USA: The Power of Hello

USA: The Power of Hello

My oldest child just started middle school, which in the United States generally means sixth through eighth grade, or the years between elementary school and high school. Middle school has a tough reputation. It’s a time of huge change in every way possible. Kids go from being in one classroom pretty much all day to moving from class to class and managing multiple teachers’ expectations. They are also surrounded by many new faces from several different elementary schools that are blending together for the first time. Students are in every different phase of personal, physical, and emotional development. It’s the wild west of adolescence.

There’s lots to absorb and get used to, and the first week for my son encompassed a little bit of all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly. At one point he said to me, “No matter what you do, middle school happens to you .”

In the process of watching and listening to my son’s experiences, it’s hard not to go back to those days in my head. Each up and down that he experiences reminds me of something from my past. He will even ask sometimes if a particular situation ever happened to me, and of course, I always have a story to share. And as we swap stories, those old feelings come roaring back to the surface.

As parents, we want to spare our children the harsh moments we experienced and exalt them into the glorious ones, but life doesn’t work that way.

One evening, I was attempting to encourage my son to try getting to know his new classmates even if it feels awkward, and I asked my husband for backup. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. My husband was talking about when he went to college. It was a huge school in a new city, and he didn’t know anyone. He decided to go to a freshmen welcome party at a different dorm. Looking around, he noticed a guy wearing a concert t-shirt for a band he also liked. My husband decided to go up to the guy and comment on the shirt to start a conversation. The two got to talking, and they decided to hang out. T-shirt guy took my husband to his dorm to meet some friends. One of those friends was me. We became pals, a year later we started dating, and the rest is history. We went to a huge school, lived nowhere near each other, and studied completely different things. Looking back, if my husband hadn’t created an opportunity over a t-shirt, we easily could have never met.

I like to think that this talk gave my son some perspective. It sure gave me some. As much as I don’t like seeing my kids uncomfortable or struggling, it’s so central to growing up. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin through trial and error is essential. It’s not just that middle school happens to you. Life happens to you, and it’s up to each us to face it on our own two feet.

I am glad to say middle school isn’t all bad, and my son is opening up a little more all the time. In fact, by sharing about himself, he learned that he had common ground with someone he had previously had difficulties with. I don’t believe that things will be rosy all the time or that every new face will become a friend, but at least one can always start again. It just takes walking up to someone and saying “hello.”

How do your children cope with new places and people? Has a simple “hello” ever changed your life?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. of the United States. Photo credit: University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Tara B. (USA)

Tara is a native Pennsylvanian who moved to the Seattle area in 1998 (sight unseen) with her husband to start their grand life adventure together. Despite the difficult fact that their family is a plane ride away, the couple fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and have put down roots. They have 2 super charged little boys and recently moved out of the Seattle suburbs further east into the country, trading in a Starbucks on every corner for coyotes in the backyard. Tara loves the outdoors (hiking, biking, camping). And, when her family isn't out in nature, they are hunkered down at home with friends, sharing a meal, playing games, and generally having fun. She loves being a stay-at-home mom and sharing her experiences on World Moms Blog!

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SRI LANKA: What do You do When you Chose the Wrong School?

SRI LANKA: What do You do When you Chose the Wrong School?

What are you supposed to do when you can tell that the school your kids are in isn’t exactly what you’d like a school to be like? Not everyone has the luxury of just moving kids from school to school just because they don’t like it. I am thankful that our constant nomadic lifestyle let’s me make drastic decisions like taking the kids out of school and doing a year of homeschooling before moving on to the next country. The road of decisions getting here wasn’t exactly easy though.

