Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Globetrotting with a child

Welcome back to our expert series. This week were talking to a mom who has been "in the trenches" so to speak when it comes to traveling with a child. A single mother who has been on planes, trains, boats, and automobiles with her son since he was an infant, Gabriela Rives shares her thoughts on traveling with a child even if you're doing it solo. And every week we'll cover topics that will enrich and enhance your travel experience. I'll be featuring experts and parents sharing their best tips and advice with you.  Please come back every week and share these posts through your Facebook, Twitter and other social media and with friends. If you've missed any so far here are the links: Picture tips, Travel with Cloth, Music as travel prep, and Prepping for illness while traveling with kids. Happy Travels!

Personally my husband is the super organized one and the mere thought of taking a longer trip with my toddler without his preparation and help sends chills down my spine but as Gabby explains, "Sometimes, necessity makes you do things that you never thought you would be able to do".

Q: Gabriela, I know you and your son are quite the globetrotters what are some of the locations you've been to?
 A: All over the United States, Mexico and France.
Q: Traveling with a child (especially a young child) can be daunting and frustrating for parents.  How have you managed travel with your son?
A: Every trip teaches me something new. I try to organize myself in advance taking into consideration my child's needs. I prepare a checklist with those things that are absolutely necessary for both of us, for him and for me. I also calculate the time we will spend to reach our destiny and how my child will be entertained during that time; if there will be meals and drinks available and how the weather there has been. I make it a point to check in advance as to what kind of traveling documents will be required for that given trip.  
Usually, I carry two to three pieces of luggage. One has both of our general stuff. The second piece is a carry-on with our essentials, in case something happens (you never know). And of course, I am the one in charge of our traveling documents. I added a third piece later when my son was old enough to carry his own things in a carry-on appropriate for his age and height.
Q: Have you ever traveled solo with him?  If so how was that different (better or worse) than when traveling with a partner or other adult?
 A: As a single mom, I have traveled alone with my son many times. I think that the main difference is that you, as the adult, are responsible for the child. And it is important that you keep their interests and needs in mind too. You have to look for things that will make the trip memorable for both of you. For example, when we went to France, we visited the Louvre but we also went to Euro-Disney.
Q: What has been one of the most challenging situations you found yourself in while traveling related to him?
A: These days, it's very easy to travel with an infant or a child. Most airlines, for instance, show you some considerations. You can pre-board and have some extra time to accommodate everything. Sometimes our children are in a non-traveling mood, however. That's when the real challenge starts. Everybody expects you to keep them quiet and busy, but there are times when that is extremely difficult, if not impossible. And yes, you will get that "disapproving look" and you will have to live with it.
Also, knowing what you need to pack is not easy. Everybody will tell you what they believe is a must but, if you follow everybody's advice, you will travel with the whole house!! In the end, you have to decide what is a "must" for you. For instance, I never travel without my son's favorite toy or his favorite book.
Q: Sometimes people travel out of need and other times for learning or pleasure.  In my opinion all travel can be for pleasure even with kids.  What are your thoughts on this and why?
 A: I think, regardless of the reason for your trips, they are always a great experience. Children have a different view than an adult and it is amazing how much you can enjoy a trip by just trying to see it through your child's eyes. Every single trip will teach you different things and will broaden your child's horizons.
Q: Can you share a bit about some or one of your most memorable trips with him?
 A: All my trips with my son have engraved different memories in me that I enjoy 'till today. Maybe one of the best memories was the day we visited the Eiffel Tower. I was amazed by the beauty of it while my son was fascinated by the hundreds of pigeons underneath the Tower; it was great to see the joy in his face!
Q: What kinds of things would you recommend a traveling parent do to prepare for a trip?
1. Every time we are going on a trip, I always ask myself and anybody in my party: "What is that one thing you have to do or see on this trip that will make it all worthwhile?"
2. Never forget to check for things that are child-friendly at your destination. This includes hotels, tours, restaurants, parks, etc.
3. Make sure you have the needed traveling documents and that you have followed the security screening regulations; i.e. amount of milk/milk powder allowed, types of toys, etc.
4. Confirm if and how your health insurance covers any emergency care at the place you're visiting.
5. Make a list of the things you need to pack. These days it's easy to get many of the things you need after you've arrived.
Q: When you traveled internationally did you have to worry about special permits, visas, etc. for you and him?  Did you ever travel internationally solo and if so, did you have to bring proof that you could take him with you (like a letter from his father)
A: Yes. Every country has its own rules and you must follow them. For instance, before my child had a passport, I needed a notarized authorization from my son's dad to be able to take him out of the country, and my ex lived in a different city so we needed to make pre-arrangements to comply with this requirement. And yet today, even when my son and I have passports, I still travel with the authorization and my child's birth certificate, just in case.
Also, due to my line of work, I know that if you have an adopted child and you haven't finalized your adoption or you haven't gotten your baby's birth certificate or social security number, you must ask your adoption agency what are the steps and requirements to travel abroad.
Q: Did either one of you ever get sick or hurt while traveling?  If so where and how did you make it through the ordeal?
 A: A sick child is always a struggle so imagine if you are traveling! I have been lucky because my son has gotten sick just on one of our trips, and once I gave him the medicine I had brought with us, he was perfectly fine and we could enjoy the trip. I always double-check our insurance coverage and that I have the contact information for a doctor or a hospital.
Q: Do you have any favorite gear when traveling?  When he was younger how did you mange the car seat, stroller, luggage, etc.?  
A: During the first trips, I used to take everything and I felt like such a hog!! After the third trip, I realized that I could make it just with a stroller, and that the rest I could rent or borrow or buy wherever I was going.
Q: What do you miss about traveling with him as a baby/toddler and what do you most enjoy now that he is older?
 A: There are so many perks when traveling with your infant/toddler child! It's cheaper, you can pre-board, everybody treats you nicely. As your child gets older, obviously those things will change but the experience of traveling together will get better in other ways. For starters, now your child can get more involved in the trip and the place where you are going. You can start planning together! I love to hear my son talking about when we went here or there...!
Q: What advice would you give to parents who are leery of travel with kids?
 A: Don't be! Just go for it! Traveling opens your child's mind and gives you the opportunity to bond with your child in ways that you can never imagine. It is an adventure that you both live together, and you will share always. 

