6 years old, Kinder Reads

Chinese Goals for the Next 1-2 Years

I started out this academic year with very vague notions of what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted him to get “better” in Chinese, but what exactly does “better” mean?

The last few months have been bumbling along trying to balance reading that is neither too easy or too hard, as well as Simplified and Traditional, Pinyin and No Pinyin. 

But I think I finally have a plan. And having a plan makes me happy. Even if I don’t check off all of my goals, so what? We will still have accomplished a lot.

Condensed version of goals for 2019-2020:

  1. Learn 1500 characters by summer 2019 (end of Kindergarten)
  2. Learn 3000 characters by summer 2020 (end of first grade)
  3. Read Zhuyin fluently

Currently Little Man reads books with Pinyin fluently, ~130 characters per min when reading aloud. I think he has made really good improvement in this area because he used to read choppily and pause in all the wrong spots, like right smack in the middle of a 成语. Lately I’ve noticed that he pauses correctly, which is I think mostly due to his improved comprehension and language skills.

His Zhuyin reading is much more hesitant and has errors. I would say he can read Zhuyin probably 80-90% accurately and speed is on the slow side. He is also slow at reading vertical print. I have not measured his reading speed but I’m sure it’s less than 100 characters per min and I’ll really like to bump it up for him to read Zhuyin as fast as he reads Pinyin.

Character recognition is really pesky and annoying. The last few months I got super annoyed and frustrated with his forgetting previously learned characters. And some of them are not even hard ones, mind you. They were characters that he learned in 四五快读 but because he hasn’t seen them in a while.. poof! They’re gone.

Essentially what was happening was that he seemed to forget characters as he learned new ones, the result being that we were STUCK at 1000+ characters and it didn’t feel like we were moving forward and possibly even moving backward. The horror!

But I have since calmed down after realizing that this is totally normal brain 🧠 function and there is a lot of research showing that forgetting is part of remembering. What? Crazy, I know.

A month ago we started using a systematic method of a Leitner box (Spaced Repetition System) to improve memory to a reported 95% retention rate. I won’t go into the specifics because this webpage explains it extremely well and you should read it if you’re interested.

There are digital versions of this out there, such as using the Anki program where other people have already created digital flashcards of first 3000 or 5000 Chinese characters. However I decided to go the old-fashioned way and use paper flashcards. Part of the reason is that I already bought 1500 flashcards from Taobao that I should put to good use, and the other reason is for 6-year-old, I think it is beneficial to have the “hands on” component of holding, touching, seeing, feeling.

Instead of making my own Leitner box, I bought a craft storage container from Amazon. All I had to do it label it from 1-7. It is huge and roomy for hundreds of flashcards! Then I printed the revision schedule online and taped it to the box and we highlight what day we’re on.

We do 5 characters a day and assuming a retention rate of 90%, we should be able to master 1642 characters a year. Presumably then he can get to 3000-4000 characters by 2nd grade and be able to read fluently without phonetic assistance, which is particularly important for Simplified Chinese since there is no pinyin in all the books from China from 3rd grade and up.

I explained the basic principles of the Leitner box to Little Man so he understands the theory behind it. He has also assumed some of the responsibility to review the characters by himself. Since there is pinyin on the back of the cards, he is able to test himself and check if he’s right. This has been a really nice step for us – me letting go of micro-managing and him stepping up with independence.

In case you’re wondering, we are doing only Simplified characters. The reason for this is that Simplified and Traditional are 70-80% exactly the same, and even the 20-30% that are not the same are very similar looking. For myself and most of my friends who grew up in Singapore, we all learned to read Traditional Chinese not through any formal teaching but simply by osmosis from watching TV, reading song lyrics, etc. Little Man has exposure to Traditional Chinese through books and weekend Chinese school, I feel somewhat confident that he can learn it via exposure as well.

Obviously it is too early for me to gauge the success of this method, but it is going well so far. I just have to be patient, patient, patient, and continue trudging along bit by bit, every single day. I will report the results in a year’s time! 😉

6 years old, Bridge Books, Kinder Reads

Chinese Home Library 2019

Happy New Year everyone! Starting off this year with an update on our Chinese Home Library since there’s been massive changes since my last post about it. Our library actually changes quite frequently. Every couple months or so I do a purge and get rid of books that are either outgrown or we don’t like. Life is too short to read crappy books, right?

I estimate that we have about 500 Chinese books in “circulation” at our home library, which is modest compared to others I know, but we’ve barely even read one-third of it!

