Chinese Resources, Learning to Read, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读

四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du: A Review

As you probably already know, I am a big fan of 四五快读. I have a few other blog posts like how we use it and how I organize our materials, but I wanted to wait until I finished the entire curriculum before I wrote a review.

Anyway, momentous occasion today. We finished all 8 books! YAAAAAYYYYY!!!!!! 😊😊😊

Here’s a general overview of our experience.

Stats

Background: My son grew up in a 100% monolingual American English environment for his first 4.5 years. When we started 四五快读 he barely knew any Chinese and I taught him both the character and meaning at the same time, e.g. “This is 天. It means sky.” When we started Book 1, he didn’t even know what 火, 木, 云 meant!

Time: We started when he was 4 years 10 months old and completed at 5 years 7 months old. It took a total of nine months diligently working on it every day for about 15 mins.

As the name of the series suggests, it is designed for 4-5 year olds. Of course it could be used for younger/older children too, but younger children may not have the attention span and older children might find the animal stories kinda lame.

Cost: I bought the set of 8 books from Taobao for around $25 USD

Outcome: He can now read around 700-800 characters, short stories and simple storybooks. Technically the series covers a total of 825 characters but he has forgotten some of them. For those of you from Singapore, this is basically means he’s covered most of the characters in the P1 syllabus and a substantial portion of P2 (however he cannot write any of them).

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Comprehensive program – everything is planned out for you and flash cards are included
  • Builds up a child’s confidence from reading simple sentences with lots of pictures to long stories with hardly any pictures. THIS IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS PROGRAM! It trains kids to not be afraid of long pages of text.
  • No pinyin (I guess some people wouldn’t see this as a pro but I do!)
  • According to the author, child should be able to read about 80% of the words in children’s books after completing this series. I would say this is pretty accurate.

Cons

  • Typos (there are a few every book)
  • Printing error!! My Book 5 had like 20 misprinted pages OMG!!!!!!! 🤦‍♀️

I won’t say that my son loves 四五快读 because that would be a lie. I had to deal with a lot of complaints initially but he is now used to 四五 as part of his daily routine and doesn’t mind it. He is very proud of what he has accomplished and has even brought 四五 to his preschool for Show & Tell!

Some readers mentioned to me that they bought the series but find it so intimidating. I freaked out too and thought there’s no way my kid could learn all that. Here’s a tip: only look at the book you’re on and don’t look ahead! Focus on taking baby steps every day.

Progression from Book 1 to Book 8:

First week (Aug 2017):

Beginning of Book 1 (Aug 2017):

End of Book 1 (Sep 2017):

Book 2 (Oct 2017):

Book 3 (Nov 2017):

Book 5 (Jan 2018):

Book 8 (Apr 2018):

Leisure Reading

During the course of the last few months while doing 四五, I also massively acquired Chinese storybooks and read to him as often as I could. It started with 1-2 picture books a day to now 1-2 hours of Chinese books a day. ME reading, not him.

The impact of this on his language development was HUGE. His Chinese vocabulary and grammar exploded and he became able to read with increased speed and fluency. You will notice in the videos that somewhere along Book 3, he stopped reading character by character and started reading by chunks.

Side Note

Because I did not expose my son to Chinese until 4.5 years old, he has substantial difficulty with pronunciation of tones. I did not take this seriously at first because I thought he would eventually figure it out with time. Well, turns out we got until Book 8 and he STILL did not figure it out by himself and basically sounded horrendous since the stories were now very long. The longer the sentence, the more inaccurate his tones were.

Around the middle of Book 8, I started aggressively correcting his tones using the following strategies:

  1. Correcting him every single time he makes a mistake
  2. Listening to lots of CDs/MP3s of native speakers
  3. Improving my own pronunciation. I’m usually kinda lazy and mumble a lot but I make a conscious effort to pronounce as clearly as I can.
  4. Having him repeat after me, bit by bit. At first he could only imitate 2-3 characters with the correct tones, but he slowly became able to imitate 4-5 characters then longer sentences accurately.
  5. Taking a step backwards and reading EASY books. We practiced My First Chinese Words readers which has one repetitive line per book.
  6. Used the tone marks in pinyin to visualize it (I feel he is a better visual learner than auditory)

After several weeks of my intensive boot camp, he became a lot more conscious of tones and got better at certain combinations which are hard for him (e.g. a lot of fourth tones in a row). Overall I would say he has improved markedly because I only have to correct him about 5 times per story now instead of 5 times per sentence!

