Zhuyin at home…or preparing for zhuyin

IMG_3916The way I learned how to teach phonics is that there is a long period of preparation (for reading and writing) before you actually teach phonics.  My confusion is how do I document that if my parents and their kids are all coming in at different levels?  What I think I will do is talk a bit about what parents can do at home before they officially start teaching zhuyin (or having their kids take classes).

The goal of preparation is oral introduction to concepts of phonics.  Separately, there’s also learning to recognize characters and their sounds.

Learning zhuyin characters and sounds

Here are some lazy ways you can introduce zhuyin characters using videos.  This is the “associating sounds with zhuyin” step.  It can just take a long time to remember all the characters so videos are such a great way to go to do that.

1.  Watch 巧虎 Qiao Hu

巧虎 from age 4 onward teaches zhuyin. This is their 成長版/Growth version.  You can search “成長版 巧虎” or “巧虎注音歌” on Youtube and get some videos.  We ordered a year’s worth.  It typically comes with hands on materials.  Astroboy mostly watched videos this past year and I was amazed at how many characters he knew just from repeat watching.

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Greenfield Books – what’s after Sage books

Though I have plans to do a Sagebook-like thing after 500 characters, I’m currently researching Greenfield to see what books they have and put together a group order.  Unfortunately, their website is super hard to navigate.  So here I am writing a summary so it makes sense to me.

Greenfield has a “system” for learning Chinese for overseas students, based on the whole language system.  Makes sense since Chinese is all sight words.  They break it down into 5 steps; and I added 2 more after you learn how to read.

*K = Kindergarten (K1=3, K2=4, K3=5yr), P = Elementary, M = Middle School, H = High school

  1. 兒歌 Nursery Songs – 0-5 years old
  2. 全語文閱讀 Whole language reading – 3-7 years old / K1-P1
  3. 構字規律 Character composition rules – 6-8 years old
  4. 心裡詞彙 – Building vocabulary – 6-8 years old
  5. 分享研討 – Reading Comprehension – 6-14 years old / P1-M1
  6. Reading for Fun
  7. Writing Series

What helped me understand the system was also looking at their catalogue, which gives you the grade level.

The Quick Summary

After Sagebooks, look to the I Can Read Series for young kids.  Maybe the Reading Rainbow Series for older kids.  Other sets are available as more reading material.  But these two series are graded so probably a good series to use as a curriculum.  I’m also planning to get their writing books.

兒歌 Nursery Songs

I won’t go into it here because this is not the stage I’m in.  The basic premise is that you start learning a language through songs.  Makes sense.  Research has shown that.   Here is the link to their explanation and even if you don’t read Chinese, you can see the 2 links on the website which shows you images of the books.   But, there’s no pinyin with the books.  So not useful for non-Chinese speakers.

These are for your 0-5 year olds.  Or for heritage parents, maybe 0-3?


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Zhuyin Take 2

So after my post WAAAAY back in September, we did not touch on actual zhuyin for the rest of the year.

Me bad.

Now, I’m forming a class with some of the parents I know and picking up zhuyin again.  Teaching zhuyin from a once or twice a week point of view is so different from teaching your own kids where you have the option of learning it day to day, even if you don’t actually do it.

I wanted to do a series on zhuyin, from background to point of view of teacher, to the curriculum I’m designing.  So that you don’t have to necessarily take a class if you have the time to do it with the kids.  I know there is already a LOT of information out there so in a way, why one more?   Probably because the Montessori way of approaching phonics is so different from the other textbooks I see.  And this is part of the reconciling process I’m going through right now.  It’s a work in progress.  I will know more as our classes progress.

From a teacher’s perspective, how I would teach zhuyin is highly dependent on age of student, their English level, their Chinese character knowledge and their zhuyin background.   What crosses my mind when I hear parents’ stories on the zhuyin their kids know is that there is 4 areas in learning zhuyin.

  • learning to recognize the characters and associate a specific sound to it
  • learning to blend
  • learning to read
  • learning to spell

I’m planning this as a master post with a TOC to other posts.  In the meantime, check out the original post.  On re-read it feels so much wordier than what I’ve been telling other people.   The original post has background on zhuyin itself, how it changes pronunciations so I won’t go into it here. I”ll come back and update this master post as I write new ones.

Half Hearted Practical life for the lazy mom

Before Astroboy was born, I used to get very frustrated at the fact that Practical Life with Thumper was not what I’d read in books. (I had a lot of misguided ideas.)  Weren’t kids supposed to be mopping the table at 2 or 3?  (Note the word “supposed”.)  By the time Astroboy arrived, I’d figured out a few things.   Given that I’m kind of messy and a bit lazy by nature, we did not really have a proper environment set up for the kids to consistently do it.

