Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bilingual children's songs: A cheater's guide

This post was written for inclusion in Bilingual for Fun's Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Mummy Do That!. Check back at Mummy Do That! for the carnival when it posts June 2.

baby singing into microphone and playing keyboardIn the spirit of my post on making up your own bilingual children's books —

Bilingual children's books: A cheater's guide

— I now bring you a coordinating cheat sheet for bilingual songs.

By "cheating," I mean you take a song you already know in one language and translate it on the fly or in advance into your target language. You can also consider easy children's songs you already know and look for a counterpart already online in your target language. I'll give you more on that in a post I've already compiled of free places to find songs in other languages online. (Wait with bated breath till the next bilingual carnival!)

I'm raising my son bilingually in German and English, but I'm a non-native speaker of German. That means that most of my repertoire of children's songs is in English. I've learned quite a few German songs since starting this adventure, but I can always use more variety.

The secret to a good make-do bilingual song is that:
  1. The tune and original words are familiar to you.
  2. It's super-duper easy.

After all, you don't want to pick a cantata for your first go!

As with my last cheater's guide, the focus is on frugal and easy ways you can learn new songs in your target language. Obviously, you could buy CDs and downloads and learn them that way, but I'm going on the assumption that we're not made of money, dang it. In a still later post, I hope to compile some inexpensive resources for owning or renting language books, films, and songs. But for this post (and my future non-cheater guide to bilingual songs), I'm going to encourage you to make your own music!

Here are some simple songs I thought of. You probably can think of some of your own, which you can feel free to share in the comments!

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

This children's action song has already been translated into umpteen languages, so your work is probably done for you. Just do a Google search for the title and your target language. The comments on this Mama Lisa's World Blog post should get you started, and there's helpfully an mp3 to remind you of the melody.

If you can't find your language online, it's easy enough to translate the body parts and figure out something that will fit. Some people will rearrange the lyrics to fit the meter better or switch "toes" to "feet" or similar. I'm fine with this. I'm not a purist when it comes to "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." Use what works for you and your language!

The best part of this song is the motions! Urge your kidlet to stand up and point to each body part as you name it, and you'll be reinforcing your target language through kinetics.

Are You Sleeping?

If you're anything like me, you might have already grown up knowing "Frère Jacques" in French, even if you otherwise don't speak French! We were singing it as a round on a car trip once, and my dad (also no Francophone) forgot the line "Sonnez les matines!" and hastily improvised "Someone ate the pizza," finishing it up with a flourish of "Was it you? Was it you?" See, there are no mistakes in language learning. Only opportunities for family jokes to last a lifetime.

Take a gander at this astonishing list of language versions of "Frère Jacques" from Wikipedia. If you can't find your target language on that list, let me know so I can be agog.

The bonus fun of this song is that it can be sung in a round. The first person or group sings "Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?" (in whatever language), and when the first group starts the line "Brother John," the second group starts in on "Are you sleeping?" Even just one parent and one kid can successfully sing a round, but it's even more fun in a bigger group. Don't let anyone tell you they can't sing a round. Here are some hilarious steps at eHow to get everyone's confidence level up (or ignore their protests).

This might be a good place to point out that children don't care if you can't sing. They won't know the difference, so enjoy yourself and the nuance that singing can bring to your language experience!

You can make this song truly multilingual by having your singers each choose a different language. This is a good way to include people in your family who don't speak the target language — let them pick a language they're comfortable with. I like to sing the German with Mikko while my husband handles the English (or, if he's feeling particularly saucy, the French!).

Elmo's Song

All right, bear with me here. "Elmo's Song" is one of those easy, repetitious songs with very few lyrics that would lend itself to on-the-go translation.

The lyrics are as follows:

This is the song
La la la la
Elmo's song.
La la la la,
La la la la,
Elmo's song.

La la la
La la la la, la
La la la
La la la la, la

He loves to sing,
La la la la,
Elmo's song.
La la la la,
La la la la,
Elmo's song.

