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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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

Hiding Game for Flash Card Memorization


There is really no better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else. Studies have shown that active learning is the best way to learn. So you can see why we were thrilled when my son wanted to make use of his Chinese speaking and writing skills to teach other kids (and gain a little money to buy Pokeman cards!)

Lucas and I have had a lot of fun coming up with creative ways to make learning Chinese fun for the beginner. Flashcards are sort of a necessary evil with learning Chinese. A ton of characters need to be memorized before you can even begin to start reading. And as I am sure you remember — flash cards are super boring.

Lucas and I have taken this as a  fun challenge — how to make Chinese flashcards learning fun! He has been testing all of these games with his little sisters and have enjoyed every one!

Hiding Flashcard Game: 


  • box large enough to be able to lay down 5 cards so that they don’t hide another card
  • blanket
  • flashcards/index cards

How to Play:

  • Show the student the 5 (or however many you are going to study at that time) cards
  • Put the cards in the box so that the student can see all of the cards
  • Cover the box with a blanket
  • Take out one of the cards while the student covers his/her eyes
  • Take off the blanket and see if the student can figure out which card is missing
  • Voila! Learning with flashcards becomes fun!

Check out some of our other ways that we make learning with flashcards fun!

Have fun!

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

Why do I write this blog?


thumb_full-res-0019_1024I struggled writing this post. Do I tell the truth? That sometimes keeping up with Chinese in our home is exhausting.  On my blog, I make it seem as if all is hunky-dory and that the kids jump for joy when we have Chinese time. But, there are times when the kids get home from school and they want nothing to do with Chinese — and yet we do it. I know that spending a little bit of time every day on a focused goal leads to great results (see my blog post about The Slight Edge here), but doing something every day can be taxing.

Why do I write this blog? Because it forces me to keep going.  It holds me accountable to the-slight-edgekeep trying new things with my kids in Chinese. It forces me to not just give up. It is like a friend that you meet for that run. You don’t want to cancel on her because you know that she is out there waiting for you. It would be easy to just give up.

The idea of The Slightest Edge is simple — every day you work on your goal (your child speaking a second language/ losing weight/ adding meditation to your life) with dedication and discipline — it will lead to massive success!

What about for you?

  1.  Start a blog (even if you share it just with your family) detailing your experiences with second language learning.
  2. Make a goal buddy where you share every day or every week what you are doing in that second language with your child.
  3. Find a friend who is doing the same second language as you are and set up a sharing system where you each need to come up with something creative to do with your kids and share it with each other every Monday.
  4. Create a second language journal where you write about your experiences, challenges, lessons learned when teaching your kids a second language.
  5. Set up a language exchange with a friend who also speaks your target second language and take turns teaching the kids. This way all of the pressure is not just on you. You can set up a system where the kids get a creative lesson with you one day a week and your friend another day that week.

Good luck!

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Battleship to Learn Chinese Characters

battleshipThere is no better way to learn anything than by having fun! This is why I created these Battleship Games with simplified Chinese characters for my son to play.
My 9-year-old daughter loves writing and learning and writing Chinese characters. She is quite the little artist and so for her, they are more like small works of art. For Lucas, my 11-year-old, learning Chinese characters is more arduous. The repetition and the memorization that my daughter enjoys, it just plain old boring for him.
However, with this game — especially with this title 🙂 — he loves it!
The game is set up just like the Battleship that you remember from your childhood. You get 5 boats and you need “sink” your opponent’s boats. You have a grid as your playing area and you call out coordinates from the x-axis and y-axis to see if you have landed on your opponent’s ship. However, with the game I have made, the coordinates are marked with Chinese battleshipsimplified Mandarin characters instead. You and your child call out two Chinese characters (one from the x-asis and one from the y-axis) and see if you have a hit!
Exciting stuff!
The reason why this mom loves the game is that by the end of playing, my kids know all of the characters on this game board REALLY well since they have had to say them over and over again in their hunt for boats to sink.
Here is a link to free downloadable games for you to use with your family:
Here is a video of Lucas playing the game:

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

Have your child tutor in your target language

Lucas Chinese Lesson Plan I used to teach 10th and 12th grade English in New Jersey. When the students wrote about Jane Eyre, their writing was less than fabulous. However, when they wrote to actual companies about something that they wanted to change or to an author that they loved, their writing was amazing. There was a direct correlation of their level of interest in the topic and their writing ability!
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

Story Cubes for Building Vocabulary


story-cubes-second-languageHave you looked in your games closet lately? I bet that there are a ton of games in there that you can use for building vocabulary and fluency in your target language!

The other day, I rummaged around in my own closet and found a great game that I had forgotten about — Story Cubes!  This game’s premise runs on a very simple concept. Players of Story Cubes use 9 cubes with images on them to tell a continuous story. It starts with one player throwing the cubes on the table. Each player takes turns picking one of the cubes and telling part of a story inspired by the image shown on the cube. The next player picks a cube and adds to the first person’s story using the image as inspiration. And so on, until all of the cubes are gone and the story is over.

thumb_img_3507_1024The story possibilities are unlimited since the combination of the 54 images will always be different. My kids love story telling and Story Cubes is a wonderful little game to spark their little imaginations. Besides — if we did not have Story Cubes as our foundation, my daughters would probably start off every story with a mermaid 🙂 !

A Bonus: This box is travel-sized at about 6 x 3 inches so perfect for taking to a restaurant or on an airplane.

