We’ve been using Ximalaya to listen to audiobooks for a couple years now and I can’t believe I just realized today that there’s a kids version! 🤦♀️
It is much preferable to the adults version I previously used. It’s simple, user-friendly, and when you enter your child’s age, it populates recommendations. Most importantly, you can let your child scroll through without worrying they’ll click on some inappropriate junk!
It’s also easy to narrow down to your interests by clicking on the icons: Science, Classics, Chinese Literature, Popular, etc.
There’s a lot of audiobooks for free but some are VIP only. VIP subscription is $2.49 per month which I find completely worth it. We have enjoyed many of the VIP audiobooks and find them excellent! My son has listened to all the 米小圈 numerous times – hugely popular series from China.
The other thing I’m excited about is the Learning section of this app, where there’s audio recordings for elementary Chinese textbooks they use in China! There’s even quizzes at the end to see if you retained the info.
(Not sure if we will be using this but still kinda cool)
There’s a lot more resources in the Learning section that I haven’t explored. It included learning plans and lessons for Art and many other topics. 🤯 This might be useful for homeschoolers.
While we’re on the topic, 「親子天下」is another app we sometimes listen to. It is by one of our favorite publishers of children’s books in Taiwan.
The selection of books is smaller than Ximalaya but the quality is excellent as well. It has some audiobooks of the Reading 123 series which is nice to listen first if you’re trying to get your kid to read the books. My son enjoys listening to 「字的童話」which is a series of funny short stories that have word plays and puns.
It is also subscription based but more expensive at $5.99 per month.
The benefit to having both of these is you’re pretty covered for Chinese stories from both China and Taiwan! There are many regional differences in the Mandarin spoken, from pronunciation to vocabulary to culture so I enjoy listening to both.
Chinese magazines. They are soooooooo good and have been a lifesaver for me these days since I’ve been quite busy. If you’re a busy/lazy parent, magazines are your friend!
The best thing about Chinese magazines, in my opinion, is that they come with audio read-aloud CDs by native speakers. They are fantastic quality and provide a lot of advanced, non-fiction vocabulary input.
We spend about 2 hours in the car every Saturday commuting to various activities so I just pop a new CD in every week. By my son’s request, we usually listen to each CD at least twice. This is my quick and easy way to learn new words together with my son.
The magazines are themed and the topics change with the season/holidays. For example, since it is now Fall and we have two fruiting apple trees in our yard, it was perfect timing to listen to the Apples issue.
If you’re wondering which magazine would be a good fit for your kids, I compiled a table below to compare them:
Factors to Consider:
Publisher– After buying thousands of Chinese books, I’ve found that I have very strong preference for two publishers which are 康軒 and 親子天下 and I tend to stick with them. Conversely, there are some publishers I stay away from. I won’t mention which ones since I’ll probably really offend some people LOL.
Content – This is probably the most important thing! What are you looking for in a magazine? I prefer a mix of current affairs (e.g. culture, geography, history, news) and science so I can expose my son to a wide range of vocabulary.
Illustrations – My son tends to gravitate towards books with “cute” illustrations. And yes, he really loves comics.
CD – All the magazines come with read aloud CDs that are fun and engaging. Far better than my own accented (and possibly erroneous) read aloud.
Activity books – Honestly we don’t usually do these because ain’t got no time for crafts. But I know some kids really love their stickers and crafts.
小行星幼兒誌 Little Planet Magazine
I was really surprised by how much my son liked this magazine, I think possibly because he is familiar with 親子天下 books and this magazine by the same publisher has similar illustrations, style and voices. He also really enjoyed the activity book that had a detective theme and you solve the clues to find the culprit.
My first impression of this magazine is that it’s very “old” but again I was very surprised by how much my son likes it and has retained information from it. This is the most “sciency” of the three mags. We also enjoy the CDs very much! I heard the DVDs that come with it are also very good but we have not watched them.
This magazine is no longer in circulation so you can only buy old issues.