He wrote the music.
He wrote the words.
That's Elmo's song.

What do you think? Could you knock that out in another language in a few minutes? I guess dealing with the possessives would be the only challenging part for some tongues, but I have faith in you. Feel free to get creative, and enjoy all those "la"s!

The fun part of this song is personalizing it with the names of everyone you know in place of "Elmo" on the repeats (with "I love the music, I love the words"). What kids don't love a song about them!

The Gummy Bear Song

You would be surprised at how many versions there are of this bizarre-o theme song on YouTube. Very surprised.

There are even more — go take a look if you need a different version!

Along the same theme, you can often find theme songs to children's shows (Sesame Street, Spongebob Squarepants, and even really old-school ones like "Pippi Langstrumpf") translated into your target language on YouTube. It's a treasure trove of mindlessness! You're welcome.

Where Is Thumbkin?

"Where Is Thumbkin?" is the odd song where the fingers come out from behind your back in order to greet each other and then run away again posthaste. (Are they embarrassed? Anxious? Antisocial? Did they make some terrible faux pas when they said "Very well, I thank you"? Maybe they realized the other finger wasn't a "sir" after all?) I think this would be another simple song to figure out in each language, as long as you know or can find out the names for each finger. If you scroll down, there's a suggestion for the German version on Infanaj Kantoj submitted by Sara Tsudome.

Stay tuned for the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism and my future post on how to find authentic songs online to sing with your kid(s) in whatever language you prefer!

What songs do you like to sing with your children? Have you translated any into a different language? Give me more suggestions of cheater songs if you have 'em!

Hey, speaking of carnivals — did you know the June Carnival of Natural Parenting submissions are due Tuesday night? Yes, this Tuesday night, June 1. This month we're taking it outside … to play! Details here.

Yes, that's Mikko rockin' the mic and keyboard simultaneously
at twelve months. What can I say? We have a prodigy that
would make Mozart poo his pants. Well, ok, yes, technically
he was licking the microphone instead of singing. So what.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Giveaway of nursing necklace & children's book at Hobo Mama Reviews and twiddling tips!

Just letting you all know you have the opportunity to enter to win two wonderful prizes right now over at Hobo Mama Reviews:

Smart Mom Jewelry Teething Bling necklaceThe most recent is for a teething or breastfeeding necklace by Smart Mom Jewelry called Teething Bling, offered to you by the fabulous Stacy at the equally fabulous Posh Baby Boutique.

Hobo Mama Giveaway: Smart Mom Jewelry Teething Bling Necklace from Posh Baby Boutique {6.22}

The Smart Mom Teething Bling is an elegant pendant on a cord that looks just like a fashionable necklace — but the pendant is made of soft, baby-safe silicone for your little one to chew on, and the cord has a breakaway clasp if needed.

The necklace is intended as a way to soothe inflamed gums, but I think it would rock as a nursing necklace, don't you?

I wrote awhile ago about my struggles with Mikko and nipple twiddling:

Twiddling leads to a nursing necklace

And here's the necklace I made at that point to help with the problem:

My nursing necklace

Some mamas don't mind twiddling, but I find it really irritating and skin-crawling to have Mikko tweak and twist my free nipple while he eats from the other. My nipples are ultra-sensitive while breastfeeding, and I think part of my discomfort is psychological. Mikko's old enough now Mary Cassatt breastfeeding Mother and Child paintingto know it bothers me, which helps a lot, but if you're in the phase where it's bugging you but your baby is too young to compromise with you, a nursing necklace that's safe for your baby to play with (safe both for the baby and for the necklace!) can help give busy hands something to do.

The funny thing about twiddling is I totally understand that it's natural and serves a function. Twiddling stimulates milk production just as the baby's mouth would, so it's a way older babies get more efficient at eating quickly. If they get the other side primed and ready for them, the milk will flow more readily when they switch sides. For the baby, of course, it probably just feels good to fiddle. As you can see from the charming Mary Cassatt painting to the left, breastfeeding babies have always loved exploring their mothers' bodies in general!