Basically, we’ve taken the kids out of school and I’ve given up my free time so I can homeschool them as best I can. Everyone gets up later now and I admit it take lots of patience to get them interested in anything but I’m trying and I hope the decision was a good one. Whenever I think of the teachers notebook slapping my son, it becomes completely worth it

Before

For about a year I managed to get up before 6 am to wrangle my kids out of bed, into uniforms and every day was tougher than the next. It was hard for me to hear the little one cry every day about not wanting to go and how much she hated it. The older one put up with the daily routine but grew to also hate it. We all ended up hating it.

I obviously put up with it because well, school life is like that right? You get up unwillingly and go to school and go on with your life. But something just wasn’t clicking.

When we were in Bali they loved their school. The little one was allowed to go in pyjamas with the uniform in her bag and the teacher would dress her nicely and even braid her hair into “elsa” braids. My son has always been rambunctious but not once did they notebook slap him across the head there.

The year they spent in the Cambridge style school here in Colombo could have easily been a torture for them and I was telling them to suck it up because I needed my space.

Insert the mom guilt.

Those five free hours in the morning were mine, all mine and no one else’s! But things just kept getting worse. My daughter was constantly picked on by a little boy, every single day and the teacher took months to finally intervene. She was miserable and her only friends would switch to Sinhalese at any time, leaving her out of conversations.

The first day I took the kids to that school, it had me wondering; a first grade teacher was yelling at the top of her lungs about rules while the kids sat as still as possible in their seats in a room way too hot for comfort. I sort of brushed if off because it was the end of the school year, but later I feel bad that my kids had to put up with these teachers for a whole year.

I can’t tell you if the teachers are bad or just have had too much, they were nice sometimes and horrible other times. My son got notebook slapped quite a few times because he was tired of writing. My daughter was told to put her head down if she didn’t want to work. She wasn’t given other choices, like coloring or puzzle building. She was four.

Are all “academic style” schools like this now?
Forcing four year olds to write and read by the time they are five?

So, I took them out of school completely. I sent an email to the school which they never answered back, not even with a “bye bye it was nice to have you here”, nothing. Good Riddance, I say.

We are Expat Homeschoolers once again.

My son has come to hate the art of writing but he loves making up stories, my daughter says “no pencils allowed” everyday and I have to figure out other things to do with her. She will trace letters but won’t let me tell them what they are. She still can’t count to ten properly but you know what? I doesn’t matter, she will learn eventually. I have a feeling one year in that school has left a bit of a mark that now I have to erase.

I’ve lost those five free hours that I used to have but at least my kids aren’t being forced to spend their day in a hot uncomfortable room being picked on for being different and made to work incessantly with a fear of notebook slaps!

How do you feel about your kids’ school? Do you ever just want to take them out and do the schooling yourself? I know I have the luxury of doing something like that, and I am thankful to be able to.

Orana Velarde

Orana is a Writer, Artist, Mother and Wife; Peruvian Expat currently living in Sri Lanka with her husband and children. She writes on her blog Crazy Little Family Adventure about Worldschooling her kids and the trials and tribulations of being an Expat Mom.

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USA: Raising a Bilingual Child While Losing My Accent

USA: Raising a Bilingual Child While Losing My Accent

The author serving as a substitute teacher at a local Chinese-language school in San Diego

I’ve served as a judge at some local children’s Chinese-language speech and recitation contests on several occasions. I still remember my first time. I saw a little boy in a suit and tie, speaking with a crisp voice, saying, “Summer is my favorite season because the sunny days are cheerful and inspire me to do great things for my people.” When speaking, he raised his two fists high in the air.

Then I saw a little girl in a dress and high heels, who with a clear but shy voice said, “Winter is my favorite season because it reminds me the Chinese fairy tale ‘Snow Child,’ a story that describes the noble sentiments of Chinese people.” Then she wiped her eyes in an exaggerated way.

These children were all born in the United States, of Chinese descent. They spoke Chinese in crisp, clear voices, but the speech content was confusing. I really wanted to ask the girl what she meant by “the noble sentiments of Chinese people,” or the boy what “great things” he was going to do for his people. I got the impression that most of the scripts were written by parents.

