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Motivating Your Child to Read in The Target Language

Reading helps your child to know sounds, words and language, and develop early literacy skills. It is an exciting way to spark your child’s imagination and stimulates curiosity. Above all these, reading promotes language learning at home when you and your child wish to learn a foreign language.

We started reading at home when my first born was six months old. I would sit down by his crib to read out loud for 15 minutes. These minutes became part of our before nap time routine and allowed me to create a special bond with my baby. I felt so happy to share with my son stories from our heritage and our language. I used to read to him in Spanish. I did the same thing with my other two kids. It was precious.

Time went by and my children showed clear signs of wanting to read on their own. It all started with touching books, trying to grab them the same way they saw me doing it, always making sounds and speaking words… well, many of them were made-up words. Obviously each child developed their reading skill at their own time. And that was fine.

A comfy couch and a well lit room are perfect companions for a young reader. Photo credits Little Nómadas

Even though they liked to read, it depended very much on the material we read. They preferred books with big colorful images, fun faces, furry animals and crazy clouds. That’s when I realized that for me to keep them interested in reading in Spanish, it was necessary to provide them with books and other printed materials with fun, attractive and catchy designs. All of the sudden travel brochures, restaurant menus, comics strips, and church flyers became part of our home library. Anything that will spark that joy in my three kiddos for letter and sounds. And my native language, of course.

Bilingual Books for Young Learners

Dual-language books are a great resource, and many children’s books are published in two languages. If you speak a language other than English at home, reading dual-language books with your child might also help you become more familiar with English.

How to motivate your child to read in Spanish?

There are so many books to choose from that it can be hard to know where to start. As a broad rule, young children often enjoy books, songs and stories that have good rhyme, rhythm and repetition. In fact, one of the ways that children learn a second language is through repetition and rhyme.

Arroz con Leche was my favorite rhyme book when I was little. My kids loved it, too. Photo credits Scholastic.

Choose books that are the right length for your child and that match your child’s changing interests. Take advantage of innovation these days and find books and reading systems that provide sounds as a great way to learn to pronounce the words in the target language.

Many studies show that the development of comprehension in the target language texts improved by 50% when readers use innovative reading materials accompanied by sound or writing programs. However, we want to keep things easy and practical. Children don’t favor complicated instructions and steps to follow. They need something fun and attractive to find their mother tongue interesting and worth learning it.

At the moment my go-to book when I’m teaching toddlers and elementary age children is the Little Polyglot Book Animals in Spanish and English. This book is part of the series Little Polyglot Books from Linguacious. These books were designed to foster in children a sense of curiosity and pride for a foreign language.

The Little Polyglot Book Animals in both English and Spanish is an useful tool for parents and educators who may not be speakers of the target language themselves but would like their kids to learn a foreign language. It is also a colorful alternative for families looking to promote the minority language at home when living overseas.

Colorful, fun, and innovative. Photo credits Little Nómadas

Reading, even at a slow pace exposes students to more sentences, grammar, and new vocabulary per minute than the average, short class, TV show, or song. This is why students who read foreign books are able to speak more fluently than students who don’t, and this is even more noticeable when kids take advantage of innovative books that allow them to develop the four language skills needed to master a language.

In conclusion, any way you find to ignite your child’s love for reading and another language is valid. Just remember, keep it fun, flexible, according to your budget, and always oriented to your kids interests.

Happy Reading!

My 3 Favorite Games For Spanish Learning

I started teaching Spanish ten years ago and it has been ever since an exciting journey of sharing my native language and my culture with children and adults around the world.

Everything began when I decided to get a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Foreign Languages. My passion for the Hispanic culture found its way to shine when I learned about the different ways to teach my mother tongue in a fun and effective way.

These are some of the board games I use with teenagers in my Spanish lessons. Photo credits Little Nómadas

Hands-on language learning

Are you looking for effective but fun ways to teach Spanish to your students? Do you wish to support your children in their process to acquire a foreign language? You could never be wrong with games. Both children and adults enjoy the good laugh and healthy competition that playing can provide.

”Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” Fred Donaldson

A great deal of research has concluded that play-based learning is genuinely and positively impactful on student learning and development. Language learning while playing allows students to advance the four language skills needed to achieve fluency and take advantage of the many benefits of speaking another language.

On the one hand, we must address language learning in children. Neuroscience presents us with strong evidence for the profound influence of early experiences. In order to build healthy brain connections from the outset, young children need responsive and rich social interactions with caregivers.

Hands-on experiences provide an effective and fun environment to acquire new vocabulary and understand grammar structures. What better way to meaningfully connect with parents and teachers than playing a game?

On the other hand, let’s talk about language learning in grownups. From Business Insider to a recent MIT study, it has been proved that adults learn from interactive activities such as apps, children’s literature, and conversational groups. However, many adult learners feel inadequate or too stressed to be playful in class, unless we, educators, bring something fun to the lesson. Games are the best way, in my opinion, to relax and break the ice.

My Favorite 3 Language Learning Games

There are many games out there of all shapes and sizes. Here I list my absolute favorite ones. Use this list as a guide to develop your own play and learn toolbox. Remember each learner is unique and we must pay close attention to each student’s interest to find the best game to develop his or her language skills.

1. Veo, Veo. This fantastic game to be played in face-to-face or online lessons is an all time favorite of my students. Veo, Veo makes my online classes more fun and interactive, promotes speaking in the target language (Spanish) and keeps little ones busy and entertained.

Check the link below to get your set of Veo, Veo cards to use in your next Spanish lesson. The link will take you to the Autumn version, however, Enjoy Español offers many versions of this fun game. Additionally to the Veo, Veo game, Enjoy Español has a wide variety of activities that teachers could include in their lesson plan. Homeschooling parents these are effective resources to include in your curriculum of a foreign language. https://enjoyespanol.com/halloween-dia-de-muertos-y-todos-los-santos-en-las-clases-de-ele/

Fun way to develop speaking and writing language skills. Photo credits Enjoy Español

2. Guess What! Flying Tiger’s star game is my go-to tool when I want to review vocabulary learnt the previous lesson. It is a fun and effective way to learn adjectives in Spanish with children, teenagers, and grownups. I bought my Guess What! Cards at Flying Tiger Frankfurt. Check your local store to see if they have them available.

Guess What! Cards are great to learn adjectives in Spanish. Photo credits Fajne Dziecko

3. Linguacious Flashcards. These monolingual (target language only) flashcards are engaging and fun. I have the Around the Home set in Spanish and it has been a great addition to my teacher’s toolbox. They are a colorful way to learn vocabulary in Spanish while having fun with children and adults alike. 

Linguacious flashcards are made of a sturdy but flexible material what I think it is important when working with children, because learning cards and games need to be durable. Do you want to hear something great? The Linguacious Flashcards come with a code that you can use on the Linguacious App to listen to the audio pronunciation of each word.