I totally understand this, biologically and developmentally, and I don't blame Mikko for twiddling. But neither do I blame myself for not liking it. In fact, it's led to some interesting conversations with my two-year-old about how my breasts are part of my body. If you don't mind twiddling, just stick with that. But if it does bother you, here are a few strategies to help:

  1. Keep your other breast covered by clothing when you're breastfeeding. Fasten back up your bra on that side, or pull down or up your shirt to make it more challenging for your baby to find the nipple. You might find it doesn't feel so sensitive and tickly from the outside if she still wants to play over the clothing.
  2. Try deep relaxation, meditation, or hypnosis techniques if you know them to see if you can come to terms psychologically with the twiddling.
  3. Gently remove your baby's hand as often as needed. You might have to hold it in place away from the nipple.
  4. Cover your free nipple with the palm of your hand as an additional block.
  5. Talk to your baby about why you don't want him to touch you in that way. Even if he's young, it will get you into the habit of explaining in a calm and reasonable way. Try to use nonjudgmental language. Many mamas find it helpful to say something like, "It's too ticklish for mama to be touched that way" or "Mouth only, please!" rather than language that blames the baby or implies that it physically hurts you if it only makes you uncomfortable.
  6. Try to train your baby to touch you in a way you find comfortable. Some mothers don't mind a flat hand on the breast, so you can try gently flattening out your baby's palm while talking about and demonstrating what you want. You might redirect the hand to touch the side of the breast or your hair or clothing.
  7. Keep in mind that your baby has an innate drive to twiddle. She's not doing it to annoy you.
  8. Tandem nurse! :) That way, there's never a free breast!
  9. Use a toy, safe jewelry, or other tempting goody to distract that wandering hand. This is where a nursing necklace can be so helpful!

Here are some other takes on twiddling:
  • Breastfeeding Moms Unite! includes nursery rhymes she made up about twiddling. How fun is that!
  • Code Name: Mama shares the funniest unorthodox toddler use of a nipple ever.
  • Stand and Deliver posts a sweet video showing nipple twiddling in action, with moms smiling about it! See, not everyone minds.
  • gives a general rundown on how to promote good nursing manners.

Smart Mom Jewelry Teething Bling blue camo heart necklaceWhether it's twiddling or teething or just plain distraction, there'll come a time when a lovely necklace like the Smart Mom Teething Bling will be just what you want around your neck! I think it would also make a unique and treasured baby shower gift, as a way to support a mama who intends to breastfeed and give her a way to still feel stylish in those frumpy-feeling postpartum days.

Posh Baby ClothesPosh Baby Boutique has lots of other lovely items, from adorable onesies to fluffy tutus, and you can follow Stacy on Posh Trendy Blog as well.

Enter to win the Smart Mom Jewelry Teething Bling pendant-and-cord necklace by June 22. This giveaway is open to USA and Canada (not just USA as originally noted, so if you're Canadian and had already given up on the contest, head back on over and rejoice).

steve ouch reads steampotvilleI also reviewed and am giving away a children's book by Steve Ouch called SteamPotVille. It's a book that puts the "Sure, you betcha" in "surreal." (I just made that up. Catchy, no?)

Hobo Mama Giveaway: SteamPotVille, by Steve Ouch — an imaginatively surreal children's picture book {6.17}

If you want a cross between Monty Python and Where's Waldo? (as some happy reviewers have described it!), head on over to enter by June 17! This giveaway is open to USA, Canada, and UK.

What have you done (or not done) about twiddling? And I'm taking an informal poll: Are you still able to wear tempting jewelry since becoming a parent?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The confusion of average vs. normal

Normal gas station sign

I wanted to do a short little (we'll see, won't we?) informative post today about the difference between the terms "average" and "normal," because I think they're confused a lot in our culture, even by those who theoretically should understand them due to their training (i.e., health professionals, who I believe take science and math classes to graduate, whereas I was an English major), as well as by parents who are either unjustifiably concerned about not meeting averages or unsuitably (but understandably) proud at beating them.