Gabriela Rives is a jack-of-many-trades. Born in Mexico City she has more than 15 years of experience working in various roles as an editor, translator, creative writer, art director and creative director. Gabriela served as the creative director for The Cartel Group where she created and directed English and Spanish strategic creative campaigns for clients such as the U.S. Army, Dickies, JCPenney, Nextel-Sprint and Capital One to name a few and won numerous industry awards. She has also served as the CEO of an Adoption Agency for several years and currently is the Director of a Translations and Marketing agency in San Antonio, TX. She is a divorced-single mom to Gabriel, 9 years old, and also owns an online gift basket store La Bella Baskets that helps single moms.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Traveling with Kids- The Expert Series

As summer approaches the travel bug comes with it… maybe because if you have school-aged children this is the best time to travel or maybe because warm weather and sunshine call our names. Whatever the reason traveling is enriching in so many ways for both your children and you but the “task” of travel can seem overwhelming especially if you have children. This welled up feeling of anxiety that creeps into our beings as parents as we prepare for travel inspired me to go outside my own expertise and share other’s advice. The expert series featured here the last few weeks came to an unexpected halt as some of my experts encountered challenges but the response was so positive to the four posts that it is my intention to revive the series next week. Please stay tuned for more great posts on traveling with kids. In the meantime read and share these travel wisdom nuggets and get ready to start your journeys! Picture tips, Travel with Cloth, Music as travel prep, and Prepping for illness while traveling with kids. Happy Travels!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rockin Green Giveaway Thanks

Just wanted to thank all of you who participated in our first blog giveaway. Mary Michaud was our winner and will receive a bag of the Lavender Mint Revival in Hard Rock! Congrats to her and to all of you who commented on our blog. Although there could only be one winner I will be emailing or contacting each of you who participated to provide you a 10% coupon towards a Rockin' Green purchase of $13.95 or more. These are unique one time use codes so we hope you'll put them to good use. Please continue to share your love of Rockin' Green and we'd appreciate if you tell others that it can also be purchased at My Tots Travel. Happy Travels and thanks for participating! Check back next week for more expert travel advice on traveling with kids or visit our other blog posts for great advice: Picture tips, Travel with Cloth  Music as travel prep, and Prepping for illness while traveling with kids.  Happy Travels!

Happy Heinys giveaway!

