Thursday, September 26, 2013

A very busy summer

As the title suggests, we've been hugely busy over the last few months. We still are, come to that, but the change of weather and season makes this feel like a good time to take stock.

At the beginning of August we had the Cued Speech Summer Camp in South Devon, which was a fantastic weekend full of inspirational people. I was teaching, so Daniel got lots of lovely time with his daddy and the other children. 

There was a Swiss cuer there for the weekend and I took the opportunity to learn German Cued Speech (ELS) from her. I've wanted to learn for years but never found any resources, and now I have I'm glad I had a real person to teach me. Dr Cornett (inventor of Cued Speech) did devise a German version, but it's never used. Instead, French-speaking Swiss cuers made their own adaptation based on French Cued Speech (LPC). As my French is rudimentary at best and I know very little LPC, I think I would have struggled to 'get' ELS on my own. With Annika's expert help, though, I picked it up very quickly. I've filmed myself cueing Der Grüffelo and just need to finish subtitling it (which requires borrowing my brother's laptop because mine refuses to co-operate) before I send it off to Switzerland to be checked for any glaring errors. Once I'm happy with it, it'll go up on YouTube. Exciting stuff! 

On the last afternoon we had an informal cabaret and I performed a Cued Speech version of Cinderella Rockefella. I've been wanting to do it for a couple of years but couldn't quite manage it until I accidentally discovered that if I reversed hands and used my right for the man's part and my left for the lady's, I could do it. That's also going to be filmed at some point and put on YouTube, so watch this space! 

One of the reasons I really wanted to learn German Cued Speech is that I speak a lot of German to Daniel. I'd really like him to grow up as bilingual as possible; with so many languages in our family, knowing two languages well will make it far easier for him to learn others later if he wants to. As I cue to him a lot in English (keeps me in practice and may help him when it comes to learning to read), it was frustrating me that I couldn't do the same when I spoke to him in German. Since learning ELS I've found that I get less confused cueing in German predominantly with my left hand and in English with my right. I can still swap for dialogue in a story or whatever, but as a general rule it seems to work well, and it may help Daniel distinguish the two languages. 

I'm really interested in bilingual language development in deaf children using Cued Speech, so I'm trying to do some research into it. It's hard going, though, with a laptop that doesn't want to be helpful and a toddler who lives life at a million miles an hour! I'll keep at it and we'll see how it goes. 

During the summer Daniel found a German-speaking family (long story, he stumbled upon them at a pub!) who live locally, and it turned out they are part of a monthly German play group. We've only been to it once, which was just a couple of families at the beach, but it's nice to have a German-speaking environment I can take Daniel to, even if only occasionally, so I'm not the only person he hears speaking German. We've got some of the 'My First Gruffalo' books in German now (the ones we also have in Hebrew and English) and he was rather pleased when he first got them - I think we have a bookworm on our hands!

Over the High Holydays recently we hosted the visiting cantor from Berlin. She's been twice before and stayed with us both times, so she's become a friend of the family. She brought Daniel a huge poster of animals with their German names, and while he was looking at it with her he came out with his first German word - "groh" (groß) accompanying the sign for 'big'! I was very very chuffed! 

That one German word joins a vocabulary of around 20 words and signs that Daniel can now reliably produce. A lot of them are really only comprehensible to those who know him well, but some are pretty clear to anyone. With the signs especially it makes life a whole lot easier! 

Now that he's more mobile and we can communicate more clearly, we're entering the wonderful world of cooking and craft. Painting and glueing are popular, and he loves pulling up a chair and helping in the kitchen. I put my fledgling sewing skills into practice and made him an apron out of an old one of mine:

I have to say, though, that often the 'helping' results in sights like this:

Not sure what it says about me that I took a picture (several, actually) before I rescued him! He's a proper climber now, and I'm run ragged most days saving him from certain death/serious injury and trying to pick up a fraction of the stuff that he seems to feel belongs on the floor. I know that's just what toddlers do, but it is exhausting! Fortunately, dh is brilliant at stepping in when he comes home from work, and takes Daniel to the park or just keeps him occupied for a bit while I have a break. 

The final VERY exciting thing that happened over the summer was that some friends and I set up a group for local families with under-5s who are / are thinking about home educating. We've only been going for about two months but already have around 25 families and we meet almost every week. Sometimes it's just a play meet at someone's house or a park, and other times we do something more specific like a visit to the museum. A couple of weeks ago one of the mums organised a visit to Cricklepit Mill in Exeter. The mill is, I believe, the last working flour mill in the city and they were lovely, lots of staff to engage with the children, and so much to look at. It really worked for all the ages, from the older children who knew that the water made the wheel go round and why, to the younger ones (like Daniel) who just enjoyed feeling the grain and seeing something going round and round.

Last week a few of us met at the museum in Exeter and had a look round part of that. We only did a little bit, but that's fine - it'll still be there next time! What really struck me was the difference between our group and the various school groups who were being herded round. Our kids were able to take their time looking at the things that interested them. In Daniel's case that meant playing on the huge staircase, admiring the stuffed birds (especially the parrot that looks similar to the one living in our road), looking at the microscope that shows a feather up close, trying out the lyre in the dressing up section (he carried that around for ages, and showed it to the Egyptian mummy in its tomb before he finally agreed to put it back!), pointing out ALL the shoes in the costume section, and laughing at the tribal masks. He had a wonderful time and will be delighted when we go again (and clearly remembered a couple of things from the last time we were there, which was some time ago). 

The school children, on the other hand, were being shepherded around in large groups, with one harassed adult to about 10 children. All of them were clutching clipboards, and I remembered well the pressure of having a list of questions, without any clue where you might find the answer or any chance of going back. I also remember being asked to draw certain things, but never being given enough time to do it. They were being pushed round quite fast, with no interaction between adult and children about what they were seeing. On the one occasion that they were given a few minutes to wander, two boys who were completely absorbed in the fossils were harangued - "why is it always my group who never listen?". It was so sad to watch as those children's interest was squashed, disrespected, or not allowed to develop in the first place. I know it's hard getting a group of children round somewhere like that without losing any of them - I've done it. But a decent teacher will still find ways to engage the children rather than bullying them. The kind of approach I witnessed last week is so destructive, and it made me so sad. 

Several of us from the Small Group commented on it and took a little time to enjoy the freedom that we had with our children and to appreciate how much more they were getting out of the visit, even though they were so much younger. One of the many many joys of home ed!