Sunday, June 22, 2014

Learning: A Hate Story

Today I bravely plucked my over-grown Shrek eyebrows, slapped on some make-up and trudged down the street to a new playgroup.

I hate meeting new moms and their kids. You never know how awkward it's going to be (and it can get pretty awkward). So, how old is your child? Oh, yay, 2! *silence......................*

But despite the potential awkwardness AND being sick as a dog, I forced myself to go with the kids in tow. And before I get into the 'why', can we just talk about how totally sick and horrible I've been feeling?

I caught some ungodly germ and have been sick for about 4 days now, but I only seem to be getting worse. Last night I wanted someone to mercifully cut my over-congested head off. It felt like every single possible cavity in my head was pregnant with octopulets (ah, I miss octo mom, wonder how she's doing, can you imagine having octopulets!...sorry, I digress)...what was I saying? Oh yeah, I was congested like a mother up in there and when my nasal drip finally traveled down to one nostril, thereby clearing the other, I could breathe well for about 2 seconds before my one clear nostril felt like the hot-smelting furnaces of Mordor resided there.

It hurt to nose-breathe. But it also hurt to mouth-breathe (as my throat was also on fire and totally sore). But breathe I must...musted? So I lay in bed, in agony, and slept maybe a good 2-3 hours last night.

But why didn't I take Nyquil or Sudafed or any of the other modern miracles of medicine that would've made my congestion much more bearable? Because none of them are FDA approved for nursing mothers. Yes, I'm still nursing. Longish story, we can talk about it another time. Maybe. Kinda boring story really. So maybe not. But this is a mommy-ish kinda blog so maybe yes. Whatever, let's get off the subject of my breasts.

So where was I? Oh yes, this morning, totally sleep-deprived, feeling like road-kill, trudging off to an awkward new playgroup.


Because a few weeks ago I found out that one of my neighbors is a native Mandarin speaker and early childhood educator. And basically, to this Chinese-American mom who is trying so hard to teach her (completely resistant and non-cooperative) preschooler Mandarin, my neighbor was my savior.

She was, to me, the answer to all my Mandarin-language based prayers. A miracle that dropped right in my backyard--close to literally!

I asked her to please, please, please host a Mandarin-language play group in which she would lead the kids in Chinese songs and stories and to my extreme delight, she said YES! YESSSS!!!!! So I invited some other moms to come and, fast forward to today, we finally met and did it!

It was everything I envisioned it would be. A song, a story, some flashcards, some finger-puppets, and a very basic lesson using 4 key vocabulary words. Perfection. Except...(and of course there's an "except." You know by now this blog isn't filled with success tales)...except...I learned that Judah transforms into a total monster when someone is trying to teach him Chinese.

I already knew that about him with respect to myself as his teacher, but I thought it would be different if someone else taught him. He's such a social guy and he's so great at paying attention to his teachers in preschool, but turns out, nope. He just hates learning Chinese.

I really can't explain this picture. Maybe Judah heard a Chinese word.

I just don't get it. He's happy to learn about dinosaurs and outer-space and every superhero that ever lived, but when it comes to a new language he completely melts down. Does he feel threatened? Does he feel too challenged? Does he feel too much implied pressure from me?

Of course I asked him all these questions, just like that, and got a very intelligible response--I DON'T WANT TO LEARN CHINESE!!!!!!!


It made me recall my own childhood experiences with learning Mandarin, and another dreaded subject, playing the piano. I hated both. Absolutely hated them.

Why? Because it's boring? Because it's hard? Because I didn't have a natural interest in either? Probably yes to all the above.

But kids have to learn a lot of things they don't naturally want to learn. Heck, if learning was fun and painless, we'd all be Rhode scholars by now. So my parents did what any other Asian immigrant parent did back then. They forced it on us.

I remember sitting at the piano at an early age--maybe 5 or 6, tears running down my face as I was being forced to practice my pieces. My vision was so blurred by my tears I could barely make out the notes in front of me. Which made me feel so sorry for my poor, young, privileged self. I vowed, like many kids I'm sure, that I would never be so cruel as to force my kids to learn something they hated. to today. I was about ready to strangle Judah and threaten him with certain death if he didn't stop whining and crying at the Mandarin playgroup and causing The Biggest Scene Ever.

