Learning Mandarin – speak more, read more

What is your strategy for teaching your child Mandarin?  We didn’t have one and I quite regret it. These days, we try the 1 parent, 1 language approach.  Some days are more successful than others!  I do find myself being a nicer, more patient parent when I speak Mandarin to my kids.  That’s because the words for scolding them take a lot longer to come out!! 😀

I started speaking Mandarin with my kids more since last September after attending the MOE Mother Tongue Symposium.  One of the lecturers encouraged us all as parents to begin speaking with our children.  No matter how little, how broken, how simple, a little a day is better than none.  Having memorized countless of 词语手册s over the years, we have no excuse not to speak any Mandarin at all to our kids.  If learning a language is as easy as sending for once-a-week tuition or enrichment class, I will do it in a heartbeat. But the fact is that language learning is all about speaking, listening, reading and writing in a print-rich environment.  She raised an example of her nephew in Taiwan, who at 4, can read some Chinese.  He learns by looking at the same road signs near his house everyday.  Of course, in Taiwan, all the road names, shop signages, train station names etc are all in Mandarin.  Thus, just like a Singaporean child who picks up English very naturally, they learn to read Mandarin the same way.  Therein lies the problem – where can you see Mandarin words (or Malay or Tamil) in Singapore?  All our road signs and shop signages are in English!  As parents then, to support learning Mandarin, we then have to make up for it by putting up Mandarin words and labels around the house to give your child the print-rich environment needed for him/her to pick up the language.

So I was very inspired after that afternoon to start speaking to my children in Mandarin. And they ignored me for 2 weeks.  Wut!  I was quite ready to throw in the towel and send them to the nearest tuition centre when the younger one started naming things in Mandarin.  Maybe he saw how enthusiastic and excited I was when he spoke Mandarin so he started speaking more and more!  My older girl remained reticent when spoken to but eventually, she too started speaking voluntarily.  I have to give credit to her school because the interest is definitely sparked and fanned there with the catchy songs, funky computer games and 巧虎 DVDs. These days, we are doing a bit more writing and reading too based on the theme-of-the-day so that certainly helps her become more interested!

Because we are doing theme-based studies, this leads very nicely into learning Mandarin via word radicals (部首)which gives some meaning to the word that we are learning.  Since we were doing volcanoes and learning about fire, 火,this led us to look at words like 火,火灾,灭火,灯,灿烂,all with the same radical.  We also looked at another way fire is represented in Chinese words, the 4 点s below words like 煮,蒸,which also symbolizes fire on the stove.  I really want to recommend this set of cards I came across,麦田拾字 , which have pictorial representations of thousands of words! (There are many sellers and variations.  I just bought the cheapest paper version).  Aside from the cards, you can type the word in Wechat and they send you a simple gif animation of the words too!  For example, how they derive the word 人 from a man walking.


麦田拾字 cards


Our little journal where we do all our work.  Because I hate filing and I’m too disorganized with worksheets.

We decided as a family to (as much as possible) to keep our weekends free so the struggle is very real – do we send our children for tuition (Mandarin) because everyone is sending? If we don’t, are we depriving her?  But I’m reminded that right from the start, we wanted to cultivate the kids’ innate motivation and love for learning.  Pushing them for extra Mandarin classes may not exactly achieve this goal.

Then this happened.


This is what she is used to doing in school – draw and write. As you can see, her drawing is much more detailed than her writing.  As the child gets older, they will learn to express that detail in words.

All on her own, without any pressure, on one of her free afternoons, she spoke to herself and wrote and wrote and drew and drew.  Whatever she wanted, whatever struck her fancy, whatever she wanted to express.  This is my glimmer of hope that I’m doing right by her at this age.  Of course, this isn’t much and I balk at what I see in the Berries or Tian Hsia materials but I’ll take what I can get.  What I get is a little girl who is learning to love Mandarin and she has thoughts and feelings she wants to express.  I may regret this moment and retract what I say here in this blog post next year (because Primary school starts!) but we will get there when we get there!

I am also thinking of enrolling my kids into a fun-fun Mandarin camp in the holidays just to let them enjoy listening and speaking the language.  If you have any good recommendations, please let me know!


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EllieFun Subscription Box

Each month, you will receive a book related to the theme and activities for you to teach your child Phonics, Mandarin, Math and craft.

Yes, where possible, for the subscription box, we do use the Chinese radical approach to introduce Mandarin words to your child!

Learn More!

