5.5 years old, Bilingual Journey, English Reading, Learning to Read

End of Summer Update and Goals for 2018-2019

Wow, I can’t believe summer is almost over and I am heading back to work soon. I figured I better blog because my memory is not that great and I tend to forget if not recorded down.

Three months ago I set some goals for us (blogged here). For those of us that live in the USA, three months of summer vacation is the perfect time to boost a lot of skills that we might not have time to during the school year.

Of course, summer is also the time for lots of sports and camps and activities. I am so thankful to have made some Taiwanese friends in our area this summer and our kids had a blast together.

Present Levels

Chinese

Huge gains in this area. Little Man speaks Chinese frequently now, to me, to himself, to his non-Chinese-speaking dad, to the dog…!!! He speaks Chinese loudly in public with no reservation and I can only hope this continues. Growing up in Singapore, I remember being ashamed to speak Chinese and avoided it for many years.

His vocabulary is increasing rapidly and he sometimes regurgitates 成语 or phrases from books. Yesterday he said people shouldn’t yell and should “轻声细语”, I was so shocked! His grammar is a little off at times but he is starting to use complex sentences to express himself.

He loves for me to read him Chinese books and yesterday we spent 1.5 hours reading Chinese books. Hard to believe that this same kid used to hate Chinese books! I do not pressure him to read during these times. I cherish the special bonding of me reading to him. 🙂

I can’t keep track of how many characters he knows. It’s about 1000+ and can read about 90% of the characters in children’s books. He continues to gain several characters every day and can read with and without pinyin 3000-character books. His pronunciation, though far from perfect, is much better than at the start of the summer.

English

Nice gains in this area as well. We started out the summer using a reading chart and timer. In July we faded out the reading chart, and in beginning of August also faded out the use of the timer because he doesn’t need them anymore! 🎉

He has developed some really nice reading habits — I am seeing more and more of him reading everywhere, in the car, on the toilet, during breakfast… 😀

He has recently developed the ability to read for over an hour (sometimes). I cannot tell you how happy this makes me because he has always been a fidgety one who cannot sit still. This month he finished almost all the A to Z Mysteries, re-read Captain Underpants, Usborne Illustrated Classics and Greek Myths, Illustrated Children’s Bible, and some Geronimo Stilton.

Audiobooks and abridged books seem to be a good way to introduce classics to him, e.g. he read the abridged version of Wizard of Oz and Greek Myths, and listened to the full version on audio.

I got some Great Illustrated Classics this week and I’m so happy he’s taken to them. He read Robin Hood in two days and just started Journey to the Center of the Earth. On a similar note I am also reading him the abridged version of 西游记.

Mostly I am letting him read English on his own. He reads his math problems out loud and he sometimes has trouble decoding people’s names or multisyllabic words. Science or non-fiction books is also a good way for me to check that he is reading long words accurately.

I’m trying to let go of the idea of “reading levels”. Yesterday he re-read some Dr. Seuss from when he was a toddler, then a children’s encyclopedia, then some dumb comics. Clearly his reading and interests span quite a wide range! As long as we have plenty of good books around I’ll just (try to) chill out and let him make his own selections.

Math

We are almost finished with Challenging Math Problems 1. Wow was it challenging! Little Man breezed through Singapore 1A and 1B so I think he expected to breeze through this book as well. It was quite a blow to his self-esteem and actually resulted in tears doing this book (he is not a kid who cries often).

The reason for the tears was that he did a whole page incorrectly and was upset he had to erase and re-do it. Word of caution to parents: you will need to support your child through this book! Do not expect to throw this workbook at them to do independently.

Anyway, as with all things, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The last third of the book Little Man got the hang of it and became quite good and independent with completing 3-step word problems.

The biggest gains out of doing the Challenging Word Problems book:

  • Reading comprehension (really carefully between the lines for “clues”)
  • Logic (some of the problems are deliberately worded to confuse you)
  • Calculation (math operations to 100)

At this point he can add and subtract double digits mentally. He knows some simple multiplication and division but it was only briefly covered in this book and we didn’t have time to go more in depth into it.

Looking into next year…

It’s really hard for me to set concrete goals because a lot can change in a year’s time. Here are some non-specific goals I have for 2018-2019:

Chinese

Expect that he will read 3000-5000 character bridge books and stay at this level for a while. Little Man still has gaps in his Chinese vocabulary such as slang (e.g. 吹牛,開趴) and certain aspects of Chinese culture (e.g. school words like 班长, 值日生 and Chinese myths and legends) that he doesn’t understand, so he needs to spend more time building up on that. I do not think he can read full chapter books until he expands his vocabulary. Just because he can “read” the words (via pinyin) does not equate to comprehension.

I would also like to introduce some character writing using the Singapore P1 syllabus. In Singapore he would be P1 in 2019 so this corresponds to his age level.

English

Little Man will be in a Spanish immersion program so some level of supplementing English is necessary as well. I’m hoping it can be done more informally through a lot of reading and audiobooks because ain’t got no time for so many workbooks!

His dad reads to him from our non-fiction Usborne collection every night so I’m assuming he can continue developing higher-level vocabulary this way.

Math

Really torn about what to do for math. I know that we will need to continue math practice because otherwise he’ll just forget everything he’s learned this summer, essentially putting all our hard work to waste. Currently undecided on which math books to use.