If you read Montessori from the Start, the author Lillard talks about creating a child-friendly, child-sized environment for your baby.  Floor on the bed, hanging mobile, only a few toys in baskets on the floor, a place for the children to get their own clothing that is limited to about 2-3 choices, their own low table and small chair to eat.  I was so sleep deprived, I just never got around to it except the floor on the bed.    We had an Ikea child-sized table.  But Astroboy seldom ate there because his sister was old enough to sit at the table with us.

I ended up doing what I like to call “half-ass hearted” practical life.  I let go of the other things I’m supposed to have.  We started with a utensil area in the kitchen for the children and eventually added a water area for the children,  a small mirror above the sink, and most recently snack serving stations.  Whenever I got around to it, which was usually a year later than I started wanting it, I set them up.  E

These are things any family can add to their kitchen setup.  They don’t have to attempt more than that, but the other things kind of naturally follow.  Even if you don’t follow Montessori philosophy, having these stations setup will probably makes your life so much easier in the long run.

Practical Life?

Practical Life in Montessori is just things that are daily life skills.  She talked in her book about how appreciative one school child was to be finally shown how to blow his own nose so he doesn’t have to have someone else do it.  It’s setting up an environment, and showing the children how to care for themselves.

You can do Practical Life in a half ass hearted way by just following the rule of put things the children use at their level.  Practical Life is not there really to make my life easier, even though that is why I’m drawn to it.  In our album, the aim of Practical Life is order, concentration, coordination, and independence.  It isn’t necessarily: “learn how to fold laundry”, or “learn how to set the table”. It’s there to empower the children and answer their cry of “Me do it!”   To help with these 4 aims, I try (though fail often) to add two more things to the “presentation”.  One is how to get the material out, and the other is to how to return them.   For example, to teach the children to do laundry, the important part isn’t to show them how to push the buttons.  It’s the 3 step process of showing them how to put the laundry in the washer, how to start the load, and how to get that laundry out.  Following a sequence of actions is a great preparation for kindergarten.

Our Practical Life environment


Small serving area

The serving area in our kitchen has some breakable plates, non-breakable Korean type bowls, some small pitchers and bowls, and utensils.  When Astroboy was young, the nanny was the one who had to shoo him away when he was in the “likes to drop things” phase.  His personality meant that he would watch you if you gave him a proper demonstration of how to carry things, so that phase did not last too long.  I find that kids may hold breakable items in a way that gives you a heart attack and say, “Noooooooooo!  Be careful!”  But more often than not they will not break them.  It does require an eagle eye and supervision for maybe 1-2 years, when they’re acquiring their motor skills as a young toddler.    And trust.

Do things break?  Yes.  So many glass cups have broken in our house.  That’s why we just buy the Ikea ones.  Using metal bowls or plastic bowls definitely makes life much easier.  But after the umpteenth times, it doesn’t phase me anymore, or get me mad.  I have come to accept that children will break things or spill things, or drop food on the floor.  The adults will sweep up the glass when they break.  But I will point them to the mop or the broom when they spill food or water and say, “沒關係,擦一擦就好了.  It’s okay, let’s mop it up.”  .  My anger comes partly because the children has now made a mess that I have to clean up.  When the responsibility is shifted to the person who made the mess, I feel so much better.

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太陽系 Solar System Study

Age:4.75 & 7.75

Presentation: Solar Systems

Looking over my May pics, I realized I did not document what we did with our solar system study.  I wish we’d gone further with our study, but it would have to do for now.


We first started with the kids randomly cutting up some solar system cards I had made.  Seeing an opportunity, I suggested that Thumper and Astroboy glue them onto a large sheet of paper.  For Thumper I also had her find the names in English and write them down.  Astroboy never finished his.  If you look carefully you will notice that the labels are actually wrong.

So a week or 2 later, I finally finish my solar system nomenclature cards.  We spent about an hour on this one day.  First we laid the picture+label card out in order for Astroboy to match.  While he did that, Thumper read through the definitions and tried to match them.  Afterward, I read through them with Astroboy.  We spent some time acting out the cards.  One planet spinned very fast around the sun (Astroboy ran around me really fast) and one rotated really slowly.    We then used the definition cards that had blanks for the planet names and tried to figure out what planet that was.

Honestly, I don’t think either kid remember these definitions a month after we did it.  I know we need some more follow ups.  Like making a booklet for Astroboy and maybe a research project for Thumper.  But we haven’t followed up.