This magazine is my personal favorite. My son loves the illustrations and comics but content is sometimes too advanced for him. This is not surprising since it is a 1st to 3rd grade magazine so I feel that it will continue to grow with him. I love the wide range of topics it covers and exposure to culture of different countries, especially Taiwan. When we went to Taiwan this past summer, my son was already very familiar with many Taiwanese foods, landmarks, places of interest, etc. due to reading this magazine.
We are having so much fun in the sun and I have been so lazy to blog. But here I am, finally got off my lazy *** to share some of our favorite 西游記 materials for beginners. These materials are abridged for preschool/early elementary age and are introductory level, so don’t expect it to include all the details. The main purpose is to hook kids’ interest.
I’ll start out by saying that I had no interest in Journey to the West when I was a kid growing up in Singapore. I remember it being on TV and my thoughts were that Monkey King and the Pig looked sooooo fake and dumb. I especially hated how Pig’s ears looked glued on and his big belly and man boobs are so ewwwww.
Anyway, things change when you get older right. Especially after you have kids. It’s like you have to force yourself to do things you hate, and then realize that it’s actually not so bad after all. (Am I the only who feels this way?)
Why Read Journey to The West?
Reason 1: It is one of the four classics of Chinese literature. There are constant references to it in books, songs, tv shows… Last week, I watched a talk show and someone said her husband has “火眼金睛”, a reference to Monkey King. Yesterday, my son was reading a completely unrelated book and he recognized several characters in there like 牛魔王 (Bull Demon King) and 蜘蛛精 (Spider Spirit) from Monkey King. Like I said, it’s everywhere.
Reason 2: It is also a nice stepping stone to other Chinese mythology and legends as it introduces many Chinese “gods” and “goddesses” like Jade Emperor, Guanyin, Erlang Shen, etc. This is also a huge part of Chinese culture.
Reason 3: It’s FUN. Both boys and girls will find this story irresistible. Kids really love knowing about each “god” and their “powers” and “weapons” and who is more powerful and who will defeat who (comparison of “powers” is also why my son loves the 小妖怪 series).
Materials We Used
I’ll share what we used in the chronological order that we acquired them.
#1. 西游立體書 3D Pop-Up Book
This was my son’s very first introduction to at 5 y.o. and I think it was a great choice because he was jaw-droppingly WOWED by the stunning illustrations and pop-ups.
Unfortunately, I found it difficult to read this book since it didn’t have pinyin and I wasn’t familiar with the character names (although I could probably read it now). My son was also afraid of the “spider” page. As a result he only requested me to read only the first two pages of this book over and over. As I later found out, the first two pages tell the story of 大鬧天宮 (Havoc in Heaven) which is sometimes told as a stand-alone story, so I guess it turned out just fine.
Regardless, this book was the beginning of his interest in Journey to the West so it served its purpose. It really is a lovely book.
These videos really helped my son understand the story. Little Fox is made for Chinese language learners so the language is by far the easiest to understand of the whole lot. This is a great introduction for kids.
#3. 西游記 注音版 Chapter Book (pinyin version)
This book comes in Traditional Chinese (buy from 博客來) or Simplified Chinese (buy from Taobao). What I like about it is each chapter is really short, only about 5-6 pages, so it was manageable both as a read-aloud and for kids to read themselves. The pictures are cute and I like them far better than the numerous other versions out there with ugly pictures.
The story is summarized (a bit too summarized in my opinion) into about 120 pages and a lot of details were left out. But, I definitely feel like it was a worthwhile buy since it was only $2 on Taobao. 👌 This was easier for me to read aloud to him since it has pinyin!
This is an award-winning audio narration from Taiwan and highly recommended by many parents. I bought it when my son was ~5.5 and we only listened to a bit before he lost interest. It was probably too long and complicated for him at that time.
However, he suddenly picked it when he was 6.5 years old and this time he loved it and listened to the whole thing (12+ hours) in the car over several weeks. Goes to show that sometimes we just have to be patient and wait for kids to be developmentally ready.