This article —

"Average age versus normal range," by Michael K. Meyerhoff

— originally published at Pediatrics for Parents, is what really helped me understand the differences between these two concepts, during those developmental phases that we as parents get antsiest.

An average (in terms of "mean") is a mathematical construct that takes data, (often) filters out the extreme outliers, adds up all the numbers that are left, and then divides the total by the number of items. We all know this, right? It's just when it gets put into practice that it gets murky.

bell curve graph of standard deviation and normal range
Bell curve showing normal distribution of data.
The average is the "mean score" in the middle.
Normal, on the other hand, is always a range, when referring to "normal distribution," the bell curve shape you would expect to find within a group of data. For instance, it might be normal for a baby to crawl (or scoot, as in Mikko's case!) between six months and ten months. The average time for a baby to crawl, then, might be eight months, but it is still normal for a baby to crawl starting at six months or not until ten months. Six months might be at the far left of the bell curve and ten months at the far right, but both are still within the expected range for crawling.

When I talked about "extreme outliers" in defining average, that's where you get abnormal. I don't really like the term "abnormal," because it sounds pejorative, but I hope you know that I mean by it simply outside the normal, expected distribution. As in, a baby who crawls at four months would be outside the norm and would be an early crawler. A baby who didn't crawl (or scoot or walk) until fourteen months would be a late crawler. Their age of crawling would not be normal and would fall outside the expected bell curve distribution. The babies themselves might still be perfectly healthy (more on that in a minute), or they might not, but it's only at that point that it bears looking into. Up until the end of the "normal" range (barring any other signs pointing toward developmental delays), it's perfectly reasonable for a parent to wait patiently for a child to "catch up" to the children who took a developmental step earlier (note I said "earlier," and not "early").

What I find frustrating is medical professionals and other experts who don't understand the difference between average and normal when it comes to diagnosing problems. For instance, the average length of a pregnancy (or so someone decided) is 40 weeks. The normal length of a pregnancy is 38 to 42 weeks. If a woman is a day past 40 weeks, she is not "overdue" or "late." She is normal. If she is two weeks past her "due date" (a term I wish outlawed), she is still not late! (Again, barring any indications of a problem. Being past the due date is not in itself a problem.)

You also see this with weight gain recommendations, both for pregnant women and for babies. A pregnant woman will gain five pounds one month and be warned off eating fat for the next month. She'll gain only two ounces the next month and be told to increase her fat intake. It's ludicrous. Averages don't work that way! An average is over time, over a large set of data. It doesn't mean that every month is going to exactly match the average. But health professionals (and those trusting them) get it into their heads that the "average" monthly weight gain of a healthy pregnant woman is also the magic number that must be met every month, and it simply isn't true.

There's another fallacy inherent in looking toward an average weight gain and applying that to every woman (or baby or child). No woman is average. I cannot emphasize this enough. An average is a mathematical construct, a calculated midpoint within a set of data. It is not a human being. No individual woman or man is average; no pregnancy weight gain is average; no baby's growth chart is average; no child's development is average. No one meets the average!

Let's take some real numbers as an example.

1 6 7 8 10 11 12 27

Play along with me and assume that we determine that 1 and 27 are outside of normal distribution, so we discard them. Now we're left with 6 7 8 10 11 12. We add them up: 54. We divide them by the number of numbers (6) and are left with our average (mean): 9.

Is 6 abnormal because it is not 9? No. It's true that 6 is lower than 9, but it is still within the range of normal. Is 12 too big because it is not 9? No, because it is still normal. Note, too, that 9 doesn't even exist! It is only a theoretical, mathematical construct. It is an average but not an item in itself. (Yes, I chose the numbers this way on purpose to make a point.)