After the young children spoke, the older kids stepped onstage. A couple of teenagers in T-shirts and shorts hesitantly walked up, muttering things like, “We should respect our teachers, because…because Chinese people believe in their teachers, well I’m American, not Chinese, but… oh well, let’s just respect our teachers” or, “We should respect our parents because…because they are too old to understand anything we say…let’s just listen to them when we are home.”

It was funny to see young people of Chinese appearance speaking with such strong American accents – so strong that I could barely understand them. Nine out of ten parents sitting in the auditorium frowned, clearly not enjoying the speech. Were they sad because their teenagers were not speaking Chinese as well as they had in elementary school? Were they worried because their children’s speech was not good enough to get them into college?

While considering how to score, I thought of my own child. He was then nine months old. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would be able to tell the fairy tale Snow Child in fluent Mandarin Chinese. Would he become an American kid with an American accent and complain that “Mom is too old to understand anything I say”?

I frowned, like all the parents in the auditorium.

In my family, we speak Chinese at home and English at work or school. My son was a late talker, but our pediatrician comforted us, saying that although bilingual kids can be slow to speak at the beginning, they usually  catch up quickly. He encouraged us to insist on speaking Chinese at home.

We tried to create a Chinese-only environment at home with hopes that my son’s first word my son would a Chinese word. But the hope came to naught: his first word was an English word he learned at the daycare: “Daddy”. This was my first failure in raising a bilingual child. In spite of this, we continue to speak Chinese at home. Every night we read bed time stories together in Chinese. By the time he was three, my son could speak fluent Chinese, and tell “Snow Child” and many other fairy tales without help. I was very proud.

But my pride didn’t last for long. Just a couple of months ago, his preschool teacher told me that he had a hitting problem. The theory was that because my son didn’t speak English as well as other kids, his ability to stand up for himself in arguments was limited, and he turned to physical means of expressing himself.

The teacher suggested that we set an “English time” at home to help my son improve his English. I didn’t like the idea: the more I exposed him to English, the less chance he got to speak Chinese. Didn’t he speak a whole lot of English at school already?

But the hitting problem got worse. After consulting our pediatrician and therapist, I finally gave in and started a daily English storytime at home. Kids are really like sponges, and his English improved in no time. He stopped hitting his preschool classmates, but his Chinese language skills went backwards.

I started to understand why I kept seeing the same thing at Chinese speech and recitation contests: the younger the children are, the better their Chinese language skills are. I started to understand that my hope of raising a bilingual child fluent in Chinese might once again come to naught.

I worked as a staff writer at a local Chinese-language newspaper when I was young. Many times, I interviewed outstanding second or third generation Chinese-Americans. When I asked them for a Chinese name for publishing purpose, they often said, “I don’t remember my Chinese name.”

A Chinese-American anti-death penalty activist once “drew” down her Chinese name for me after an interview. I couldn’t read the symbols she had drawn. I tried to guess and wrote down two characters next to her drawing. She read my writing and happily announced, “Yes, that’s my name!”

When the article was published the next day, I got a phone call in the newsroom from an old lady speaking Chinese with a sweet Beijing accent. She identified herself as the mother of the anti-death penalty activist, and said that I had gotten her daughter’s name wrong. I apologized, and she said, “That’s okay, I understand. My daughter must have made the mistake herself. She never remembered her Chinese name. But I just want to let you know.” Then she was silent. “Hello! Hello?” I said, not sure if I should hang up. Then she started to talk again, asking me where I was from, if I was married, and if I had children.

At that time I was married but there were no children yet. The old lady aid earnestly, “Take my advice. When you have your own kids, always speak Chinese to them.”

“Sure, sure,” I said, just saying that to make her happy.

Through the years I’ve seen many second generation Chinese-Americans struggling to learn Chinese.

Since having my own child, I often think of the old lady and her daughter who couldn’t remember her own Chinese name. The thought is almost painful.

