25 June 2014

Buße Bank (Repentance Bench)

Today, we had a little argument. Jonathan had a laser toy and wouldn't share it with Simon. So Simon spit at Jonathan and called him "gemein" (mean). This accusation caused Jonathan to burst into tears: "Ich bin nicht gemein". Funny how the house can go from peaceful to a wailing frenzy in a matter of seconds. So, what's my favorite way of handling these situations? Well, I'm not a spanker and I'm not good at enforcing time out. So, over the years, I've adapted an idea I came across, and I call it the "Buße Bank" or, in other words, the repentance bench (it sounds so much better in German). Here's how it works: As soon as I hear screaming, crying, tattling, or any type of fighting, I immediately send (sometimes drag) all involved parties to the repentance bench. In our house the "bench" is the raised fireplace hearth.
They cannot move their little bums from the hearth until the conflict has been resolved in the following manner: Each of them has to tell me how the other is feeling (and the other person has to concur with their diagnosis). And then they have to figure out what they might have done that caused the other person to feel hurt or angry (of course we know that no one can "make" another person angry...but I'm mostly asking them to look back on their past actions in order to identify something they said or did that was unkind, selfish or thoughtless.) No one is allowed to accuse or talk about what the other person did or didn't do to them. If they start with "But he..." then I just shush them and ask again "You need to explain to me why you think Simon feels angry." All of this is done in German, of course. Simon then has to explain what he might have done that hurt Jonathan's feelings. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out exactly what caused the contention. Once they both figure out why the other person feels hurt, they then have to apologize for whatever they did that was unkind or thoughtless. Sometimes they didn't mean to hurt the other's feelings, but they still need to figure out what they did and why it was misconstrued to be hurtful. Even if they didn't purposely hurt the other person, they still can apologize, by saying something like "I'm sorry that you got angry when I said that the purple cat you drew was not a real cat color. I didn't know that would make you feel dumb. Because you're not dumb, you're smart and your purple cat is cool." Almost always, by the time they get to the apologizing stage, they start giggling and end up hugging each other so much that they fall off the bench in a heap of laughter. It's been a great way for the kids to learn how to talk about feelings and to understand that other people have real feelings, too.

 So here are the Buße Bank rules summed up:

1. All parties sit on bench
2. Each child has to identify the other person's feelings
3. They each have to explain how their own actions were hurtful, unkind or thoughtless
4. They have to (sincerely) apologize for their selfishness, thoughtlessness or hurtfulness.
5. They can't leave the bench until their sibling is happy. They also have to hug each other and express their love for each other. When all parties are happy, THEN and only then, can they leave the bench.

By the way that weird character "ß" is a double "s" in German. So, it's pronounced Boosseh Bahnk. :)

24 June 2014

Morning and Evening Routines!

About a year ago, I realized that we needed to set some expectations for morning and evening routines for our three youngest. They were 4, 4 & 5 at the time and I wanted them to do their routines without help from me. At first I tried to use my big job chart, but then I realized that they needed their own chart in their room.
Since I wanted tabs that could be turned over and used every day, I came up with the following chart.

To make it, I simply used some Dollar Tree Document frames ($1 each). (You could also use 8x10 frames, you'd just have to cut down your paper.) Then I created and printed the back ground of the chart on colored card stock. Here's the file I used (it's a Publisher file, so you'd have to have Microsoft Publisher on your computer. I don't think you can preview or open the file without it):
Morning and Evening Routines
Yes, I realize that this is in German. Since we speak only German to our little people, the job chart is in German. So, for those who don't know German, the morning jobs are: Prayer, Get Dressed, Brush Teeth, Make Bed and Clean Room. The evening jobs are: Put on PJs, Brush Teeth, Clean Room, Read Scriptures (I read to them), and Prayer.
So, now for the CLEVER part: In order to make hooks, I took the little round head brass paper fasteners and stuck them through the paper from the back, so that the pointy part stuck out the front side (I made a little slit with the tip of a sharp knife to help them push through the paper). Once I stuck all the fasteners through the paper, I secured them on the back with clear packing tape. Then, on the front of the paper, I bent the ends upwards to make little hooks! (I KNOW, IT'S SO CLEVER, I CAN HARDLY STAND IT). Anyways, after that, I made little job tabs with pictures. On the back of each tab, I drew a smiley face. Then I laminated the tabs and punched holes in the top. Lastly, I took the glass out of the frame and put my chart into the frame, securing it on the back with tape and hung it in the kids room.