Linguacious Flashcards are an innovative tool for language learning. Photo Credits Linguacious

Conveniently, Linguacious flashcards and books are available in over 27 languages (and growing!) and they have won over 5 different awards. Check their website to discover games for both the flashcards and the books. 
www.linguacious.net

You can also check out Linguacious on YouTube for extra info and ideas.

Learning a Second Language has never been more fun! Video credits Linguacious

Aren’t you looking forward to learning Spanish with these great tools?

I assure you that your children and students will enjoy this hands-on approach to language learning. Fun, effective, and authentic!

Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of the Linguacious Flashcards for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. I don’t receive money for click on links or product purchases.

Self-care for Mothers raising Bilingual Children

A child’s first teacher is its mother.” Peng Liyuan

If you are a mother raising bilingual children, it is very probable that you have already found pages of articles giving you the benefits of raising kids who master more than one language. What many of these websites, blogs, books, and articles fail to mention are the many challenges and difficulties dealt by mommies around the world that come along with raising bilingual children.

Having seen and experienced many of the challenges that mothers of bilingual children face, I can understand the reasons why so many moms out there choose to give up. Other mothers simply fall prey of a huge wave of comparisons pushing their kiddos to the edge due to the pressure of “being the cool mom” with the overachiever children who speak more than three languages by the age of 4.

Here are some common challenges of raising bilingual children and how you can overcome them. I feel obligated to disclaim the nature of my article. I won’t be giving you tips to improve your child’s fluency, but I will share with you some of the self-care practices that have kept me sane and motivated throughout the years of raising three multilingual offsprings.

Proud mamá of three multilingual children. Paris, France

Feeling inadequate

While speaking in the United States to encourage educators and parents to raise diversity awareness through languages, I have come across many mothers who feel strongly inadequate to raise bilingual children. Many monolingual mommies think that since they don’t master the language, they won’t be able to provide the right support to their bilingual kids to achieve satisfactory results.

Tips

Learn the language yourself. From my own experience with the German language, the first place to start supporting our kiddos is to learn the language ourselves. Unlike having your child play the piano or taking swimming lessons, learning a language does require to at least some extent active participation from the parents.

I’m not asking you to run to enroll in the first language course you see online. I just want you to consider the marvelous adventure you and your child could share together by learning a foreign language. Your goals don’t have to be becoming fluent in six months, it will be all about the skills and time together. No more.

If you are a momma who has the resources to hire a nanny or private tutor to speak the target language with your children, so go on! Do it! Always remember your objective, if it is that your child learn a foreign language then use the resources you have at your disposal to make it happen. You can provide support by giving your children encouragement and exposing them to the language as much as possible. For more resources to raise bilingual kids while being monolingual yourself check out https://littlenomadas.com/2018/09/23/7-tips-for-monolingual-parents-to-raise-bilingual-children/

I was speaking to them in Spanish… they answered in English. Galveston, Texas

Feeling less than others

Being a blogger and a social media junkie has allowed me to have contact with moms around the world. Throughout the years, I have found many mothers who feel ashamed of their performance in parenting, specially now in the era of desperate parents jumping through hoops to raise multicultural, multitalented and well-traveled children.

They see every day on social media these well-groomed families traveling around Africa while their 5 years old twins speak Swahili with the local butcher in Mombasa. Moms around the world follow each other’s step online just to realize that this summer they stayed at home with their not yet fluent in french kids, while mom from Instagram account @whoknowswho is cruising through the Mediterranean with her bilingual Greek/Spanish daughters.

“I’m not doing enough!” I have thought the same thing many times…

Tips

Start by giving yourself some credit. Remember to highlight one positive thing you have done every day. Be kind and honest. Cut yourself some slacks. Waking up early to help your daughter pack her backpack and drive her to that Spanish Immersion school across town is good enough to pat yourself in the back.

I personally keep a journal of the positive things I see, hear and do daily. It isn’t easy, sometimes I stare at the blank page trying to think about something good, just one thing… why is it so difficult? But when done frequently it becomes easier and more natural.

Additionally to gratitude towards ourselves, I would like to invite you to reflect on the role of social media in your life as a mother. Avoid the comparison trap. Nowadays it is easier than ever to compare ourselves and our actions to those we see online. Remember that every bilingual family has its own challenges and rough patches, and perhaps that 5 years old boy whom you saw speaking Swahili fluently on an Instagram story, is having problems with his own native language… you never know. Be kind to others, but be also very kind to yourself.

I see their smiles and I know I’m doing it well. Brussels, Belgium

Feeling pressured

Many mothers feel judged and scrutinized when relatives and friends from their country of origin come to visit. They feel pressured to prove to all these people that her children speak the native language and that she has done an amazing job by keeping the culture of origin alive at home. Everything gets complicated when a well-intentioned grandma tells her grandson that his Spanish is not that good, or criticize his accents or code-mixing when speaking at home.

Tips

Children are well-known for their decision at time not to use a language. The reason are diverse and uncountable. However, it is necessary to understand as mothers and caregivers that many of those reasons aren’t our fault, or at least not entirely. We need to treat ourselves with more empathy and compassion to pass those same values to our children.

Yes, you may want your children to have some of the elements of your cultural identity as well, but pushing yourself and your children to force them to speak the native language at home it would only provoke rejection of the language and any contact with relatives and friends who speak it.

And please! Please! Don’t get me started with the whole “If he doesn’t speak to me in our native language, I ignore him.”

No! No! No!

I respect any process and methods you choose to raise bilingual children, but don’t ask me to agree with mothers of young children “ignoring” their kiddos to force them to communicate in their mother tongue. A mother who refuses to speak to her kids is committing an unnatural action. This will make your child feel rejected by her own mother. This will make you feel bitter inside and uneasy. It won’t give you the right results either.

Sometimes, you face difficulties not because you are doing something wrong, but because things are going the way they are supposed to. Be respectful to yourself, as a mother and as a woman. Self-care isn’t just practicing yoga 24/7 and eating super foods every morning… Self-care is also allowing yourself to be the mother you are meant to be and that your children need, bilingual or not.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Please feel free to add your own bilingual mom self-care practices down in the comments. I look forward to always speaking out for all the moms of bilingual children around the world and the many challenges we face that are unnoticed.

Would you join me?

Quesillo Venezolano: Childhood Memories

Food is an important part of cultural heritage and national identity. Cooking and eating together can connect us to people and places, bringing friends and families together with the same goal: to discover a new culture.

If we really want to deeply explore the beauty of Hispanic traditions, learning to prepare a couple of traditional recipes is a must!

When I was eight years old my mother enrolled me in cooking classes. Every Thursday for six months in a row, I discovered the beauty of cooking different dishes that somehow impacted my way of seeing food in daily life. For me eating a meal together means sharing values, traditions and building memories for the future. 

Quesillo, a delicious Venezuelan custard. Photo credits to Little Nómadas

Today I would like to share with you a recipe to prepare my favorite Venezuelan dessert Quesillo. This decadent dish is a treat that I frequently make for my husband and children when I see their need for some comfort food and also for special occasions.