Making your way in social media can be challenging when starting out so our friends over at Happy Heinys need a hand. They recently hit the 1000 fan mark on the Happy Heinys Facebook page and now they want to do it on Twitter! They only need around a few more twitter followers to reach 1000 and I'm sure they we can do it by the end of this week....maybe by the end of the DAY! Want to help them get there??? You have a chance to win goodies for your efforts! :)

Once they hit 1000 followers on Twitter we will be giving away 6 Happy Heinys Pocket Diapers to a random tweeter that tweets during the contest period. What does that mean? Well you must be tweeting today and (if the contest runs into tomorrow)....tomorrow, to win. Of course what better way to keep those Happy Heinys clean and absorbent? Rockin Green Cloth Diaper Detergent...there's a formula for your type of water AND lots of yummy scents! You can now buy it at My Tots Travel!
So how do you win the diapers??? Tweet away! The more you tweet, the better your chances of winning. Each tweet counts as ONE ENTRY so you can tweet as many times as you wish to increase your chances of winning.
  1. Follow Happy Heinys on twitter www.twitter.com/happyheinys
  2. Tweet about our giveaway on Twitter after you follow us. Use #clothdiapers #giveaway @happyheinys
  3. Post our giveaway on YOUR blog and tweet about it. Be sure to include #clothdiapers #giveaway @happyheinys in your tweets.
Good luck today! Once they hit 1000 Twitter followers, they will select a winner shortly afterwards. Have fun with it. They LOVE reading all the tweets!

Friday, May 21, 2010

What a mother will do

When it comes to her kids a mother will do almost anything to help and protect them.  This need to provide has inspired many a mom (or dad) to find a better way or invent a better thing when it comes to their child.  For Kim from Rockin’ Green this was the case when she encountered a VERY sensitive / allergic child who she was cloth diapering.  Faced with a need to clean his diapers and nothing on the market that didn’t affect him she just came up with her own detergent and that started to Rock the Cloth Diaper world!

I have a child I had not been cloth diapering until we started potty training so I was not familiar with the detergent or special needs cloth diapers have.  Now that I was however, I needed to find a detergent that would work well on my trainers / diapers and so I came across Rockin’ Green and fell in love!  It is now the ONLY detergent that I use and because I loved it so much I added it to our online store.  Detergent? You ask.  On a travel with kids website?  Yes!  And here’s why-

What you may not know: 

r   You can use it on ALL your washable clothes

r   It is not only good for your clothes & kids but good for the environment

r   It comes in a super convenient sample size that is perfect for short travel

r   Its regular size is also easy to travel with as it is a powder that comes in a re-sealable bag

r   Works in HE and regular washing machines

r   Performs as well in cold, warm or hot water

r    Using it to soak your clothes washed in other detergents gets the residues & yuckies out

r   It comes in three formulas to work in any water type: soft rock, classic rock, and hard rock

So it was a natural fit!  If a parent is traveling with a child, carrying a sample size pack of Rockin’ Green is a great way to be prepared for little wash emergencies whether it be in a hotel room, a river, or a Laundromat AND if the travel will be extended washing clothes is a great way to cut on cost of too many bags or bags that are too heavy.

Of course if you’re a cloth diapering family and will be traveling (because I hear those crunchy types travel too!!! lol) you’d need a detergent to take with you. Overall this detergent made sense.  It works and it’s good for the environment so no matter where you travel  you can have a formula that will work well with that water type and be safe for all.

So now for the good part… a freebie… a give away… a rose by any other name still smells as sweet..!

Help us spread the word that we are carrying Rockin’ Green.  My Tots Travel is giving away a full size bag of Rockin’ Green in the sent of your choice from our available inventory to one lucky My Tot Travels Blog WINNER!

Rules (Comment separately here, 1 entry for each):

1.  Visit the My Tots Travel website and comment with either a favorite product or a product you’d like to see added to the site
2.  Follow My Tots Travel on Facebook.
3.  Subscribe to this blog’s RSS Feed or Follow with Google (see box on right towards top).
4.  Follow Visit San Antonio on Twitter
5.  Follow My Tots Travel on Twitter.
6.  Follow Visit San Antonio on Facebook.
7.  Share the link on Facebook.  If you visit our page & see the post on our wall just click SHARE.
8. Tweet about this giveaway – You can now find Rockin' Green at @mytotstravel & this wk u can win a full size bag http://ht.ly/1OnHr

  Winner will be chosen using Random.org. Make sure to actually do the things above & not just comment about them as the wining comment number will be verified as having done what was commented on.

Giveaway ends Thursday, May 27th at 6:00pm CST and is open to US residents only.

