Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to Learn Mandarin Outdoors with Sidewalk Chalk

Welcome to Monkeys & Mooncakes! So glad you're here.  
Spring is in full bloom at our house (lilacs, birds singing, ahhh...) and when the sun is shining, I move Chinese lessons outside. Our blacktop driveway becomes our blackboard, a giant canvas for creative learning.

It's a super simple idea but the change of pace is refreshing after weeks inside and the girls love drawing with sidewalk chalk. 

This past month I've been teaching a unit on basic directions: walk forward, walk backwards, turn right, turn left, etc... I designed a couple of simple outside exercises to help the girls review these phrases.

First, I drew a giant matching game on the top half of our driveway: match the directions in Mandarin (including both pinyin and the characters they know) to their English translation. Each of the girls were assigned a color (so they could work independently), and they read their matches out loud (in Mandarin) when they finished

On the bottom half of our driveway, I drew a large city map, adding my own goofy street names in Mandarin (e.g. "bad bunny street," "long snake street," "good pig street"). 

I asked the girls to help design some buildings and landmarks on empty street corners, and they filled in a Lego shop, airport, flower store, and ice cream shop.

Then, the girls took turns navigating one other to a specific destination by giving directions to the robot. They called this "The Robot Game." 

When the robot arrived at its intended destination, the operator announced 你到了! (Nǐ dàole "You've arrived") The robot would then notice where she was standing, and answer the question, "你在哪里?" (Nǐ zài nǎlǐ "Where are you?")

What I loved about this activity:

  • It got us all outside and being outdoors is relaxing!
  • It required the girls to move around and interact with each other--actively participate in learning.
  • Sidewalk chalk leads to all sorts of unanticipated creativity--Look at the surprise the girls left me and my friend!

How do you bring Mandarin learning outdoors?

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Monday, May 5, 2014

10 Sensory Activities for Practicing Chinese Characters

Lately I've been seeing all sorts of great ideas on Pinterest for multi-sensory activities that help kids practice writing letters, reading, and spelling by giving them fun, creative, and different ways to learn. 
Multi-sensory learning involves tactile (touch), kinesthetic (movement), visual (what we see), and auditory (what we hear). 

There are oodles of sensory activity ideas circulating on the web (Really...Go to Pinterest and search for "sensory spelling" or "sensory alphabet." Look at those great ideas!)

Multi-sensory isn't just a Pinterest trend, there's some real science behind it:

In 2008, two University of California researchers found that multisensory learning has found to be more effective for learning because it better approximates natural settings. Read more here
And then I began to wonder...

Here are some multi-sensory ideas for practicing Chinese characters:

1. Form characters with your body.  Form simple characters like 大 (dà, big) or 人 (rén, person) using your own body.

For a challenge: Partner with friends to form characters with more stokes. How many characters can you form? 

2. Sidewalk chalk characters.  Practice writing characters of all sizes on the sidewalk or a blacktop driveway. 
sì (four)
Make it a game: Partner with a friend to practice characters. If you chalk the beginning strokes, can your friend finish it?

3. Paint characters with water.  Pretend you are practicing calligraphy in a beautiful park in China, and paint the characters with water and a big paint brush on blacktop. If it's raining outside, practice inside on a blackboard. 
nǚ (woman)
Turn it into art: trace over chalk characters with paintbrush dipped in water to give the characters a painted effect.

4. Write characters in a salt tray. Pour salt on to a cookie tray (I found these cute trays at the Dollar Store) and write the character with your finger or a chopstick.

xiǎo (small)

Note to parents: Salt can scratch your table's finish (yikes!)--so take this idea outside or cover up your pretty table first.
5. Form characters.  Form the character using play dough "snakes," wiki sticks, pipe cleaners, yarn--or if you're hungry, pretzel sticks licorice laces, etc... The possibilities are endless here. 
                shēngrì (birthday)                                                       zěn (how)
Helpful Hint: Print out a large version of the character to practice shaping around. Then, as a challenge, try it without the template. 

6. "Hide" characters by them on paper with a white crayon. Then paint over the hidden characters with watercolor paint.  Watch as the characters magically appear! We found that the characters were easier to see if we painted over them with dark colors. 
zuò (sit)
Make it a game: Write a secret message to your friend in Chinese and then let your friend magically decode the message with watercolor paint. 

7. Rainbow color characters. Trace over the character with crayons in all colors of the rainbow.
zuò (sit)
 For a challenge: tell your child (in Mandarin, of course!) how many colors or which colors to use.

8. Decorate characters with cotton balls, plastic gems, beads, stones, anything that will help you remember their meaning. 
tiān (sky, heaven, or day)
9. Trace characters on a friend's back or palm of their hand. Or draw it with your finger in in the air. Practice with 2 or 3 characters. Can they guess which character is being traced?

10.  Storytell characters. Ask your child to make up a story about the character and then draw the story on the character in order to bring it to life.  
zǒu (walk) 
For inspiration: check out The Pet Dragon, a cute book in which graphic designer Christoph Niemann brings Chinese characters to life through his illustrations. 

Click here to read a review I wrote about this book on my old blog: Rice and Pasta, Please!

What types of multi-sensory activities help you practice Chinese characters?

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