Quesillo is a typical Venezuelan dessert made with eggs and condensed milk. The whole surface of the mold is cooked in a water bath and caramelized. It is usually served as a dessert specially on birthdays, however, I make Quesillo whenever I feel homesick or want to emotionally connect to my roots. 

History of Quesillo

Many historians relate the origins of Quesillo to the well known Leche Asada Española, a traditional Spanish flan originated in the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias) and brought to Venezuela by the Spaniars during Colonial times. The name Quesillo means “little cheese” and comes from the fact that this dessert has pores reminiscent of cheese holes. These pores are produced by being made with whole eggs (unlike the flan in which only the yolks are used). 

My Recipe

By giving all of you my go-to recipe for Quesillo, I feel like I am sharing a piece of my childhood memories and also letting you in on my culture and values. Quesillo brings to me memories of my mother, family reunions, the smile of my children and holiday traditions. 

Quesillo Venezolano a la Flor 

Quesillo before taken out of the baking dish. Photo credits to Little Nómadas

Ingredients:

6 Medium Pastured Eggs (kept at room-temperature) 

1 Can Condensed Milk

1 Can Whole Milk 

Vanilla Extract

Dark Rum (optional) 

For the caramel:

1 cup of sugar 

1/2 cup of water

How to do this delicious dessert?

Heat oven to 325 F.

Pour 1 cup of sugar in a warm pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of water. Constantly stir the sugar and the water while they heat until they brown and turn into caramel. It should be like a dark-brown liquid.

Immediately pour caramel in a custard dish or large ramekin, tilting it so the caramel swirls around on the inside. Work quickly, as the caramel will cool and harden almost as soon as it hits the dish. Reheat caramel in the pan if it thickens too much to work with.

Blend all other ingredients until smooth. I use the blender, but my mother preferred the electric mixer. Your choice.

Pour the custard mixture into the caramel-lined dish. Place this dish in a large glass, ceramic, or metal baking pan. Pour hot water into the baking pan around the custard dish to a depth of about 2 – 3 inches. This process is called “Baño de María” or hot water bath. 

Enjoy Quesillo on Birthdays! Photo credits to Little Nómadas

Bake the Quesillo for 60 minutes in the water bath. Check with a knife inserted just off-center into the dish; if the knife comes out clean, the Quesillo is ready.

Remove the large baking dish from the oven and carefully take the individual dish out of the hot water. Let cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator for three hours or overnight. (Leave Quesillo in the dish it baked in until time to serve.)

To serve, invert dish onto a serving plate or platter, allowing the Quesillo to drop out and the caramel sauce to flow over the custard. Enjoy! 

¡Auxilio, mi hija no habla español!

En un ámbito tan lleno de cambios como lo es la transición migratoria, la única constante que encuentro en todas mis consultas es el temor y la queja constantes de los padres hispanohablantes que ven como sus retoños pierden el idioma español en frente de sus ojos y sin poder hacer nada.

Y es que este es un tema que ha sido abordado por psicólogos, lingüistas y educadores desde la época de los 70 cuando comenzó el flujo migratorio de México, Centroamérica y el Caribe a los Estados Unidos. Es un tema delicado que debe ser abordado sin prejuicios, mitos ni cuentos de camino.

Mi historia personal y profesional como madre y educadora me ha permitido comprobar que siempre que continuemos exponiendo a nuestros hijos al español y sigamos hablándoles en nuestra lengua, todo lo aprendido, lo escuchado, lo que se ha almacenado en su cerebro no está del todo perdido. Con las herramientas adecuadas, motivación y mucha paciencia, nuestros hijos recuperarán el español y podrán comunicarse sin problemas en la lengua de sus padres.

¡Comencemos!

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Hablar español se hace cada día mas fácil… más espontáneo. 

 

La persona bilingüe receptiva

Primero hay que entender el concepto del hablante bilingüe receptivo o en inglés “receptive bilingual speaker”. Una persona considerada bilingüe receptiva es aquella que ha tenido suficiente exposición a un idioma en su niñez como para tener fluidez de nativo, comprende el idioma, pero posee poco dominio del mismo. Este es el caso clásico de nuestros hijos: nos entienden todo lo que les decimos pero no nos responden en español.

Existe una discrepancia considerable entre lo mucho que entienden y lo poco que pueden expresar en español 

Una vez armados con esta perla de conocimiento y sabiendo que nuestros hijos presentan las características propias de esos niños que viven entre dos o más lenguas, nos toca profundizar un poco más en los procesos mediante los cuales esa receptividad se lleva a cabo y como encontrar paliativos. Al final, nuestra meta principal es cultivar el orgullo y amor por la lengua castellana, no se trata de imponer una orden arbitraria.

Atrición. ¡Adiós español, welcome English!

Aunque nuestros niños crezcan escuchándonos hablar en español en casa, es importante reconocer que están expuestos la mayor parte de su tiempo al idioma dominante del país en el que vivamos. Sea inglés, francés, mandarín, o alemán, los efectos son los mismos: pérdida progresiva de vocabulario en español, renuencia a continuar comunicándose en español y uso de la lengua dominante en las diversas situaciones cotidianas de su vida.

Como resultado nos encontramos con niños y adolescentes que se comunican con sus padres y familiares en un binomio lingüístico, pues mamá y papá les hablan en español y los chicos responden en su segunda lengua, la cual dominan con tal fluidez que se convierte en su nuevo idioma nativo. Nuestros hijos pasan a tener dos lenguas nativas: la materna y que debido a la atrición se vuelve receptiva, y la dominante, que por exposición y motivación se adquiere a niveles avanzados y constantes.

Esa atrición, o fenómeno de perder la capacidad de expresarse en un idioma, pero conservando las bases de dicha lengua en el cerebro, es la clave para lograr que nuestros pequeños sean adultos bilingües. Muchos estudios están de acuerdo en que si exponemos a una persona a su idioma de niñez (nativo-materno) de forma intensiva por un determinado período de tiempo, trabajando todas las destrezas del lenguaje, los restos “dormidos” de esa lengua en el cerebro que parecieran estar perdidos, se pueden recuperar satisfactoriamente.

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Hablar con los abuelos se vuelve fastidioso porque no quieren usar el español. 

Entonces mi sugerencia, para ti que me lees, basada en estudios y mi experiencia propia, es la siguiente:

Construcción de bloques esenciales de comunicación

La cantidad de español que se recuperará en el futuro depende mucho de las bases o bloques fundamentales que establezcamos para nuestros hijos durante su niñez. Por eso, es importante enfocar nuestra atención en la concentración del niño, sus gestos y otros elementos comunicativos, y habilidades sociales.