Good luck!  And Happy Friday!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's a Social Parade!

Kids, Travel, Gardens, Social Parades and Other Posts!!
Almost in order-

Other posts: PLEASE... take a look at the past 4 posts... these are from guest expert bloggers that offer great advice when traveling with kids.  If you don't have kids yourself it's still great info to pass on to anyone who does... Here are the links: Picture tips, Travel with Cloth, Music as travel prep, Dealing with Accidents/illness while traveling.  Happy Travels!

Kids:  I can't believe my daughter is already 2 yrs old and almost 3 months.  I also realized a few of my freinds children are turing 1 in the next day or so and I started reminising.  I wish my little one was still tiny but she is now a full fledged toddler full of independance (although that started way early) and spunk.  How blessed is a mother to see her children grow!  So to all the mom's out there celebrating that first big birthday (well other than the actuall day of birth) CONGRATS!  May you live to experience and enjoy 100 more.

Travel: My husband is having a big birthday in Nov. and we want to celebrate with a trip... not a big deal expect that in addition to now traveling with toddler in tow it has to be a place that would offer something for all of us.  We have been contemplating a Disney Cruise.  Any thoughts?  If anyone has some recommendations we'd love to hear them.  We've never cruised before but we are trying to find something fun for a 2 yr old, and two adults plus some grandparents maybe and an aunt & uncle or two.  Love to hear your suggestions.

Gardens: This morning my toddler had peas for breakfast... yes you read right...PEAS!  But these were not any Peas... these were our own, organicly grown, just picked PEAS from our garden.  Actually she was still asleep when I picked them but when she woke up I took her over to the bowl and showed her the pods she had been seeing in the garden.  She was so excited!  She helped me shell them (mashing a few) and then asked if she could eat them.  Well what's a mom to say OF COURSE!  I thought it was a little wired for breakfast but really they are sweet so why not.  I added a little SmartBalance butter and a tiny sprinkle of salt and microwaved them for 45 seconds.  Cooled them off a bit and then she gobbled up spoon after spoon till they were all gone (a little less than half a cup).  She fed herself and kept saying... rico rico (yummy yummy in spanish since we are working with her on using more spanish in her conversations).  We also picked green beans which she loves so I will cook these a bit tonight and we will have them for dinner... way too many for her to eat alone so mom and dad will have to help.  We still have Cherry tomatos, carrots, and zuchini that we are waiting for... hope these are just as good as our first crop. 

Social Parade: Recently I came across blog hops or linky parties.  I have found some really cool new blogs this way and made some new friends all the while increasing the number of followers to my blog.  I can't recommend it highly enough so instead I thought it was time to participate in my own to show how much I appreciate and like these.    See the info below for deatils if you'd like to participate and if you're here form the Wednesday Link-up I just want to say thanks and hope you enjoy the Blog... Here is the link to our Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/mytotstravel

It's a Social Parade - Wednesday Link-up is a weekly link-up hosted by Smart and Trendy Moms . We created it for socializing and to get new followers, fans, subscribers, readers without feeling overwhelmed. Every week will be a new link-up that will focus on one of the ways you connect with people through your blog! We will rotate through gaining followers, fans, Networked blogs and more. Link-up and focus on one thing at a time. Its about fun one follower,fan and reader at a time!
Grab the link-up button and post It's a Social Parade!! Wednesday Link-up. Every Wednesday a new linky will be posted with that weeks exchange info.

This week is Fan-Page Round Up!!

And don't worry you do not have to carry this button or any button of ours on your side bars. Your blog sidebars are great real estate and we respect that : ) The button needs to be posted in your participation post only.
How it works
Smart and Trendy Moms

To participate:

•Follow the blog in the first spots FanPage. I will follow all on the linky! All blogs participating must post about Social Parade and have a link in their POST to their fan page.

•Link-up your blog post for "It's a Social Parade" that you made on your blog. This week you need to include your fanpage link in the post for others to Like/Fan you back.

•Follow as many as you like commenting on their POST as you do so they can follow back!

