Friday, September 14, 2007

Story Time

In Japan, onechan never really needed or wanted bed-time stories. Sure, she'd have her mom read her books from the library as often as she could get her to, she'd ask me to read her the few books in English we brought from home, and when she was really desperate would get me to read to her in Japanese. But now that we're back in the States, she's really wanted to get back into the bed-time rituals we had established before we left. With some changes.

For one thing, she definitely likes certain stories for their nostalgia value now. Big Sister Dora is a big hit with her, probably because it takes her back to the winter and spring before imoto was born when we were frankly trying to indoctrinate train prepare her for her changing role in the family. Some stories take her even further back in time, like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny (bed time edition). In Japanese, she's gotten even more into this series of stories about two little bear friends, Guri to Gura, which we originally received as a gift from the wife of one of my colleagues and which we now have access to thanks to the library at onechan's UB yochien. Since it's going to take her awhile to figure out how to invent that time machine she's been implicitly asking for lately, narrative will have to do for the time being.

For another, she's into me making up stories at bed time for the first time. These characters I invented several trips ago in Japan based on her and her oldest Japanese cousin, whom I'll call Iki and Ika here, are now doing double duty here. In the past, I told mostly action-adventure or silly stories about Iki and Ika's interactions with her favorite cartoon characters like Dora and the various Pretty Cure superheroes. Now, taking a page from Bill Benzon's Sparkychan and Gojochan, I'm having Iki and Ika go through versions of the problems onechan is going through. So one story has had them discussing how to make new friends in a new place. Another has had them figuring out what to do when a kid at hoikuen is being mean to them.

All this has gotten me thinking about imoto. It's clear that onechan is motivated to develop her English through listening to these stories. But in part because imoto is too young to really understand the shift from a Japanese-saturated environment to an English-saturated one and in part because she's been on this physical rather than verbal kick ever since she figured out how to roll over, I'm not at all confident that she's going to get the idea of using (more) words any time soon. So figuring out how to change her bed-time ritual to get some story time into it is going to be a big deal in the next several months. The problem is that she's so used to going to sleep with her mom in one bed and onechan is so used to going to sleep a little later with me in a different bed (after staggered baths most of the time) that it's going to be difficult to change things around so that I'm reading imoto a story in English before she goes to sleep with her mom. I can see adding a post-bath step, where the tsuma reads to onechan in Japanese while I read to imoto in English and then reversing it to end up with the familiar pre-sleep situation. Shouldn't be too big of a change, given that the current pattern fell into place only in the last two weeks, when it became clear to onechan that imoto is such a bed-hog that it's really difficult for all four of us to sleep together comfortably. But it does mean adding another 10-20 minutes to the process of putting the girls (and, usually, ourselves) down for the night (or in our case, a few hours before heading downstairs to talk and work for a while and then back upstairs to sneak a few hours of sleep together with imoto). Still, imoto's getting close to the age when we started building in regular bed-time storytelling to onechan's good night ritual, so it's going to have to happen sooner or later....

[Update (9/16/07): Thanks to Uncle Bill Benzon, I can point you toward this new University of Waterloo psychology study on very young children and stories!]

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