Monday, February 3, 2014

The Language of Life: The State of The (Family) Union by Angela Jackson

Listening to the President give the State of the Union Address made me think about the state of my own family union. At the beginning of the year we all resolve to make changes in our lives. As busy parents, I know many of my conversations with friends revolve around how we all want to find ways to have more family time. Between running to and from soccer practices, language classes, music lessons, business meetings and social obligations, it feels like every family member is on their own schedule pursuing their own interests. I've noticed with myself and my friends that many times we are "over-programmed," packing in more activities than ever but still feeling like we don't have enough time as a family unit. With constant messaging from the media, our physicians and even the White House, about the mental and physical benefits of adults and children getting more physical activity, maybe we should heed these suggestions by becoming more active as a family unit. Surely this can improve the state of our family unions.
With all families being made up of individuals of many different interests and disinterests, how do we find common ground? How do you democratize individual activities so that every family member can experience and engage in an activity that one particular family member loves? I have to admit it and let's all face it together: shuffling around to a 7 a.m. soccer practice is not one of our favorite activities as parents, but when we know it means the world to our son or daughter, we do it! But how do we do it more joyfully?
My solution has been to get into the game. With any activity, find something interesting in the activity for you. In terms of soccer, instead of having parents stand on the sidelines, our local coach implemented parents versus kids games. I have to tell you, the kids enjoyed this practice more than any "real" game. And for me personally, I found enjoyment because we were participating as a family. We laughed, we smiled and even as the parents lost, we all commented on how we enjoyed being in the game.
Many times when we take our children to activities we're on the sidelines. We need to encourage ourselves or make suggestions on how we can physically be part of the activity. And this principle can go beyond just including ourselves in our children's activities: we can include them in our own! At my local yoga studio, I suggested that they start a class where people could bring their age appropriate children. At first they were not sure this was a good idea, but now this class has become one of the most popular on the schedule! While our kids may not understand Downward Dog, they do understand and connect with our love of things and activities. I always say a family that moves together stays together, and in my case, I have found this to be true. So the next time your son or daughter groans as the thought of yet another music lesson, let them know that you are going with them to learn, too. Ask their music teacher if they would be willing to give you a lesson every now and then. I can't promise that you will become an award-winning pianist in the world's eyes, but I am sure that you will be a star for your child.
I would love to hear from you. What activities has your family ever taken from an individual interest to a family focus? Feel free to send me your ideas via Twitter at @angjack or via email at I will be sure to share them in a future column. And I would love to hear if spending more time together improves the state of your family union, as I am sure it has and will continue to improve mine!

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Language of Life: New year, new (musical) dreams

I have never been one for New Year's resolutions. A recent study found that already, 22 percent of Americans who made New Year's resolutions a mere few days ago have already broken them. As you decide whether or not to make a resolution of your own, one thing to consider is how resolutions, which seem to be broken because they often are ventured into alone, could be turned into something positive and motivating for your whole family. I have always thought in terms of the New Year as an opportunity to set new goals, with your child and family, that you can work toward in the present year and beyond.

In 2001, I made a personal goal of learning French. I must share that I didn't know then that this goal would be one that was transformative in my life. Seven years later, I found myself actually living in Paris and immersed in the language. For me, this was a dream come true and was part of the experience that helped me to create Global Language Project.

As parents, we know that our children are very imaginative. The thought of "resolutions" and even "goals" can sound boring to young minds, but dreams are exciting. I have found that when looking for inspiration to help children dream, you should use colorful and descriptive language. When was the last time that you asked your child what they dreamed about and what their dream looked like and felt like? What does your child wish they could, or would, like to learn to do? Tying their dreams to learning can be a fantastic motivator. If they don't have answers right away, think of ways to help them brainstorm....

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Global Lessons for our children from the Life of Nelson Mandela

As the world mourns the passing if Nelson Mandela I couldn't help but think that his legacy of peace, resilience, tolerance and forgiveness are valuable lessons that we can pass on to our children. As parents of small and older children, many who weren't even alive to understand Mandela’s impact and journey, how can we use his legacy to inspire a new generation to lead in big and small ways, on the world stage or in their communities and personal lives.

Nelson Mandela's life and journey becomes a lesson in peace and equality and in the transformative power of resilience and forgiveness. These are all qualities that most parents would be pleased to have their child embody.