•If you do not make a post and link that up, it is unlikely that someone will search around for a post to comment on.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Be prepared to deal with illness/ accidents when traveling with kids

Welcome to the fourth blog on the travel with children series written by experts. Join us every Tuesday when a new topic and expert will be featured. This week we're discussing how to deal with illness or medical emergencies while traveling with kids and every week we'll cover topics that will enrich and enhance your travel experience. I'll be featuring experts and parents sharing their best tips and advice with you.  Please come back every week and share these posts through your Facebook, Twitter and other social media and with friends.  If you missed any so far here are the links: Picture tips, Travel with Clothand Music as travel prep.  Happy Travels!
During a recent visit to a Matador Network blog, thetravelersnotebook.com,I came across a doctor who was providing tips on how to handle medical emergencies when traveling. It occurred to me then that I had NEVER planed for a medical emergency while traveling and although I was not “adventure” traveling I was just fortunate that I hadn’t had any incidents. That said, it is one thing to risk things for oneself but another to risk them when it comes to your kids and although I have been on several trips out of the country with my daughter (who was an infant & now toddler at travel time) I don’t think I had adequately planned in case she got sick. How scary! Of course the very first bit of advice would be to consult with your pediatrician BEFORE travel to discuss location and any precautions you should take, but then what? I needed advice for me and to share.

So what did I do?  I contacted Dr. McLaughlin immediately (the doctor who had written the blog I read) and asked if he’d contribute to this blog focusing on how to prepare for medical emergencies or illnesses when traveling with kids.  Fortunately he agreed.  Not only is he an MD but he is also an“adventure traveler” and is regularly hired as the doctor who travels with expeditions or who is on site for medical purposes during other ypes of travel.  Talk about personal xperience!!! No, he is not a pediatrician but he is a traveler and can offer 1st hand advice on how to be prepared to deal with illness or emergencies when in a foreign country.  visit his site for more travel info regarding adults, vaccines,business travel, etc.  It’s a wealth of info that will keep you healthy on your travels.

Dealing with Illness or Emergencies
while Traveling with Kids

Taking your kids with you on your adventures can help you in later life.  Infecting kids with the travel bug not only allows you to share your adventures but can benefit the parents in other ways.   This is especially true when you are trying to explain to them why you spent their inheritance on your round- the-world tickets to celebrate retirement!

But laughter aside, safe travels with your kids require a bit of pre-planning and a "child specific" first aid kit. Of course, like all other things involving kids a healthy dose of patience will also get you very far. Keep in mind that children are not "little adults" and that they have very specific differences, especially when it comes to healthcare,that you have to be mindful of.  From dosages and tools to administer the correct doses to specific illnesses that, although very minor for adults, can wreak serious havoc on a child, keeping them healthy in a foreign land requires preparation.

Pre-Trip Preparation
Finding a decent English-speaking doctor at 10pm on a Saturday night, with a feverish and crying child in the background, in a foreign land can be a difficult and nerve racking experience. So the pre-trip phase is when the majority of planning should be done.  You can easily research from the comfort and ease of your home to plan for basic emergencies on the road.  A few very good websites list approved and English-speaking physicians and they should be visited prior to your trip. 

r  The International Society of Travel Medicine http://www.istm.org/ has a listing of travel medicine clinics in over 65 countries.  These clinics provide services to travelers, including vaccines and assessments of sick travelers.  They are English speaking and are a great resource to have a medical contact in the country you are traveling in.  This can be your "foot in the door" to the foreign country's medical system, should you need one.

r  The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers http://www.iamat.org/index.cfmis an organization that has been helping travelers for over 50 years with their medical problems. A very comprehensive clinic list is maintained by their organization and is available on their website.  These clinics also list languages that are spoken by their healthcare providers.

r   Medical repatriation insurance is another option to explore.  This is simply a medical insurance plan to get you back to your home country in the event of a major illness or injury occurring abroad. There are many providers that offer these services and depending on your location of travel, might be something to look into.  Travelers headed to more developed areas of the world where medical standards are similar to your home country may not
always need this service.  Travel to areas of the world in remote locations, under-developed medical services or questionable medical equipment are cause to consider getting this coverage. 

Additionally, knowing your itinerary and carrying a list of medical clinic contacts with you will help out a lot in the event that you need to seek medical care while traveling.

Preparing a "kid friendly" medical kit should also be done at home, before you depart.  Although the basics such as antibiotic ointment and bandages don’t really differ from child to adult there are specifics that do and that you need to make sure to carry with you on all trips.  This kit should include medications with child specific dosages and appropriate syringe or measure to administer the correct amount:

r    Pain and fever reducers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

r    Allergy medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl),Cetirizine (Zyrtec)or Loratadine (Claritin)

r    Electrolyte replacements such as Pedialyte or Ceralyte are excellent options and can be carried in either liquid of powdered form.  This simple method of orally replacing hydration can go a long way in keeping a small problem from becoming a true emergency. 

