Babysitter Help

Resolution for 2014: Introduce my child to a second language

the slightest edgeI can’t tell you how often people come up to me with wonder in their eyes asking how my children speak Mandarin when I don’t speak it at all. These parents think that accomplishing this goal was some sort of Herculean feat that took hours and hours of classes for my children and a huge change in our family lifestyle.

Not true. Here is a little secret….

I just finished reading The Slight Edge: Secrets to a Successful Life by Jeff Olson which suggests motivational tools to help you make small changes in your life toward success. The author’s main “secret” is to spend a little bit of time each day consistently on your goal. Every minute you spend on that dream moves you one step closer to making it a reality. The idea is that if you chip away at that plan each day it will add up to a lot even though day-by-day  it does not appear as if you are making much of a dent.

I did not realize it, but I was actually applying the “slightest edge” techniques to my approach of teaching my children a second language. Every day my children get a little bit of Mandarin — sometimes it is two or three hours and other times it is just 20 minutes. They get a bit of Mandarin every day — without fail. There is not a day that goes by where they don’t get some exposure in Mandarin. The cumulative effects of that exposure has allowed my children to be fluent in Mandarin.

Is it hard work? No. 

Have we dramatically altered the way our family works to incorporate Mandarin into our lives? No. 

Do we spend hours and hours drilling Mandarin into our children’s brains? No. 

Do my children speak Mandarin fluently? YES. 

But how

In our family, the kids might get to watch a TV show on the weekend in Mandarin. On a plane ride, we will bring the iPad and the kids play Mandarin games. When my husband, Jim, and I go out on a date night, we hire a Mandarin-speaking babysitter. If our children express an interest in a class, we look for a tutor or a class offered in Mandarin. Our bookshelves are filled in Mandarin books. The kids’ bedroom has posters in Mandarin. Check out my Top 10 Ways to Get Started to find what small changes to you can do that would work in your family.

Jeff Olsen’s Slight Edge theory is that if you do something that you want to accomplish a little bit each day consistently, you will reach your desired goal.

Start chipping away at your ideas today!

Happy New Year!





Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Chinese, Classes, Cultural Experiences, Product Reviews

Product Review: Bear Hunt Game for Critical Thinking

Bear Hunt Game by Melissa and DougProduct Review: Bear Hunt Game by Melissa and Doug

Where can I get it: Bear Hunt by Melissa and Doug via Amazon

Playground Rating:

StarStarStarStarHalf Star

We just love this high-quality game by Melissa and Doug to build deductive reasoning skills in both English as well as in Mandarin. It is easy to turn games that are traditionally played in English into a fun activity in your target language. We use this Bear Hunt Game  with my 8 year old son and my 5 year old daughter to build their vocabulary and deduction skills in Chinese.

How to Play?

Each player gets a game board (there are two in a set) with a variety of bears under each flap. Some bears have hats, others have a mustache, some  have flowers in their hair, etc.  Players choose a bear on their wheel at the bottom of the board, and the other player asks yes/ no questions to try to guess which bear the other player has chosen. What a wonderful game for teaching process of elimination! It’s very durable, and its clever design has no pieces to lose! It is great for developing deduction skills.

How to play the game in your target language? 

We play the game exactly how one would in English, but in Mandarin. Children explore vocabulary such as color, hat shape, hair style, flowers, gender etc. while trying to figure out which bear you have hidden.

What I love about the game: 

  • Builds logical reasoning skills in an entertaining way
  • Highly entertaining — my children will play this game all day!
  • Children can win just as easily as an adult (parents don’t have to “try” to lose every once in awhile, you will probably lose a few times even when you try! )
  • Game pieces are all attached so you won’t lose any pieces
  • Very sturdy (we have had ours for years and it still looks brand-new)

What I am not so crazy about this game: 

  • As with many of the Melissa and Doug Games (see my review about the Memory Game) the game is a bit heavy for travel. However, if you are just traveling in your car, this game is perfect.
  • When a player turns down a window, it can be a bit loud (see the video below) which might wake up a sleeping baby if you are playing it in the car. However, the durability of the game makes it so that it won’t fall apart and so the pieces are on the board tightly, which makes for the loud sound when you close a window.

The following video demonstrates how we play this game as part of our morning routine with our Mandarin-speaking helper:

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! I’d love to hear from you! Please post at the bottom of this blog entry or email me! Let’s stay in touch. If you liked the ideas in this post, please sign up for our newsletter so that you can hear from us!



Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Chinese, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews, Spanish

Memory Game in a Second Language

Memory Game Melissa and DougTitle: Memory Game by Melissa and Doug

Where can I get it:

Memory Game by Melissa and Doug via Amazon

Playground Rating:

StarStarStarStarhalf star


It is easy to use games that you currently have in your house to teach your child your target second language. The games that you play do not have to be written in that second language in order for them to be effective as a teaching tool. Many games readily available in your local toy store are filled with great vocabulary opportunities. This Memory Game by Melissa and Doug is a wonderful tool to use both in English and your target language. 

Memory games are a wonderful way to increase the concentration power of your child’s brain. Memory games can be used not only to help your child to improve her memory by concentrating and focusing, but can also be great for second language learning. We have had this high quality memory game by Melissa and Doug for years and the other day I broke it out with my Mandarin-speaking babysitter as a great way to have fun and explore vocabulary for zoo animals, fruits, colors, farm animals, shapes, numbers and vehicles in Chinese. The wooden game has 25 windows that are coved by wooden shutters that you turn over to find the hidden pictures underneath. A player get to turn over two hidden squares to try to find the pairing. If the player does not make a match, it is the next person’s turn. If the player does make a match, she gets to go again. 

Children can easily play this Memory Game by Melissa and Doug by themselves or with a friend. I often find my daughter, Lousha, playing the game by herself. It is easier to use this pre-set, immoveable game by herself rather than use the traditional memory games of this type where the cards are more like a deck of playing cards and she needs to find a space on the floor and lay them out in rows herself. Often, when we play the games where the game is more like a deck of cards, the rows get messed up and then it defeats the point of the game as the placement of the card moves if you accidentally brush against them.  Also, in our family, we have a very curious and engaged toddler running around who likes to cause mayhem! Cards neatly placed in rows on the floor would not last long in our house! 

Check out this video of my daughter and our helper playing this memory game in Mandarin: 


How do you play the game in a second language?

Simple! Just ask your second language speaking caregiver to play the game in that second language. The game does not get played unless it is done in your target language! Don’t have a babysitter who speaks your target language? Look up the words for the game yourself and create a little cheat-sheet! Then you can learn vocabulary for your second language at the same time as your child! 

What I Love about this Memory Game

  • No Loose Pieces – everything is attached to the game itself and so there is no way to lose any of the pieces. 
  • Easy to Manipulate – it is easy for my children (even my baby) to turn over the windows to reveal the picture below. 
  • Mentally Demanding – the cards are double-sided and so your child will be challenged to try to find the matches if you switch around the cards each time you play. 
  • High Quality –  we have had this game for years and it still looks brand-new! It is made out of wood and elastic and so the game is built to last. The cards are made out of a hard tough-to-rip paper. 
  • Easy to Play without Adult Help – unlike the playing card versions of memory that are so prevalent, this game is much easier for a child to just jump in and play by herself. 
  • Competitive Option: If your child likes to keep score, there is a little score board at the bottom of the game to keep track of how many pairs each person has found. 

What I Don’t Like about this Game: 

  • Travel game? I don’t think so. It is too heavy to carry along with you on flights (along with all of the other stuff you have to lug along with you on trips with kids) 
  • I wish that they had included more cards or had different categories on the other side of the card. I would have loved to have vegetables or professions or clothing items included as categories. 

How You Can Improve the Game for More Second Language Learning: 

  • Trace the board game on card stock paper and create your own game to add vocabulary. Get stickers with various themes for vocabulary enhancement and you can use the same game, but for literally thousands of different vocabulary words! Here are some ideas: 
  • If you want your child to start recognizing words, cover up one of the pairs with the written word on a little piece of paper that you tape over the picture. Then your child will look for the written word in your target second language and match it with the picture. 

 Please let me know if you have any questions or comments! I’d love to hear from you! Please post at the bottom of this blog entry or email me! Let’s stay in touch. If you liked the ideas in this post, please sign up for our newsletter so that you can hear from us! michelle

Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Chinese, French, Games to Learn a Second Language, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews, Spanish, Uncategorized

How to Find a Helper Who Speaks a Second Language?

You need a little extra help during the day or you are looking for a babysitter to watch your kiddos at night — why not hire someone who speaks your second language choice? A helper who speaks a second language helps not only mom and dad get some time to run errands, but also can act as a language tutor for your child!


How can you find a helper who speaks your second language choice?