How to Teach Your Child – Clarifying Your Educational Philosophy

This post is for non-teachers because teachers already know how and what to teach babies and small kids right?  Totally not true!  I was a secondary school teacher and I felt so, so lost, some 5 years ago when I first had Kyra.  While I knew how to add knowledge to primary schoolers and secondary school teenagers, how do children start learning was a complete mystery to me.  How do kids learn to read and write?  How do they go from nothing to counting, to doing equations?  I kinda had an idea where they had to be at at 7 years old (P1) but had no idea what the intervening steps were!  Sure.. they will go to preschool and I assume they will learn something there.  But for me, I felt a desire to want to be more deeply involved in my kids’ education.

So being lost, and very bored then (cuz’ SAHM-ing and only 1 kid), I went to do a part-time diploma in Montessori mainly because the school hours fit my schedule (only one afternoon a week! LOL), and I badly wanted to learn something that wasn’t too mainstream (having gone through NIE).  Wow, I was honestly MINDBLOWN.  I finally know how someone gets from 0-6, from a (almost) blank slate to a reading/writing/counting 6 year old who has knowledge and who can manipulate and apply knowledge.  That is A-Mazing… It made me want to be there every step of the way because it is so fascinating!  I’ll definitely share more about what I’ve learnt in the course in future posts <– send me comments or email us to remind me to get to this!  

Anyway, if you are a bit interested in teaching your child (that’s why you’re still reading this right?), I will say, you can start reading up on some preschool learning theories and methods more commonly used in Singapore.  You can just hit google and type in key words like “preschool learning”, “play-based learning”, “how to teach your child”, “how children learn” etc and you can start from there!  If you’re at the stage of deciding which preschool and you are particular about the kind of curriculum and programmes they have, you can google words and phrases like “Montessori”, “Waldorf”, “Reggio”, “NTUC My First Skool” and “PCF” because they are the 2 largest preschool operators so they must be doing some things right, right?  Be careful of getting lost here because each teaching philosophy espouses a way of life that their individual proponents can get quite emotional about.  Uh-hem.. you already know which camp I am in.  I suppose which educational philosophy you choose can be quite an accurate reflection of your own values and priorities.  Nothing wrong to admit that I’m results-driven and I want my child to go the academic route, or I’m protective of my child’s right to play.  What’s helpful is to reflect what is important to you and your spouse and be honest about it.  If not, you may end up enrolling your child in a school that emphasizes different things.  You may find yourself being very dissatisfied with the programmes and teachers when there is a mismatch of expectations.  E.g. why is the school giving me and my child so much homework and 听写 when my kid and I should be playing after school?  Or the converse – the school is not giving my kid homework when they should be preparing them for P1! 

So what is my educational philosophy?  I always thought I was a chillax mum.  But over the years, I’ve accepted I’m a tiger-mum who wants to be a chillax mum.  In fact, I’m a greedy mum who wants the best of every world – I want my child to play and enjoy learning and learn something and I chillax.  Is that too much to ask for?!  

*I’ll let you chew on the last statement for a few days because it came as a shock to me that in Singapore, the common narrative we hear is that studying is so hard, learning is tough, our kids are so pressurized in schools, learning can’t be fun, parents have to force them to learn, no choice but to send to tuition etc etc… That to want our kids to learn and enjoy themselves is akin to having our cake and eating it. Is it really? 


Some links to get started thinking about the approaches:
http://www.montessori.edu/FAQ.html – a really good introduction to Montessori


Why Parents Should Teach

I sometimes wonder if I’ve taken the ability to teach my kids for granted since I was a teacher before. It’s probably true that all of us (teachers or not) feel like we are grasping at straws when we have no background, no plan and no big-picture, yet expected to teach a very young child.   But I encourage you to really consider your role as a parent-teacher because while we are all not teachers by profession, when thrown into the deep end of parenthood, we suddenly assume the role as Baby’s first teacher. Like it or not, someone’s learning, whether or not we are teaching.  Here are a couple of reasons why we should teach:  

1. Teach because it makes u study again.

What better way to model attitudes of lifelong-learning than to go back to ABCs and 123s? If you’re hearing loads about phonics but don’t know the letter sounds, Youtube’s your best friend. Is a square a rectangle? What are the properties of different triangles? Do u know all the names of the shapes? (Hexagon, septagon, octagon, nanogon, quatrefoil, ellipse, etc.)  Information like geographical landforms, calculus and chemistry will come back to haunt us.  Now that we are teaching our kids, we want to make sure it is the correct stuff because they take our words as absolute truths.

2. Teach because it teaches us empathy

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to teach someone something and he/she doesn’t get it, no matter how many times we repeat.  This is when we are faced with crossroads – to plough on, give up or to go back to the drawing board, find another way.  If we choose to find another way, we are putting ourselves in our kid’s shoes and we are trying to see from his point of view.  Hopefully, we can identify the mental block and decide if the subject is too advanced that his young mind is simply not ready to process such abstract information. How then, can we concretize the concept and introduce it to him such that it’s more tangible?