En lo referente a la concentración, padres y educadores deben motivar al niño a participar en actividades en español que se ajusten a la edad e intereses del pequeño. De nada me sirve sentar al niño frente a la TV si mi hijo corre por la sala y lo que quiere es jugar con la pelota. Sería mejor jugar con él en el jardín utilizando la pelota como medio de aprendizaje, refuerzo vocabulario y doy instrucciones de forma clara y precisa. Todo en español.

Así mismo, la comunicación cuenta con diversos componentes. Los gestos y entonación son parte importante del proceso comunicativo y deben ser trabajados con empeño para que nuestros hijos adquieran las señales necesarias para descifrar el idioma cuando no entiendan una palabra. Enseñarles a nuestros hijos el vocabulario de emociones en español tendrá mayor impacto a futuro si incorporamos cierta mímica al expresarnos. Recuerden que queremos “bombardear” los sentidos de nuestros hijos con estímulos en la lengua meta: español.

Cuando nos referimos a las habilidades sociales buscamos que nuestros hijos interactuen con nosotros y con sus familiares y amigos en español. Puede ser que el niño no le hable a la abuela en español, pero si él entiende lo que su abuelita le dice e interactúa con ella de forma positiva, se da el proceso de aprendizaje. Receptivo, pero siempre existente.

Maximizar la absorción del español en casa 

La forma en la que les hablamos a nuestros hijos influye directamente en el nivel de adquisición de su idioma materno. Cuando les hablo a mis hijos (siempre en español) lo hago de forma clara, gesticulo y pronuncio cada palabra con detenimiento (a excepción de cuando estoy mandándolos a recoger su dormitorio), hago contacto visual, si es necesario repito la instrucción y recalco cada palabra, especialmente aquellas que sé deben aprender mejor (esto se llama “teacher talk”). Debemos asegurarnos de que nos escucharon y entendieron lo comunicado.

Otra forma efectiva de maximizar la adquisición del español en casa es través del juego. Dependiendo de la edad los chicos se benefician enormemente de las noches de juegos en familia, juegos de mesa, bingo, pantomima y afines. Para más ideas de juegos didáctico revisa mi artículo Game Night and Language Learning

En casa los libros son los mejores aliados de los padres. Asegúrate de crear un rincón de lectura y arte en donde el idioma español sea el instrumento de aprendizaje pero no la meta principal. Queremos que nuestros hijos lean o simplemente exploren libros ilustrados y se cree una atmósfera de entretenimiento y armonía, todo ello mientras la lengua materna los guía en la actividad. Si buscas ideas para una biblioteca casera te invito a revisar mis consejos aquí Leyendo en español I y Leyendo en español II

Motivación y buena actitud 

Muchos niños y jóvenes viviendo en el extranjero pasan por el proceso de atrición de su lengua materna y esto es normal. Entiendo que como padres resulta frustrante ver como nuestros hijos pierden su habilidad de producir frases completas en español y eligen siempre expresarse en una lengua que para nosotros es extranjera… de cierto modo extraña. Sin embargo, mantener una actitud positiva, respetuosa y sobre todo amorosa nos traerá resultados positivos. Se los aseguro. Y si estamos de buen humor y dejamos de querer forzarlos a lo “general” a que hablen español por “su bien” o porque “así lo mando yo”, el proceso de fomentar nuestra lengua en casa se hará más llevadero y entretenido.

Mis hijos se resistían, no me respondían y aún lo hacen pero cada vez menos, le huían al español. Yo continue expresándome en mi lengua porque así me siento más cómodo, mas auténtica. El resultado: satisfactorio 100%. Ahorita que tienen clases de español en la escuela los veo floreciendo, construyendo frases gramaticalmente correctas, con una pronunciación muy cercana a la nativa (aunque uno de ellos no me dice la “rr” con fuerza) y paseándose del inglés al alemán y de vuelta al español con una agilidad mental y comunicativa tremenda.

Vamos a hablarles en español, motivémoslos con música, vídeos y hasta recetas de cocina. Seamos pacientes y amorosos. Respetemos su proceso evolutivo y comunicativo. Pellizquemos su intelecto para que los pedacitos de español adormitados en su cabecita se despiertan y florezcan. Usualmente los hijos de inmigrantes recuperan su lengua materna siempre y cuando sean motivados y expuestos al idioma de forma constante y efectiva, y eso ocurre en un período de tiempo relativamente corto, lo sé y lo he vivido.

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Ella merece disfrutar de su idioma materno. 

¡Manos a la obra!

Creating a Culture of Peace at Home

Last week I had the honor to be invited to the  World Law Congress  in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish capital became the international center of the legal world, where a numerous group of jurists, lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, and professionals of diverse fields from different countries gathered to present their ideas, research, and innovative proposals to achieve peace through law.

For two intensive days I listened to distinguished personalities from the international legal world, many of them prominent figures from Spanish civil society, all united to recognize the importance of the Rule of Law as a mechanism to guarantee democracies in the world. Many of them talked about society’s imperative need of peace, the rebirth of extremist movements in Latin America and Europe, and the relevance of respect and tolerance in a context of global governance crisis. 

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Sunny break. World Law Congress, Madrid 

Then it happened. 

During an ecumenical act in the Almudena Cathedral of Madrid, I attended the speech of the president of the World Jurist Association  Dr. Franklin Hoet-Linares and his words left a deep impact on my heart. ¡Vamos a educar para la paz!, he said. Let’s educate for peace… Hearing these words made me conscious of the level of responsibility we have as parents and educators with the world and the future of human kind. 

All of the sudden those endless appointments at the doctor’s office, sport tournaments, music lessons, and art presentations seemed futile when confronted with my “real” duties as a mother of three. Am I raising children of peace? Are we, my husband and I, giving our kids the tools to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner? 

How do we educate for peace? 

How do we raise future leaders pro democracy and diversity?

Then it hit me. 

Everything begins at home. 

No, we don’t need to enroll our kids in an international congress about law and democracy at the age of 6. 

What we need to do is to bring peace to daily activities both at home and school. 

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Ecumenical Act in the Almudena Cathedral, Madrid Photo Credits Dr. Alexander Loew 

Answering these questions and telling you how to do it would be too pretentious. However, I can give you some ideas of where to start creating a culture of peace at home, thus fulfilling your mission as parents in charge of a better world. Then remember the job is yours and as long as we work together towards the same goal, the results will be beneficial for all of us, specially, our children. Who knows… maybe we are able to plant the seed of law in our offsprings and they become lawyers and jurists in the future. 

Promoting a Culture of Peace at Home

As parents we all have a role in teaching children about peaceful behavior. We need to be role models for our kiddos by showing them peaceful ways of thinking and behaving. 

