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Saturday, January 31, 2015

KidStartNow: The Story of Our First Few Weeks in Chinese Class

As a homeschooling mother, I am most worried about teaching my children Maths and Mother Tongue, precisely because I fared so poorly in these two subjects when I was in school. I sometimes wonder how I will help them navigate through the challenges that these two subjects bring, when I seem to have developed innate phobias myself in these subjects over the years.

Growing up in a purely English-speaking family, learning Chinese was (and still is!) a huge struggle for me. Let it be said that in our predominantly ACS/MGS family - local schools not known for having students who are proficient in Mandarin - anyone who even passed the subject got a huge pat on the back! I have stories to tell of how I called my teacher "mouse" instead of "teacher" for several months, because the Chinese words for both are similar, and how I wrote my Chinese name as "Uncle Cloud" for the whole of Primary One until someone realised I had written in wrongly! 

  Learning how to recognise words in his first ever Chinese class!

Fast forward one generation, and this non-Chinese-speaking Mummy is now laden with guilt at the fact that I was supposed to start speaking the language so much earlier to my two boys, because research shows that children's brains are like malleable sponges and the best time to immerse them in a language is before the age of 3. Had I missed the window of opportunity?

I was truly thrilled when we were offered to review a term of classes with KidStartNow. What assured me about Z attending classes with them was that they begin with the premise that kids may be reluctant to learn the language or not have had early exposure to it. 
Lots of hand gestures are used to help our non-Chinese speaker to understand the words. They work!

The KidStartNow website cites 3 main ways of helping such children. Firstly, shedding any lack of confidence they might have in the language by giving them ample opportunities to use it. This is apparent in the lessons, where each child is given a chance to interact with the teacher and practise saying what has been taught. Every few lessons, the children are given the chance to role play the characters in the previous stories, which they do so with gusto. Even the most timid children come out of their shells, under the guidance of the patient teachers.

The animated story which provides the backdrop for each lesson. It leaves the children captivated! On the left of the picture is the score chart. Children are given points for participating in class as an incentive.


Acting out the previous stories in the previous lessons for revision. Everyone gets a chance to do role play!
Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on helping the children's interest in the language to develop over the course of the lessons. Their high quality, attractive animated storybooks are engaging. The school has its very own Creative Designer on board to design each week's story. The story lines mix make believe with the real world and cover themes which children can relate to. As a mother sitting in for the class, I personally love them too!
Ms Lee puts a good dose of drama into each lesson! Here she is with an apron, 
pretending to be Red Riding Hood conjuring up some food.

However, lessons are not just about interest. As we all know, interest and confidence are the foundation of learning, and that is where the classes hope to take their kids - to a place where they will rapidly acquire the language and naturally want to use it more and learn how to read more words for themselves. There is an emphasis on word recognition in each lesson. Children are encouraged to learn and recognise four new words each lesson; to understand and name some story-related vocabulary; and to practise writing a few simple words at the end of each lesson.
Reinforcing the lesson with real-life objects. "Is it real?" Z whispers to me.
Children associate words with real life actions, e.g. opening and closing the door.


A highlight from last week's lesson was getting to paste fruit on the 
"seven coloured" tree. Much care is taken to
 create an interactive lesson which caters to the different learning styles!

The words are reinforced continually throughout each lesson through the animated storybook, hands-on activities, real-life props, and fun games. The teacher continually checks their understanding and gives each student ample opportunity to practice saying the words aloud, both in isolation and in a sentence. I am really heartened to hear my son repeating the words each week; just knowing he is confident enough to try out the language in a group context is a huge confidence booster for me!
First attempt ever with writing Chinese! He was thrilled (and so was I)

As educators ourselves, and having attended numerous trial classes with our kids as part of media collaborations for the blog, my husband Mark and I have come to the conclusion that what makes or breaks a class for us is the teacher. Z is really privileged to be taught by one of the most experienced teachers in the centre, Ms Lee. Her infinite patience towards this group of active boys who take turns spacing out or goofing off once in a while puts me to shame! I am so encouraged by the firm yet gentle boundaries she sets for the kids. Definitely sets the right tone for learning! 
With his special teacher Ms Lee. What a kind and experienced teacher. 
We are so grateful to have her as Z's first  ever Chinese teacher!

I am so relieved that Z and I have finally embarked on the road to learning Chinese, despite my many initial misgivings. Sitting in the lessons each week, I have developed a new appreciation of the language. I find myself appreciating how the words look like what they actually mean. I am encouraged that the journey ahead may be long, but not as challenging as I had thought. At least we have been given a boost by starting lessons with KidStartNow!
The Chinese word for "door" actually looks like a door!
Mark and I were extremely pleased when we settled down for a Chinese bedtime story with the kids the other day. Z said, "Where is the word that means 'door'?" (This was one of the words he had learned to recognise in his first class 3 weeks ago.) I said, "You tell us, Z!", and he scrunched up his face in great concentration, hovered his index finger over the lines on the page, and zoomed in on the word, beaming at us at the same time. 

As you can probably tell, we were both extremely pleased.

Our little boy is off to a great start in learning Chinese!

Click here for Part 2 of Z's ongoing adventures at KidStartNow!

Note: This is part of a series of reviews arranged between KidStartNow and Parenting on Purpose. Z attended complimentary Chinese lessons for the purpose of writing this review. All opinions expressed here are our own.

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