Note that this is not an audio book (where someone is reading out a book), but more like an 廣播劇 audio drama (with a narrator and actors acting out parts). There is a lot of sound effects and clinging and clanging and overall very LOUD. I did not like it at first but got used to it after a while. It has a lot of advanced vocabulary and idioms and we both benefited from listening to it.
#5. Back to #3
Shortly after listening to #4, my son picked up the book (listed in #3) and read it. I was beyond thrilled! I just wanted to point this out because it is evidence that listening leads to reading. Having your kids listen to the audiobook first will build their vocabulary and comprehension enough that they can eventually read the book.
Mi Xiao Quan is a hugely popular series in China, the equivalent version of Wimpy Kids. I’ve mentioned numerous times how much my son loves Mi Xiao Quan, starting with the original books and audiobooks, then the other spin-off series like idioms and riddles. I recently realized there’s yet another spin-off series Journey to the West.
Unlike the Diary of Mi Xiao Quan audiobooks which are free, the Journey to the West audio cost about $12 USD. Well worth it in my opinion as it is extremely well produced. In the introduction they stated that the author spent six months writing it and they found the best voices in China to record and the best producers for the music.
I absolutely ❤️ it. I like it even better than #4 You Fu CDs listed above because they do a good job of providing lots of details and descriptions. It also includes interesting snippets from the unabridged 原著 Journey to the West – e.g. asking “Do you know how tall the Monkey King is?” then quoting that it says that he is not taller than 4 feet tall. What a good way to introduce kids to the unabridged version!
It is also more “modern” – it is a recent production so the music and sound effects are toned down, not as “old fashioned” as You Fu CDs which were produced in 2003. Nonetheless I think they both have their merit and I don’t regret buying them both.
And… that’s all I have for right now! I am looking for more intermediate-level books and will update more as we get to that level.
You may be surprised to hear that despite owning thousands of Chinese books, this is my very first set of bilingual books. Most bilingual books I’ve seen are written with very simplistic Chinese vocabulary as they are targeted towards children who are just learning Chinese.
This book set comes with 5 hardcover storybooks + 1 free coloring book in a sturdy box. If you do not speak or read Chinese, there is read-aloud audio found on their website or scan the QR code in the book. The audio is read by a professional TV host in China and I was impressed with the high quality.
Each storybook shows a little boy and girl playing with a traditional toy such as rattle drum, shuttlecock, bean bags, etc. What a fun way to introduce Chinese culture! I remember playing with these during my childhood in Singapore. I spent countless hours sewing and playing five stones in primary school. Ahhh.. fond memories. 🙂
Each book has a heartwarming storyline. For example, in the 不倒翁 (tumbler) book, the theme was being like a 不倒翁 and not give up when you face obstacles.
I really like the “Did You Know?” section that gives a brief history of the toy. Who knew that these toys have been around for thousands of years and were played in the royal palace?
At the end of each book there are instructions for you to make your own toy! Little Man was really excited to kick 毽子 (shuttlecock) and I really appreciated that the materials were things we already had at home. Good way to re-purpose plastic bags too. 😉 There are also video instructions on the website.
Overall I find it a very cute and meaningful set and it introduces Chinese culture in a fun, interactive way. There were quite a few new vocabulary that he did not know so it was a good learning experience.
This contest will run from Sep 12, 2018 – Sep 20, 2018, 7pm CST. One winner will be selected at random.
The winner will receive a Traditional Chinese Toys Book Set (5 hardcover books + 1 coloring book) worth $49.95 sponsored by Kids Joy. Contest is open to participants from any country but the prize will only be mailed to a U.S. address.
Each person can have a maximum of two entries, as listed below.
The winner will be contacted via Facebook Messenger after the contest ends to claim his/her prize directly from Kids Joy.
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.
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).
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.
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):
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.
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:
Correcting him every single time he makes a mistake
Listening to lots of CDs/MP3s of native speakers
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.
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.
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!
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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.💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻
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.
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.
Check out the Ciaohu website for a preview of these other levels:
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
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
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)