  1. Let’s cover the basic needs. If a child is malnourished, sleep deprived, sick and cranky he or she won’t behave nicely. Frequent tantrums and aggressive reactions are always present when a child hasn’t slept well or when the child is hungry and thirsty. Then it is our job to make sure our kids get enough sleep, spend a big deal of time playing outdoors in contact with nature, eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. You may roll your eyes at these, but believe me, it is so much easier to deal and teach a child that’s well rested and fed properly. Don’t forget to make adjustments that adhere to your family’s routine and means. 
  2. Let’s discover the world together. Another impediment to peace is intolerance of other people. Intolerance can be to distinctions of race, religion, cultures and lifestyles. We can change this through education. Explore with your children new traditions from a different country, get in touch with people with distinct backgrounds from yours, and talk to your children about commonalities and diversity. Promote respect and tolerance of others at home. 
  3. Let’s be conscious about the impact of media. The media is a very influential source of information and learning. It is our duty to promote watching documentaries or programs that present Peace Journalism. Question what you and your family see and hear from the media. It is important to analyze the way our children view violence. Media glamourizes violence and pornography. Talk to your children about behaviors observed in TV, online and video games that project aggressive behavior and war as a normal conduct. I always tell my kiddos that the fact that a behavior is common doesn’t make it good! Counteract violence and criminal behaviors with acts of empathy. The main point here is to avoid our children’s lack of sensitivity to conflict and violence. 
  4. Let’s be role models of peace. Start by yourself, learn new ways to resolve conflicts peacefully, include your children in family discussions and show them how to participate in conflicts resolution with a respectful and non-violent attitude. Through my years as a lawyer, educator and mother I have read many materials that suggest avoiding fighting with your spouse in front of the children. To me this is somehow utopian and unrealistic. We spend a big deal of time together, we travel together and get out of our comfort zones together… how do we avoid marital conflict in front of the kiddos when we are stuck in a small cabin in the Icelandic countryside and nowhere else to go to vent? What are we supposed to do then? We discuss our problems, yes, in front of the kids (please don’t get self righteous). But we always stick to principles of respect, tolerance, compromising, and love. We make sure the children see us reconcile and come to an agreement, we give them, by example, the tools needed to resolve problems in a healthy and peaceful way. 
  5. Let’s get family members, friends, and teachers involved. Everyone is busy and nobody likes to be told what to do. However, there are many ways to bring up the conversation of creating a culture of peace in the classroom with your child’s teacher and school director. Many schools around the world have started including “Culture of Peace” as a subject to teach children about tolerance, mediation, and rewards for behaviors of peace and justice. Be active! Offering to read a book during story time could be a nice and smooth way to teach peace to young children in elementary school. Supporting the debate team of your teenage child in secondary school could be also an effective way to introduce more tolerance and respect towards other’s opinions at such an important age. The possibilities are endless. Be creative.

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Morning view from one of the seminars room. Madrid 2019 

The above ideas are just some of the small steps towards a culture of peace we can take at home. By putting ideas like this into practice I’m hoping to create a more peaceful living for our children and our society. Like Dr. Franklin Hoet said, the Rule of Law is key to guarantee peace and justice in the world, however, the relevance and impact of peace starts with our children, and just by teaching peace can we get closer to the goal of a more peaceful and democratic world. 

Let’s not forget that our children are the leaders for our future and it is through them we will create a culture of peace. 

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Dr. Franklin Hoet speaking at the World Law Congress, Madrid 2019 

The Challenging Path of Bilingualism

Every day I read comments written by parents worried about their children’s refusal to speak the native language at home. Somehow moms and dads out there feel admiration for my three offsprings who speak English, Spanish and German willingly and happily. The reality falls far away from what it is projected in social media.

My kids’ dominant language is English while German comes in second place and Spanish is a desperate cry for keeping mom’s culture alive. Don’t get me wrong. Things have gotten better with Spanish lately, but it wasn’t until their teenage years that my children understood the importance of communicating with relatives and friends from Venezuela using their mother tongue. 

Those first years and people’s expectations 

Baby and toddler years were challenging for our family. We were raising our offsprings in the United States and even though I spoke Spanish to them the whole time, they continued to choose English as their preferred channel of communication. 

No, it wasn’t my fault. 

Yes, I only spoke Spanish.

No, it wasn’t our intention to raise them monolingual. 

Oh those years… and oh, those comments! Every time we traveled to our home country, relatives would want to evaluate the children’s Spanish skills and would highlight their inability to build a full sentence without mixing languages. Friends and teachers in the States weren’t silent either. They were always worried about my kids and the state of confusion and ambiguity we were raising them in. How would their English be good enough for elementary school if they just hear Spanish at home? 

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Thanksgiving Feast, NJ Elementary School, USA

Reality is simple. Their brains are awesome

So years passed and the three little Nómadas (not so little anymore) continued to show dominance in one of the two languages: English. And this was normal. Our kids had a greater exposure to English and needed it more to communicate with people in the immediate environment. 

Please rest assured that this is normal.

The main effect of dominance is that the stronger language is more developed than the weaker one. Therefore, my children learned more sounds and words in English, they had more grammatical structures at hand to communicate and started to transfer English morphemes into Spanish. 

Then came grandma to tell us that the children didn’t speak Spanish nor English, but a dialect composed by a mixture of codes from both languages. Ha! 

The future would include bratwurst and sauerkraut

Little we knew that our life plans would be altered by a job offer and a sudden move to Germany. Our dynamics changed to open the door for a new language. Priorities had to be rearranged to support our children to learn German as soon as possible. They were already in elementary school and enrolling them in an international school wasn’t an option. 

Since we knew that not all bilingual and multilingual children acquire their languages in a simultaneous manner (hello first semester of Language Masters), we weren’t surprised when our kiddos started to acquire the German language naturally by interacting with teachers, classmates and other members of the majority language community. It was fascinating to see them flourish in such a challenging language while their English continue to be superb and their  Spanish started thriving as well. 

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Enjoying the German summer months in Nuremberg 

The more languages, the better

Eager to find the right way to support their bilingual upbringing I decided to deepen my knowledge about the human brain and the way kids learn foreign languages. I reviewed all the material from my Masters years, enrolled in many seminars about diversity, expats and bilingualism. Tons of information and talks to experts about the bilingual brain reassured me that as long as we promote exposure to their three main languages, our children will be fine and multilingual. 

Please grandma, trust us! Your grandkids will be able to communicate and strive! They don’t speak an unknown dialect, they are using code mixing as strategy to produce and balance their weaker language. 