One common roadblock we encounter with teaching our kids math is this.  Our 1-2 year child can recite from 1-10 but they just can’t count discrete objects!  Ah, it’s then that we realize counting is not just reciting and memorizing (like a song) but it requires hand-eye coordination, a knowledge that this pencil is the same as that pencil though we can call this one and that two (but the pencils remain the same no matter what number we assign to them); they also need to learn how to stop reciting! Many just go on reciting 1, 2, 3, 45678910.  Or their little hands just cannot grasp so many pencils and they drop them halfway, essentially resetting their work to naught.  Will they learn to give up or to try again?  So many skills and attitudes to master in this “simple” counting exercise!  

Giving up (for now) is also a way to empathize with the child.  When we can let go of our expectation and realize that this activity is way too difficult for my child, we are respecting his unique path and timing of learning.  Keep the materials away, acknowledge his effort and introduce the activity a couple of months down the road.

3. Teach because you are imparting far more than knowledge

This is what I imagine happening when we teach.  We are saying, my child, you are there on the ground floor and I’m over here on the third floor.  I will now go down to where you are, build a ladder and many footholds so you can slowly and steadily climb up to where I am.  And then, together, we can construct many more ladders to climb to higher places.  When we teach, we are pouring whatever we know into their lives so that they can know what we know, they can be who we are, and they can even exceed what we have known and achieved.  When we teach our children, we impart knowledge, values, attitudes and skills.  In Mandarin, there’s this proverb that says, “一日为师,终生为父”。 This means if you are someone’s teacher for a day, you will be respected or regarded like his father his whole life.  It just struck me that the converse is true.  When we are parents, then one of our jobs is to teach.  Endeavour to teach something everyday!  Be it a value, an attitude, a skill like cooking, budgeting, organizing an event, tidying the house, or knowledge about the types of vehicles, the stars in the sky, why does the moon wax and wane…

4.    Teach because it builds the relationship

Teaching gives you the much needed one-on-one time with each child (especially for families with multiple children).  With undivided attention, you are able to zone in on his interests, his problem areas and tailor the best ways to teach him.   Because your child loves having your undivided attention, he/she is so open to learning whatever you want to teach him.  I experienced this first hand when my 3 year old Zach demanded, “I want to do learning!” in the evenings because he knows I, or his father, will sit with him, and teach him, talk to him, or just play with him.  I found that when we carve out time to do this consistently, he settled down more quickly to the activity and was more open to learning new things.

5. Teach because it makes your child feel good about himself/herself

When you teach your child, it means that you are spending time and effort to simplify the steps, detail the actions involved and then let them try and make mistakes and often, make a mess.  It makes your kids feel important and capable and trusted – that mummy or daddy thinks I’m big and good enough to learn how to wash the dishes or cut a banana. I definitely get this from my younger child because all this time, he sees us teaching his older sister, and finally, now, he gets to do it too.  He feels like a big boy and you can see the pride and seriousness as he undertakes his learning.  It’s beautiful to watch!  Even more so, when they get it and subsequently, you see them practising on their own volition with no pushing or nagging on your part.  When they succeed, you see them grow more confident about themselves, more sure and more keen to take on other tasks.  

Who else is more invested in your child’s outcome than you?  That automatically qualifies you to be his/her first and best teacher.  Teaching someone takes effort and hard work and it doesn’t come naturally but most things that are worthwhile aren’t easy anyway, right?  I’m definitely not against tuition or enrichment classes and school teachers certainly have an important role to play in educating our children but don’t dismiss yourselves as unqualified just because you are not a teacher.  Teach your child with patience, teach with passion, teach to the audience of one!  I wish us all many good times with our children!



[free download] 5 day countdown to Christmas!

Christmas is only a week away and I still find it hard to believe! December has been jam packed with activities, short trips and so many adventures. The children wake up every morning eager to start a new day. They bounce out of bed asking, ‘where are we going today??’ And I find myself sinking deep into the duvet, trying to catch a minute or two of extra sleep before the day takes our breathe away.

Another question that they have been asking for the past month is this – is it Christmas already? Can we open the presents now? To help them understand and to save me from repeating myself 1000 times, we came up with a Christmas countdown, just for this week. It’s a five day countdown with simple activities like talking about the Christmas story, singing carols and enjoying the festive spirits. We have also included some activities to help our little ones bless someone this season.


So go ahead, download and print them.


Some tips:

  1. Print them single sided on A4 hard white paper.
  2. Cut them up and fold them along the dotted line. On the cover of the card, write the number of days to Christmas.
  3. You may wish to stick a washi tape to seal the day’s activities and string them along a string.
  4. My little ones love small treats, so I would normally gift them little treats  (sweets, jellies, erasers, pencils, etc) for each day.

