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The Benefits of Raising Bilingual Babies

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Group of multiethnic babiesAn interesting study has determined that babies who grow up in diverse neighborhoods are more likely to be open-minded and to interact with people of different cultures and races. (No real surprise there, right?) Plus, not only can raising babies in multicultural areas likely help them develop tolerance, compassion, and empathy for others, but babies are also exposed to other languages — a bonus because they have the opportunity to learn a foreign language.

And studies through the years have pointed out the benefit of raising bilingual babies. Bilingual babies are better creative thinkers and they have sharper brain functions — in fact, learning a foreign language helps babies improve verbal and problem-solving skills, which come in handy when they begin taking tests in school. A more recent study on bilingual babies further supports this fact, by showing that babies who learn a different language around 6 months seem to learn and process information faster.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences studied 114 babies around 6-months old; each baby was repeatedly shown the same image to gauge their response to it. The babies growing up in bilingual households or surroundings got bored more quickly when shown the same image repeatedly, and they were likely to move on to a new image. This indicated that babies who are still learning to distinguish two vocabularies and languages have increased cognitive development to process differences (like images) faster. Although the research focused on a small sample size in a specific geographical region, the study confirmed an advantage of learning more than one language.

Growing up, I was immersed in a bilingual environment — I spoke English at school and Mandarin at home, alternating between the two languages seamlessly or substituting Chinese vocabulary I didn’t know with English words. Although my neighborhood wasn’t multicultural, being exposed to two languages certainly helped me see the value of learning a foreign language — if only to expand communication and improve translation skills, understand the nuances of different verbal expression, and open up ways to understand others of different backgrounds.

Within the past few years, as more and more parents realize the advantages of preparing baby for an increasingly global world, they have started to enroll their kids in foreign language classes — starting as early as preschool! — with the hope that having them learn Chinese or learn Spanish will give them an edge and a better sense of the world later in life. But making sure kids are practicing and speaking a different language on a daily basis is just as important, so they can speak the language better and remember vocabulary. From middle school to high school, I also took French classes, but it was difficult to become fluent because I didn’t speak it daily outside of school. And by the time I got to college to learn how to read and write Chinese, those lessons really didn’t stick with me beyond the classroom. So there’s no doubt that the younger the kids are, the more likely they’ll have an easier time retaining another language (or two!) faster — which is just another positive reason why parents should consider raising babies in environments with cultural and linguistic diversity.

Imagine this: if every child has the opportunity to learn a foreign language, just imagine a future where everyone understands each other just a little better!

More related features on Parents.com:

 

Image: Group of multiethnic babies via Shutterstock

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How Twitter Can Help Shy and Introverted Kids in Class

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Twitter bird and hashtag symbol on black chalkboardHere’s the one thing my parents heard every year at Parent Teacher Conferences: “Your daughter has really good grades, but she doesn’t speak up enough. She has to learn to speak up because it’ll be important for her later in life.” But as much as I wanted to, I was too shy and introverted to speak up, and every time that I did, I would suddenly feel my stomach tightening, my heart racing, my arm shaking as I raised it, and my lips parting without being able to form words in a cohesive, coherent way. My mind always went too fast for my mouth to process. And even after I spoke, it would take me a good 10-15 minutes to calm down again. I just hated everyone’s eyes on me and the silence in the room as everyone listened, tuning in to every nuance of my shaking voice. It was just easier not to say anything!

Because I still remember how I felt, I was fascinated by Amanda Wynter’s piece in The Atlantic, “Bringing Twitter to the Classroom.” Chris Bronke, a high school English teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois, has developed a brilliant way to get his freshmen class to participate in class discussions — by having them on Twitter. While Bronke isn’t the first teacher to use social media to improve classroom learning, he is one of the few making progress in a positive and effective way. By relying on a social media platform the kids were already using, Bronke has encouraged his students to post photos, quotes, quick thoughts, questions about the reading. Hashtags, of course, keep the discussions contained in one thread. Along the way, kids “favorite” each others’ tweets and connect more with each other any time, anywhere, and from any device (mobile, tablet, or desktop). Bronke found that discussions were rich and robust, and that kids were more engaged with the reading and with each other.

Although Wynter’s piece didn’t mention whether Bronke noticed more participation from shy and introverted kids online, I can only imagine this has been the case. There’s no doubt technology helps people develop alter egos that allows them to voice things in a way they aren’t able to in person — just check out these New York Times and Washington Post articles on how shy and introverted kids tend to be more engaged and “extroverted” online. There is something liberating about being able to process and write your thoughts and feelings — without the pressure of eyes and ears — and vet them before sharing them with the world. For shy and introverted kids who struggle with speaking in class and having the spotlight on them, but who need to speak up because their grades depend on it (site note: I always hated this!), participating in online discussions may be a good outlet. These kids are more likely to blossom online and share their ideas and opinions without fearing how they look and sound, and how others are perceiving and reacting to them. Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” even interviewed a teacher in Canada who noted the benefits social media in classrooms for shy and introverted kids.