The factors to consider when building your library is considering your personality, child’s personality, age, Chinese level, budget, space, time, etc. Do what works for you and don’t succumb to peer pressure to buy what you don’t like or need. 😉

Little Man is 6 years old and all our books are for around 5-7 years old, or kindergarten to first grade. Personally I don’t like to buy too far in advance because his interests change rapidly.

Where to buy Chinese books:

90% of my books are Simplified which I buy from Taobao (China) directly. For Traditional books, I buy box sets from Gloria’s Bookstore (USA) and singletons from 博客來 (Taiwan). Generally I stick to Simplified (which is what I grew up with and most comfortable) unless there is a series I really love that is only available in Traditional then I get them in Traditional.

Copy and paste the book names below into the bookstores’ search engines and you will be able to find the links.

What to buy:

My tip for people just starting to build their home library is: buy famous, well-known sets. Well-known books have better storylines, better quality paper, and good resale value. Stay clear from obscure authors and obscure sets – they can be really bizarre or awful quality!

I have included the Traditional Chinese names for them in parenthesis if available. I also linked to book reviews by the awesome Julie @ Motherly Notes. Big thanks for her hard work and time! I always watch her videos to determine if it’s a set I’ll like or not.

How to Organize:

You can see that I organized my stuff into three main categories: Picture Books, Pinyin Books, Bridge Books. Aside from being the most logical way to sort them, it is also because books in the same category tend to be of similar size. For example, all the bridge books are small and narrow and fit well on the rotating bookcase. They are then organized by height from tallest to shortest, and following that, they are organized by color in rainbow order.

And without further ado… I present to you our January 2019 inventory! 

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Pinyin Series (left to right):

  • 流利阅读 注音版 Set of 4
  • 蜗牛典藏屋 童话故事 Set of 4
  • 老师没说的为什么 Set of 8
  • 米小圈上学记 一年级 Set of 4
  • 小屁孩上学记 一年级 Set of 6
  • 台湾大奖好性格童话故事 Set of 8 (小兵快樂讀本)
  • 罗尔德达尔 注音版 Set of 5 (Roald Dahl)
  • 笨狼的故事 Set of 8
  • 趣味漫画名著:西游记
  • 中国传统节日故事绘本 Set of 10
  • 好宝宝健康成长儿童绘本 Set of 4

Comics (left to right):

  • 紅豆綠豆碰
  • 米小圈 成语漫画
  • 植物大战僵尸 爆笑漫画
  • 闹闹漫画乐园 Set of 5

Picture Books:

You can see our favorite picture books in this blog post. Other picture books I love are 壳斗村 and 蜡笔小黑 (pictured below), 3D 西游记 pop-up book, and 奇先生妙小姐 Mr. Men series.

Bridge Books (3000-7000 characters):

Section 1:

  • 阅读123 第一辑 第二辑 Set of 21 (閱讀123, Reading 123)

Section 2:

Section 3:

  • 中文识字典
  • 儿童财商教育绘本 Set of 10

Section 4:

Section 5:

Section 6:

Section 7:

Section 8:

  • 怪杰佐罗力 Set of 5 (怪傑佐羅力, Zorori)
  • 小妖怪系列 Set of 6

Others:

I have some other sets scattered around the house but I’m too lazy to take pictures of them. 😛 I also update our book display pretty often with holiday-related books or books that I want to “promote” to him. His current interests are Chinese legends and 米小圈.

Questions? Comments? You can follow our updates on Facebook or Instagram.

6 years old, English Reading, Kinder Reads

English Reading List 2018-2019

English reading has been on my mind a lot lately and I’ve done some online research and asked experienced friends on how to progress English reading levels. My previous English posts here:

Several challenges presented themselves since he started Kindergarten last month:

  1. Life is very very busy. Aside from full-day school, he has many extracurricular activities now at that he didn’t have as a preschooler.
  2. One of my goals for him is to try different genres instead of sticking to his preferred. I would like to balance reading “fun books” and “classics”.
  3. How to gauge comprehension? Since he is left to read English silently to himself, how can I assess if he really comprehended the book?

This blog post is mainly about how I problem-solved the aforementioned challenges.

#1. Finding Time to Read

One thing that changed since starting Kinder is that he is completely wiped out by 8pm. As in his eyes are all puffy and he can barely keep them open. He has always done most of his reading before bed but clearly this would no longer work.