Things that you need to keep in mind

Raising bilingual children is a rewarding experience that can be challenging and exhausting to pursue. You need to stay strong, confident and believe in the reason why you are supporting your kiddos in this path. Languages are excellent tools to communicate cross-culturally and raise diversity awareness. To me, giving my children the chance to live overseas and learn other languages is an invaluable gift. This is the inheritance we are leaving for them. (Do you think that with all that traveling we have money left in the bank? Lol) 

So I did the homework for you and listed the things to be aware of when bringing up bilingual kids:

  • Children can become bilingual at any age. The long-standing myth that the earlier a language is acquired, the more fluent a person will be in it is just that: a myth. What it really seems to influence their capacity to acquire a second language is the learner’s attitude toward the other linguistic group. My children started to develop their Spanish skills in depth when spending time with grandparents and other family members during holidays in Venezuela and Mexico. They began to identify themselves with the Spanish speaking group, enjoying long walks with grandpa, dinner at their favorite Mexican restaurant, the freedom of being able to order their own meals at the local Venezuelan bakery, and so on. They were motivated and their Spanish began to flourish fluently and meaningfully.
  • Forcing your children to speak your mother tongue won’t help. Threatening, grounding and screaming at a child because he or she didn’t answer in your native language will not give you positive results. Language learning has to be a process of joy, fun, and motivation. If the only reason for your children to speak French is an upset mom or judgmental uncle, language acquisition won’t be fruitful, but resentful and hateful. 
  • Create an effective strategy and stick to it. Does you son refuse to speak Spanish with his cousins? Then create a healthy and fun environment where they can play together. If your child is having fun with his cousin, soon enough he will be more motivated to communicate using the cousin’s language. A detailed but flexible plan of strategies will be your best tool. Think about resources, tools, trips, native speakers, games and opportunities to expose your children to the target language and be consistent. Watching a movie in Russian every four months won’t be of much help to encourage your 5 years old daughter to communicate with grandma in Moscow. Follow a daily routine. 
  • Build a network system. Working alone sucks. Languages are all about communication and interaction. Start by following blogs, IG accounts and other social media outlets of families going through the same process. You need to build a sense of support and belonging for you and your family to stick to your resolutions. Additionally, search information in specialized journals and magazines. There is also the possibility to visit bilingualism workshops and seminars to acquire more knowledge and meet people in the field. 

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Proud mom of a German speaker. Zurich, Switzerland 

Just remeber, whatever you do, do it with passion. Believe in what you are doing and don’t hesitate to let others know about your plans. Avoid comparisons and trust your gut. Raising bilingual children has been an amazing experience for our family and many others out there.

You will not be disappointed!

Embrace bilingualism and its many benefits and become a motivator for your children. They will thank you for it in the future. 

Holiday Season Recipes to Promote Diversity at Home

“One cannot think well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Virginia Woolf

Eating is esencial to human survival. Eating is the centerpiece of family reunions, friends gatherings and traditions all around the world. Therefore, using food to raise cultural awareness at home is an easy and effective way to get our families familiarized with the flavors, aromas, and costums from other cultures.

This holiday season it is my pleasure to bring you a compendium of delicious recipes from around Latin America with the characteristic flavor of rich ingredients, savory spices and tradition. Most of these dishes are the result of the combination of the three main heritages that existed in our lands many years ago. The flavor of these recipes are a reflection of the powerful language of love and tradition mainly coming from African, European (Spanish, Portuguese among others), and Indigenous People (here I refer to the natives originally living in Central and South America and the Caribbean before colonization).

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Our table, our Christmas Dinner 2017. Photo credits Little Nómadas

Put on your chef hat, apron and best smile and invite relatives and friends to a day of cooking and spending time together while enjoying the deliciousness taste of Latin America! Don’t forget to get your children involved in this activity! It is always a good idea to read a little about the recipe beforehand and include some key cultural facts that would enhance this experience. After all, we want to raise diversity awareness through ingredients and preparation.

1. Pan de Jamón (Venezuelan Bread with Ham)

Our holiday table isn’t complete without the warm and dense texture of Venezuelan “Pan de Jamón”. A delicious bread filled with ham, bacon, raisins and olives to create a symphonic taste you won’t forget. This bread has been baked in Venezuela since 1905 when Gustavo Ramella created the recipe to be sold in his family-owned bakery in Caracas. It was meant to be a fulfilling bread for the folk of the capital city. Later on the recipe was spread out all over the country.

The Pan de Jamón recipe by Marian Blazes of The Spruce Eats is easy and delicious, the one we use at home when we want a quick answer to our prayers for traditional Venezuelan bread. Check it out!

https://www.thespruceeats.com/pan-de-jamon-ham-olive-bread-3029372

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Delicious Venezuelan Bread with Ham and Olives. This was made by my 11 years old daughter. Photo credits Little Nómadas

2. Buñuelos Colombianos.

buñuelo is a fried dough ball typically served in Colombia, Venezuela, México, Guatemala and Panamá. Buñuelos Colombianos are traditionally eaten in December as an important part of the holiday season customs. Family members cook the buñuelos together and then enjoy them with friends and neighbors, and are usually eaten accompanied by a creamy Natilla Colombiana, a vanilla custard that you can always find at homes in Colombia during Christmas festivities.

This recipe by my dear friend Johana of Mamá Tortuga is easy, affordable and fast! Three important factors if you have a big family, because I’m pretty sure they will devour these buñuelos in no time and will ask for more. You can always make these as snack or pack them for school lunches.

https://www.mamatortuga.org/bunuelos

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Golden and tender, the perfect combination for an authentic Colombian Buñuelo. Photo credits to Mamá Tortuga

3. Arroz con Leche Vegano (Milk Rice Pudding Vegan Edition)

Milk Rice Pudding is one of the guests of honor of any Latin table. Its rich and creamy consistency makes Arroz con Leche the perfect dessert to end a holiday meal. This delicious dish has its origins in the Moroccan cuisine, however, it was brought to South America by the Spaniards.

Since I didn’t want to leave anybody out of enjoying this decadent dessert, my friend Diana of Recetas Latinas Veganas gave me the perfect recipe for those following a vegan nutritional plan. Check it out! She even included a YouTube video as visual support.

Arroz con Leche Vegano

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Creamy Vegan Milk Rice Pudding. Photo credits Diana Rodriguez Recetas Latinas Veganas 

4. Hallacas.

Hallacas are usually known as Venezuelan tamales, and even though they look somehow similar to Mexican tamales, the ingredients and preparation differ greatly. Venezuelan families gather together to make this holiday dish and kick start Christmas season. The hallacas ingredients vary based on the region of Venezuela you live, but rest assured that you are up for a treat no matter what geographic area your hallacas come from.

I want to warn you: to make hallacas is extremely time consuming. Therefore, I suggest you gather a team and set aside two days (at least) to prepare this delicious meal. It is totally worthy, I promise! Also, it would be a good idea to get in touch with a Venezuelan friend or acquaintances that might help with the process. Many of the ingredients are already sold in supermarkets around continental United States.

This recipe by Venezuelan Cooking is the best! Try it out!

https://venezuelancooking.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/recipe-hallacas-venezolanas-venezuelan-christmas-dinner-hallacas/

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My son Eddie enjoying his delicious Hallaca made by @lacocinitavenezolana of Düsseldorf. Photo credits Little Nómadas 

5. Ponche Crema (Venezuelan Eggnog)

Ponche Crema is a traditional Venezuelan beverage enjoyed by friends and family during the holiday season. Similar drinks are spread out Latin America with a few variations, but the main ingredients typically include milk, eggs, sugar, rum, nutmeg and cinnamon. At home we make an alcohol-free version of Ponche Crema for the kids.