This is a video of how he sounds now (May 2018):

Conclusion

I know we still have a long way to go for language, reading and pronunciation, but I think his progress from the first video until now is very evident. 🙂 For those of you just starting this journey, 加油! Persevere and you will see the fruits of your labor very soon.💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻

5.5 years old, Chinese Resources, Reviews

Chinese Resources: Ciaohu Subscription

Disclaimer: Sample issue of was provided by Apex Brilliant Child Development (A.B.C.D. Inc), distributor of Ciaohu in the USA. Opinions are my own. 

Ciaohu 巧虎 is a popular magazine subscription from Taiwan (shipped worldwide) for young children from babies to 2nd grade+. I’ve heard many parents rave about Ciaohu and was excited to try it out. This review shows the 學習版 ‘Learn’ version for 5-6 year olds which I selected since Little Man is 5.5 years old.

Every issue comes with a magazine, activity book, interactive activities such as games, STEM, toys, and sometimes CDs/DVDs. The content and activities are tailored for your child’s age, e.g. pretend play toys for toddlers and more academics for older kids.

Video review of Ciaohu:

I found the 學習版 ‘Learn’ version to be spot on for my son’s developmental level. The content is just right for his comprehension, attention span, and in line with kindergarten curriculum for Math, Science, Phonics (zhuyin) etc. The activity book also contains ~30 pages of fun activities that kids love, e.g. stickers, mazes, spot the difference.

In my opinion, the main benefit of magazines (as compared to books) is the wide variety of topics and vocabulary. Most of the Chinese books we own are fiction and revolve around my son’s interests of superheroes and mythology. Ciaohu provides a diverse “diet” of non-fiction, various themes, and exposure to everyday vocabulary of native Chinese children.

When Little Man opened the package, he immediately wanted to get started with the Science experiments. I found the instructions very clear and my son was able to follow the directions by looking at the pictures.

I also love large clear font and plentiful illustrations! Large font is really important for beginning readers and my son was able to read some parts of the magazine with me. He particularly enjoyed reading the comic. With some practice, I expect that he will be able to read this magazine by himself.

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Right now we use 95% Simplified at home but the Saturday school my son attends teaches Traditional. I feel that Ciaohu will be good for more exposure to Traditional text as well as practice reading 注音符號 (zhuyin), something that I am learning as well. Don’t be afraid to expose your child to both Simplified and Traditional! Kids can easily pick up both because they are just that smart.

They provide the entire year’s schedule so you can see exactly what materials you’ll be receiving each month and the topics. Schedule for 2018-2019 “學習版” (starts September) shown here. Click the links below for other age groups.

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Check out the Ciaohu website for a preview of these other levels:

Other blog reviews of Ciaohu:

Cost: 

  • 12-month subscription $345 USD ($28.75/month)
  • 6-month subscription $188 USD ($31.30/month)

You will receive one of these free gifts when you subscribe! If these gifts run out, Ciaohu will substitute a different age-appropriate gift.

To subscribe, complete the form below. Email info@ciaohu.com if you have any questions.

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5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, English Reading, Teaching Strategies

English Reading: Progressing to Chapter Books

Little Man made some nice progress in English reading lately. Thought I would share some notes on here for others who are supplementing English at home as well.

This is Part III of my English reading posts. Previous posts: How to Teach Phonics and English Reading: Road to Fluency.

After putting a halt to English reading for the last ten months to focus on Chinese, I’ve gradually introduced more English back into our lives. We live in the USA after all and English has always been my priority. Truth be told, I view Chinese as a second language and more “extracurricular”.

