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How to Help Your Preschool or Kindergarten Child Learn Chinese the Fun Way

learning chinese characters preschool

Learning Chinese can be so much fun if you do it the right way. Find out how your child can learn Chinese through play at home!

Need to help your preschool or kindergarten children to learn Chinese? Looking for fun activities to help your child pick up Mandarin at home?

You’ve come to the right place, because here at Shaws Preschool, we learn Chinese through play! This means that we don’t rely on wordlists or Chinese worksheets for teaching. Instead, our children are provided with meaningful regular exposure to Mandarin, through daily hands-on activities that keep them motivated to learn and use the language.

Why Do Many Parents Want Their Children to Learn Chinese?

How to Help Children Enjoy Learning Chinese

Age-Specific Tips to Teach Children Chinese

How to Introduce Toddlers to Chinese

How to Help Preschoolers Learn Chinese

How to Help Kindergarten Children Learn the Chinese Language

Don’t Speak Mandarin? You Too Can Support Your Child’s Language Learning

Conclusion

Why Do Many Parents Want Their Children to Learn Chinese?

With the increasing influence of China and other East Asian countries, Mandarin is fast becoming an important language in society, and many parents want to give their child a head start. Here in Singapore, the majority of the population speaks both English and Mandarin. 

Unlike English, however, Chinese is a language made up of characters or symbols. Each character or word has an individual meaning. The Chinese language is also structured differently from English in terms of grammar and pronunciation.

This makes it stressful and challenging for parents—especially those who do not speak Chinese—to help their child to learn Mandarin. Thankfully, there are ways to get around it, and we will show you how!

kids chinese mooncake festival preschool

Ethnic Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival are perfect opportunities for exposing children to fun cultural activities. For instance, you could celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by eating mooncakes, making lanterns, and tasting pomelos—just like we do at Shaws Preschool!

How to Help Children Enjoy Learning Chinese

How can parents make learning Chinese fun—and effective—for kids at home? Here are four tips from our Chinese teachers at Shaws Preschool:

 

1. Make Chinese a Part of Everyday Life

At Shaws, we make learning Mandarin an important part of our daily routines. Besides Chinese lessons, our children get to interact with their Chinese teachers during lunchtime, outdoor play, and even handwashing! This exposes them to the language in as natural a setting as possible. 

The more you can incorporate the Chinese language into everyday activities—such as singing Chinese songs for kids, telling stories, using Mandarin when pointing out things, or simply talking about your day—the more your children will learn.

 

2. Speak to Your Children in Mandarin

For parents who are able to converse with their children in Mandarin, what should you talk about? Stick with topics that are familiar and relevant for your children, such as describing objects in the home, favourite foods, and pets. Your children must be able to relate to these conversation topics, so that they will remain engaged.

 

3. Let Your Children Take the Lead

Besides being play-based, our preschool curriculum is also inquiry based, which means that our teachers take their cue from the children’s interests. During Chinese lessons, we often give our children the chance to choose an activity that they would like to try.

Parents can do the same at home, by asking their children if they would like to read a book in Chinese, sing a song, or watch a Chinese video together. Alternatively, you could decide on the activity, such as reading a Chinese book, and let your child pick the title.

 

4. Immerse Your Family in Chinese Culture

The best way to learn the Chinese language is to immerse in its culture. Participating in a Chinese cultural experience (like a festival) helps deepen your children’s love for the language and culture—while giving them plenty of topics to talk about. This may include food, clothing, customs, ceremonies, and other fascinating aspects of the culture.

Age-Specific Tips to Teach Children Chinese

Need age-specific tips to help your child learn Chinese? Below, we’ll highlight the best ways for children to learn Chinese through stories and other fun activities. Read on to find out:

  • How to introduce toddlers (1–2 years) to Chinese
  • How to help a preschooler (3–4 years) learn Chinese through stories and activities
  • How to nurture a love for Chinese in kindergarten children (5–6 years)
  • How parents who don’t speak Mandarin can support language learning

How to Introduce Toddlers to Chinese

At this precious age, toddlers have a brain like a sponge! Exposing them to Mandarin helps them to pick up the nuances and inflexions of the language at an early stage. There are three ways in which you can do so: sing (or play) Chinese songs, read Chinese stories to them, and do fun activities in Chinese.

 

Sing (or Play) Chinese Nursery Rhymes and Songs

Toddlers love songs, so you can play Chinese songs for them at home or in the car. Some of the most popular nursery rhymes (like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) have a Chinese version!

Here are some of the popular children’s songs that you can either sing to your child, or play in your car, at home, or while bathing your child.