Of course, using Twitter (or any other social media) to promote discussions certainly has its potential problems — online interaction is still no substitute for real-world conversations, and over-reliance on technology can negatively affect face-to-face social skills (like being unable to identify social cues). As much as shy and introverted kids may be more vocal online, they also need to develop public speaking skills because “real world” situations beyond school necessitate in-person interactions. I know that if I was given the ability to participate on Twitter during school, I would have loved  having another outlet to make my voice heard. But I’m also glad that I didn’t grow up with that technology — I may have relied on it too much and hid behind it. Without it, I had to force myself to feel at ease with talking in front of people — even if it took years, and is still something I’m still working on.

Eventually, kids will need to make speeches and presentations, and give and go on interviews, so it’s always easier to sharpen and refine oratory skills (or any type of skills!) from a young age. Of course, it’s possible that being able to “talk” freely and being “favorited” on Twitter will boost kids’ confidence and make them comfortable talking in person. But teachers will need to make sure they strike a balance with having online and roundtable classroom discussions, and they would also need to make sure that online participation doesn’t become a crutch as the only way to earn good grades. After all, developing well-rounded communication skills will help kids throughout life in all situations (with family and friends), beyond the classroom. Ultimately, this would be the true mark of learning — and even success.

Share your thoughts: Do you believe social media has a place in the classroom?

3 Things to Raise a Successful Student
3 Things to Raise a Successful Student
3 Things to Raise a Successful Student

Image: Twitter bird and hashtag symbol on black chalkboard via Shutterstock

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What Do You Remember About YOUR First Day of School?

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Back to School First Day of SchoolYour child may have started school or gone back to school already, but here on the east coast (especially in New York City), school is just starting! My Facebook feed is bursting with adorable “First Day of School” photos from family and friends. Seeing all the photos took me back in time, Marty McFly style, to the days when all I had to worry about was what to eat for lunch and who to play with at recess.

Of all the “first day of school” memories, the one I remember the most is my first day of kindergarten at an elementary school in the suburbs of Long Island. I actually didn’t start kindergarten in September like all the other kids — instead, as a late transfer student from Queens, I started school in the middle of winter. What I remember most about that day was showing up to school in a winter coat, without a backpack or any school supplies. I remember the kindness of a curly, red-headed girl named Randi who helped me take off my jacket and hang it up on the wall. Then…I remember bursting into tears. Just sitting on the lap of my grandmotherly teacher (Mrs. Turnwall) as she comforted me while letting me sob big fat tears. Because I was shy. And I felt lost. And alone. And scared.

Eventually, I stopped crying and settled down to listen to Mrs. Turnwall read a story to the entire class. Thankfully, the class only lasted for half a day, so I didn’t have to be at school for very long. Looking back now, I think I felt very, very out of place because of a few reasons: 1) I was a new student; 2) Everyone already had time to get to know each other; 3) I didn’t look like anyone else (I was the only Asian student in class). I think that the shock of starting a new routine and the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces was overwhelming. It was a lot for a 5-year-old to handle!

Starting a new school is definitely one of the biggest childhood changes — and I think it’s definitely important for parents and kids to visit the school beforehand and get a sense of the size and layout. But for transfer families who may not have time to visit the school, there’s still value in emphasizing the positive, fun school things a child will still be able to enjoy (story hour! coloring! snack time!). Some of the biggest worries a child may have will be making new friends and liking the new teacher — so it’s also important to teach kids (especially shy ones) to try and find other kids with similar interests (who can turn into potential playdate pals), and to take time to listen and bond with the teacher.

Every first day of elementary school after that first day of kindergarten must have been easier — because I don’t have a solid memory of any of them! Although I never became BFFs with the red-headed Randi, I will always remember the sweet gesture that she showed me, a new girl who felt lost but who never felt really alone again.

Tell us: Do you have any memories about your own first day of (elementary) school?

Read more back-to-school musings:

Preparing for the First Day of School
Preparing for the First Day of School
Preparing for the First Day of School

What will your child grow up to be? Take our quiz to find out!

Image: Back to School blackboard and school supplies via Shutterstock

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The Fort That Came in an Envelope

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Boy reading under tent fort made of sheetsEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

When my brother and I were kids, there was nothing more fun than pulling all the sofa cushions onto the floor, stacking them, and covering them with sheets to build a fort. Hours upon hours spent in our forts, with flashlights, crayons, and toys. In the summer, there was a corner of our backyard that became our outdoor fort – hollowed out bushes, with a leafy camouflage cover, gave us shade and secrecy with our friends. So, it was natural for my mom to get sucked in by a special magazine ad…

Of course, all these years later neither my mom nor I remember if the ad was in the Ladies’ Home Journal or Reader’s Digest or in one of the kid magazines she saw in the doctor’s office or on the back of a cereal box. This was back in the day when “truth in advertising” wasn’t a well- established concept yet.  In fact, it was in the day when cigarettes were still promoted as healthy. The ad was for a log cabin fort. For one dollar, and maybe some box tops required as well, kids could enjoy a realistic Old West fort of their own. The picture, my mom remembers, was of happy kids playing inside a richly colored and textured log cabin fort. And, best of all, there was “minimal assembly required!”