Little Man has strong reading ability in English but does not often choose to read. I have some friends who tell me their kids read for hours and hours with no prompting whatsoever. Lucky them! My son happens to be a very active boy with limited attention span for books. It’s not that he doesn’t like them, it’s that he would rather be doing something else.

Tip #1: Remove Distractions

My son used to have an hour of screen time in the morning. On the advice of some good friends, I cut out that screen time. I also stopped buying him as many toys as I used to. The effect of reducing screens and toys is… he now spends more time reading. Voila!

Tip #2: Read, Read, Read (duh!)

From the day my son was born, I followed the pediatrician recommended 20-30 mins reading to him every day. It was not until recently that I realized that is grossly insufficient! My new standard is doing what other successful parents do, aiming for 2-3 hours a day.

Tip #3: Build Good Habits

My son used to only read before bedtime and never at any other time during the day. Since reading this excellent post by Growing Hearts 123, I implemented reading 3x per day: when he wakes up in the morning, before afternoon snack, and bedtime. He quickly got used to his new routine, kids learn fast! My friend Julie @ Motherly Notes says it only takes 21 days for kids to develop a new habit.

I also got him a timer to keep track of his reading time. He absolutely loves this little timer from Daiso and uses it all the time. He wakes up in the morning and immediately sets the timer and starts reading.

We started a reading chart in June with a special treat every 1000 minutes he reads. He was really into it at first but now rarely remembers to color his squares. He is still reading >100 minutes a day, but doesn’t need the prize anymore!!!!! That is power of habit.

Tip #4: Illustrated Novels

Graphic novels (different from comics) and heavily-illustrated chapter books have turned out to be a good bridge for him towards text-only chapter books. It takes kids a while to develop the skills to comprehend longer and more complex plots, so having more pictures is helpful and of course fun to look at.

It also looks less intimidating. Many kids see a whole page of text and immediately freak out.

Little Man has been a big fan of Captain Underpants for a long time and he recently enjoyed Usborne illustrated books, Amulet (graphic novel), Boxcar Children (graphic novel), 13-Story Treehouse, etc.

Tip #5: Choices

I suggest you borrow from the library so you can try everything for free. I find that my son is not so good at selecting chapter books for himself at the library. Instead, I do a bit of googling to find out appropriate books and pre-select a few series I think he would like. It is much easier for him to choose from 2-4 options than the 1000 options at the library.

Note: I am often wrong about what my child might like. I thought he would love funny stories like Junie B. and My Weird School. Nope! Instead he likes stuff like Greek Myths and Bible stories. So try everything, even if you don’t think your kid will like it.

Tip #6: Audiobooks / Read Aloud

And finally, most important tip. The way to transition from illustrated chapter books to text-heavy chapter books is… read them to your kid. Be a salesperson! Sell the book! Suck them in! When I think back to all the books I loved as a kid, they were all “promoted” to me by others.

Highly recommend for all parents to read Jim Trelease’ The Read-Aloud Handbook. I’ve owned this book for a couple years and still gain so much every time I re-read it. In it he talks about how important it is to read chapter books to young children, starting from 3 or 4 years old, to train their listening skills. I wish I did more of this when he was younger.

True Story: Last week I got the A-Z Mysteries audiobooks to play in the car. After listening to it, my son is now zooming through the books, reading one every day.

The basic principle is, keep reading harder books to your kids and they will read harder books to themselves. I do this for Chinese as well.

Questions? Comments? You can leave me a message on Facebook or Instagram.

5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, Teaching Strategies

Summer 2018: June Update

Wow it has been a crazy fun and busy month! My main job these days is ferrying him to all his classes and play dates and squeezing some “home learning” in. We didn’t have that many activities in previous years but somehow at 5 years old, everything just exploded. 💥

(I am already having shudders about how to squeeze Chinese into his ever-busy schedule once he starts Kindergarten)

We do two learning sessions a day. It shows more on the schedule depicted below but in reality we do about 30-45 mins in the morning and 30 mins in the afternoon. I guess some people might consider this intense but considering he used to have 3-hour work cycles at his Montessori preschool, he is actually doing a lot less “academic” time now.

