Category Game in Mandarin


We get a lot of our Chinese through our au pair — a lovely, patient woman who helps us get ready in the morning, but also facilitates all of the Mandarin games that I create. However, as the kids get older, we have less and less time for Chinese as school, lacrosse gymnastics and water polo (and the list goes on) take over our available hours. As a result, we realized that the kids know breakfast vocabulary really well (“Take another bite”)  and some great nagging vocabulary (“Put away your backpack”), but outside of those limited phrases, the kids are starting to lose other words (how often does “octopus”, come into daily conversation?)

The solution? The Category Game! 

My kids created lists based on categories (things that are yellow or kinds of dessert) and made them for each other to guess. We did English, character and pinyin versions for each of the lists. By the end, the kids expanded their vocabulary in topics that don’t come up often in our lives!

We will continue to add to our category game when water polo season is over, but for now, here are a few for your family to enjoy!

screen shot of category Game


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Filed Under: Chinese, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling

Cool New Mandarin DVDs for Kids

New DVDs for kids in Mandarin
New DVDs for kids in Mandarin

The top items on my daughter’s Christmas list this year are new Mandarin DVDs! We go on a lot of long car rides all over California and the new DVDs that the elf brought last year are just not cutting it this year! Newly released DVDs in Mandarin are coming out much sooner than in previous years.  In the past, we would have to wait YEARS for a Western DVD movie to be released with Mandarin subtitles, but now, the wait is over! (Well… not totally over, but much better than before!)

How do you play the Mandarin DVDs? Unfortunately, most of the DVDs in Mandarin need to a region-free DVD player to play them — that said — region-free DVD players are NOT expensive and well worth the cost ! We have converted all of the DVD players in our house to region-free because, for us, the kids get SO much benefit from them. Check out my post here about how we use TV to augment their language acquisition. Just imagine all of the Mandarin words they pick up from just watching Minions!

 Did you know that you can install a region-free DVD player in your car? Check out our post here for details about how we did it. Not willing to fork over the cashola just yet for a DVD player in your car? Get a region-free portable DVD player that you can take with you anywhere — your hotel room, your car or even your couch at home!

Check out these new releases for your Christmas stocking!

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Filed Under: Homeschooling, Product Reviews, TV as a Tool, Uncategorized

Children Teach a Second Language

Lucas Chinese Lesson Plan There is no better way to learn anything than by teaching it. Have your child start a business by teaching other kids how to speak your second language.
I feel as if the same thing is happening with my son’s blossoming interest in studying Chinese. He now thinks that learning Chinese is useful and valuable. A skill.  Before this year, Chinese was just something that we did in the home, but did not have a translatable purpose.
Lucas Chinese tutoring with Rush HourLucas’ desire to build his Pokeman card collection has inspired his interest to tutor in Mandarin! He came up with the idea himself and wrote the website himself!
Perhaps your kiddos can use their second language skills to teach other kids! If your child is just starting out, perhaps have your child teach a younger sibling or a younger neighborhood kid for a few business-book-for-kidsdollars or a bump in his/her allowance — or just for fun! 
I know that for Lucas, it has been inspiring to realize that his Chinese is a skill that is valuable and fun! He loves his new tutoring business and I love his enthusiasm!
Lucas’ tutoring website: Adventures in Chinese
His first lesson:

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Filed Under: Chinese, Cultural Experiences, French, Homeschooling, Playdates, Posts with Videos, Spanish, Uncategorized

Kids Tutoring Kids


kids tutoring kidsIt all started with Pokeman cards.

Lucas, my 11 year old, wanted to buy some Pokeman cards. Knowing that I would never give him the cashola for these, we started brainstorming some other ways that he could make some money. After thinking through all of his skills and talents, he decided that he should tutor kids in Mandarin. He knows Mandarin well (he has been learning the language since he was 3), he is patient, and he gets along well with everyone — the building blocks to being a great teacher!

He created a website, did a little marketing and voila! Four students! We learned a lot over the past few months about the best way to conduct these lessons and in the process he gained a lot of confidence about running a business. He needed to plan the lessons, conduct the lessons, keep track of the tuition, reach out to parents and organize his schedule.

Does your child have a skill that he/she can share? Perhaps you can help your chid start his/own tutoring business!


