Product Reviews

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

Book Review: Kaleidoscope Kids Books

Kaleidoscope Kids Book ChinaTitle: A Kaleidoscope Kids’ Book: China

Author: Debbi Michiko Florence

Where can I get it: 

Kaleidoscope Kids via Amazon (click on the link)

Playground Rating: 




My family just LOVES this adorable and inexpensive book series by Kaleidoscope Kids to learn about different cultures and countries!  We have the China version of the series and so this review will mainly cover this book, but I have perused the others countries available and they are similar in style.

This book is wonderful for folks teaching their children about cultures in general. It is not meant for just the Chinese language student. Author Debbi Michiko Florence touches on various aspects of Chinese life in the 12 illustrated chapters such as the country’s landscape, daily life of children in China, popular inventions, history, cuisine, and more — but all in a very approachable and creative way! The illustrator, Jim Caputo, wraps the tidbits of information within cute illustrations and call out boxes making it very digestible. While the book is filled with lots of details about Chinese culture, it never feels overwhelming. 

Lucas Reading Kaleidoscope Kids China

What I love about this book: 

  • Graphics: The delightfully whimsical artwork truly make this book! I can’t put it down! 
  • Pictures: in addition to illustrations, the book includes many actual pictures of the items and places discussed. 
  • Approachable:  The author describes each item, cultural element and location in a way to give the reader a good overview, but not so much as to turn away the reader. 
  • Relevant to Children: The author often invites children to compare their lives/country’s customs with that of China. 
  • Activities: Instead of just a guidebook about China, this Kaleidoscope Kids China book invites children to explore some of the concepts on their own. The step-by-step instructions with illustrations are easy to follow and fun to do! My favorites are the paper making craft and dumpling recipe. 
  • Variety: The activities are not just limited to cooking or craft ideas. The author of this creative Kaleidoscope Kids China book also includes active ideas for the kinesthetic learner, such as a chasing game, tea tasting party and juggling skills. 
  • Try It Sections: In addition to the larger activities such as moon cake making, the author peppers the book with lots of “Try It” ideas to further explore the ideas she mentions in the book in simple ways. For example, in the food section, the author asks her readers to see how many different objects they can pick up with chopsticks. 
  • Introduction to Language: Sprinkled throughout the book are “Say It” boxes where the author invites children to pronounce some of the words she mentions in the text. She does not use Chinese characters, but instead uses both pinyin AND a pronuciation guide. What a great way for beginners to Mandarin to say the words without having to learn pinyin first!
  • Ponder This Sections: Kaleidoscope Kids Book  presents a few opportunities throughout to connect the text with children’s own lives and personalities and open up a dialogue for the parents to extend the learning outside of just the cultural components discussed. For example, she asks readers to think about some risks they have taken when she shares information about climbers of Mount Everest.  My son also loved discussing the debate over the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. 

What I am not crazy about: 

  • While most of the book is fantastic, my son found the first few pages dull. The author of this Kaleidoscope Kids Book about China starts off with a discussion about the government and cities in China. While it makes sense to start at this point, my son was initially turned off by the geographical topics. We jumped ahead to the cultural elements first and then went back to the first chapter after he got more interested in the book itself.
  • A few of the activities are relatively unrealistic. For example, in her description of the Great Wall of China, she wanted to convey the idea that it is a very long wall. She suggests having a grownup drive a mile in a car and make note of the starting and ending points, then walk that mile. If I did this activity with my son, I think the point would be lost by the time we reached the mile point — and then we would have to walk back another mile to get home!

All in all — a WONDERFUL book!  

Some other books to consider in this collection as a great introduction to different cultures: 

Kaleidoscope Kids Japan                   Kaleidoscope Kids Mexico


If you liked this review, please comment via facebook below or join our mailing list to find out more information!  I look forward to staying in touch! 


Filed Under: Chinese, 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

DVD Review: El Perro y El Gato

Lisa Sarafidis – Guest Blogger

Much to my dismay, but not to my surprise, my kids are pretty picky consumers of language learning products. Games, activities and tv shows that I thought would be a cute way to pick up some Spanish were quickly deemed “babyish”, “boring”, or “lame”. Ouch!

Now I’ll be honest. My kids have always been the type to prefer Phineas and Ferb to the Wonder Pets (if you are unfamiliar with these shows, you are a better parent that I), so I knew I needed to find something with a bit more bite, one might even say mayhem, in it. Enter El Perro y El Gato.

El Perro y El Gato are bilingual best friends. El Perro is a hyped-up chihuahua, and El Gato is a super-chill cat (he reminds me of a bit of Chef from South Park, minus the innuendos). They go on quirky adventures that seem to fit the absurdist humor most kids seem to have, all while communicating in mixture of Spanish and English that really works to impart an understanding of Spanish phrases and vocabulary. And the music is crazy catchy!  

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There are three different DVDs. Each DVD runs about 30 minutes, and is made up of 4 minutes episodes. I bought the DVDs for my car, but in the house, we often just watch them on YouTube, which is a great, free way to try out the DVDs to see if your kids like them. 

For other fun, language-learning tools, check out some of the tools and books that we have reviewed on our website to help you get started! 



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

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! 

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