But I didn't. Because I wonder if there's a better way. How do you get a child to learn something they really don't want to? How do you do it gently? Humanely? Even, gasp, enjoyably? Certainly this kind of resistance is not going to stop at "peripheral" subjects like a second-language or musical instruments. Kids hate math. Kids hate science. Kids hate reading. Kids hate school!

They have a lot to learn.

I have a lot to learn.


Time to consult Dr. Child Expert--Google.


Kate Sherwood said...

I hope you start feeling better soon!

As far as forcing children to learn something, I didn't. But, I think Mandarin Chinese is in a different category than what I dealt with because it is important to his heritage and identity. So, the rest of my comment is likely of no help to you--I am just continuing my previous train of thought, and partly this thought, too.

I basically let Rosebud be self-directed. She was taking piano for a while. When she wanted to quit, I made her write me a paper explaining her thought process, all the consequences to her of quitting, and why she thought I thought she should continue with piano. She hand wrote two pages that were logical and coherent. So, I let her quit. She later took it up again on her own terms. She did not want to learn classical pieces. We would go to the music store, she would pick out a piece of popular sheet music, I would review it for difficulty, and then I would teach her to play that piece. I never had to ask her to practice, so that one worked out well. However, there was a several-year break.

I felt she should learn Spanish. Her step-mother and step-brother emigrated from Mexico, so she was exposed to native speakers. She can roll her Rs like nobody's business--long continuous rolls when she wants to tease me (because I can only do the back-of-the-palate rolls of German and variation for Hebrew, no matter how hard I try!). I also thought it would be good for her relationship with her step-mother. I bought software and books and worked with her. At first things were going well, and she kept a notebook for her step-mother to help her. Then, suddenly, their relationship seriously deteriorated and she absolutely refused to work on Spanish ever again. I tried to reason with her--it was good to know anyway. Nope. Adamant. I let it go.

She completed two years of college-level sign language while still in high school (A grades), and absolutely loves it. Her relationship with her step-mother improved independently, over time. I still think she had the best possible environment to learn Spanish and wonder if I should have forced the issue. She has found that the immersion has rubbed off, she does understand some.

All of this to say I am just remembering "out loud." I have no idea what I should have done. But, I am okay with how it turned out. I hope Google has some good ideas for you. I wonder how Frenchie's Mia is doing with French?

Also, Rosebud is very self-motivated. The only school rule I had to make was that "in our family, we at least try the brain teasers."

Does bribery work with Judah?

Good luck! Being a parent is so hard sometimes. Congratulations on getting a great play group started. :)

Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

Alice in Wonderland said...

Thanks Kate! I love hearing about other parents' experiences. I'm realizing learning motivation and style is so individual (ha! like everything else in child rearing!). Why can't kids be cookie-cutter from the factory, or at least come with manuals?

The Flower said...

I know an English/Mandarin-speaking bilingual mom who only let her son have Mandarin screen time from age 1/1.5. I think that became incentive for him to learn. I wanted to try this strategy for teaching my 2 year old daughter Korean, but so far I haven't found enough (free) Korean videos that are elementary enough and not weird.
How about trying to reward him with Mandarin videos (if he's into cartoons/TV/screen time)?
I do think language learning is different than other subject learning because language is directly a mode of self-expression in a way that math, science, art is not. Just my initial thoughts. I hated Korean school with a passion growing up and only came around to an interest in Korean when I was in college and realized Korean culture could be interesting independent of my partial Korean heritage...

Alice in Wonderland said...

Thanks for the screen-time suggestion! I need to be more diligent about researching some possible mandarin videos. The right videos just might work. They don't even need to be free since I'm pretty desperate at this point!

Anonymous said...

Available for free on youtube! :)


Alice in Wonderland said...

Thanks Dorothy!! I'll check that out!