Expat parenting in Curitiba


Part of the thing about raising a kid to be bilingual is that it often involves at least one of the parents living in a different country.  So not only are there the normal problems (and opportunities?) associated with raising a family, but there are also language and cultural problems for the parent or parents.

In my case I am the parent who is dealing with all the excitement of living in a different place.  Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing a little bit about what it is like to be a foreign parent living in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil.  There will be a few rants as I give vent to some stuff that really gets on my nerves, but hopefully I will also be able to reflect on the positive side of living in this city.

Before I get in to all that, it might be worthwhile giving a bit of my background to try to put things into context.

I first came to Curitiba about 14 years ago to teach English at a small school called Liberty.  Prior to that, I had taught English in both Poland and Taiwan.  Towards the end of my contract here I met a girl who, many years later, I ended up marrying.  Between meeting her and marrying her we lived in the UK and Curitiba.  She also had a spell of nearly 2 years working for the OAS in Washington D.C.  During that time I also managed to pass my Trinity College Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and get an MA in Linguistics from The University of Birmingham.

When we got married we decided to live in Curitiba, but soon after she got a job in Rio de Janeiro and we spent almost 5 years there, working and partying and generally having a good time.  At least I had a good time because my wife hated the heat and chaotic nature of Rio.

When my wife got pregnant we decided it would be much better to come to live in Curitiba for free babysitting and because the cost of living is so much cheaper than in Rio.  There is also a belief that Curitiba is safer than Rio, although I am not sure I agree with this idea.

So, about 18 months ago we came back to Curitiba and then the little bundle of joy that is Thomas arrived. And then my life changed irrevocably, and I won’t say if it changed for the better or worse.

We’re Not Sleepy

We're not sleepy2

Image: Amazon.co.uk

On the OUP site for this book it says that it is appropriate for kids from the ages of 2-5.  Thomas is still only 18 months old, and this probably explains why he likes the book, but doesn’t love it yet.

It is written by Joanne Partis as a counting book.  The three kittens can’t sleep and so their mother sends them out to count sheep.  In order to do this, though, they have to search the whole farm where they live.  First of all they find one shaggy sheepdog, then two munching cows until finally they fall asleep surrounded by 10 sheep.  Although they don’t find the sheep, on each page there is a sheep that his hiding somewhere.

The book is beautifully drawn and it is this that attracts Thomas.  The content is still a bit old for him as he isn’t counting yet, and he seems to be unaware that he has to find the sheep on each page.  He is, though, more than happy to sit with me while I read it to him and make all of the noises for the animals.  I think that, in a few months, it will be one of his favourites.

Smile, Crocodile Smile

Smile Crocodile

Image: Amazon.co.uk

This book has been knocking around Thomas’ room for quite a while now without actually being read.  It is a pity, because as soon as it was opened it became a hit.  It is written by An Vrombaut and published by Oxford University Press.  It is a very simple concept; Clarabella the crocodile has to brush her teeth all day long while all of her friends are off playing and having a good time.  By the time she has finished brushing and brushing and brushing her teeth, it’s time to go to bed again, until her friends come up with a surprise plan to help Clarabella out.

The colours used in this book grabbed Tomas’ attention, and the characters are very well drawn.  The pages with Clarabella particularly fascinate Thomas.  There is also an attention to detail that seems to be important for small kids as they try to look at everything on the page. In this case, Thomas always seems drawn to Clarabella’s teeth and the image of her in the small mirror.

The sentences are just the right length for a kid of 18 months, and there is some playful use of sounds so that Thomas likes to hear the story.  The book is just the right length as well; not too short to be read in no time, but no too long for Thomas to get bored or fidgety.

According to the author’s site, she has done lots of animation work for the BBC and Disney Junior, as well as a number of other books.  The next time I am back in the UK I will certainly try to find another one of her books.

Baby Touch: Snuggle Book

Snuggle Book

Image: Amazon.co.uk

I don’t know where we got this book from.  I have a feeling my brother bought it on one of his forays into charity bookshops.  Wherever it came from though, from the age of about 2-9 months, this was Thomas’ favourite book.

It is a Ladybird cloth book with something like cellophane inside so that when you touch the pages it makes a noise.  This was an immediate attraction for Thomas.  Each page has one big bright picture on it with the a short two-word description e.g. orange teddy or woolly sheep.  Every two pages there is the image has a different material to provide a tactile experience.  Thomas’ favourite page was the woolly sheep because the body of the sheep is made up of wool.

While I will eventual give away a lot of the books that Thomas had when he was a baby, this is one book that will be staying with us to remind us of the early days.  He used to just sit with it for what seemed like hours, obsessed with the noise, the colours and feel of the pages.  I am convinced that one of the reasons he is so comfortable around book nowadays is the positive experience he got from this book in his first few months.  It also gave us one of my favourite photos of him.