Incorporating 2-4 hours of physical activity into our day is a MUST for my sanity. He is much much calmer and happier when he gets his physical/social needs met and as an added benefit, he has been sleeping for 12 hours every night which he hasn’t done since he was a baby!

Here’s an update on how we are doing on our summer goals which I set in May:

Chinese

I am not sure how many characters he knows but he is gaining several every day so he is not too far from 1000 characters. His speed of learning has definitely increased lately. It only takes a few repetitions to learn new words through reading books with me, without using any flash cards. Sometimes he blows my mind by knowing things that I never taught him, like when he read “小心翼翼” the other day I couldn’t even believe it. He somehow memorized it when I read it to him before.

Anyway, I state this not as a brag, but to encourage all the parents out there that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many parents expressed frustration that their kids are struggling to learn basic characters. This is perfectly normal because learning is always slow and difficult at the beginning. Don’t give up and your child will soon learn at an accelerated rate!

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English

The main success for English is Little Man is reading a lot more lately, ever since I instituted the “silent reading three times a day” rule. He has been mostly reading Usborne illustrated stories, Amulet graphic novels, and just started the 13-story treehouse series. Ok, so not exactly quality literature. I got a bunch of audiobooks from the library and hope to introduce him to more good books that way.

We are halfway through our Vocabulary Workshop workbook. I like it but find it inconvenient because we need the computer to listen to the audio.

Math

Math is going very well. I guess I did not give his Montessori enough credit because he knows more math than I thought he did. We stopped doing math at home for about a year to focus on Chinese and my assumption was he already forgot all the math that I taught him when he was 4.5. Thankfully this was not the case.

My favorite thing about math is asking him how he got the answer. He often does the sums mentally, so I ask him how he knows that 25 + 7 = 32 and he explains he split 7 into 5 and 2, etc. Sometimes if I did it a different way I’ll explain my way to him. These discussions make me very happy. 🙂

We are now working on the challenging word problems book. I feel like it’s less about math and more about how to not be sloppy. It is a test of reading comprehension, drawing the diagram and finally calculating the answer. Usually somewhere along the line Little Man makes a sloppy mistake and ends up with the incorrect answer even though he actually knows it. (This reminds me of when I was a kid and my teacher/parent yelled at me not to make careless mistakes. :P)

Overall…

We are doing well with minimizing electronics. He plays 30 mins of mindless video games every day but aside from that not much screen time. He really enjoyed watching the kids version of 西游记 on the Little Fox Chinese channel on YouTube and there are some other good kids shows that I may gradually introduce to him in the future.

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instragram.

5.5 years old, Bridge Books, Learning to Read, Preschool Reads

List of Simplified Chinese Bridge Books

Because I’m borderline OCD, I attempted to organize all my bridge book sets by level to incrementally scaffold Little Man’s reading level.

Little Man finished 四五快读 a month ago and we are slowly making headway into reading real books. We are starting with simple picture books to boost his confidence. Because most simplified books have NO PINYIN, there are new characters for him to learn even in the most basic books.

Most picture books are not ideal for beginners due to the small font and distracting background. As such I’m planning to move him into bridge book territory soon due to larger font size and clear black print on white background. (Refer to my post here about differences between readers, picture books and bridge)

Note:

  • I have not read most of them yet so cannot comment on whether they are good or not.
  • They are organized by length of book and difficulty of content. A lot of the bridge books from Taiwan/China have cultural elements that are difficult for my American son to understand.
  • Most of them were purchased from Taobao (read: How to Buy Chinese Books from Taobao), with the exception of Odonata from Malaysia and Naonao comics from Singapore.
  • I use a 3-step process to guide my son’s reading:
    • Step 1. I read the book to him and explain all the unknown vocabulary to him a few days prior to having him read it. This familiarizes him with the story thereby making it much easier for him to read.
    • Step 2. He reads it.
    • Step 3. He reads it again the next day. I always have him read the same book two days in a row. The second time he is always much faster, fluent and reinforces the new characters.

This is a very tentative list! I will update as we go through it. For your reference, he currently knows about 800 characters and reads pinyin 90% accurately.

