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World Clocks

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The First Seven Months






I can't believe that it has been seven months since we came home with Princess Moxie and Princess Diva Darling. Rather than belabor the point "it seems like they've always been here," with the antithesis "it doesn't seem that long at all," I thought it might be illustrative to write some things that we've done which we have found helpful, as well as capture some changes that we've experienced. So, here goes:

1. The girls have truly learned English within 7 months
They aren't simply stringing words together....they are actually using metaphors and similes, to my amazement. Diva Darling woke up this morning, saw her hair was sticking up six inches on top and demanded that I fix it, saying, "I don't want my hair to look like a stack of pancakes!" Her older sister was feeling fed up with the three-year-old running around and flapping her arms, so she told her, "You are like a butterfly! Stop fluttering in my bedroom!"

This is what their "schooling" has been like:

March: After medical tests, exams, bloodwork and treatment for parasites, they received a full evaluation by our local school district. The assessment included Speech and Language with an Amharic native speaker to interpret; an Educational assessment; and a Psychological/Social assessment, again with an Ethiopian educational professional.
April-June: In-home instruction for 90-minutes/three days a week by an amazing ESL teacher
May and June: In-school instruction with a teacher 5/days a week for an hour before other students arrived
July-August (6 weeks): In school instruction, but this time one-on-one with ESL and another teacher from 7:30 am to 8:45 am followed by 5 hours of day camp in the same location (local elementary school).
August: Vacation Bible School where they played with their peers, memorized scripture verses, and learned about life during Jesus' time on Earth.
September: One kidd-o started fourth grade in the public elementary school. She has 19 classmates, and THREE extraordinary teachers in the room. She leaves for an hour each day to receive ESL instruction with an experienced and upbeat teacher and a few other students. The other kidd-o started third grade in the same school. She has about 22 children in her class and two fantastic, self-described "old-fashioned values" teachers. She also receives ESL for an hour.
Both girls have gym (either 2 or 3 times a week), Spanish (2 or 3 times a week) and Art and Music either once or twice a week.

Other things: During their "non-schooling" hours, we listened to music for large parts of each day. We heard and sang all types of music: Brahms (when I needed serenity); opera (which blew their little minds!); traditional children's songs (so they learned the alphabet or parts of the body); Amharic songs (found on YouTube and from cd's ordered on-line as well as our amazing local library); instrumental; other nationality's songs through "Music Together" cds and songbooks; and traditonal and contemporary hymns and Christian songs. Music was key to their learning English, intonation, and for just having fun.

Vacation: A week at the beach this summer with our immediate family did wonders for bonding together.

Prayers: We pray at every meal and before bed, as well as throughout the day. This practice not only helps us to maintain and enrich our relationship with the Lord, it also helped them to speak formally, outloud, with others listening to their thoughts and feelings.

Play: The girls played nearly every day outdoors for a long time. At first we went to parks and playgrounds, as playground equipment was new to them and very exciting. They couldn't do the monkey bars when they first arrived, their little bodies were so small and they were relatively timid. Now, their muscular, toned arms fly from bar to bar. Diva can even skip alternate bars, as well as do the monkey bars going backwards! The girls taught themselves how to ride bikes, swim, dive, and do cartwheels. They watch everyone else constantly and are quick to show off their new talents!!

Food: When the girls first arrived I was afraid that they'd starve to death in America. They would pick food up in their fingers, sniff it and say, "No." Our only rule with food was that they had to try the food, they never had to eat all of it at mealtimes. The kitchen remained open and they were allowed to help themselves to any food they wanted, regardless of meal time. This practice drove some of our visitors mad, but we now have two kids at healthy weights, with enviable BMI, who eat nearly everything. They still love fruits and vegetables, thank goodness. They pack their own lunches, and a typical lunch will include a sandwich on multi-grain bread, an apple, some carrots with hummus, and string cheese. I am so glad they are healthy and enjoy healthy food!

Church/Bible: Both girls came to us with an understanding of God and Jesus. Their faith is simple and one has a more mature level of understanding of praying God's will to be done. The younger of the two prays for her will to be done. We have switched churches recently due to doctrinal issues and look forward to having the girls in a Bible-believing, teaching church with a strong youth program. Interestingly, both girls like to go to bed praying with rosary beads. When their English improves we will be able to have more meaningful conversations to find out what they believe and have them baptized as proclaiming Christ as their personal Savior. (We are pretty sure they were baptized as infants as that is the common practice of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians).

Vital Help: We have been blessed by having three Ethiopian women involved in our girls' lives. Two in particular, one a young woman working at NYU Africa House and the other a devout Christian grandmother, have been instrumental in helping our girls maintain their Amharic as well as interpreting for us during difficult times. And there have been difficult times!!

Social Skills: The school social worker worked with us to identify the specific social skills which she will work with our girls on during lunch period. (She forms "friendship circles" with children in the same grade who need help learning our culture's mores and manners.) The list is long but the girls are so smart and eager to please that they will breeze through these shortly, I believe. I am so grateful that we have an experienced "coach" helping us to teach personal boundaries, eye contact, etc.

Extracurricular Activities: After some reflection, we have decided to limit the girls' activities outside of school. I was stunned when I tried to arrange a playdate with a third grader and learned we had to wait two weeks before she'd be "free." I don't want my kids to be in adult-run activities all day long. They need their quiet time, as do I. I want us to live a simple, quiet life, and if that means no Girl Scouts and organized sports, that's okay with me. I want my girls to know and walk closely with the Lord, be productive, kind, respectful, and make the most of every day. I don't think being busy makes them productive. They need time to internalize what they are learning and incorporate it into their routines. They need time to think, day dream, remember who they are and recall where they've been and have the chance to dream of where they want to be and do in their future. Because as we've learned during the past seven months, time can move very swiftly.