All medication should be carried and kept in their original boxes if possible, to help with dosing or ensure that the dosing instructions are clear and easily available on the medication itself.  Children's doses are available over the counter.

Keep in mind that trauma is still the leading cause of medical problems travelers face on international adventures.  Motor vehicle accidents are very high on this list of causes.  Often times, the standard protocols for trauma patients include starting a simple IV to have access to giving medicines.  This is rarely a problem in modern countries that use good and sterile equipment to start these IVs.  However, some of the more resource poor countries reuse their medical supplies.  This means that the patient is unknowingly "sharing needles" with who knows! There are several commercially available kits that include basic IV starting materials especially geared for children.  These kits are prepackaged and meant to be carried by the traveler, in the field. In the event that medical personnel arrive to the scene of the injury or the child is taken to the hospital, the parent simply requests that their prepackaged and sterile IV kit be used instead of the hospital's. 

On the road
Once you are on the road make sure to identify a local pharmacy as soon as possible so that you are not searching for one should a need arise.  Your hotel front desk is often a great resource in finding the nearest pharmacy to your room.  Local pharmacies in most other parts of the world are not the same as the one down the street here in America.  Often times, the local pharmacist has the ability to prescribe basic medications including antibiotics.  They can also assist with basic diagnosis of the illness and references and directions to the local hospitals. 

Another huge factor to securing adequate health care in an emergency is the language barrier.  I may be able to order a great sandwich or beer in the local language but can I say that my child has had a fever for three days, vomiting for one day with out blood in the vomit and is also tugging on their ear.  This is vital information a doctor will want to know.  A decent phrase book will often have a small section on medical terms and this should be carried in the first aid kit, as well. 

Travel with your kids can be an incredibly rewarding experience!  I am especially grateful that my parents took the time to bring me on their adventures. A bit of preplanning and a decent first aid kit will go a long way in making sure that trip is a wonderful experience of fun and adventure, not a story of "remember when I got sick in______!?!?"

Erik McLaughlin MD, MPH

Erik is a licensed physician who specializes in travel and expedition medicine. Prior to becoming a doctor, he was a professional outdoor athlete and has enjoyed adventures all over the world. In addition to his medical degree, Erik has completed a Master's of Public Health in International Health and a Diploma in Travel and Tropical Medicine. He is an active member of the Wilderness Medical Society and the International Society of Travel Medicine. When he is not working at the Adventure Doc Clinic he can be found practicing emergency medicine in Southern Arizona. On his days off, he enjoys mountain biking, trail running / hiking, climbing and kayaking with his wife Katerina.

Print it in Moleskine MSK format

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Prepping for Travel Through Music

Welcome to the third blog on the travel with children series written by experts. Join us every Tuesday when a new topic and expert will be featured. This week we're discussing how to use music as a travel and language prep tool and every week we'll cover topics that will enrich and enhance your travel experience. I'll be featuring experts and parents sharing their best tips and advice with you. Please come back every week and share these posts through your Facebook, Twitter and other social media and with friends. If you missed any so far here are the links: Picture tips, Travel with Cloth . Happy Travels!
I grew up in a bilingual family but we only spoke the minority language at home. My parents are native speakers and always found opportunities for us to travel and use our second language as often as possible. Now I have a child of my own and although I’m bilingual, sometimes I find I use English more than Spanish at home. This is simply because that is the language I’m using all day at work so making the switch isn’t always automatic but we TRY hard to speak it and involve our child not just in the language but culture of our heritage.

One recent way we tried was by celebrating her second birthday in Monterrey, MX with family who still lives there. Mostly my cousins and their kids who although older than my daughter are still young enough to get excited about a birthday party. In preparation, we started singing Las Mañanitas at every birthday celebration we could to familiarize our daughter with the song. We also taught her the Piñata Song and other basic games with songs that kids might play with her. Keeping in mind that she wasn’t even two yet we practiced words like: agua, leche, ayuda, and most importantly- GRACIAS… because everyone likes a grateful child. The actual time we spent there was a lot of fun and a huge success form the language learning perspective. Not only did she feel part of the fun knowing the words to every song and game but she also managed to pick up a few new words from her interactions with the other kids.