Consider asking your child, as you watch the news reports on Mandela’s life together, what they know about Nelson Mandela. Reading an article to your child is another great idea to try and personalize Mandela’s legacy for them. Highlight the values from Mandela’s life that resonate most with you as a parent.

Ask your child which of Madela’s values they see in themselves or seek for themselves. Ask them to point out people in their world—teachers, relatives and even you—embody these values. As a parent, I find it most fascinating to understand how a child sees themselves and their place in the world in relation to the other people in their lives. I remember when my godson, is who now eight, was four years old in preschool.  When we described his friends he used colorful words like ‘the boy with the yellow hair’ or ‘the girl with the big smile and freckles’.  He never described is friends as “black”, “white” or otherwise.  He described them based on their personality or true facial features. As adults we sometimes find ourselves putting people in boxes that are most excepted by society. The beauty of our children is that they don’t see these boxes at all. 

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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Language of Life: Bullying and understanding differencesThe Language of Life: Bullying and understanding differences

In the past week, bullying has touched one of America's roughest sports: football.
As a parent, I was horrified when I watched reports of the exchanges between Miami Dolphins players Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. Regardless of how the story shakes out, the biggest takeaway is that whether you are 5, 15, 35 or any age for that matter, bullying hurts and no one - not even the seemingly toughest among us - is immune.
Martin allegedly walking away from his team after incidents of bullying sends a strong message that parents throughout the country can use if your child feels bullied. Children can know now, through Martin's ordeal, that they have the right to walk away if they are intentionally made to feel uncomfortable or distressed - and no dollar amount is worth their being upset, not even a lucrative multi-million-dollar contract.
When I first launched Global Language Project there was a 3rd grader, Laylah, who was being bullied in the classroom by some of the other girls. She was learning to speak Chinese and was making slower progress than the other students. She had grown up with these girls and had attended school with them since she was 5 years old. Something happened at the beginning of the 3rd grade year between these girls, and instead of Laylah being in one of the "in-crowds" she became a marked outsider. She tried to fit in but the other girls in the class were cruel. I was surprised by ability of children who, as young as 9 years old, could be so mean with biting comments.
Laylah's mom called to talk to me about the issue and asked for my advice. Laylah wanted to drop out of our program and at that time, I was very strong willed. I told Laylah's mom that she should not drop out that I would rather remove the other students who had poor behavior. My advice four years ago to Laylah and her mother were that they should stick it out; not let the bullies win.
But now as I watch what is happening in Miami, I empathize and understand how the pressures of bullying can be so great, that even the seemingly strongest and toughest among us can fold under this pressure. So imagine what our children are up against?

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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Language of Life: Finding global education inspiration for your child

WISE Conference
I attended the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, Qatar, last week at the invitation of Qatar Foundation International. The theme of the conference was "Education Above All." Thought leaders, community activists and parents from around the world convened, to discuss issues of access to education for the world's most vulnerable children; children who are currently battling poverty and times of war, to gain access to education.
During the three days at the conference I couldn't help but think about how fortunate we are in the United States that our children have access to a public school system. Yes, I will admit that we still have problems of equity in education to deal with, but for the most part, a majority of our students can get to schools without their lives being threatened. And teachers can teach without fear of having their lives threatened, or worse yet, being killed.
Many parents can relate to waking their child up early in the morning and having them cry out that they don't want to go to school because they are tired. This is in stark contrast to many children in developing nations who walk miles to one-room schoolhouses, with the hope that an education can change their lives and transform their world. It made me think of the responsibility that this access to education brings and how we as parents of students here in the U.S. can communicate to our children that education is a privilege. As the parents of Western children, how do we engage our children to demonstrate how fortunate they are to be born in a time and place where they have free access to education, while in many parts of the world, it is a rare gift? How can we foster an appreciation for education in our children to instill in them a life-long zest for learning?

