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:
This post contains affiliate links.

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!

This post contains affiliate links.

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!



This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Uncategorized

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 AsianParent.com. 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!

The post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Uncategorized

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!

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Uncategorized

Dinner Entertainment Ideas for Kids

Mandarin dot to dot 1-20No judgment here — but we don’t bring iPads with us to dinner.  While it is nice to entertain the kids for a bit while you wait for the meal to come, it is challenging for us to then tell our kids to put it away for the meal. Sometimes they are just getting started with a game when the first course arrives.

What to do?

Just throwing out another idea for you guys — why not go with an old-fashioned coloring page to entertain your kids instead — especially one that might teach them something new?

A couple of restaurants offer one boring coloring sheet to fill in,  but you never know which places have it and which don’t or if your child will even be interested in the drawings on those pages.

Why not bring your own?

We leave a little case filled with pencils, crayons, and twistable colored pencils (that don’t need to be sharpened) and our own coloring pages in the car. That way, I don’t have to remember to pack it every time we eat out. The entertainment packs are in the car waiting for the next restaurant adventure!

Perhaps you can bring Adventures in China with you on your next trip? Even if you are not Collage dice 1-20learning Mandarin with your children, our learning packs are a great way to learn about Chinese culture and our detailed coloring pages will definitely keep your kids engaged until the first course arrives (and maybe until dessert!)


Let us know how it went!

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Uncategorized

Lunchbox Inspiration

LunchboxWhat do you do with those “return” envelopes that come in your mail? Do you actually return the survey, bill or renewal that the company wants you to send back? For us, 99% of the time, I either fill out online or throw it away.

Why not use those envelopes?

Check out this “green” idea– I use them as the envelopes for my kids’ lunchbox love notes! If you collect these envelopes for a few weeks — you will have LOADS! Trust me. I have done it! I now have enough envelopes to last until they are in college. I am sure that they will love getting lunchbox notes in college! 🙂

Why the envelope? It makes the note feel “special”. Anything that you have to open feels more like a present than just simply a note.

How I do it? I use the lunchbox love notes to talk about what they are going to do that day after school, reminisce about something special that we did that weekend, or build anticipation about a trip or adventure that we are about to take (to “optomize” a vacation it’s important to anticipate and then remember it according to hedonic psychologists — yes it is a real profession 🙂

Decorate with stickers and have fun!

Second language learning? As you probably know — I try to squeeze in a little second language learning everyday! I asked our babysitter to write a few Chinese lunchbox love notes to include once or twice a week. The other kids are curious about the characters and my kids love to share their Chinese letters at lunch. They then teach their friends a few characters! Bonus! Kids learn best while teaching — why not with something fun like lunchbox love notes!

This post contains affiliate links.

Filed Under: Uncategorized

Music to Cheat a Little

Frozen DVD and CDSo the theory goes that children need 30% of their “waking hours” to be in a second language in order to achieve fluency. Check out Adam Beck’s cool pie chart and descriptions about how his family sneaks in about 30% of a second language.

Yet for many folks, that percentage can be tough to achieve. How do you get in your second language when you also have homework, soccer, piano, playdates chores and everything else to do in a day? I know that we struggle with the 30% rule often!  Do you just give up on a second language  if you can only get 15%? What about 5%?

No.Good Morning Mandarin

I love this quote from Multilingual Living around this topic, “Sometimes less exposure can have more of an impact than we know!  Just allow yourself to adjust your expectations to match your family’s language journey and see where you can add more language exposure along the way.  The gift of language is priceless, no matter how much language exposure your child receives!”

That said, I have a little secret that I do every night that I think has a tremendous impact. Music.

Given that a third of our kids’ lives are spent sleeping, why not make use of the time! Studies have shown that some language acquisition can take place during the Zzzzzzs!

Every night after story-time and cuddling, I put on a playlist of Mandarin music for the kiddos. They love it! Lucas my son gets a different set of music than the younger girls. Lucas tends to like more Chinese pop and the girls love anything Disney. The music lasts for about an hour and half and they fall asleep to it. The music does not keep them awake but instead, I hope, they have sweet dreams of Elsa as they sleep!

Typically, I will cheat some more and play it again before I head up to bed just to get in another hour or so of language time. Try it! Can’t hurt right?

Filed Under: Chinese, Homeschooling, Music to Learn a Second Language, School for Immersion, Spanish, Uncategorized

Beach Day Turns into Language Learning Fun

Beach Day Learning ChineseWe go to the beach often. Why not? We live in California! There is no place more magical than the beach!

I am a big believer that learning is best when practiced in different ways and locations. Learning a second language by simply using flashcards all day will not get you very far. If you shake it up a bit, the learning moments will have a stronger impact.

So… with that in mind…. we decided to use the BIG canvas of the beach as a fabulous learning tool! This time on our beach adventure, I asked the kids to practice some of their Chinese characters in the sand.

The kids loved writing their Chinese characters in the sand — and tried to teach Jim and I a few words and sentences. Lucas made some of his characters HUGE, while Lousha loved teaching her little sister using a little stick in the sand.

However, that was not the interesting part of the story.Learning at the beach in Chinese

A few children near us noticed what the kids were doing and started chatting with my children — in Chinese. The connection had been made and my children spent the next three hours building sandcastles, writing Chinese characters in the sand, playing football, splashing in the waves — all in Chinese. What started off as a fun little second language exercise that was meant to last 10 minutes, turned into a long, three hour, laughter-filled, Chinese-infused adventure!

Next time you are at the beach, try it and see if you get any young takers who pop along for the fun!


Filed Under: Uncategorized

Repurpose Disposable Tablecloths for Learning

Mandarin Character IdeasAfter reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,  I was inspired to clean out those forgotten closets.   While rummaging though one abandoned closet, I discovered a pack of disposable tablecloths that I must have purchased for some school party. No parties were scheduled for the next few weeks and so instead of donating or throwing away the tablecloths, I found a great way to repurpose them!

Chinese character practice!

You can still use this idea for really anything — spelling practice, math problems, Spanish words, French Pictionary or simply to have fun with paint!

What a cheap and easy way to create a large canvas for your child to play! Simply put something heavy on the corners and voila — you have a huge canvas! My children enjoy Chinese language learning because I am always mixing up HOW they learn the language. Lousha, my daughter,  just loved the large canvas and happily painted awayMandarin Characters Learning practicing her Chinese characters

Some ideas to make this activity more fun:

1. Tracing: I painted the characters using the correct stroke order and then Lousha painted on top of my characters using a different color paint

2. Painting: Allow your child to simply paint the characters, but watch to make sure that the stroke order is correct

3. Add Pictures: Have you child draw pictures of the character that he/she is writing. Lousha loved painting a cat next to the character of “cat” that she wrote.

4. Teaching: Lousha loved teaching her younger sister, Hudson, how to correctly write out the Chinese characters. When a student teaches another, the retention is far greater than simply listening.

If you are interested in reading about my journey of “tidying” up my house using The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, check out my blog posts on our family site, Gannon Gang.

Filed Under: Chinese, Homeschooling, Uncategorized