Money was tough to come by for us as kids. My dad sold fruits and vegetables on a truck (a peddler, as he was known then) and my mom was at home with us trying to balance the family budget on the meager profits from selling bananas and onions. A dollar, with my mom’s frugality, could buy a shirt for school, or on Month-End sale days, a pair of dress pants from the clearance rack. She struggled mightily over investing a whole dollar on a log cabin fort, no matter how realistic it was. But, she knew we really did love forts, and she loved seeing us happy in our forts. So she sent in the dollar, and eagerly waited, never spilling a word about the surprise she anticipated in the mail.

When the package with the name of the fort company came, my mom immediately knew there was a problem. The envelope was standard issue manila, no thicker or larger than one might ship an issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. With trepidation and remorse, mom opened the envelope to find a plastic tablecloth, the size of a card table, with log shapes imprinted on the outside. The “minimal assembly required” referred to the hole that the satisfied customer was supposed to cut along the perforated line to create the door. And then all one had to do was set up a card table, spread the tablecloth, and voila, a fort worthy of…nothing other than a plastic covered card table ready for a game of canasta or poker.  Mom was devastated. But…

She set up a card table, covered it with the plastic fort, and with trepidation called us into the living room for a big surprise. Our unabashed, utter delight at the log cabin fort is something she remains grateful for to this day. When you are 7 years old and 3 years old, your taste in forts isn’t very sophisticated. And to us this was a real fort, not a bunch of sofa cushions! We ran for our flashlights, our crayons, and our toys. Let the fun begin!

As parents ourselves now, we are very lucky that our kids appreciate the little things, and have modest tastes and realistic expectations. My book No Regrets Parenting is about keeping things simple. And sweet. It’s about forts in the living room — and being grateful for what we have rather than wishing we had more.

It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks
It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks
It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks

 Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

Image: Boy reading in a fort made of sheets via Shutterstock

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Posting an All-Points Bulletin for Sesame Street’s Ernie

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Ernie from Sesame StreetEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

Sesame Street’s Big Bird is an octogenarian. Well, it’s more accurate to say that Carroll Spinney, the man who has played Big Bird (and Oscar the Grouch) for the past 45 years is an octogenarian. I learned this just this past week when reading an article in the Los Angeles Times about a new film based on Spinney’s book, I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story. The story brought back wonderful memories.

Sesame Street was a very important part of our home and our kids’ lives when they were young. Although our kids loved Big Bird and all the other Sesame “guys,” Ernie was the focus of much more attention–at least on one very memorable day in July many years ago.

Our oldest child may have been a little precocious in the area of miniature rubber figurines. Most kids who collect and play-act with little toy statuettes begin around 3 or 4 years old, but our home was a Sesame Street shrine from the moment our son started following Big Bird et al. at age 2. He was too young to even pronounce the characters’ names–Cookie Monster was “Cookiebader.” His love of Sesame Street miniatures made gift-giving easy–for about $2 each, we gradually accumulated all the critical players in the Sesame Street saga. They populated the replica Sesame Street neighborhood we all built together from recycled cereal boxes and cardboard tubes.  Sesame play-acting paused only long enough for us to watch the actual TV show when it came on the air each afternoon.

We vividly recall the time we first learned that Sesame Place, the show’s theme park, was in Pennsylvania, not far from where grandparents lived. This was a nearly miraculous development for our son—and, of course, the next trip to Mema’s and Grandpa’s included a visit to SP. That may have been the most memorable vacation of our boy’s childhood. He hid behind Grover’s garbage can, climbed into Ernie’s bathtub, and ate “Cookiebader” cookies for lunch. “Do they really live here!!??” he asked incredulously. The gift shop even sold a rare figurine that we didn’t have at home–Mr. Snuffleupagus, if memory serves–for two bucks, like all the rest of “the guys.”

It’s that devotion to Sesame Street that made Ernie’s (the figurine’s) mysterious disappearance one summer afternoon a day that will live in infamy. The characters never went anywhere without our son, and he rarely went anywhere without them. But on that fateful day, as play on the windowsill stage was about to begin, all the characters checked in present and accounted for, but where was Ernie?!! Breathlessly, our little boy ran to tell us of the disaster–Ernie was missing!

And so began a legendary search through the house that turned up just about every other lost toy from the previous two years–but no Ernie! We called friends, grandparents, neighbors–it was an all-points bulletin, we explained to our distraught toddler. Just as we were about to post “lost toy” fliers around the neighborhood, our next door neighbor sheepishly called–his grandson, with whom our son had been playing with the day before, might have accidentally slipped Ernie into his pocket.

Grateful that the crisis was over, we chose not to press charges. All the Sesame guys were reunited and, although I can’t be sure, I think I saw Burt shed a tear of relief. I know our son did.

Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks

Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

 

Photo: Image originally from SesameStreet.org

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