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Friday, October 18, 2013

The Language of Life: Defining and demonstrating respect

PS 368 Mandarin Student

As parents, our No. 1 priority is to raise a child that is respectful. It is a lesson that is taught at home and from day one in most classrooms across this country and around the world. But before a child can be respectful they have to understand the concept of respect and have the idea defined. I have found that it becomes primarily the work of parents, to set the tone and model for what it means to be respectful to you and others, as we all live together in a community.
When I began Global Language Project, I remember that the first group of students who were learning Chinese had never had the opportunity to meet a person of Chinese descent. One third-grader named Alex could not remember the name of his teacher and when he had a question he addressed her as "Miss China." I was taken aback initially but then I realized that this was a teachable moment. I had an opportunity to address the fact with Alex that this teacher from China may have a different physical appearance on the outside, and maybe an unfamiliar accent, but at the end of the day she deserved the respect of being called by her correct name. I could see that while this was a new concept for Alex, he was open to learning and understanding. Children are like sponges and as parents we can define "respect" for our children by modeling it for them. Beyond demonstrating respect through our own actions and activities, we should be intentionally looking for all the teachable moments that may arise in everyday activities.
The grocery store, shopping center or neighborhood park are all fertile ground to begin modeling respect and building awareness of the diversity that exists in the world. As we know, children notice everything and have questions why people look and sound differently than what they are used to seeing and hearing. Depending on how loud and the location where these questions are asked, many of them have made parents squirm. Instead of fretting about a question from an inquisitive child, I have learned to be proactive in pointing out differences.
My personal favorite activity is to make it into a game. While you are shopping, if you hear someone with a different accent, have your child guess the country where the person might be from, or what language they might speak. The object of the game is not for your child to get the right answer. The goal is that in a subtle but impactful way, your child begins to notice the diversity that exists in the world. They will begin to understand that there are other languages to communicate in other than English, and that usually, if they hear an accent, it might mean that the person speaks another language.
Many will say that parenting is more of an art than a science. We have most likely learned in great part from our parents about the basics of what to do and what not to do, and maybe in our spare time we have read a few books. But most parents would agree that how we really, truly define our parenting experience is through trial and error. In our quest to raise a respectful child, our ultimate goal is to find ways to teach the lesson of respect in a way that is interesting, will keep them interested, and will keep the dialogue open and frequent. You will cultivate not only respect in your child, but also their curiosity about the world at large.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Language of Life: Making music while parenting

Parenting involves countless hours of teaching, and teaching while parenting consists of constant repetition. In order for everything that we feel is important to sink deep into our children's hearts and minds, we repeat key items almost daily, if not hourly. "Put your shoes away so no one will trip over them," and "do your homework when you get home from school" or "clear your dishes when you are finished eating."
Parents can behave as if the seventh or 20th time something is said will make such a marked difference in that particular moment, that children finally will place the fact into their mental "life lessons" file and, suddenly, they won't need any more reminders about the matter.
While repetition is a great tool to use for teaching or learning just about anything, repetition without structure isn't the same thing and often little impact. The use of structured repetition works in music: verse, chorus, verse, same chorus, verse, same chorus, maybe a bridge, and then the same chorus again to end.
And what is the difference between a good song and a hit song? Song structure.
So is the difference between good parenting and great parenting structure? Perhaps. The process of learning anything is easier when music is added, and this rule certainly applies to parenting, so music can - and should - be applied more often in parent-child relationships.
Just as parenting and learning a foreign language are similar processes, they are both enhanced when music is added. The copious amounts of practice drills involved in mastering a foreign language are very much like the daily activities of parenting, which require constant recaps and reviews.
Word pronunciation and emphasis take on new life on a foreign tongue when a musical backdrop is added. And what was seen as a struggle with unfamiliar words and sounds only moments before, suddenly becomes a fun activity when foreign songs, rather than words, are being taught. Bursting out with a show tune on the virtues of remembering to do homework during a hurried evening routine might not be beneficial. But a short rhyme or song about the school day not being over until all of the homework is complete, could be a fun and effective way for your child to independently make sure they are prepared each night. Or rephrasing a popular chorus from your child's favorite song that reminds them to clear their dishes, will likely earn a memorable laugh and save future frustrations for all involved.
Global Language Project successfully teaches foreign languages to young children free of charge and uses music as a part of their successful teaching technique. Because GLP realizes the critical role that music plays in the language learning process for both the children and their parents, they are releasing "Coloreando," a collection of traditional children's songs from Spain and Latin America, performed by Marta Gomez. The recorded songs allow parents to teach, sing, play and most importantly, have fun with their children of all ages, while they all also happen to be learning a foreign language.
Repetition and structure are key elements to great music and to great parenting. If music is a universal "language," so is parenting. Watching a mother in Russia, Argentina or Los Angeles shush her wiggly child at a wedding requires pretty much the same gesture. But if those mothers chose instead to hum their child's favorite song in his or her ear to shush them, it is likely they would universally receive the same satisfactory response.
Listen to the COLOREANDO CD here:

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