Immediately, our morning and evening routines were transformed. Now, when they come out of their room in the morning, I ask them if they've turned over all their jobs. If not, they run right back in their room and do it. At night, I can send them upstairs ahead of me and tell them to do their jobs and if they get them all turned over before I come up, then they get an extra story. They love having a routine. They love knowing what's expected. It helps the whole family, since often an older sibling or my husband is putting the kids to bed. The chart has really helped our mornings and evenings run so smoothly.

Love my charts!!!

05 June 2014

Thank Goodness for Technology (when you're parenting in your non-native language)

The boys play a German computer game. Love how the stuffed kitty
is hanging by its tail and watching. 
Having had the experience of raising bilingual kids in the 1990's as well as in the 2010's, I must say that I've been very grateful for the help of technology in both eras. In the 1990's I was very grateful for anything German that I could get my hands on. It was a LOT harder to get the things that I wanted than it is today. For example, in order to be able to watch German children's videos. First, I had to find someone who was going to Germany who could buy a video cassette for me. Of course, that video (being in PAL format, used in Europe) wouldn't play on my American (NTSC) video player. So, I would have to find someone who owned a (very expensive) PAL/NTSC conversion video player. Thankfully, the university I was attending owned such a player, so I was able to convert a few videos. And, boy, was I grateful for each and every one of my German videos. The first movie we had was Dumbo. My little Ben watched his German Dumbo every afternoon before he took a nap. Later, I found friends who had NTSC/PAL video players/converters and our small German video library slowly grew. Eventually, the price came down enough that we got our own machine. Our little library become much bigger. We acquired  a whole slew of Disney videos. We also picked up traditional German children's shows along the way, like Loewenzahn, Petzi, and Sendung mit der Maus.

With our younger batch of kids we've had so, so much more technology available to us. With the internet, it's so much easier to order videos.  And the PAL video players are very cheap now. I have found that Abe Books carries lots of German materials and their shipping to the US is very reasonable. But, lately, I have almost stopped buying videos altogether, because we can find so many shows on YouTube. We can also watch a whole bunch of children's shows, including our all time favorite, Sendung mit dem Elefanten, on Kika. (KiKA Link). KiKA is a German children's TV network.

We have found lots of fun computer sites that help the kids to develop their German. Many of these resources are pinned on my Pinterest board (see right column). One of our favorites is Toggolino. You pay a yearly subscription, but that gets you access to tons of different educational software games. My kids absolutely love it. They never get tired of it because there are so many different games and new ones are constantly being added. I love all the educational software available to help the kids learn to read and write in German. 

Another source of German, which technology has made much easier to acquire, is music and audio books. I used to order cassette tapes through catalogs. Now, I can download just about anything I want. We love our German children's music. We have it playing all the time. Our favorite artist is Rolf Zukowski. The kids love to sing along to his songs. We also love to listen to audio books in the car. I was so pleased to find that I could open a German Audible account and order just about any audio book I wanted. I don't know if you younger moms appreciate all this as much as us older moms. But, just imagine trying to get your hands on material in your target language without the internet. Having access to so much information is just so helpful when you're parenting in your non-native language!!

So, how has access to all this technology helped us to raise children in our non-native language? Well, most of all, it has exposed our kids to lots and lots of (natively) spoken German, which is something they desperately need since our German is far from perfect. Through the many forms of media, they are exposed to complex sentence structures, syntax, different dialects, fixed expressions, and many other linguistic nuances that they can’t pick up from us, their parents, because we are not native speakers. On numerous occasions, I’ve heard my kids use phrases that they picked up from a German TV show or a German song…phrases that neither Karl nor I have ever used. And whenever that happens, I am reminded of just how much technology has helped my children understand and speak better German.

Not only does all this exposure help their language, it also makes them feel like they are part of a bigger group. My kids have very few friends who speak German. We just don’t come in contact with many Germans on a day to day basis. For this reason, it really helps them to see other kids speaking German on TV. When they watch a German show and see all the characters speaking German, it helps them to realize that they are not the only ones speaking this funny language. It also helps with the “cool factor” of the language. If your favorite cartoon character speaks German, then maybe German is a cool language!

