Play Date: Jackie Friedman Mighdoll of Sponge Language School

jackie-mighdoll-croppedEditor’s note: This Q&A is part of a new blog series that profiles some of our community’s most interesting parents and how they live and play.

Meet Jackie Friedman Mighdoll, mom of two, huge proponent of early language and cross-cultural education and founder of Sponge, a Seattle-area language school that focuses on serving young children, the first of its kind on the west coast. Until recently, she and her family lived in Seattle's Leschi neighborhood.

1. Tell us about your family.

My husband, Lee, and I have two boys. Milo is 8 and Emmett is 6. We all love exploring, eating new foods, camping, reading good books, and crazy dancing.

2. What sparked the idea for Sponge?

When I was pregnant with my oldest son, I discovered the amazing work being done by Dr. Pat Kuhl at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences on second language acquisition and infants. I realized that not only did I want my kids to have the opportunity to learn a second language — but that it was important to do it while they were young.

3. What other languages does your family study and speak?

We’re native English speakers who like words and languages, in general. Lee speaks German. My strongest second language is Japanese. I also learned French in Canada, where I grew up. The Sponge teachers have been helping me with my Spanish and Mandarin! The boys have been learning Mandarin, and they are very happy to correct my pronunciation. We’re working on tact.

4. What are some practices in your family that help you cultivate a global perspective?

We keep a framed world map with color pushpins in our kitchen/dining room. It was meant for the boys’ bedroom, but we found that we talk about the world when it’s around. So, now it’s a part of our main room. We pin spots where we’ve been and where our friends are from. It’s a starting point to many conversations — including where we’d like to go someday.

Reading books and listening to music are natural entry points for us to other cultures. Building an understanding at home first gives us a greater appreciation when we’re out in the real world. We love the library for books and YouTube for exploring music.

5. Favorite cross-cultural family outings around Seattle?

We love food and it’s been a wonderful gateway for us into cultural diversity of the city. We like to shop at Uwajimaya. Some of our favorite foods include homemade dumplings at Szechuan Noodle Bowl, fresh tofu at Northwest Tofu, and Ethiopian at Meskel on Cherry.

Seattle also has amazing performances — with both local talent and top-notch international visitors. I love the UW World Series where we’ve seen Chinese acrobats and Japanese drumming (coming again this spring!). The international films at the Children’s Film Festival each year are also so much fun. It’s coming up again in January.

6. Tips on how families can explore other cultures’ holiday traditions?

I think the easiest way to start is by heading to the library. There are great children’s books on many different holidays and cultural traditions. To the kids, it’s perfectly natural to read about holidays -- their own and other people’s. They don’t have many of the predispositions we get as adults. My kids used to take out the Halloween books in February.

Of course, the most meaningful way to explore other cultural tradition is with people who celebrate the holiday, and a quick web search turns up many events that are open to the wider community. I especially love celebrating with people we know. It’s hard to ask to be included in a family’s celebration, but if you invite others to share your important holidays, you just might find yourself invited back.

7. Favorite holiday ritual of your family’s?

As the kids get older, I’ve been thinking even more about rituals. A couple of years ago, I started making one of our Chanukah celebration days about giving globally. The kids explored the catalog and chose to give a part of a camel. They have also chosen to give clean water, too. I also like the holidays to be about extra time together snuggling.

8. What’s on your family adventure list for 2013?

We like to think about a big adventure every few years — and I hope 2013 is it! Right now, we still have votes for four different continents on the table. Now that the kids are older, it’s fun to include them in the decision process and to hear about what they want to see or experience in the world and why.

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