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

Portable Region-Free DVD Players for Travel!

Portable Region Free DVD playerAre you going on a trip with your kids this summer?  After living in Japan and traveling back and forth to the United States, I very quickly learned the value of a portable DVD player. Why not use the travel time to expose your child to a second language? If you are exposing your child to French or Spanish, often you simply need to buy a “collector’s edition” version of the DVD in English and it will come with tracks in those languages. Check out our DVD recommendations and reviews for French and Spanish. However, if you are interested in Mandarin or Cantonese for your child, you need to make sure that the DVD player you have can play DVDs from that region. A region free DVD player can play ALL regions — meaning it can play DVDs from anywhere in the world. 

Often the seats are too low in the airplane for my children to see the TVs hanging from the ceilings of the aircraft and the shows that they have are often not appropriate for children (American Pie for a 4 year old, I don’t think so). While we no longer have to endure the long flights from Asia to the US, we still head to New Jersey every year and it is wonderful to have a little portable DVD player to keep my children entertained on the long flight.

My children only watch TV in Mandarin and so we are limited to the DVDs that are dubbed in Chinese. If you already have a portable DVD player that can only play US Region DVDs, I highly recommend checking out the website Asian Parent. This San Jose-based “mom and pop shop” has a wonderful selection of LEGAL children’s DVDs such as Toy Story III, Piglet’s Big Movie and Dora the Explorer, as well as some classics like Cinderella, all of which play on any DVD player you buy in the United States.

TV in your target language  is an outstanding and fun way to exposure your child to new vocabulary! See my previous post on TV as a Learning Tool for ways that we use TV to explore Mandarin.  I used to have a US region portable DVD player, which limited our viewing options to the older Disney films dubbed in Chinese.  However, a lot of my older DVDs are now scratched and skip. What a wonderful surprise to break out a newly released Mandarin DVD such as Wreck-it Ralph or Cars 2 on our next trip with our new region-free portable DVD player

Where can you get DVDs dubbed in Mandarin?

It takes a bit longer for the Mandarin version of a popular DVD to make it to the US — about 8-10 months later than the English versions. They often come with an English track as well so you can use the same DVD to play at playdates or sleepovers with friends who don’t speak Mandarin. 

Here are some fun new DVDs we just got for our trip: 





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Filed Under: Chinese, French, Product Reviews, Spanish, TV as a Tool

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

Getting Started …

lisaLisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

I have a confession to make. My kids don’t speak French. Not that they should, since we don’t live in France (“Hello, Captain Obvious”, as my daughter would say). However, I had assumed that we would have made more progress in French by now, since it is a goal of mine to have multilingual children. And my kids really want to learn French. And I speak French myself. And, and, and…

Apparently, just wishing it were true does not a multilingual family make. And my efforts so far have not been very rigorous. We work hard on the Greek, since that is my husband’s native language, but the French lessons have been few and far between. So, I am issuing a challenge to myself, and to any of you out there that have been thinking, “Gee, I really want my kid to speak French” (or Chinese, or whatever language you choose): let just get started!  I’ll share what I am doing, and we’d love to hear what you are up to.

I’ll document for you (and myself) the steps I take with them, and share what works, and what doesn’t. The one overriding principal will be “Keep it fun!”.  This isn’t about lesson plans, but ways of introducing them to French and French culture (or which ever language you choose) so that they think it’s a game. I am going to try something new each week, whether it’s a theme, or a book, or a website.  So, without further ado, here we go! 

Snack Time!

Eat Like the French, curing picky eatersSince I love to eat, and my kids love to eat, I decided food would be a great place for us to begin. I recently read this wonderful book called “French Kids Eat Everything“, which documents how a Canadian mother, married to a Frenchman, was able to transform her picky, snack-obsessed children into fabuous eaters. Sign me up! In a nutshell, the book describes how French kids are trained from a young age to eat very well during their meals (lunch and dinner are usually 4 courses), and they are only allowed one snack a day, called the gouter (pronounced goo-TAY), which is generally served to them around 4:30. While they only get one snack a day (so as to not spoil their appetites), it is an awesome snack. Think pain au chocolate, croissants, or other yummy pastries. At all other times, they are served what the adults are eating, with the theory that if they are hungry, they will eat it. I’m going to write more about this book at a later date, because there are lots of other ideas in it I want to share, but for now, I’ll just say that so far, it really does seem to be working.

I explained to my kids that in the spirit of learning French, they were going to start eating like FrenchChocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes kids. We were going to be making the table fancy for every meal, including using a….wait for it…tablecloth (gasps from the kids…looks of puzzlement as they try to figure out the purpose of the strange blanket I am putting on the table). They would be having no snacks, except for the gouter, but I would let them pick the gouter, and they could help me make it every Sunday. For all other meals in the house, they would have to eat exactly what I made for myself and my husband.  I had expected a full-scale revolt, but much to my surprise, they are 100% on board. And I think it is due to the gouter. Above is a picture of the first gouter we have made, Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes, from one of my favorite food blogs, The Smitten Kitchen.

Shameless Self-Promotion

french for kids, french apps for kids, shopping appWhile we were sitting at the table on Monday evening, all civilized with our table cloth, glass cups and fancy plates, my son asked me how to say “Please pass the milk” in French.  And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the French word for milk. I told him to wait a second, and I would look it up on google on my phone. To which he responded, “Why don’t you just look it up on Lingo’s Market?”.  Oh.  Right.  The grocery shopping app that has 100 food items in French, Spanish, English and Chinese that we spent 2 years of our lives making. 

My kids often play with the app- sometimes to mess around in one of the languages, but frequently just to watch him burp or fart (to those of you who have bought the app, you are welcome!) I hadn’t yet purposely used it for language-learning…and not to toot our own horn, but it totally works!  As we were sitting at the table, whenever there was a food item they wanted to know, they would use the app as a dictionary, and scroll through the store to find the word. Or to watch Lingo eat garbage bags, which is apparently hysterical. So this is now part of our evening routine, if only for a few minutes at the beginning of dinner.

Sight Words

The last thing I am adding this week is actually one of the first things we put up on this website a few years ago…sight words for french learning tools, sight words in french, teach kids frencharound the house. These are a series of images that describe things in different parts of the house, written in French, Spanish, English and Chinese. You print them out, and tape them to the item they describe, so kids can easily absorb the word. We have them for the kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom so far, and they are free! Just download here, print, and tape up! For this week, I am only putting up the kitchen words, but you could do all of them at one time if you want.

So that’s what we are doing this week. It was actually pretty easy and took minimal time to set up. We’d love to hear from you guys- any tips to share? Post it on our facebook page, leave it in a comment below, or drop us an email at



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Filed Under: App Reviews, Cultural Experiences, French, Games to Learn a Second Language