Summer Reading List 2018

🇯🇵可爱的鼠小弟 (Set of 22, picture books) 5/30/18

🇫🇷 超人兔 (Set of 7, picture books) 6/6/18

🇨🇳 我会读 (Set of 8, readers w/ pinyin) 6/12/18

🇲🇾 Odonata Preschool Readers (Set of 48, readers)

🇺🇸 亲爱的小熊 (Set of 5, bridge) 6/22/18

🇹🇼 聪明孩子安全有绝招 (Set of 12, bridge) 7/4/18

🇺🇸 青蛙和蟾蜍 (Set of 4, bridge) 7/13/18

🇹🇼 乐读123 (Set of 18, bridge w/ pinyin)

🇨🇳 小豆包,第一辑 (Set of 5, bridge)

Reading List 2018-2019

🇯🇵 黄色小水桶 (Set of 5, bridge)

🇹🇼 台湾大奖好性格童话故事 (Set of 8, bridge w/ pinyin)

🇸🇬 闹闹漫画乐园 (Set of 4, comics)

🇯🇵 谁在摇铃铛 (Set of 4, bridge)

🇯🇵 启发童话小巴士,第三辑 Raccoon (Set of 5, bridge)

🇫🇷 不一样的卡梅拉 (Set of 12, picture books w/ pinyin)

🇯🇵 启发童话小巴士,第二辑 Refrigerator (Set of 5, bridge)

🇹🇼 无奇不有魔法学校 (Set of 12, bridge)

🇨🇳 米小圈上学记 (Set of 4, bridge w/ pinyin)

🇨🇳 小屁孩上学记 (Set of 6, bridge w/ pinyin)

🇨🇳 笨狼的故事 (Set of 8, bridge w/ pinyin)

🇯🇵 怪杰佐罗力 (Set of 5, bridge)

🇯🇵 启发童话小巴士,第四辑 Witch (Set of 5, bridge)

🇹🇼 阅读123,第一辑 (Set of 10, bridge)

I would really like to know the character count for each book, but I am not so free to count them! The hardest on my list now is Reading 123 which is about 5000 characters without pinyin. I will consider it a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT if we get there.

Questions? Contact me on Facebook or Instagram.

5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, Chinese Resources, Curriculum Review

Summer Goals 2018

SUMMER IS COMING! 🙂 ☀️ ☀️ ☀️

So many mixed feelings as we approach this summer. It’s the last one before my baby heads off to big kid school a.k.a. kindergarten. Because of his Fall birthday he’s actually attended three whole years of Montessori preschool and I know he’s ready for new adventures. Still I’m dreading him going to real school because it means more after-school commitments and less time to do our own thing.

In addition, since he will be attending Spanish immersion kindergarten and be in a Spanish environment for most of his day, I have to balance Chinese and English at home and make sure he is progressing in both.

Age: 5.5 years

Chinese

Present Levels:

  • Knows about 800 characters
  • Can read simple picture books without pinyin
  • Can read 3000-word bridge books with pinyin when sufficiently motivated
  • Produces correct tone about 70% of the time

Goals:

  • Increase word recognition to 1000 characters
  • Read 1500-word bridge books without pinyin
  • Read more 3000-word bridge books with pinyin
  • Produce correct tone 100% of the time
  • Get more fluent with 37 zhuyin symbols and blending (Don’t really care about this as much, but it would be nice if I could check this off my list)

Curriculum:

English

Present Levels:

  • Reads books with lots of illustrations
  • This week he read Fantastic Mr Fox and half of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but he didn’t seem to enjoy them. I feel like he may not comprehend lengthy text with limited pictures.
  • Does not like non-fiction
  • Lisp for /s/, /sh/, /ch/, /th/ is driving me crazy

Goals:

  • Increase stamina for books with higher text-to-picture ratio
  • Increase vocabulary and comprehension
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Fix his lisp

Curriculum:

Math

Present Levels:

  • Has general concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but has numerous gaps everywhere
  • Finished Singapore Math 1A and in the middle of 1B

Goals:

  • Convert his “Montessori math” (beads, snake games, etc.) concepts to more “traditional math”
  • Increase speed and accuracy of mental math
  • Memorize the whole multiplication table (has 4s, 6s, 7s and 8s left)

Curriculum:

As usual…

I have so many grand plans. As for whether they will come to fruition… It’ll be fun for me to look back at this in three months time LOLOLOL. 😝

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Preschool Reads

Chinese Superhero Books for Kids

For many of us, Chinese is our kids’ minority language and often weaker and non-preferred. Hence it is important to find books that are highly captivating. All the books I buy are specific for my son’s age, level, interests and tastes. He loves superheroes and adventure and all that is 打打杀杀.