It is not just the America-born children who are struggling. The away-from-home adults are also struggling. I am a professional writer who was born to Chinese parents and raised in Taiwan, but who has spent her entire adulthood in the States. I struggled to improve my English during my first years in the United States. Now I write English more then Chinese. I can clearly see that I no longer speak Chinese as well as I used to. When I was in my twenties, I was eager to get rid of my Chinese accent. Now I’m desperate to maintain my Chinese language skill.

My son will soon be four, old enough to go to the Chinese language school. I decided to let him start this fall. He doesn’t like the idea of going to school on weekends, and asks, “Why do I have to learn Chinese?”

I didn’t know how to explain the concept of culture to a toddler. I just told him, “So you can read ‘Journey to the West’.” The other night I read him the chapter “Monkey Subdues White-Skeleton Demon” from the classic novel. He wanted to know if the Monkey eventually returned to his teacher Xuanzang. I wouldn’t tell him. I told him that he will read it one day by himself.

I still hope to raise a bilingual child who speaks fluent English and at least understandable Chinese. I don’t expect him to love the Chinese language right away. Language is always first a tool and then an art. I hope my son will first learn how to use the tool, and then, maybe one day, he’ll truly fall in love with the art.

Are you raising a bilingual child? How do you manage the cultural balance between more than one language?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by T0-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: David Sprouse.

To-Wen Tseng

Former TV reporter turned freelance journalist, children's book writer in wee hours, nursing mom by passion. To-wen blogs at I'd rather be breastfeeding. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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World Voice: Education is the Best Inheritance

World Voice: Education is the Best Inheritance

“Survival of the fittest” is how Patrick Makokoro jokingly described his childhood with a smile, only he wasn’t exactly joking.

Patrick Mokokoro

Patrick Mokokoro

A handsome father with a friendly and earnest demeanor, Patrick is an early childhood education activist in Zimbabwe. He came to my community in St. Louis, MO last week on a U.S. media tour to talk about the importance of U.S. support for the Global Partnership for Education. He knows firsthand how it feels to be denied an education. He grew up in poverty as the 8th child in a family of 16 kids. His Darwinian comment about survival describes the competition he felt when he had to scuffle with his siblings for a share out of a big bowl of cornmeal. Despite barely being able to afford school fees, his parents – a gardener and a housekeeper – valued education highly. In fact, the phrase “Education is the key to success” was drummed into Patrick, early on as his parents struggled to give their kids the best opportunities they could.

He took the lesson to heart and was the first child in his family to pass his basic examinations at 16 years old, making him eligible for high school. Full of pride, he felt sure that his father would be proud to see him continue, but unfortunately, his father had to tell him, “I’m sorry, I can’t afford to pay your fees because you have many siblings. If you continue, I won’t be able to pay for your brothers and sisters to go to school.” It was a crushing disappointment. His bitterness broke the relationship with his father for a time and he left home to find his own way.

An opportunity to work with vulnerable children in an orphanage gave him an eye-opening experience that changed the course of his life. As upset as he was about his situation, he was surrounded by children – happy and playing – who had no parents at all and needed far more than he did. He rolled up his sleeves and guided the children to play sports and plant a garden to help with their nutritional needs. He dedicated his life to serving orphans and finding sustainable solutions to support kids like them.

Patrick supported himself through the rest of high school and college while working with other non-profits addressing the plight of Zimbabwe’s children. Time and experience taught him that local resources were often not adequate to respond to shortages in food supplies, medical care, psychological support, and school fees. So, he started his own organization called the Nhaka Foundation to address these needs together. “Nhaka” means inheritance.

“Education is the key to success,” says Patrick echoing his father. “So, if we are to leave any inheritance for children and orphans, it should be an education.”