The other thing I realized is that my son really does best when he reads alone in his room. It’s impossible for him to read in the presence of other people because he wants to snuggle or talk or people watch or whatever. After a bit of trial and error, he now does his reading right when he wakes up in the morning from 7-8am. This is a sufficient amount of time where he is able to either finish a short chapter book or read several chapters from a longer book.

At bedtime I read to him in Chinese and his dad reads in English. He just sits back and listens. I am happy to report that this change in schedule is working very well.

#2. Balancing “Fun Books” and “Classics”

Depending on who you talk to, some will say let your kids read whatever they want. Others will say only let kids read “Montessori style” or “Charlotte Mason living books” or you’ll rot their brains.

I guess I would like to balance both. I read a lot of junk growing up and still enjoy it so I have no issue with my son reading useless crap like Plants vs. Zombies or Dog Man, as long as that’s not the only thing he reads.

Assessing Reading Level

I started by assessing his reading level using the San Diego Quick Assessment shared by Guavarama. I scored him strictly on this test even if the errors were slight, such as when he read “interrupted” as “interrupt” or “develop” with the wrong intonation. I’ve given such tests at work and know that scoring should be done very strictly.

The results turned out pretty much as I expected, with him able to read independently at “3rd grade level” and should be instructed at the “4th grade level”. This of course is not entirely true because he is 6 y.o. and does not have the maturity or comprehension of a true 3rd or 4th grader. In fact I would say that he has trouble reading some “2nd grade level” if it’s not a topic he is familiar with, but can read “5th grade level” if he’s interested and it has plentiful illustrations like Captain Underpants. 

I decided it would be appropriate for him to read books from 3rd-5th grade and found some recommended lists online and bugged my friends with genius kids with lots of questions. Amount of illustrations, size of font, length of book, child’s interests, etc. have to be considered as well.

Creating a Reading List

Several things to note about kids: 1) They like to have choices and 2) They like to see the covers of books. These are stated in Jim Trelease’ The Read-Aloud Handbook and I think holds true for most children.

Of all the books I shortlisted as appropriate for his reading level and age, I made a visual reading list using images from the internet, scotch tape, and a manila folder. It makes it much more captivating to see the pictures of books vs. if I just gave him a written list.

It’s also very important that he has choices vs. me saying this is the assigned book you’re going to read RIGHT NOW.

It’s been a couple weeks and the visual list is working out really well. He has read books I didn’t think he was capable of or interested in!

Two weeks ago:

Now:

I have all the books organized in order of reading level from The Magic Finger AR 3.1 (beginning 3rd grade) to The Mouse and The Motorcycle AR 5.1 (beginning 5th grade). I did not tell him this because it is for my own reference. I do not think AR levels are 100% accurate but are helpful as a guideline. As you can see, he is able to read across a range of reading levels and I do not discourage him from reading something that is “too easy” or “too hard”.

When he finishes a book, he moves it over from the “Books I’m Going to Read” on the right side to the “Books I’ve Read” bookshelf on the left. This is very motivating for him to have a goal and see his bookshelf fill up. 🙂

I also get him “fun books” such as graphic novels and 13-Story Treehouse series from the library. These are no-stress, enjoyable reads. He generally alternates between the “reading list” and “fun books”. After he finishes something challenging, he takes a break for a few days. I also encourage him to try more by the same author if he liked a book. For example after he read Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger, he was inspired to read Matilda even though it’s not on the list.

#3. Assessing Comprehension

I usually spend most of our time together focused on Chinese and largely leave him to read English on his own. However my concern is how much he comprehends, particularly for lengthy books with few pictures, or books that have a lot of bombastic vocabulary (e.g. Roald Dahl) he may be unfamiliar with.

Anyway, I don’t want to give him a quiz or play 20 questions or have him write a book report. Those are all things I’m not too fond of. Instead, I came across the idea to have him do narration using five-finger retell (blog post about five-finger retell) (blog post about Charlotte Mason narration as a learning tool). Retelling is great not just for comprehension but also improves verbal skills and future writing skills. (How many times have we asked kids a question only to get a jumbled mess of an answer?)

We practiced a few times together with highly familiar short stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, then less familiar stories, before I had him try on his own. For shorter books I have him retell the whole book, but for longer books such as Matilda I have him summarize a chapter. I do not do this every day! It would drive us both crazy. It’s more like every few days or whenever I feel like I need to do a comprehension check.

In Summary…

I feel like his English reading is on the right track and expect that at this rate he can finish this list by the end of Kindergarten or before. We do not have much time for English supplementation at home (no time even for English audiobooks, only Chinese) so this reading list and Lakeshore Daily Language Journal is all we are doing for now.

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