And on top of helping their language AND helping them to love the language, the other benefit that I’ve seen from exposing our kids to lots of German videos, is that they are learning about German culture. This culture learning comes especially from shows with “real” actors (rather than cartoons). One culturally educational series that our young kids enjoy are the “Sachgeschichten” on Sendung mit der Maus. These are excerpts that can be compared to the How It’s Made series, except it’s geared towards little kids. My older girls adore the Sissi movie about Empress of Austria. It’s packed with history and culture. And what girl doesn’t love the beautiful flouncy dresses and elaborate hairstyles of the Georgian era?

When you're raising your kids in a language that is foreign to you, you are going to make mistakes--lots of them! You will sound awkward at times and you'll be just plain wrong at other times. It just makes sense to make sure that you are not the only source of the target language. You're going to want to surround your children with as many native speakers as possible. When you're facing a huge project (and I think raising your kids in a foreign language counts as a huge project), you want as much help as you can get. Thank goodness for the many foreign language resources that technology has put at our fingertips!

02 June 2014

A Day Like This Makes it All Worth It!!

As I look back on all the years and all the effort we put into raising our children bilingually, there are quite a few instances when I've been especially grateful for our decision to speak German to our kids. One of those special times was when we traveled to Europe. I loved seeing my children play and interact with my German friends' children. I had even arranged for my children to spend a few days at the German school that I attended as a child. I remember feeling so incredibly grateful that my kids were able to have that experience. It was an experience that they never would have had, if we hadn't taught them German. Well, we recently had another wonderful experience which tops them all.
In order to understand the significance of this experience, you have to understand a little about our religious culture. We are LDS (Latter Day Saints or "Mormons"). Ever since our children were very young, we have talked to them about serving missions. Many of the youth in our church, start saving their money early so that they can someday serve a mission. Young men are able to serve once they're 18 years old and serve for 2 years. Young women can serve once they're 19 years old and serve for 18 months. (About Mormon Missionaries) In order to serve a mission, the young people need to be living up to certain moral standards and they need to have a strong desire to serve others. They also are willing to serve where ever they are sent, meaning that the mission applicants don't get to choose where they will be serving. They are assigned to a certain mission. It could be anywhere in the whole world. There is a section in the application which asks about which languages are spoken by the applicant. However, just because an applicant speaks a given language does not at all guarantee that he or she will be called to a country where that language is spoken. Case in point: my son, who speaks German, is currently serving his mission in the state of Wisconsin (English speaking). (Ben's Mission Blog) We are thrilled for him and he is having amazing and wonderful experiences. He loves Wisconsin and he loves the people of Wisconsin. So, how does his bilingualism help  him now? Well, one of the most wonderful benefits of bilingualism is the "biculturalism" that usually goes hand in hand with learning another language. This means that Ben grew up learning about different cultures and different ways of thinking about things. This ability to be open-minded has helped him to connect with people who are very different from himself. So, he may not be using his German language on his mission so much, but his exposure to a foreign culture has still helped him to be a better and more effective missionary.
So, recently, our daughter, Michaela, submitted her mission application. She, of course, was also willing to serve anywhere in the world that she might be sent. There is always a lot of anticipation preceding a mission call. We gathered friends and family (many through video conferencing) to witness the opening of the mission call letter. When she finally opened it and read that she would be serving in the Germany Frankfurt Mission, we were all so thrilled. Of course, we'd be thrilled no matter where she ended up serving, but the fact that we've been speaking German to her since she was born, made it one of those very special "bilingual parenting moments". I thought back on all the German lullabies I memorized and sang to her when she was little, the German stories I read her, the German traditions we incorporated, and the love that she has developed over the years for all things German. And, now, she gets to take all that knowledge and all that love and will have the opportunity to serve the people in Germany for a year and a half. Yes, at times like this, I am so, so grateful that we took the bilingual plunge and that we stuck with it as best we could.  Indeed, a day like this makes it all worth it!

If you are raising your children in your non-native foreign language, PLEASE take the survey. Click on the top right tab. Thank you!!

Bilingual Baby Dream Team

Going on 20+ years of raising our bilingual babies...
I'm so grateful for a sweet husband who was willing to give this whole experiment a try and and that he was willing to speak German to our kids, even though his German exposure had been limited to a few semesters of college German. It's been one of the most fun and rewarding things we've done. The fact that our family speaks German has given us our own identity and helps the kids feel like they are a part of something special. And anything that helps your family feel special and connected is a good thing.