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!

07learningcurve

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, 6 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.
  • 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) 8/19/18

🇺🇸 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) 8/17/18

🇯🇵 黄色小水桶 (Set of 5, bridge) 8/27/18

Reading List 2018-2019

Update 8/27/18: We completed all the books on our summer reading list – YAY! Little Man currently knows 1000+ characters and reads pinyin fluently. I decided to omit pinyin books from our reading list as he can read them on his own. We will continue to read non-pinyin books together for him to learn new characters.

Due to limited time on weekdays, I plan to have my son read short stories (~1500 characters) on weekdays and longer stories (3000-5000 characters) on weekends. Some of the Reading 123 series has several short stories/chapters per book so I’m putting it in the short story category.

Little Man is quite confident in his reading and has been making decisions on what he wants to read next, e.g. he expressed interest in reading 亮亮 even though it’s in Traditional text. I am happy to follow his lead. I will update this list as we go through it so you get an idea of reading levels and progression.

Short Stories

🇹🇼 亮亮的成長 (Set of 25, picture books, 繁體)

🇨🇳 小豆包,第一辑 (Set of 5, bridge)

🇹🇼 阅读123,第一辑 (Set of 10, bridge)

🇹🇼 字的童话 (Set of 7, short story collection)

Long Stories

🇹🇼 无奇不有魔法学校 (Set of 12, bridge)

🇯🇵 小妖怪 (Set of 6, bridge)

🇯🇵 谁在摇铃铛 (Set of 4, bridge)

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

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

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

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. 😝

[You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram]

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.

img_3055img_3056img_3054img_3057

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.}

Home Library, Preschool Reads

Chinese Home Library: 4 Different Types of Chinese Books

Did you know there are many different types of Chinese books? I sure didn’t! Ten months and thousands of dollars 🤑 later, I am now much savvier.

Here is a brief overview of the different types of books for preschool to early elementary. I am referring to Simplified Chinese books because that’s what I use. The following information may or may not apply to Traditional Chinese books, which differ in many ways.

1. Picture Books (绘本)

These books are designed for parents to read to their children (亲子阅读). Picture books are large and have colorful pictures on every page accompanied by a few lines of text. The print tend to be small and without pinyin because it’s assumed that it will be read by adults.

img_9815

{See my list of 10 Best Picture Books for Preschoolers}

Why you need these:

These books have rich storylines, beautiful illustrations, and are great for parent-child bonding when you read together and discuss the pictures. They expose your child to higher-level vocabulary, idioms and content.

2. Readers

These books are designed for children to read to themselves. The font is usually large and they use easy basic characters like the most common 500 characters. The stories tend to be simple and rather lame, because really, you can’t write much exciting stuff using only 500 characters.

You can tell a book is a reader if it includes flash cards or tells you it has X number of characters on the cover. They are also usually called 我会读,我会自己读, or something along those lines. Most readers tend to be small, thin paperbacks because they are for little hands to hold.

Why you need these:

These easy readers serve the primary purpose of helping children increase sight word recognition, and build confidence and fluency/speed. They teach a few new words per story with lots of repetition so kids remember the new words.

Don’t spend too much of your time reading these to your kids. Compare a sentence in a reader “乖乖兔也生气了” (Good Bunny is also angry) to a sentence from a picture book “找到球了,入室盗窃案好像也一起侦破了” (After we find the ball, the burglary case will likely be solved as well). Which one has advanced vocabulary and sentence structure that you want your kids to learn? The answer should be obvious.

3. Bridge Books (桥梁书)

I consider these simple chapter books because they are wordier with fewer pictures. These books are designed for children to read to themselves to practice reading so they can eventually read chapter books without any pictures. There are bridge books both with and without pinyin, and they vary in length and difficulty.

The size of these books tend to be around the size of novels:

Why you need these:

Although these are designed for children to read to themselves, I do read them to my son occasionally to train his comprehension to have less reliance on pictures. I also want to familiarize him with the story so it’ll be easier for him to read them in the future.