I follow this tip from Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: increase the number of Chinese books and simultaneously decrease the number of English books. I’ve cut back on buying English books/materials and we don’t go to the library as often as we used to. This has worked extremely well and my son now often picks up Chinese books to read or thumb through.

Back to what this post is about… I think I have all the superhero books on the Simplified Chinese market. 😝

I listed the books below in order of language difficulty from easiest to hardest — the first four on the list are picture books and the last three are bridge books (difference explained here).

1. 超人兔 Super Bunny series

These stories are short and hilarious and perfect for beginners. My favorite part is the BIG FONT which makes it great for joint reading. I usually read most of the story and have my son read the big words, which are all easy characters. Be forewarned that it has inappropriate language like “臭㞎㞎” (stinky poop) which made my son laugh and laugh and laugh.

2. 青椒小超人 Green Pepper series

I love love love this Japanese-translated series. The illustrations are soooo cute and the stories are all healthy and teach nice morals like eat more vegetables to defeat germs, exercise every day, don’t trust strangers, etc. They are paperbacks but the quality is excellent.

3. 神奇侠 Magical Bandit series

This series is by the famous Japanese author 宫西达也 who has a very distinctive drawing style. These two are quick, easy, and funny reads and my son enjoys the humor. It’s about kids who complain about their boring toothpaste. The magical bandit invents magical toothpaste which turns them into giant food heads. The kids realize their regular toothpaste is pretty awesome and stop whining about brushing their teeth. Ha!

4. 正义联盟故事 DC Superheroes 5-Minute Stories

This book is just okay. The binding is poor and the pages are falling out even though we didn’t even read it that much. The best thing about this book is I learned a lot of my son’s favorite DC superhero names in Chinese and it has pinyin. Don’t buy this unless you have a huge DC fan.

4. 我们的校长是超人 Captain Underpants series

This is my son’s favorite series in English and we love it in Chinese too. The translation is very good and I often burst out laughing. 😆 The best thing about this series is the pages correspond exactly to the English version so it’s easy for him to understand since he’s read it in English a million times.

Although these are chapter books, I find them fairly easy to read (as an adult with okay Chinese skills), with only 5-10 characters per book that I don’t know. The chapters are short so it’s easy to read 3-5 chapters in one sitting. Highly recommend for Captain Underpants fans.

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5. 屁屁超人 Fart Boy series

I have three of these Fart Boy books as part of 阅读123, Set 1. Each book has three short stories. This series is from Taiwan and the language and storyline has a distinctive Asian flavor (e.g. the principal pulling the boy’s ear). It is harder for my son to understand but I do really like this exposure to Taiwan-Mandarin vocabulary and culture.

When we first read this two months ago, my son did not like it because he couldn’t comprehend it. We recently tried it again and he enjoyed it and requested it a few times. So even if your child rejects a book now, don’t give up! Give it a few months and try again.

6. 怪杰佐罗力 Zorori series

I’ve never heard of Zorori before but apparently it is crazy popular among elementary students in Japan (where it’s from) and Taiwan. I find it rather challenging to read because of the up-down print which I’m not used to. The book is also rather long — it is one whole long story without being divided into chapters. Right now this series is sitting on the shelf until we finish Fart Boy and Captain Underpants.

Where To Buy: All of the above books were purchased from Taobao which ships to many countries including the USA. If you copy and paste the titles into the TB search bar you should be able to find them. For details on how to order from TB, refer to my updated TB shopping guide here.

{If you know of other good superhero books, let me know! Follow me on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on my blog posts.}