  1. PLAN AHEAD: Spend a lot more time than you think you need to plan your lessons. I can’t tell you how often we would find ourselves at 9:30 the night before his lessons freaking out because we did not make time to prepare the lessons ahead of time.
  2. TAKE IT EASY: At first, we both thought it would be easy! Heck! I was a teacher before I was a mom. It was much more challenging than we expected. We wanted the lessons to be fun and engaging and that takes time! We also had 4 students at all different levels, so we could not simply repeat the same lesson. In retrospect, I think we probably should have just taken on one student at a time.
  3. DIFFERENT COMPONENTS: There is nothing worse than running out of things to do when you are a teacher. Always OVER-prepare! Help your child plan 3 or 4 different activities to do during his/her lesson period.
  4. TIMING: Keep the lessons short — 45 minutes tops.
  5.  SPREADSHEETS: We created parent progress sheets for us to keep track of the lessons and words taught. We had four students at 4 different levels and so this was a great way for us to keep track of what we had already done.
  6. BACKWARDS DESIGN: We thought through where we wanted the students to end up before we started each lesson. What do we want our students to know by the end of the lesson? By the end of 10 lessons?
  7. ACTIVE GAMES: Kids like to move — especially after school. They don’t want to sit down and do Chinese after they have already been sitting for 6 hours in school. Plan a few active educational games in the middle of the lesson.
  8. FUN: Have fun!  In the beginning for us, it was definitely not fun. We were a bit stressed about how to do it and how to manage all of the lessons. Towards the end, we got into a rhythm and enjoyed it.
  9. FIXED GAME PLAN: Our students knew what to expect for each lesson so that there were no surprises. They did not balk at sitting down at the beginning because they knew  it was just for a short time and they would be up playing a game. Our general game plan for each lesson was built on three components:

a. Review: A  review of the words and concepts that he had taught in previous weeks.

b. Active Game: An active game to learn new skills and concepts.

c. Deeper Understanding: A sitting activity to apply the new skills and concepts that they just learned in the active game.

Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook page if you tried out this idea or if you have any thoughts about what we are doing!

Enjoy! Michelle

Filed Under: Uncategorized

Headbands for Second Language Learning


Headbands is probably my favorite game in our house. Everyone can play it and everyone enjoys it! The concept is simple. Someone picks a card for you that has an image on it (cat, spoon, rake, etc.) and you need to figure out using yes/no questions the object that is on your head.

How is this a language game?

You can play this game in any language! The object is simply to guess what the object is on the top of your head and just THINK about all of the vocabulary needed to figure it out! We play this game with our Chinese-speaking babysitter because she is able to provide the kids with a ton of vocabulary of objects (like hammer, fire hydrant, etc.) that the kids might not know.

Some Tips:

  • Make it more challenging by using  a timer with the game. The student needs to guess the answer in the set time (2 minutes or so). This way the guesser and the other players don’t get frustrated as it can take a long time to figure it out.
  • If your child gets stressed out with a timer (as one of my kids does) don’t use it! Just let the child guess the object in his/her own time. This version may work better if there is an adult giving the answers as children might lose patience if the guessing lasts too long.
  • Instruct your kids to ask big questions. I have to remind my little one, Hudson, of this idea every time because otherwise she will just start guessing random words and you can imagine how long that game might take (yikes!) Some questions that you can give them as starters are the following:
    • Does it fly?
    • Does it live in the ocean?
    • Would you see it in a farm?
    • Do we have one in our bathroom? Kitchen? Garage?
    • Is it a food?

Have fun! Let us know how it went in the comments section of this post!

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Filed Under: Chinese, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

Basketball to make flashcards more fun


How can you use basketball to make learning flashcards more fun? Lucas, my 11-year-old son, came up with this idea to do with his Chinese tutoring students. He and I brainstormed tons of ideas to make learning Chinese characters more fun and this one is one of our favorites!


  • Find flashcards that you want your children to use or make them yourself. Put one word on each card.
  • Decide on the number of cards that you want your student to learn
  • Review those cards with your student
  • Place the cards in a semicircle around the basketball hoop (farther for older kids, closer for younger ones)


  • The student needs to say the word on the flashcard before he/she can try to make a basket
  • If the student gets the basket, he/she gets to keep the card as a “point”
  • If the student does not make the basket, he/she needs to move to another card and read that one.
  • The student keeps on moving from card to card until all of the cards are “won”.


  • If playing with multiple students, make sure that they take turns. One child goes, and then the other. You don’t want the students so focused on making the basket that they forget to stay the word on the card.
  • Designate a spot for students to put the cards that they have “won” so that the cards don’t get messed up in a pocket or mixed up with another child’s cards.


  • If your children enjoy competition, set up a challenge to see who can get the most cards.
  • If your children do not enjoy competition with one another, set up the game so that the children see how well they can improve. How many cards can they get in a certain time period? Can the student get the points within two shots for each card? Set up the game so that your child finds it enjoyable.

Have fun! Please let us know how it went in the comments section of this post!

