here’s a hint though. There’s a good chance that crazy kid you remember in school was a product of such a parenting method. That or the disengaged one. All the jokes you come up with end up being based around out of control children doing horrible stuff to everyone and anyone while an indifferent parent looks on and says something droll like ‘kids will be kids.’

The issue really comes down to the debate between right brained and left brained but there is a third option. One that is better than both. That’s being in the middle. Being both right brained and left brain. You should be balanced between the two. There’s no reason the micro-managing parent shouldn’t put arts and craft down in their schedule. Our school system certainly does. Or simply, self directed learning time. Where the child goes off and does something on their own. That’s called discovery and is one of the more important learning processes for young children. The truth of the matter is that we need both. We should do micro-management because it builds our logic. We should do creative stuff because it improves our ability to work, and we should let kids have fun because it teaches them how to be happy.

Now I suspect I know what you’re thinking. Why micromanage at all? Why not just let the kids run free for hours? I have several reasons which I’ll lay out for you. First is simply that children want order. You may be thinking that I must be crazy, kids want to be loud annoying small things that suck up time and space. Well don’t think that, seriously what’s wrong with you? That’s a horrible thing to think about kids. Seeking order is part of their makeup, their drive, their programming, their instincts or whatever you want to call it. A child is looking for how to be a human adult of their gender. If you watch children play, they are constantly redefining for themselves what it means to be an adult. It’s why you will eventually hear your child say that something is for babies, or for kids, or for girls or boys. It’s how they are shaping their reality. So give them order and structure. By giving them chaos all you are doing is stopping them from being able to better understand the universe around them and ultimately stopping them from being able to create. Yeah, that’s right, you’ll stop them from being creative. Creativity is often put in opposition to structure but creativity needs structure. Without it it becomes nothing. Which is my next point. Creative activities are easy to learn. Managing your time is much harder to learn. Time management isn’t just something a kid picks up unless that kids is naturally inclined or really smart. We get just enough management in class to get a feel for it but the ultimate authority on our concept of time is our parents. The chaos kids from the lack of management parents are probably never going to gain this skill unless they have some kind of epiphany, probably in their thirties or forties. Here is the real crux of it all. To be creative you need time. Time to practice, time to get better, time to take lessons and so on. That is what a micromanaging parent is trying to do when they schedule piano lessons at five. Dance class at six. Dinner and then study time at seven. They are teaching their children about time management as well as giving their children the chance to learn something they wouldn’t have learnt if they were left to do whatever they wanted.

Now that I’ve defending micro-managers, I’m going to go ahead and do a bit of criticism. It’s more of a critique on methodology. Make sure you are giving your children a wide range of different learning methods. Exploration is an important part of their learning. Study some pedagogical practices and learn about Bloom’s taxonomy as well as Maslow’s heirarchy. Teachers these days aren’t just sitting their kids down and reading a textbook, they’re aiming to make their lessons as universally accessible as possible. So make sure your time management lesson fits the bill too. I mentioned that you are teaching time management when you micro-manage but you are only introducing the concept unless you get the child to plan out their schedule. Telling a kid they have piano at five is one thing. Getting the kid to plan what they are going to do that week knowing they have piano on Tuesday, dance on Thursday, homework due every day and they want to watch their favourite show or play some computer games while they’re at it. Probably the best way to teach time management is by getting the students

Mock the micro-managing parent if you will but don’t assume their child isn’t having any fun, more importantly don’t just assume your child is having a great time because they ran around the house screaming and knocked over a vase. To you micro-managers out there, if you want to optimise your child’s future give them the reigns once you’ve taught them how to manage their time.

What is mum and dad to the young ones?

This is a question I often wonder based on my first child’s use of mum and dad. When our first one was first using the words she quite accurately proclaimed me to be dad and my wife to be mum. At the time her world consisted of mum looking after her at home while dad worked. There was a clear concept of what mum and dad meant. When she was around one and a half we put her into child care and mum started working a night job. When this happened I was the primary carer making sure she got up early had breakfast took her to childcare picked her up from childcare made sure she had dinner, a bath and got to bed early. In this time the concepts were turned on their head. Our little one started calling me mum and my wife dad. Quite logically I might add. For her mum looks after the baby and dad works. Since I was looking after her I became mum.