This Ponche Crema Venezolano recipe by Mamá Contemporánea is deliciously simple! Please, make sure you prepare enough to last until Christmas Day. It is such a comfort drink that you and your family would want to enjoy it frequently. Watch the waistline as well!

Como Preparar Ponche Crema Venezolano Casero (Receta Familiar)

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Ponche Crema is usually served cold in short glasses. Photo credits Rory of Mamá Contemporánea 

Isn’t your mouth watering yet? 

I hope you get to include these recipes in your Holiday menu and invite friends and relatives to enjoy them as well. Raising global awareness doesn’t have to be political, extenuating or boring. Eating traditional recipes from around the world can be the perfect way to promote diversity at home in an entertaining way.

Please, don’t hesitate to write your comments about the recipe and ask questions! I’m here to help!

¡Buen provecho!

 

 

 

 

 

G.R.A.C.I.A.S. Spanish Word to Experience this Thanksgiving

Living in the United States was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I married in Fort Worth, Texas, my children were born there as well, I learned to speak English and found wonderful friends. The States were my home for twelve years and that means that I have spent most of my adult years there surrounded by the American culture, its charm and challenges. 

There are so many American traditions that we love and treasure! And even though we left the United States five years ago, we still practice many of them on a regular basis. It is important that our children know and appreciate the culture of their birth country… I think it is part of their cultural baggage. 

Thanksgiving Celebration at school in Texas.

But from all of these traditions, the one that better resonates with us is the celebration of Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that keeps coming back to us and that means something very personal to us. It is our opportunity as individuals and as a family to consciously appreciate the wonderful things we have, the amazing personal traits we were born with, and the many experiences we live regularly.

It is a time to  say ¡GRACIAS! Thank you! 

Gracias is such a powerful word in the Latino culture. It is the term of choice to appreciate good service, to close business deals, end a telephone conversation or to simply show how important someone is to us. 

Gracias isn’t just one more word in the vocabulary list my children review every week to further their Spanish skills. Gracias takes a whole new meaning during the holidays of Thanksgiving, and this is how we experience it at home:

The blissful acronym G.R.A.C.I.A.S

G stands for GRATEFULNESS. We encourage our children to think of things and experiences they are grateful for. How do we do it? Starting the week before Thanksgiving, we make a list of the things we appreciate: material things, experiences, flavors and aromas, lyrics, and so on. The main goal is to practice gratefulness daily and learn to appreciate the beauty of the small details.

We write down very specific things, for example: I’m grateful for my beautiful curly hair or my brown eyes. Avoid being too general or you will run out of reasons to be grateful for and your children will not experience the power of finding grace in little and simple things. Be precise.

Visit to a Pumpkin Patch in Germany 

R stands for REACHING OUT. Living far away from relatives and American friends means that we need to make our best effort to communicate with our local friends in order to involve them in our Thanksgiving celebration. That means inviting our friends for the big feast or simply having and afternoon of coffee, tea and biscuits to celebrate friendship and strength our relationships with people from the host country.

If you don’t live abroad, this is the time to try to reach out to your relatives, friends and colleagues to show appreaciation for their friendship and to makes them feel special. For us is very important to help and appreciate others to achieve truthful happiness, that’s why we like to share our Thanksgiving traditions with the ones with love and care about. Even with the ones with different traditions. 

A stands for ACCOUNTING. Today’s generation need to be taught to be responsible for their actions. This includes the great responsibility of being in charge of our own happiness. During Thanksgiving week, we make time to seat on the couch with a warm blanket and background music and chat about the different ways we can achieve inner joy and help others to reach their potential. 

By brainstorming, we encourage self-reflection practices. Together we reckon the amazing things we have, the goals we have met and the ones to be achieved, the negative words we have said and the steps to take to improve ourselves. 

Responsibility to love each other and ourselves. 

C stands for CARING. As an expat family, we pay close attention to our relationships to stay strong and united. Throughout our mobile life, my husband and I have become best friends and our three offsprings have built a strong emotional net that allows them to endure transition with love and optimism. We care about each other and during these holidays we make an effort to do it even more. 

We all have our own list of things we can do for the others that will make them happier, healthier and more grateful. This year the boys have chosen to help each other with school work, and my daughter is buying snacks for family movie nights. She is using her allowance and she feels very proud! I decided to pack healthy lunches for my hubby during this week and he is doing amazingly well by rubbing my awfully dry heels with coconut oil every night before bed. (I wish this will last the whole year!)

I stands for IMAGINATION. Connecting with others implies to disconnect ourselves from technology gadgets (as much as possible) and going back to the simple things. This isn’t easy at all and requires tons of creativity. 

I have lost count of how many times I have given my children ideas to entertain themselves without electronics! Oh boy! But for the last two days it has been a blessing to see them using their imagination to play board games, paint paper rolls (still don’t know what they plan to do with them), write a poem, learn a new piano song and so on. Then we reward ourselves at night with a family movie, snacks and hot cocoa. 

Imagination to live Thanksgiving overseas. 

A stands for ACCEPTING. Relationships aren’t always a walk in the park. And that is a fact our children need to understand since they are young. Arguing, disagreeing and struggling to accept somebody else’s opinion are part of healthy relationships as well. That‘s why we motivate our little ones to accept each other just the way they are. Obviously, there are limits set for offensive behavior and hurtful language. But it is important they learn to appreciate diversity and develop tolerance. 

Thanksgiving holidays are the perfect time for accepting. Being tolerant is easier when we recognize the good in others. Appreciation anyone? Thanks to the GRACIAS practice, we have seen a more peaceful and tolerant attitude in our family during these days. We are more loving and caring, we don’t react as much and we act with respect. 

S stands for SHARING. Happiness is deeper when we share it with somebody else. Pumpkin pie tastes sweeter when eaten with friends and family. This is all part of the Thanksgiving spirit. Innovative ideas to share at home?

Since our motto for the last years has been “buy less stuff, enjoy more experiences”, when we approach sharing at home we focus mainly in distributing our time to live life fully, for example, reading a story for the family to enjoy, alloting part of our day to help a neighbor in need, helping brother with his geometry homework or seating by the fireplace with daddy. These days are all about sharing our emotions, time and skills. (Also sharing cookies and a spoon of chocolate spread is always a good idea)

We share our time, our passions and skills. This is harvest time. 

So this is how we experience Thanksgiving at home, four Americans and  a Venezuelan mamá living in Germany. This is how we started giving the Spanish word GRACIAS a deeper meaning. This is how we combine our cultural background to find happiness and promote gratefulness and tolerance. 

What’s your “word” for this Thanksgiving? 

Improving your Child’s Cultural Intelligence with Joy Sun Bear

Nowadays developing Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a task that should be added to any parenting goals list and to every teacher’s lesson plan. In an ever growing and changing world, having high levels of diversity awareness and being able to cross-culturally interact with other people are necessary tools to succeed in the future. 