We hope you have fun!

[Free Downloads] Tell the Nativity Story in Mandarin

Let’s admit it.  Mandarin is hard!  It’s hard to speak, it’s even harder to get my kids to speak Mandarin.  But it’s a must.  It’s an uphill task but it must be done and everyday that I don’t speak to them in Mandarin, it’s one day’s opportunity lost for them to get more exposure to it.  So my goal for the last 2 months was to speak to them solely in Mandarin.  It took me 2 weeks of doing so for Kyra to eke out a “我不知道!”  ROAR…  Zach is a little better and more responsive to Chinese.  Sometimes he even speaks it spontaneous!  “Ah Gong, can you lend me your ipad 吗?”  *Cries*  Let’s soldier on…

I realized it was so hard to find resources to do theme studies in Mandarin.  In December’s theme of Christmas, I thought I might try to tell the story of the birth of Jesus in Mandarin, since they are already familiar with it being told in English.  However tough to retell the story in Mandarin, I hope to get the main point across – that Jesus, the King of Heaven, came to earth in a humble manner to die for our sins.  While there was no room for him when He was born, will you give Him a place to stay in your heart?

Last year, Kyra wanted to have a Christmas party to invite her friends. It all began when a new girl in the school gave out birthday invitation cards and she didn’t get an invite. She was very very upset (to no fault of the girl who was still new and didn’t want to invite all 30 kids in the class, most of whom she still didn’t know well).  Kyra came back and cried and said she wanted to give out invitation cards too.  SK and I gave it a thought and decided to have a Christmas party instead.  The condition for having the party was that she’ll share the story about Jesus.  I remember it was a crazy December as I was rushing about getting my orders done up, and preparing for the party amidst the whole school holiday frenzy.  I couldn’t find a suitable script online too so I had to write my own.  Although I remember it being absolute nuts, it was a worthwhile effort on hindsight.  About 16 of her friends came and she was so thrilled!  She presented the story, not sure if she could be heard cuz she was so shy and soft but she did finished the presentation with the puppets.

Kyra, these words come a year late, but know that I am always very proud of you for trying, for being fearful but still trying, for always breaking through your own perceived barriers (though there were some tears involved). Our prayer for you is that you’ll always have a testimony on your lips, that your life will speak of the love of Jesus, and that you will cling to the verse, “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here is the nativity story script again in English. Let me know if you want it translated.

Here are some of the key words and I had that translated through Google.  Let me know if anything isn’t too accurate!

Here are the pictures I’m using the tell the story.  They have super cute pictures that you can stick on ice-cream sticks and even a song that the kids can sing.  The pictures are all labelled and kids can practise reading them too!  I intend to use velcro dots so that the kids can match the Chinese words to the English words and pictures.

http://www.biblefunforkids.com/2012/11/baby-jesus-song-more-for-preschool.html  bible-fun-for-kids

Hope this is somewhat useful.  Have fun!

The First Post

The first post is probably the most underwhelming of all posts.  That’s because firstly, there’s no audience yet, so it feels we are talking to the air.  Secondly, there is just so much to introduce ourselves to you, but at the same time, there’s really nothing very much to say.  Yet.  But we will get past this awkward first-date-kind of vibe and we will develop a more familiar voice when writing blog posts.

EllieFun is a brainchild that has been in gestation for way too long – over 2 years as the idea was iterated and reiterated over and over again.  But as all good things need time, we took our (own sweet) time to let thoughts percolate and settle and finally, we are really excited to share EllieFun with you.  EllieFun is a platform where we share, discuss and learn ways to teach our kids.  We believe in us family (parents and grandparents) being the child’s first and most effective teachers and we want to share with you tips, knowledge and materials to teach your child successfully.  Of course ABCs and 123s are important (and we will cover that), but beyond that, there’s so much of the world that the child is open to learning – science, history, geography, biology, physics, VALUES, sociology, psychology – those are BIG words but really, our children are all just so fascinated with what they see, touch, smell, feel and hear in their worlds that it is so easy to just tap into that natural curiosity and continue to fan that flame for learning.  When we step up into that role of a teacher (I prefer mentor), it opens up another dimension in the parent-child relationship.  That we learn together, we read together, we craft together, we play together, we build relationships together.  That is at the heart of why we started EllieFun to enhance and strengthen you and your child(ren)’s relationship in the early years so it paves the way for a strong, trusted relationship for their later years.

One common lament we hear is that they don’t know how to teach and what to do with their kids!  This is where we come in.  Sign up for our newsletter or connect with us on our Facebook Page (search for ElliefunBox) and we will point you to various interesting things to do with your kids.  These are all freely available on the Internet anyway but we save you the time to surf for ideas.  See you around!! elliefun_logo_rgb