I also found some mistakes in my cards so I need to remake them.  The definition cards seemed kind of boring to me and the language a bit too advanced maybe.  So I need to redo them a bit.


In Chinese, the planets are named after the 5 elements: gold, wood, water, fire, earth 金木水火土, plus sky and ocean (天王, 海王).   I thought maybe they’d name the planets in the same order.  But alas, they do not.   I’m telling Thumper: 金木水火土天海.   Google says 金木水火土 is  called 五行, and the planets are called 行星.  See how these two terms are related in Chinese?  Kind of interesting.  And Uranus and Neptune are directly translatable to English as Uranus is named after the God of Sky and Neptune we know is the God of Sea.  Anyways, here are some nomenclatures for planets

  • 太陽 – Sun
  • 水星 – Mercury
  • 金星 – Venus
  • 地球 – Earth
  • 月球 – Moon
  • 火星 – Mars
  • 木星 – Jupiter
  • 土星 – Saturn
  • 天王星 – Uranus
  • 海王星 – Neptune
  • 公轉 – revolve (around the sun)
  • 自轉 – Rotate (spin on itself)
  • 一周 - One revolution

Notice that we say moon is 月球 instead of 月亮.  月球 is the more scientific term.

In making my nomenclature cards, I found out these planets had other names in Ancient times, so I included those in.  You can get really into this whole planet thing from a Chinese point of view, which is distinctly different from our Roman/Greek naming of planets.

Homeschool Summary – May 2015

Fitzgerald Marine reserve

Fitzgerald Marine reserve

As usual, I never got to posting about April.  Oh well, it’ll be posted one day.

I feel like I’ve fallen off the homeschooling wagon after the weeks of terrible flu in April followed by throwing my back out.  Don’t be fooled by the posts.  We probably do 1-2 hours of homeschooling at most a day.  It is not my idea of homeschooling.  At the same time, many of our day to day activities makes me wonder if this is what education really ought to be about.  We read a lot more, listened to a lot of audio, watched a bit more Chinese youtube, cooked a lot more, and gardened lots.  It seems like we do learn just doing practical life things.  However, I then change my mind again when I ask Thumper something I’ve taught her a few weeks ago and she doesn’t remember because we didn’t “work” on it.  Apparently just talking about it and having her seemingly understand when we discuss isn’t enough.

Anyways, we have done the following this month:

Chinese:  Took a break.  She learned 20 new words I dreamed up and started going through the 生字簿 that’s available online.  Astroboy hasn’t done anything either.  But as I mentioned, we listened to A LOT of audio, specifically the Children Can Listen Chinese History.  Plus the one night we drove down to San Jose, we listened to a lot of Chiao Hu for Astroboy.  I have noticed that Astroboy is turning another corner finally regarding his Chinese.  He is using more vocabulary words, things I didn’t know he could say.  He can pronounce things better in general.  I’m thinking developmentally maybe he is now ready for more written Chinese.  I don’t think he was before.  He really needed more listening input.


Learning to tell time

Math: Decanomials, Squares and Square Root, Flat Bead Frame.

Thumper finished her subtraction exercises and I gave her a break because I think she’s tired from all the boring worksheets.  She has moved on to the Flat Bead Frame after finally finishing the large bead frame without making mistakes for several equations.  The flat bead frame is like that last step before doing multiplication abstractly.  She’s having issues with the process right now so we either need to go back or figure something else out.  I have to say, even I find the equations boring when the numbers get big.  Especially when it’s not a number you made up.

Astroboy is still counting away.  He loves big numbers.  One day in the car, he added 1+1, 2+2, 3+3, 4+4, 5+5, 6+6, 7+7, 8+8, 9+9, 10+10, 20+20, 30+30, …100+100……ALLLLLLL the way to 5,000,000+5,000,000=10,000,000, which is 一千萬 in Chinese.  This was done while we were driving down to the Chinese Library.  Apparently his sister taught him the answers to this type of addition from 1-10 and he wanted to see how far it goes.  See, an example where I feel a lot of our learning happen organically, and often orally rather than looking at paper.   He also likes to say, 九千萬零九千次 when he talks about how many times something will happen or how many seconds or minutes something will take.  Once in awhile, he will pop out 億 (100,000,000).

Oh!  And we spent about 2 days doing a clock work that never got finished.  Astroboy learned to tell o’clock, half, quarter, and quarter till in Chinese.  We started making a booklet but he lost interest after 2 pages.  Our classroom is full of such half done projects.  I don’t know what to do about that.


Examining Poppy seed pods

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