  • Post an ad online:Craigslist is a wonderful, free resource to help you find someone who speaks your second language choice. Make sure that you are very specific in the title of your request. For example, “Seeking Mandarin-speaking Babysitter for my two children”. Post it under gigs/ domestic or under jobs/education. 
  • Spare room: If you have a spare room and are open to this idea, offer housing in exchange for babysitting help. Again, you can post this request in under housing/shared and be very specific about what you are looking for in the title of your post. 
  • Au Pair Agency: Go through an Au Pair Agency and get connected to an energetic and enthusiastic person who speaks your second language choice. So many young people would love the opportunity to work abroad and if you have a little extra space in your house, you can get help at a fraction of the price you would pay normally. If things don’t work out with your new helper, most agencies will let you interview and find someone new. 
  • Popular Spots: Create a little flyer with tags with your phone number/email address and post it at places where people who speak that second language tend to frequent. For example, if you are looking for a Mandarin helper, go to a Chinese grocery store and post your flyer there. 
  • Churches: Go to a church that caters to people who speak the second language that interests you and ask them if you can put up a flyer on their community boards. You can search online at churches in your area to see if they offer a service in that second language. For example, maybe a church near you offers a 10 am service in Spanish. That would be a great spot for you to post a request for a Spanish helper. 

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  • In Person: While it can be a little bit daunting, go to a place where you know people who speak that language will be and hand out little flyers about your offering. Attend a church service in that second language and hand out your flyer to everyone leaving the church. Hand out flyers one morning outside of a busy grocery store that caters to people who speak your second language choice on a Sunday morning. Stop by a shop where a lot of the employees who work there speak that second language and give a few of the people who work there a bundle of flyers to hand out to their friends. 
  • Colleges: Many colleges have offices that are devoted to students from foreign countries. Go to those offices and ask if you can put up a flyer as well as post on their electronic job boards for your babysitter position. A lot of students might also be looking for room shares and so if you have a spare room, approaching a nearby college might be a great idea for you to find a wonderful candidate. 
  • Online Groups: Join some yahoo groups with a focus in your language of choice and post your question about finding a helper there. One of the parents in that group might be enrolling her child in kindergarten the following year and will no longer need her helper.
  • Nanny Agency: Many nanny agencies specialize in hiring people just from specific countries. Check out or do a google search for agencies near you. 


Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Cultural Experiences

Video: A Twist on I Spy to Teach Vocabulary

A Twist on Ispy to Build Vocabulary

I Spy is a great game that interests children and encourages them to dig into their vocabulary vault to find words to play the game. My helper, Rebecca and my son, Lucas, play a twist on the traditional game of I Spy to encourage vocabulary exploration in Mandarin. You can play the same game in your second language of choice and watch your child relish in using the words he has learned so far.

The Game:

I spy is a great game to encourage vocabulary building in a second language while children have fun at the same time. With my younger daughter, my helper plays the traditional game of “i spy” with books to teach her words and have her gain confidence in using the vocabulary that she already knows in Mandarin Chinese (i.e. I spy a cat). However, for my son, we add a twist to the game as an additional challenge.

For him, I spy is a descriptive game where he needs to describe the item that he spies in a book in Mandarin Chinese until my helper figures out which object it is that he has in mind. If he does not know a vocabulary word in Mandarin Chinese for something that he wants to describe, he needs to find other words that he does know to get his explanation complete. Then, my helper takes a turn detailing the object that she spies on the page in Mandarin Chinese. They continue to play until it is time to go to bed! 

Continue reading

Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Games to Learn a Second Language, Posts with Videos, Product Reviews

Video: Teaching Chinese Characters Through Fingerpaint

How do you introduce your child to Chinese characters?

For a child used to English letters (the Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters), the concept of Chinese characters can be hard to grasp. While some Chinese characters are drawn in a way that is similar to the meaning, many characters you simply have to memorize. How do you teach a four year old these characters in a fun way? Sure, I could have her write out the characters over and over again, but I want her to love learning Chinese and have a good first experience with Chinese characters. Check out the video below to watch my daughter’s first lesson with Chinese characters.

Step by step, this is how we kicked off her Chinese character education: 

Step 1: English

First, I showed my daughter how to trace the words for dog, cow and bird in English. We went over the colors first and then she watched me write the words on a piece of paper using finger paint. I painted one letter at a time and went over the sound that each letter made. Then, she traced over my letters with her own finger to reinforce the notion that letters make sounds and come together to make words.

Step 2: Chinese

After the lesson in English, our helper taught my daughter how to make the same words (dog, cow and bird) in Chinese using simplified characters. One stroke at a time, my helper, Rebecca, showed my daughter the correct stroke order for each word. My daughter traced each stroke after my helper drew it until the character was complete.

Products To Help Do This Lesson at Home: 



My daughter loved playing with the fingerpaint and learned about writing words in both English and Chinese. The following video captures an unrehearsed and unscripted conversation in Mandarin between my child and our helper, Rebecca.



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Filed Under: Babysitter Help, Games to Learn a Second Language, Uncategorized