The guideline I follow (from the acclaimed The Read Aloud Handbook) is to read to your child at two years higher than his current level. Since my son’s Chinese level is at about 4 years old, I try to read aloud to him books suitable for 6 years old. In English, I read to him chapter books that are for 2nd-4th grade.

Eventually the goal is for him to be able to read these bridge books to himself.

4. Books with Pinyin

All books with pinyin are basically written for kids to independently read to themselves. The books from China do not come with pinyin after around 2nd grade.

Why you need this:

Books with pinyin are an important step to independent reading. Since most preschool-early elementary kids only know several hundred characters, a far cry from the 3000 characters you need to know to read fluently, they need pinyin to read more interesting and advanced books. Kids in China read books with pinyin until they know several thousand characters in 2nd grade, at which point they transition to reading books without pinyin.

In summary…

If you’re wondering which of the four types of Chinese books you need, the answer is YOU NEED THEM ALL. As stated above, they serve different but equally important functions. Make sure you have a good selection of all four types.

As a general rule of thumb, spend more of your time reading advanced stuff to your kid and let your kid read the easy readers/pinyin stuff to himself. This is true for any language.

The other thing to keep in mind is that each of these types of books range in difficulty. Picture books range from extremely easy to extremely hard. Same for bridge books and pinyin books.

Don’t be discouraged even if you have an older child who barely understands Chinese. Ten months ago, my son didn’t know a single word of Chinese and now he is able to understand some bridge books like 屁屁超人. The way to rapidly increase comprehension is start with really easy books like 鼠小弟 Little Mouse series and to keep reading slightly harder books every day. I also do repeated reading with him, e.g. the first time we read it I might translate portions into English. Then second and third time we read it, I translate less and less until he can completely understand Chinese.

My home library has changed A LOT since I started building it about eight months back. I’ve put away some books that are too hard, and ordered more easier pinyin books for my son to read to himself since he’s been wanting to do that lately. We have about 500 books in his bedroom of varying type, level, and topic.

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

5.5 years old, Preschool Reads

Preschool Reads:《植物大战僵尸》Plants vs. Zombies Picture Books

He first played PvZ during our long flight ✈️ from USA-Singapore last August and he’s been completely hooked since.

In Singapore, we bought a few PvZ books from Popular Bookstore like these two comic books:

Little Man is very interested in these comics however they are not appropriate for preschoolers. The print is sooo tiny that even I have hard time reading it. In addition, even when I read them to him, he doesn’t understand the jokes because they are all “冷笑話” (Chinese word plays or puns) more suited for older children.

This series of picture books shown below is much better for beginners in terms of large and clear font and pinyin, full color pictures on every page, and content that is fairly easy to understand.

Each book contains 8 short stories of about five pages each. Sample story shown here:



Each story tells a simple moral, usually along the lines of don’t tease others, exercise every day, don’t yaya papaya 😉…

Little Man really really enjoys this series of books. He enjoys looking at the pictures and even brought them to the bathroom to read while on the potty! 🚽

He also likes to use tracing paper to trace the illustrations. As you can see, he even traced the words and pinyin:

Lately, he has even started reading the stories himself. I think the short length of the stories really helps. He gets discouraged reading the other pinyin books we have because they are too long and/or advanced.

I suggest reading to your child a few times to familiarize with the plant and zombie vocabulary. The vocabulary repeats itself quite frequently so after a while your child may feel confident to attempt reading to himself.

For some extra fun, you can get PvZ 3D puzzles and toy figurines for pretend play:

Where to Buy:

Picture Books:

From Popular Bookstore (Singapore/Malaysia) or Taobao link

3D Puzzles:

Taobao link

PvZ Toys:

I bought mine on Amazon because I needed them delivered in time for his birthday

I usually buy from Taobao myself since it saves a heck ton of $$ but if you don’t feel comfortable doing that there are many agents you can use such as Taobaoring, Bhiner, Yoybuy etc.

Follow our Chinese learning journey on Facebook or Instagram!