Other thoughts…

Given that he will probably be pretty tired from a full day of kindergarten, I don’t want to give him too much additional work when he gets home. My plan is to keep to 30 minutes a day of Chinese “enrichment” or “mommy tutoring”, whatever you want to call it.

Informally, I would like to continue reading to him in Chinese an hour a day and have him read English himself an hour a day. This should be pretty relaxing and fun and doesn’t count as “work”.

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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.

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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.

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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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Bilingual Journey, Teaching Strategies

Bilingual Journey (7 months in): Successes and Failures

Last June when Little Man was 4 years 9 months old, I was struck by a sudden desire to teach him Chinese. Up until then he was 100% monolingual in English.

In the last seven months I’ve tried (almost) everything to boost his Chinese skills. I thought I’d share what things DID and DIDN’T work for us, because it’s soooo annoying to waste resources on things that have little measurable impact.

FYI, I grew up in Singapore and am bilingual and biliterate in English/Chinese. English is my dominant language and my Chinese is very good but nowhere near native.

Report Card (Age: 5;4, 7 months into learning Chinese):

  • Comprehension: ~48 months
  • Speaking: ~24 months
  • Reading: ~400 characters

A member of a bilingual FB group told me this idiom: 万事起头难 (the beginning is always difficult) and this is the damn truth. Chinese was SO SO SO hard for him at first because he was unaccustomed to the sounds and grammar of the language… but once he learned about 150-200 words, things skyrocketed. He started understanding short sentences, then longer sentences, then whole stories. He gained 48 months of comprehension in 7 months!! So if you’re experiencing difficulty teaching your child Chinese, persevere. 💪🏼 An initial rejection or slow period is completely normal:

learning-a-second-language
Source: k5 ChalkBox

Successes:

These are the things that made a huge impact on his language development as compared to cost. High return on investment (ROI), so to speak.

#1. Speaking to him in Chinese

I am his primary source of language input as we do not regularly get together with other Chinese speakers. In the beginning I often spoke to him in Chinese followed by English, e.g. “把你的鞋子穿上. Put on your shoes”. As his Chinese improved I gradually reduced the English translations and now he is able to understand basic conversational Chinese well.

#2. Home library

Our Chinese home library is probably the costliest expense so far but 100% worth it for the exposure to new, varied, and advanced vocabulary. E.g. last night we read these “Butt Detective” books and encountered a heck ton of vocabulary that he was not familiar with like 案件 (case), 窃贼 (thief), 嫌疑犯 (suspect), 局长 (commissioner).

I’ve also gotten savvier about picking better Chinese books and he is enjoying them more and more.

#3. Music

We have a growing collection of CDs/books that we listen in the car every day for 10-20 minutes. On weekends we also listen to Hoop Kids 圈圈 music while doing quiet activities like dot-to-dot and coloring. The longest Chinese sentences that he can speak are lines memorized from songs! Plus it is really cute to hear him singing to himself.

#4. 四五快读 Reading curriculum

I started teaching him to read characters when he was about two months into learning Chinese. At that time he didn’t even know what basic words like 天,田,云 meant. Reading helped him learn language. I attribute this to the fact that he is more of a visual learner than auditory so seeing helps him learn.

The good thing about 四五快读 is that it starts out with easy words and short sentences in Book 1 and gradually gets longer and harder. This incremental approach has been very helpful and now in Book 6 he is reads and comprehends 4-page stories. 🙂

Easy sentences in Book 1 (Aug 2017)
img_1509
Now reading 4-page stories in Book 6 (Jan 2018)

Note: He was 4.5 y.o. and a fluent English reader when we started 四五快读. If your child is really young like 2 years old I would focus on listening/speaking and not reading.

Failures:

#1. Montessori at home

Honestly, attempts to Montessori at home have been a big flop so far. I cannot wrap my brain around why Little Man does so well at his Montessori preschool that he’s attended for almost 3 years, yet shows zero interest at home.

GAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

I have made my peace with the fact that while other bloggers have beautiful Montessori set ups at home and their kids LOVE it… it doesn’t work for us. I’ll still prepare activities occasionally but am not doing to spend too much time/money on it. Cutting my losses on this one.

#2. Toys, games, apps, videos, etc. 

These add to the overall FUN/COOL factor but have had minimal impact on his language development. Perhaps they will play a bigger role as he gets older and becomes more proficient in Chinese. I learned quite a bit from watching Chinese shows when I was in elementary-high school but that’s because I already had solid foundation in Chinese, e.g. when you can read 95% of the subtitles then it’s easy to learn the other 5% from TV. But if you can only read say 25% of subtitles you will not be able to learn 75% from watching TV.

Videos, apps and such are good for supplemental learning but they can never be the primary mode of instruction. Has anyone ever learned a foreign language through watching videos?? Doubt it.

img_0603

Goals:

My immediate goal is to get him to age-level comprehension. He is speaking more and more sentences which is very encouraging. We also started some handwriting. I’m also trying to spend less time playing on my phone and more time speaking to him in Chinese! 😛

I’ve also come to the decision that I’m 100% a-okay with him learning Chinese as a second language and therefore will not stress myself out by comparing with others who are learning Chinese as a first language. After all, I myself am first language English, second language Chinese and I turned out fine and proficient in both. What this means is I will not be teaching him Science or Math or other subjects in Chinese. Letting it go. 

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