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Filed Under: Chinese, Classes, Flashcard Fun, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos

My kids won’t watch TV in their second language


I have lots of parents ask me how I get my kids to watch TV in Chinese. The answer is uncomplicated. They either get TV in Chinese or no TV at all. They know the rules. They never ask to watch TV in English simply because they know that it is not an option. They would rather have TV than no TV at all. Simple.

If you are starting out on this second language journey and up until now, your kids have only know TV in English — of course — it will be challenging. AT THE BEGINNING! But if you are firm with your rules and stick with it, I guarantee you that your kids will pick TV over no TV every time.

Now, I am not saying that Mandarin TV takes over ALL TV in our house. For us, TV comes in English on family movies nights on Fridays and when we have non-Chinese speakers over the house for a sleepover. But other than that, it is in Mandarin!

TV is a wonderful tool to introduce new vocabulary that may not come up in ordinary conversation.

“To infinity, and beyond!” — Buzz Lightyear

It is fun! And, gives you a bit of time to tackle those dishes without distractions.

Try it out with your kids, regardless of how many years of English TV they have had prior to this decision! If you are unyielding in your decision, your kiddos will get it and soon happily watch Zootopia in whatever language you choose!

Filed Under: TV as a Tool

Rush Hour Game to Learn Numbers and Colors


We just love this game Rush Hour. It is challenging! It is fun! It is portable! It is hard to lose too many pieces! 🙂

Seriously, though, we love it. My son, Lucas (11) recently decided to start a Chinese tutoring class fueled in part by a desire to buy Pokeman cards (which he has yet to purchase – thank goodness) and a new-found pride in his Mandarin-speaking skills. He has rush_hour_gameused this game often during his tutoring sessions because it is a great way to explore numbers, directions and simple vocabulary while still challenging his students. His students range from 5 to 11 and so he needs to find games that will appeal to all ages — and this one is it!

Here are some colors to get you started:


black   noir/noire
white   blanc/blanche
gray     gris/grise
red       rouge
blue     bleu/bleue
yellow jaune
green  vert/verte
orange orange
purple violet
brown marron
pink     rose


black      negro
blue        azul
brown    marrón, pardo
green      verde
grey        gris
orange  anaranjado
pink       rosado
red         rojo
white    blanco
yellow amarillo


whitebái sè 白色
bluelán sè藍色
yellowhuáng sè 黃色
greenlǜ sè 綠色
redhóng sè 紅色
orangejú sè橘色
brownkāfēi sè咖啡色
blackhēi sè黑色
purplezǐ sè 紫色
greyhuī sè  灰色

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Filed Under: Chinese, English Literacy, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Playdates, Posts with Videos, Spanish, Uncategorized

Preschooler Learns 120 Chinese Characters


The other day, I looked at Hudson’s stack of Chinese cards and realized that she had quite a little bundle. We took them out and laid them on the floor to get a good look. I had never counted them before — and after taking out duplicates — found that she had 120 of them. How many did she actually know? 

So, we turned it into a little game. Say all of the cards you know! No order to it. Just go! It was fun to watch her run through these cards at lightening speed. I thought she would get through half? Maybe three-quarters. Nope. The whole shebang. The activity itself was fun for her — crawling around on the floor — finding the cards that came to mind preschooler learns chinese characrtersthe quickest — and racing through it! It was much more fun than the traditional way of going through the stack one by one! In a few weeks, we will probably do it again!I will keep you posted!

I do believe that learning Chinese characters is actually easier for Hudson, my four-year-old, because she does not have a deep understanding of English writing yet. She is able to soak up the characters because, at this time, they are simply pictures. She is not translating in her head what the word would be in English or looking for the pinyin to help her figure it out. The Character simply means that word — nothing else gets in the way!

Try it out with your little ones and have fun!

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Filed Under: Uncategorized

Chinese Calligraphy Made Fun!


kids learning chinese charactersThis year we play a lot with ithese fun Reusable Chinese Calligraphy Brush Water Writing Magic Cloths with the kids. It is an easy and inexpensive way to explore writing in Chinese characters. You simply dip the calligraphy pen into water and write on the cloth. A few Chinese characters are pre-written for your child to trace and the rest are blank squares for your child to explore writing any character he/she desires.

I also love how the words disappear quickly! For kids just learning how to write in Chinese (and adults too!), it can be frustrating to not have a character turn out the way that you expected. With this Reusable Chinese Calligraphy Brush Water Writing Magic Cloth, the words just disappear after a few minutes! If the character is not perfect — POOF — it disappears quickly so that you can start fresh again!

Check out this video of my older daughter (8) teaching my younger daughter (4) how to write simple Chinese characters.

Good luck and have fun!

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Filed Under: Chinese, Games to Learn a Second Language, Homeschooling, Posts with Videos, Uncategorized
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