The situation has changed again since then. Our little ones are no longer in child care and my wife isn’t working. It will probably change again but for now that is the situation. I am back to being dad or papa and my wife is back to being mum or mama. Our little one’s favourite game at the moment is telling stories using lego block characters. Most of them centre around a mum figure who is also holding a crying baby character. The baby is usually scared of everything. She also often refers to herself as mumma for her anpanman doll. This usually involves carrying anpanman, giving him a piggyback, singing lullaby songs and putting anpanman to sleep. Another game we play is pretending that our hands are characters. Since my hands are bigger than hers they always become mumma or pappa. She will often say mumma or pappa and have our hands hug. It’s very cute. She will also often run away from the pappa character squealing.

What does all this say about what mum and dad means to her? I’m not really sure. She never calls herself pappa or dad when she is role-playing which could mean she knows the concept is based on gender. That or the concept of the primary carer has remained for her and perhaps if i go back to be the main person she sees she’ll go back to calling me mum. I’d be interested to see if that is the case but I’d better keep on working.

Moving house when you have little people

Recently we did a pretty huge move. It wasn’t down the road. It was actually to a different prefecture requiring quite a bit of logistics on our part. We also had to do the whole move with our little ones. So here’s how it went down.

There were a few things i was quite worried about. The biggest one being how the children would take the move. I was sure that the first few months would be nothing but crying and screaming for their old home and life. The main reason I thought this would be the case is the lifestyle we had established. Our eldest made very close friends. Everyday she wanted to play with these friends. While she hasn’t cried much about it. The lose of these friends is evident. Whenever she plays with dolls she often names them after her missing friends. When she sees pictures of them she gets noticeably sad. However she is generally happy in her new surrounding and adapted very quickly. There are two reason I think this has been an easy transition.

  1. children are pretty flexible and adaptable. A new place in a new town isn’t that different to a new house down the road to them.
  2. We repeatedly informed her about the move well ahead of time. I think this actually helped the most. She could easily picture what was going to happen.

As for our littlest one. I think reason one is even more applicable to her. As a one year old, my wife, eldest daughter and I are her world. Where we are she is home.

Overall the move itself  was reasonably painless. This is because we had tonnes of help from our friends and family. This is essential. I don’t think we would have been able to do it without them. In the final few days the friends we made in our little part of Japan took the kids off us while we packed up and cleaned the house. As you could imagine, moving a house with little ones around is a real pain. Their constant need for attention meant packing that could have been done in a day was dragged out to a week or so. Another thing that greatly helped was my wife’s mum staying with us for the final two weeks. She attended to many of the simple day to day stuff allowing us more time to pack, clean and look after the kids.

One day we’ll have to do another move. From this experience I’ve learnt you either need a lot of support or a lot of time. Having both is ideal though.

In the shadow of fatherhood

When i was younger I hated my father. The kind of hate born of love. I suspect that had I been a physically stronger person; eaten properly and worked out, I probably would have attacked him. Although my brother was stronger and he never did so perhaps I wouldn’t have. As a parent now I sometimes feel the shadow of my father creeping over me. When i feel anger, frustration, or rage I can feel my father’s presence. I’m terrified of repeating history. I don’t want to be my father. Those feelings rising up there are my own though, not my fathers. They belong to me. How I decide to act on them is who I am. I am not my father. I wonder if he felt the same way. By all accounts his father was a true terror. Did my father have such doubts? Did he fear that he would be just like his dad when he was raising us kids? As a child I often told him he was just like his dad. That was my vengeance. I wonder now if that hurt him more than I could have imagined.

It is the duty of the next generation to improve on the parenting on the previous. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it right? To raise my children in such a way that they look back and think ‘I want to raise my children the way I was.’

Having a second kid

We have two kids now, one is three this month and the other is going to be one in September. Here are my thoughts on having two kids.

For starters my wife and I decided to have our second kid two years apart from our first. We thought this would be a good gap. Close enough that they’d become friends. At least that’s what we hope will happen. So far it seems to be going well. Our second one adores the first one and is always happy around her. The first one though gets a bit annoyed at the attention especially when she’s trying to read. This leads to our most surprising find; the first one will cry a lot more than the second one. OK, so this may not be entirely accurate. The second one is a baby so she does cry about food and sleep. When the two are interacting though it is the first one that will cry first while the second one looks up at us with an innocent expression. When this happens we usually rule in favour of the first one. We always encourage her to think of an alternative though. Asking her to find something our second one can play with. She’s generally pretty good at this.