In my search to find materials that can help us keep up the language learning at all times I came across Sing-a-lingo and loved the material so much that I contacted owner Piña Madera about contributing to our blog series of experts. As a mother and a musician Piña (along with her husband Michael who is also a bilingual musician) found herself using song to narrate everyday activities. Seriously, could there be a better way to learn a language? Make sure to visit their site... not only do they have a CD but you can also download the music as an MP3 AND they offer other Learning Kits with the music and additional materials.

  Turn up the Tunes for Travel

Got a trip planned with kids to a non-English speaking destination? Turn UP the tunes (and stories) to get them to turn DOWN the whining and non-stop arrival time interrogations—while also sneaking in some language learning they’ll use when you finally announce: “We’re here!”

Getting there is hard on kids. And it makes sense if you think about it. The opportunities for complaining are endless…Whether you’re going by car, plane, bus or camel, something is going to stink. Too much carrying stuff that’s too heavy, too much sitting still, too much waiting in lines to wait in other lines, and too much camel spit on your shoes.

What kids need at times like these is a notion that they’re in control of something, however flimsy that illusion may be.

For our 5 and 7 year olds, it’s controlling a pack of gum (no kidding) and their own MP3 players.

The gum works wonders because my kids live sugar-deprived lives, and the mere act of handing a whole pack over to eat AT WILL stuns them silent.

The MP3 player, however, is pure genius. It’s a fun gizmo that they can control, keeps them distracted from the hardships of travel, and is a rich opportunity for language learning!
It’s also possible to get a splitter for your headphones and share the device between 2 kids.

As part of the packing, I let them browse for a handful of songs from our iTunes library, leaving ample giga- and brain-space for my language-teaching tunes and stories. They don’t know this plan, though, so keep it under your hat.

Our device also plays video, and I limit video to only educational shows—you might do this differently. But I know that my videos would NEVER be viewed because anything with Darth Maul trumps Plaza Sesamo or Pocoyo anyday. Do set up an incentive, because hunting down great material that never gets seen will earn you some complaining of your own.

Great materials for kids can be found online. I’ve listed some qualities of good songs, stories and shows to teach language, and below that are links to sites to browse.

Good songs have these qualities:
          1. Upbeat, fun, enjoyable
          2. Short, simple
          3. Pleasant repetition of useful phrases
          4. Uses limited, manageable appropriate language
          5. Uses rhyming
          6. Sung by native Spanish speakers

Here is an iMix that I made of songs that my family enjoys. Browse these songs—you might settle on some favorites and search out their albums.

A few links for browsing for songs:

Full disclosure: this is my company. We’ve written songs to help young people learn language. Award-winning, original songs about everyday life. Songs meet the above requirements. http://www.singalingo.com/  

Traditional songs – some recordings are amateur, but might trigger your own memories if you grew up Latino. http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=sc&p=285&c=50

A collection of traditional songs. http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/projects/ninos/songsrhymes.html#arroz

The king of school-aged kids songs! http://www.joseluisorozco.com/music.php

A catalog of downloads and CDs—not all are sung by native speakers, which we think is important. Listen carefully before buying. http://www.songsforteaching.com/store/spanish-c-869.html  Stories and videos should be short, using clear language at your child’s level. Lean toward selecting too easy materials if you’re not sure.

Story suggestions:
Cody’s Cuentos http://www.codyscuentos.com/

Enter the search term “cuentos” into iTunes for many podcasts for kids in Spanish

Video suggestions:
Plaza Sesamo is Sesame Street intended for native Spanish speakers, so it’s a little fast and uses some complicated language. My kids don’t understand every word, but they get the gist. The bright visuals help. Episodes can be purchased from iTunes.

Pocoyo is a sweet animated show from Spain entirely in Spanish that uses simple language, and gives opportunities for the audience to speak. I have not found where to download them, but see that DVD’s are available on Amazon. Select Spanish when viewing the DVD. Viewable at YouTube, too. http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=pocoyo+en+espa%C3%B1ol&aq=0

There are so many more ideas and resources to research and discover, but this might get you started…and might simultaneously reduce complaining while upping the learning on your next big trip!

Piña Madera, founder of Sing-a-lingo
Piña has worked as an educator since 1987 – Montessori, piano teacher, ESL textbook editor, curriculum developer, teacher. She is also invested in teaching Spanish to her own kids (ages 5 & 7). It is her Mexican mother’s language — Piña was raised bilingual. She wrote all the original songs on their 1st CD ‘En MiCasa’ and that’s her voice and piano playing you hear in all the songs.