While many of the resources found online advice traveling as the number one step to promote cultural intelligence in children and young adults, I strongly believe that the world is an open book that can also be discovered through many relevant printed materials and enjoyed from the comfort of our own home. Magazines, online articles, travel brochures, and especially books are great allies when it comes to the challenges of becoming culturally intelligent. 

*Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book below for review purposes; however all my opinions and those of my daughter are our own.*

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The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra

For grownups to improve CQ is imperative to acknowledge biases, unlearn and refine all of our prejudices, habits, and beliefs that hold us back. This “unlearning” process can be quite difficult for many adults, because these aspects remain in a person’s core, thus requiring constant self-assessment. But for children, with the right guidance, developing CQ can be completely natural. 

So how can we bestow our children with the inspiration and experiences to carry on becoming culturally intelligent? Where do we find age-appropriate information to motivate our kids to explore other traditions? The answer is BOOKS! And The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra is a great way to start! 

Buy the book here

When I first received the book I thought it was just another children’s book intended to entertain with beautiful illustrations and a fun message. Boy was I wrong! Joy Sun Bear is a character that represents the personal traits children need to increase their CQ and be diversity aware. Joy is curious, courageous, risk-taker, and with a strong sense of loyalty to friends (even those friends that don’t look like him at all). His adventures will take you and your little ones to a wonderful world of friendship, bravery, magical creatures, family support and camaraderie. But how to use this fun and colorful book to foster curiosity about diversity and inclusion?

I present you with 5 easy-to-follow steps to begin your child’s CQ journey using the book The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra by Blanca Carranza and John Lee. 

  1. Talk about your own physical characteristics, talents and community. 

It is imposible to develop Cultural Intelligence if we don’t learn about our own beliefs, culture and talents. Use description to talk to your children about Joy Sun Bear, how he looks, what he eats, where he lives. Bring those questions to your own family. How do we look? What do we eat? What language do we speak? Initiate your kids in the path of self-awareness. 

Tipah looked at Joy’s long claws on her shoulder, 

“Are these how you climb so well?”

Joy pulled his arm back and spread his claws wide, 

“Yup! I also use them to collect honey. They help open 

the honeycomb. It’s my favorite treat!”

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2. Introduce distinct cultural values. 

Perhaps we have a friend that speaks with a strong accent. Or maybe there is a classmate who dresses differently than your children. Connect real life situations with the facts presented in the book. Tipah is different from Joy, but that doesn’t prevent them from becoming friends and having a good time. Both have different features that make them unique, COOL! CQ is based on self-awareness and diverse values. Talk to your kids about distinct values and beliefs from other countries. Choose a country or an ethnicity and inform yourself about it. Then share your thoughts with your children while reading the book. Take your time! This book isn’t intended to be read in one night. 

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3. Plant the seed of cultural knowledge. 

CQ knowledge is your understanding of how cultures are similar and different. Work with the chapters from the book “Introductions” and “Tricks”. Share with your children your thoughts about what you would say to someone you just met that looks very different from you. Highlight how Joy was afraid of Tipah even though he hadn’t met her before. The unknown is always scary. 

Mama leaned over, “A refugee is someone who had 

to flee their home because of something dangerous.”

“Like them,” Ayu said, waving her paw at all the 

newcomers, “they had to flee because humans cut 

down their forest.”

Develop a plan, a strategy, to approach people from other cultures, encourage language learning, and rehearse what to say when your kids ask the “wrong” questions to a person with different cultural values. Explain to them that it is always okay to make mistakes, and that just like Joy Sun Bear did, we must apologize and keep going. 

4. Embrace feelings and recognize assumptions.

Papa Bear does a great job recognizing the courage of Joy and helping him embrace the fact that he was sad because he thought he had made a mistake. There are no good or bad emotions: they are simply feelings that must be embraced. Your children need to know that it is okay to feel fear of strangers that look differently or speak a foreign language. Consequently, our fears invite our mind to create scenarios that aren’t real. This is also normal. 

But once we recognize what we feel and imagine, it is time for empathy. Some of the diverse people we encounter in our communities are victims of terrible experience, their homes are gone and they still have a long trek ahead of them. Guide your kids through this process. Use age-appropriate terms, explain current world news, but always keep in mind that as parents and educators it is our job to show children diversity in a fun way. 

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5. There is more than one way to be a hero. 

Reading is a great way for children to encourage empathy in characters and situations completely unlike their own. Reading teaches us that there is more than one way to become a hero and that heroes come in many sizes, colors, sometimes wearing colorful clothes, a cape, a headscarf or a plaid skirt. 

Joy smiled. He wasn’t used to such bold ideas, but 

he liked this one. The thought that he could charge in 

and save the day made him feel strong, and important.

In this book, as in many other real life scenarios, adults are always supposed to save the day, to come with great ideas and solutions to important problems. However, Joy Sun Bear shows us that courage and intelligence begin at a short age. He is a hero and so are your kids. 

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I invite you to be creative. We are our children’s role model. They look up to us to know how to act and how to behave. Invest time and resources to create a safe environment for your kids to experience diversity. Don’t be tempted to think that thinking cross-culturally is for expats, and also the rich and famous. Improving our Cultural Intelligence is a great way to prepare ourselves and our children for better job opportunities in the future. 

This task might sound scary, but start simple. Build your own home library and include The Adventures of Joy Sun Bear: The Blue Amber of Sumatra in your book catalog. 

Great tool! Great adventures! Great hero! 

Click on these links for fun adventures with Joy Sun Bear:

Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/GyUdYOAz9OY

Free Character Coloring Sheets and Reading Comprehension Crossword Puzzle for Download: http://joysunbear.com/blue-amber/

About the Authors

Blanca Carranza: Co-Author

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Blanca Carranza is a former preschool teacher and globetrotter. Born in New York to Colombian parents, she spent her early life traveling around the world and listening to her grandmothers’ stories. She has visited fifteen countries across four continents. Her passion for exploring the world, combined with her study of child development, created a unique atmosphere in each of the daycares and preschools she has owned and operated.

From international music, to food, to art, she brought the world to the children she cared for. Before retiring from childcare, she was inspired to create Joy Sun Bear and his adventures so she could continue to help children be happier and learn more about the world. She has two kids of her own, both all grown up, and lives in Southern California with her husband.

John Lee: Co-Author/Illustrator

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From driving tanks in the U.S. Army, to problem solving in the IT world, to writing and drawing cute and cuddly animals on magical adventures, John’s life has been fun and diverse.

Drawing and storytelling have always been important hobbies for John. Fueled by books, video games, and copious amounts of coffee, he is always excited to read, watch, or create some adventure-filled fiction.

John adores time with his wife and daughter, who provide a limitless supply of love, inspiration, and motivation. Together they live in sunny Southern California.

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