Saturday, April 26, 2008

Waiting for Skype.

Here's the sight that soothes my discontent every night:
Dyl on Skype

Our son is 16 months today!

In about 3 weeks' I'll be calling my journey as a masters' student a day, and will be packing up and returning to my heart's treasure.

Before then, I have 2 presentations, 1 sales pitch, and 4 final papers to complete. ugh.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Boston Marathon

According to this website, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest marathon after the tradition of the Olympians, with its inaugural run on 19 April 1895.

Monday morning, me and a few classmates decided to join in the festivity of this annual event - not as runners - but as spectators. Of course, we caught a bit of brunch at celebrity joint Ciao Bella first.

Ciao Bella

Spring has broken, and in the pictures here you can see Magnolia trees that line Newbury Street and Commonwealth Avenue. Aren't the flowers quite the sight. Within two short weeks, New England turned from barren and bitterly cold, to magnolia and almond-lined avenues dressed and basking in God's bright sun.

Commonwealth Ave 3
Magnolias along Commonwealth Ave
Magnolias 2

Though the finishing line was in Copley Square in Back Bay, Boston, we chose a less crowded spot to soak it all in - the sunshine, the jubilant cheering, the runners coming in dressed in Minnie Mouse's polka red dot skirts and ballerina tutus.

Celebrate Life!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Talk to Your Kid!

I have a theory about the oral language proficiency of Singaporean students.

Friends who know me know how much I complain that our students - even the top ones in HCJC and RJC - often can't seem to string intelligent sentences together.

This week, while searching for articles on EL development in Singaporean students I chanced upon a 1983 journal article by an American language researcher comparing Singaporean students learning the language with their American counterparts.

To my shock, the research describes our children as "learning English as a third language".

What's more, the article surmises (without hard proof), that children in Singapore are generally reading at a level that is 1.5 years below their average American peers. Despite this, the researcher found this to be pretty impressive, given the multilingual context our children grow up in.

This is an article describing the situation more than 20 years ago, so I wonder if the picture looks the same today.

But what is increasingly clear to me, is how much talk ("language input") it takes for little babies to acquire language, learn new words, speak, and speak elaboratively and fluently. And this seems to underpin their future success in schools - both in learning to read and write, and performing academically well.

And note this: it doesn't matter what language the talk is in - Malay, Mandarin, dialect, anything!

So, a little disturbingly, I am slowly forming a hypothesis that I'm hoping will either be confirmed or debunked over my professional career as a reading specialist.

The bottomline seems to be: our kids need quality language input from their caregivers. Language has to come from somewhere - the parents, the grandparents, the domestic helper.
(and dig this: Not television cos language comes from dyadic communication!)

So friends reading this post - talk! Keep talking to that baby.

The highest-paid academics here in Harvard are being paid to tell parents this very same thing.

Don't believe me? Read this:
"With babies, words for wisdom" (Tracy Jan, The Boston Globe, April 2)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

To the Moon and Back.

In the past week back home in Singapore, I struggled to explain to Dylan how much mommy and daddy loves him. He's a little young now to understand much of course, but it's hard to refrain from telling him anyway.

Sam McBratney, children's author, wrote a simple and beautiful story of expressive love in the book Guess How Much I Love You.

In the story, little Nutbrown Hare finds various ways of telling Big Nutbrown Hare how much he loves him. Finally, he settles on a clincher, saying "I love you all the way to the moon!". And Big Nutbrown Hare thinks to himself, and replies, "I love you all the way to the Moon and back!"

Years later, an Australian pop duo shamelessly pilfered the lines from this story to make a chart topper. The name of the song was To the Moon and Back, and they were called Savage Garden.

Anyway, I digress.

How does one express the full extent of one's love? ... is my research question for the week.

Developmentally, speaking to education psychologists like my roommate, S. from Madrid, children do not fully develop higher order emotions and concepts such as love and guilt until at least age 7 upwards.
(Hmmm... some people never fully do way into adulthood, but that's my opinion!)

Just from language development alone, kiddies taking part in one Sesame Street Children Television Workshop's research can't really define what love is beyond talking about it in concrete terms: it is heart-shaped, a smiley face, a mommy's hug (Fisch & Truglio, 2001, Ch4).

Doubly difficult is how little they understand of magnitudes, such as depth, width, and even age till much much later. (Famously, I remember my 17-year-old student describing my 31-year-old male colleague as being "middle-aged"!)

So we try to offer pithy explanations - how expensive our gifts are, the trouble grandma and grandpa went to just to get you something (so be grateful!), how much we are saving up every month and investing for your education (so be grateful!) etc.

But ideally, one fine morning I'd like to take Dylan out to East Coast park again, point him to container ships idling in the distant waters or the planes flying in, and say:

You know how far those ships and aeroplanes travel? (Yes, mommy, all around the world.)

And the world's a big ol' place, isn't it? (Yeah, mommy, it's big!)

Well, guess how much mommy and daddy loves you? (You bought me a boat and a plane, mommy?)

No, silly! We love you as long and as wide as how far those ships and aeroplanes travel!

But that's nothing compared to how much Jesus loves you.

For now, we'll just have to contend with hugs and cuddles, and lots of laughing and making funny faces to show the extent of our love. (From way over here, lots of laughing and funny faces and ridiculously dancing to Raffi's Bananaphone songs in front of my Skype camera will have to do.)