Helpful Hints: 

  1. Set up ground rules: No one is allowed to criticize the other person’s story.
  2. Timing: Limit each person to a certain amount of time that they can tell his/her part of the story. We usually limit it to one minute — otherwise, the story can lose momentum if one person takes up too much of the plot.

Have fun!

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

Journals in a Second Language


Chinese Journal 1I think this is my favorite tradition. I started it in June  of 2014 to avoid the summer slack and we just kept on at it. The kids write to me during the day and then I write back. I love that part of the night. After the cuddling, reading and talking with the kids,  I make a nice cup of tea (or wine, depending on the day). I don’t turn on my computer or look at my phone. I just get an old fashioned pen and start writing back. Sometimes I write a paragraph — other times pages.

I use it as a way to talk with them about things that may not get the time that they deserve during the day. I have three kids, two kittens, a dog,.. and oh yes, a husband 🙂 and life can get hectic. It is often hard to have a “real” dinner conversation or even a simple one-to-one conversation with one child without the others chiming in with his/her own needs/questions/running commentary.lousha-journal-3

I also use the journal to build up anticipation about an upcoming vacation or trip (even a simple apple picking adventure) as research shows that savoring an adventure before it arrives actually gives you more “happiness buck” for your money.



Why not use it for second language development?

Lousha's journal entry about her upcoming mermaid party
Lousha’s journal entry about her upcoming mermaid party

I asked my babysitter if she would be able to write to my kids in a “special Chinese” journal and voila! A new routine that inspires more Chinese writing! For Lousha, at 8, she is just starting out exploring Chinese characters but I hope that it turns into the same wonderful connection she and I have in her English journal.

Have fun!



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Build a library of your target language in your home


the-bfg-in-mandarinPretty much where ever you look in my house, I have piles of books. Books in shelves. books in boxes and books outside down our magical path. I love watching my kids cuddle up with a book literally where ever they are in my house and read. Up until about a year ago, most of the books were in English. This year, my focus has been more on the written skills of learning Chinese. What better way to get my kids immersed in written Chinese than to pepper our book collection with more Chinese texts? But where to find books in your target language?



  1. Find a distributor that focuses on your target language. We adore They have a wonderful selection of books and DVDs that the owner has personally reviewed. Excellent quality!
  2. Go to your library. Request that they bring in more books of your target language. MyGood Night Moon in Mandarin library has recently acquiesced to my request to bring in a ton of Mo Williem’s books in Chinese. You really can’t get a better early reader than the Pig and Elephant series. 
  3. Ask a friend to start a book sharing program together. Buy books that you both agree would be great texts for your kids and then exchange when done!
  4. See if there are any used books in your area that have a large population of people in the community that speak your target language. They  might stock your target language! We have an amazing used bookstore in our area called Book Go Round that always has a ton of Mandarin books since Saratoga has a large population of Chinese folks in our community.

Perhaps your children are not reading yet in your target language  — that’s ok. To be immersed in these books — have your children grow into these books — is all part of this second language adventure!

Have fun!

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Pen Pals for Second Language Writing


pen-palThis year I am determined to improve my kids’ writing ability in Mandarin. They speak well, but writing is a totally different beast. Now that my youngest, Hudson, is 4, life has become a bit easier. I actually have the ability to brainstorm in the car without having to hand back sippy cups or cheerios or pull over to change a diaper — and a few months ago asked myself:

How to make writing Mandarin interesting?

 What would pique their curiosity and keep them writing?

PEN PALS!  A real person. I’m talking about the old-fashioned ink-and-paper kind. While apps and technology seem to be taking over our lives, writing an actual letter to pen pals feels like the poodle skirts of language learning — antiquated.

But nothing builds excitement more than a trip to the mailbox to find a letter with your name on it that looks like it has traveled a long road to get to your house.

How to get one? 

The website Students of the World offers electronic penpals, but I found the interface challenging to get through (think web pages of the late 90s.)  Besides, I was looking for snail mail ones. They do offer a snail mail option for a fee. So I sent in my 16 euros, which entitled me to get 4 addresses. My kiddos diligently wrote to these young folks in China and a few weeks later, we got all of our letters returned to us — “insufficient address”. I lucas-pen-palwrote to Students of the World but they indicated that it was “difficult finding young people from Asia” and sent me the addresses of four new folks in their mid-twenties.  We opted to not follow up.

Bummer. I wrote to Students of the World but they indicated that it was “difficult finding young people from Asia” and sent me the addresses of four new folks in their mid-twenties.  We opted to not follow up.

I wrote to Students of the World, but they indicated that it was “difficult finding young people from Asia” and sent me the addresses of four new folks living in China in their mid-twenties.  We opted to not follow up.

Now what? 

I reached out to a bunch of yahoo groups and facebook groups that focus on Mandarin learning with kids, and within a few hours, we had oodles of penpals! Now, a few months later, we get a few letters a week and it is exciting to go to the mailbox to see what is in store for us! Sometimes we get fun little surprises like little presents or pictures as well!

Some Suggestions: 

  1. Join Facebook groups that focus on your language of choice
  2. Join Yahoo groups that focus on your language of choice
  3. Reach out to expat groups that live in a country that speaks the language of your choice.
  4. Ask everyone and anyone you know for the address of any kids living in a place that speaks the language of your choice.
  5. If you have a babysitter speaks the language of your choice, ask her for young family members that might be interested.
  6. Check out some other online penpal options (I will review more when I finish planning my daughter’s mermaid party and let you know what I discover!) TIP: so far — I have discovered that most are for adults!

Good luck!

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