Nhaka Foundation

Nhaka Foundation

This year, the Nhaka Foundation is celebrating its 10th anniversary of giving children a healthy foundation and early learning opportunities. Patrick is now an international advocate, traveling as far as the U.S. to share how critical it is for us to continue to support country-led programs investing in children.

 Patrick at a meeting with RESULTS St Louis Activists and writers from St. Louis media. Photo credit to RESULTS St. Louis


Patrick at a meeting with RESULTS St Louis Activists and writers from St. Louis media. Photo credit to RESULTS St. Louis

It’s important that he does come here to tell his story. After all, the U.S is a donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which provides grants to the Nhaka Foundation! Our money is pooled with other countries and distributed by the GPE after rigorous scrutiny. It assures money is not lost to corruption or poor planning. It ensures that we can invest in the highest quality programs that will help the most vulnerable children.

Global Partnership for Education

Global Partnership for Education

The coincidence that I met Patrick a week before the primary school graduation of my youngest child was not lost on me. While we celebrate the shining futures of our little ones, most of the parents in our school have no idea what is happening in Zimbabwe, nor the transformative work the GPE does with our tax dollars. Yet, all Americans should know that it is through our action or our inaction, that we impact the fates of millions of children worldwide. When we speak out and demand that our government support the GPE, we change the course of millions of lives from despair to opportunity. When we remain silent, we risk the bright hope of Patrick’s orphans and so many like them.

If you live in a donor country, speak out to your government about the importance of global education and urge them to pledge generously to the GPE for its 2017 replenishment campaign this year. As a World Mom, I want to stand with Patrick and pass on this inheritance of education to every child.

As a World Mom, I want to stand with Patrick and pass on this inheritance of education to every child.

Photo Credits to the Author, RESULTS, Global Partnership for Education

Cindy Levin

Cynthia Changyit Levin took her first advocacy action in 2001 with a hunger event at her church. Years later, after resigning from her position as an automotive engineer to raise her newborn daughter, she searched for a way she could better the world from home while caring for infants. She returned to advocacy and is now a dedicated volunteer activist with RESULTS, Shot@Life, ONE, and Bread for the World. Levin involves her young children in her advocacy activities, including face-to-face lobby meetings with members of Congress, letter-writing, and classroom advocacy projects. She shares what she has learned about advocacy through her Anti-Poverty Mom blog and training other activists with RESULTS. Her op-eds and letters-to-the-editor have appeared in Chicago area newspapers as well as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Washington Post, the New York Times and the international Financial Times. Levin has served on the Board of Directors for RESULTS/RESULTS Educational Fund and on staff with RESULTS Educational Fund as a fundraising coach for grassroots volunteers.

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SRI LANKA: Heavy Backpacks and Uniforms

SRI LANKA: Heavy Backpacks and Uniforms

Kids are out on holiday for the next two weeks. Funny how it’s Easter Holidays in some places, Spring Break in others, and here it’s the Buddhist New Year. In the end it doesn’t really matter what it is I’m just glad I don’t have to wake up at 6 am to convince my kids to eat something before heading out dragging heavy backpacks and in my son’s case;  an uncomfortable uniform and terrible shoes.

I still can’t believe my 4.5 year old daughter brought home SPELLING homework for the holidays. I’m in shock as to why she would need to do spelling at that age. It pains me, she hates going to school just because it’s all WORK WORK WORK. She does not have fun and she’s not even out of Kindergarten yet.

My kids have been going to a “Cambridge” School for the past year and thankfully my son is ok with it. He likes to learn so accepts the heavy backpack and uncomfortable uniform. I am surprised that he always gets a C in Art and I don’t care that he is in “position 21” of 22 kids in the class. I couldn’t care less.

When there are parent teacher meetings previous to exams, some parents write down notes as to what needs to be studied. I sometimes don’t even go to the meeting and most of the time my son misses one day of testing cause we travel so much. I’m not sure what the teachers think of us.