One thing that we’ve found really helps our home life with the two is focusing more on the first one. This eliminates one of the biggest troubles with having two kids, jealousy. Our first one still gets a little jealous but generally she doesn’t because we give her a lot of attention. When I come home I hug her first then the second one. This way she knows she’s still important to us. It also has a carry on effect. Our first one will often give our second one hugs and play with her the way we play with her, often much to the second one’s surprise. As a result of prioritizing the first one our second one has developed a good deal of individuality. She can play by herself a lot better than our second one who I must say was a bit spoilt as a baby and requires a lot of attention. She isn’t good at playing by herself.

This brings me to the other thing we’ve learnt. When our first one was a baby I gave her constant attention. Carried her everywhere, played with her all the time. The result, she wants to be carried a lot and played with all the time. It’s a lot of fun but actually we didn’t need to do that. The second one enjoys crawling around on the ground eating everything in sight. I don’t remember our first one doing the same thing.

We’ll probably have a third one in another two years time. Perhaps three years. Our first will be five or six by then. Our second will be two or three. At that stage our second one will probably need the most attention but the first one will probably feel threatened as well. The third will probably be left to their own devices much like the second one is now. It seems to work for her.

Media Addiction and kids

We live in the age of media addiction. Find me a person who isn’t addicted and I’ll show you someone who was born ninety years ago. Whether it’s TV, computers, smart phones we all want it. So what about the next generation? They look to be primed to experience instant media gratification at any time. Thanks to Youtube and smart phones, if you have a whinging child you can just chuck their favourite show on and plant them in front of it. Is this a good thing though?

My first daughter is a media addict despite our best efforts to avoid it. If it was up to her she’d watch her favourite show all day long. When she watches she really watches too. I’m not talking about having it in the background. She is glued to that screen. As a parent you may think that sounds fantastic. What a great babysitter. It’s not though. Three months ago we were having a constant battle about it. She’d beg for one episode of her favourite show. We’d relent. At the end of the show she’d scream and cry for another episode. If we relented again her behaviour and attitude would visibly get worse. It was obvious to us that the more she watched the crankier she got. It made no sense to us to let her watch anything.

Zero tolerance didn’t work. She was cranky about not watching TV and worse after watching it. What to do? Our child is now two and a half. She’s reached the stage where she understands cause and effect reasonably well. It’s such a difference. So we’ve been using media as flat out bribery. We wanted her to go to bed early and get up early mostly because we wanted a break after 9.  We told her if she gets up before 7am she can watch two episodes of Peppa Pig, 5 minutes per episode. Now at about 8.30 she says to us If i go to be now and get up early i can watch Peppa pig. Actually she says it in Japanese which is only four or five words. The next adjustment we wanted was toilet usage. She was going well with her toilet training but suddenly stopped using the toilet in the house. She was fine everywhere else just not in the house. So we made a chart. Every time she used the toilet we’d draw a picture of Anpanman on her chart. When she gets three of them she can watch an episode of Anpanman, 10 minutes. That means she should be able to watch at least one episode a day. On the weekend she gets a free episode of Moomin, 30 minutes. So far it’s worked really well. She says it’s time to finish watching herself and rarely asks for another episode. When she does we don’t relent no matter how cranky she gets. To my wife and I the TV is a babysitter who gives our kids alcohol and cigarettes.

For our second daughter we’re trying for zero exposure to media for her first few years. After all if you don’t get exposed to it you don’t feel the need for it. What does a one year old gain from watching TV? For that matter what does a two year old gain? How about a three year old? Before you say they are experiencing language in use, think about what you are doing when you watch TV. What are your thought processes? If you are anything like me your brain is running purely on cruise control if that. Anyone who’s tried to have a conversation with me while a TV is on can attest to that.

Funny thing about all this is that it makes me feel like such a strict parent. Everything you do for your child though should be factoring it what it is doing for their development. What’s better, her watching TV or her playing with her toys or with one of us? The answer is pretty obvious to me.