Now, is 27 or 1 outside of normal? In this exercise, perhaps so. Maybe if 1 and 27 represent people with some potential health issue, they should get that looked at. But maybe they're fine, too, and if we had more data to go on it would help determine what the normal, expected distribution might be. Maybe 6-12 are simply occupying that widest part of the bell curve, but 1 and 27 are still within the narrow ends on either side.

You can see this play out in everyday life. For instance, the "average" woman's menstrual cycle is 28 days. Well, fine, but that doesn't mean that my average cycle is 28 days. Mine happens to be 29 days. I am still normal. AND, furthermore, my cycle ranges from 27 days to 34 days. You know what? All those cycles: still normal. Possibly very few of them are 29 days. But the average emerges over time, given enough data. I know that if my period doesn't magically appear after 29 days, that doesn't mean I'm pregnant. I just give it a few more days. If my period comes "early," on day 28, I just shrug and put in my DivaCup. It's all fine. I also don't get bent out of shape that my cycle isn't an average 28 days, because — say it with me — no one is average.

Now, again, this is where outliers come into play. If my cycle average was 23 days, I might in fact have a fertility problem due to a short luteal phase. If my cycles varied wildly, really wildly, from 23 days one month to 38 days the next, that might suggest a hormonal imbalance (or miscarriage or menopause). That's where averages help — averages can assist in setting a range for what "normal" might be, but they don't by themselves define normal.

And just another word about outliers. I want to repost my son's growth chart from when he was 10 months old. Talk about unaverage!

He wasn't even, strictly speaking, normal. You can see he's actually breaking the weight chart. But he was fine. He was healthy, and is healthy, and his growth slowed way down after that point and has remained at almost a plateau (which, again, is totally fine). (You can see more pictures of his chubbiness in development here.)

Mikko also talked and walked later than the average, but still within normal range. We weren't worried. We knew some people who were. He caught on just fine once he started, and proved our lack of worry correct. Now, if he still wasn't talking now at 2.75 years old, I probably would have gotten his hearing checked again or looked into other physical problems that might exist. But, even then, there are children who for whatever reason choose not to speak for longer than is "normal" and end up fine. It's one of those things where, if it's really worrying you, it's probably best to check, because there might be an undiagnosed hearing problem or similar. But if everything seems fine otherwise — it probably is. And, on the flip side, if your baby starts talking or walking "early" but still within the normal range, go ahead and brag — why not? But just know that it doesn't indicate anything about meeting future developmental milestones (or your prowess as a parent — but you already knew that, didn't you?).

My point is this: If your child is within the range of normal (or your weight, or your cycles, or times your child breastfeeds per day, or hours your kids sleep, or length of your pregnancy, or progression of your labor, or whatever it is), and you don't see any reason to be worried — and even if you're outside the range of normal but you believe you have good reason to be (for instance, we factored in that both Sam and I are taller than average — but still normal! — to our interpretation of Mikko's large size) — then don't sweat it if you're not hitting the average in every respect. No one does.

We're all normal that way.

I want to include a tiny disclaimer that I am not a health professional, and please don't take the word of a blogger as reason not to have any health concerns checked out by someone who's qualified. Just don't let anyone bully you into thinking average is the same as normal, because it isn't. So there. I'm only trying to empower all those who are within norms to stand up for their right not to be average. And I love all those of you outside the norms, too, because I'm there as well in various ways.

When have you been confronted with the confusion between average and normal? Has anyone told you that you or your children weren't normal when you knew everything was fine, thankyouverymuch?

"Normal" gas station photo courtesy jendo on stock.xchng.
Bell curve distribution chart snagged from University of
Kansas Medical Center
, and I hope they don't mind,
because it was the bestest one I could find.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Reusable shopping bag

boy in reusable shopping bag 1

boy in reusable shopping bag with father 2

boy in reusable shopping bag 3

Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my new super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!
Just enter your WW direct link, and then click to choose thumbnail from web
it will let you pick your WW picture that's already online. Easy peasy!
For name, if you want, you can enter your name or the title of your post
or a combination, like "Lauren @ Hobo Mama — My Wordless Wednesday title."

This linky list is now closed.