My daughter’s teacher calls my home complaining that she is “missing so much work”, I have no heart to tell her that I don’t care.

So why do my kids go to school? Why don’t I just homeschool them if I think the school is just suffering?

Because I need those free hours to be with myself, even if I mostly end up doing errands for the house in the end. I need to have those hours to be able to work in silence ( I have to go to the coffee shop or the maid will talk to me while I’m trying to work on the computer). I’m a bit glad when the maid doesn’t come for one reason or another, it means I can come back from school drop off, help my husband get off to the office and I can get back in my pijamas until noon. And yes, of course I feel guilty!

We have decided to stay one more year in Sri Lanka, I hope my daughter doesn’t suffer too much with the “no crafts, no playing” schooling style of this school. I always tell her, you won’t have to go to this school forever, just for a little more. In the next country I will find you a more artistic school, I promise.

For the past few weeks people have been telling me to go to the supermarket on Monday because the rest of the week I won’t be able to get any provisions, cause everything will be closed. They must be exaggerating right? Who knows. We managed to organize an out of the country trip to where it’s also Buddhist New Year but mixed with Carnaval. We are going to Thailand for Songkran, where the kids will probably learn more about life and stuff than in those hot uncomfortable classrooms where they work work work.

In the end, all they really want to do is travel. School is just to give them some kind of routine. I hope the next year will be ok for them.

Orana Velarde

Orana is a Writer, Artist, Mother and Wife; Peruvian Expat currently living in Sri Lanka with her husband and children. She writes on her blog Crazy Little Family Adventure about Worldschooling her kids and the trials and tribulations of being an Expat Mom.

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SINGAPORE: When your kid is done trying

SINGAPORE: When your kid is done trying

If you have a kid at home, chances are you’ve probably watched Zootopia. It’s a story about how an unlikely bunny, became the first female police officer in a male dominated environment. But this is not about the movie itself.

This is about the movie’s theme song; “Try Everything”, by Shakira.

When the school term started, I pinned up motivational quotes and growth mindset visual reminders on my daughter’s notice board. I’m big on inspirational quotes and I believe that positive reinforcement helps to shape our thinking and behavior.

Since she was so hot about the song “Try Everything”; I printed the lyrics and made it her theme song for the year. She promised that she’ll similarly have a, try everything attitude and not give in or give up easily.

Sounded promising doesn’t it?

However, barely a month into the school term my 8 year-old was all ready to throw in the towel and decided that she’s done with trying because school work is so difficult. When I questioned why she didn’t attempt to do her assessment books which I bought as a supplement to her school work, she answered nonchalantly, “I have no idea how to do it”, and ended it at that. So much for teaching her about having a growth mindset and where’s that try everything attitude that she promised?

What made me furious was not because she didn’t know how to do it which is acceptable if she’s not learnt it in school.  Rather it’s her lack of efforts in trying because she assumed that I’ll dish out the answers to her. That to me is simply unacceptable and I ranted about it on Facebook.

Turns out I was not alone and many parents had similar struggles with their kids.

So what’s a mum to do?

We lead by example by not giving up on our kids and trying different approaches to see how best to get to them. It can be a tricky balance between encouraging and pushing our kids finding out how we can change their attitudes and how they have to be responsible for their own learning.

These days, I’m also teaching my daughter that there’s no shame in failing because now she has discovered what is wrong. She can be one step closer to what’s right. And in the process, I’m reminded to praise the efforts she’s taken rather than the results themselves so that she is undeterred even when she has to take on more demanding tasks.

How do you encourage your kids to try tackling a new or challenging task?

Susan Koh

Susan is from Singapore. As a full-time working mom, she's still learning to perfect the art of juggling between career and family while leading a happy and fulfilled life. She can't get by a day without coffee and swears she's no bimbo even though she likes pink and Hello Kitty. She's loves to travel and blogs passionately about parenting, marriage and relationship and leading a healthy life at A Juggling Mom.

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