You can also look for a child-friendly Chinese songs playlist that you can use every day! Even if you do not speak Chinese, you can still play these songs to your child.

 

Tell Simple Chinese Stories to Toddlers

If your toddler enjoys read-alouds (in English), do take the opportunity to introduce your toddler to Chinese storybooks

Here’s how to choose Chinese stories for one and two year olds:

  • Fluent or conversant in Mandarin? Use wordless books, and point out the different pictures or situations for your toddler in Mandarin. To keep your toddler engaged, choose books with pictures that are relevant to your toddler’s life.
  • To expose your toddler to the four tones in Mandarin (Hanyu pinyin 汉语拼音), you can pick books with Chinese nursery rhymes like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” 
  • To pique your toddler’s interest, choose books with different formats, such as bath books, pull-the-tab books, and pop-up books. 
  • Remember that toddlers love lively and humorous stories with repetitive text and actions. They also enjoy stories with surprising endings—they will look forward to the ending even if you’ve read the same story countless times!

For parents who do not speak Chinese, you can consider playing Chinese audiobooks for your child.

 

The Best Chinese Storybooks for Toddlers

Below are suitable Chinese storybooks for toddlers, as recommended by our Chinese teachers. For parents based in Singapore, simply click on the links below to borrow them from your nearest public library:

Cai cai wo shi shui ya? (Guess Who I Am?)

Xiao xiong Bi’er de xia wu cha (Little Bear’s Afternoon Tea)

Kuai chu lai, kuai chu lai (Come Out Quickly)

Zhe shi shui ya? (Who is This?)

Yi er yi qu san bu (One Two Let’s Go On a Stroll)

Xiao xiao shou zhi hua ya hua (Little Fingers Go Skating)

Bao bao lie che (Hug the Train)

Fun Chinese Activities for Toddlers

At the toddler stage, let your children learn through daily activities involving things that they can see and touch, such as objects around the home. Here are some examples of Chinese learning activities at Shaws Preschool, with tips on how to try them at home!

 

Activity 1: It’s Snack Time

simple snacks preschool
What we do in Shaws: A favourite activity of ours is to involve the little ones in preparing simple snacks, while getting them to name the ingredients in Chinese.

What you can do at home: While preparing snacks with your child, you can identify the names of the ingredients in Chinese, and let your child repeat after you. Make sure you choose your child’s favourite ingredients, as this will excite your child more! 

Translation Apps to the Rescue! Not sure of the right words? Look them up online—you can use an online dictionary or Google Translate (download the app for free on your iPhone or Android phone) to learn how words are pronounced.

 

Activity 2: Number Games

chinese number games counting preschool

What we do in Shaws: Just as we teach kids to count in English, we’ll teach them to count in Mandarin too!

What you can do at home: Look for printable Chinese number flash cards, which you can use to play matching games with your child. (For example, you can match the Chinese numbers to the numerals.) You can also search for counting songs in Mandarin to sing along with. Don’t forget to let your child practise counting in Mandarin—counting the number of soft toys that your child has invited to tea would work very well!

Here’s a simple visual guide for counting from one to 10 in Chinese:

chinese number games counting preschool

Activity 3: Parts of the Face

learning parts of the face chinese preschool

What we do in Shaws: Using a mirror and a chart showing the parts of the face, we teach children the names of facial features in Chinese. We then get them to identify the facial features pasted on the board, their teachers’ facial features, and their own (looking at their reflection)!

What you can do at home: Young children enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror, so you can ask them to point to the different parts of their face, and name the parts in Chinese. You can also do this during bath times—point to their nose and ask “What’s ‘nose’ in Chinese?” Apart from facial features, toddlers can learn to name the parts of the body in Mandarin.

With activities like the above, you can encourage your toddlers to use common Chinese words at home!

How to Help Preschoolers Learn Chinese

Preschoolers are able to enjoy Chinese stories and participate in more Chinese activities. You should continue to expose them to Chinese nursery rhymes and other Chinese songs.

Reading is also one of the best ways to learn Chinese, and Chinese stories can be lots of fun! But how should you choose the right Chinese books for preschoolers

When choosing Chinese stories for three year olds, look out for the following:

  • Keep to simple storylines with a clear structure—a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Avoid stories with complex vocabulary and complicated plotlines. If your preschooler doesn’t understand the story, he or she will quickly lose interest.
  • You can introduce a slightly more difficult story, but you should summarise the story in simple words, and add details sparingly.
  • Series books are fun, as they allow preschoolers to follow a character through different situations.
  • Look for books about science or general knowledge, to satisfy children’s curiosity and broaden their horizons.
  • Talk about the books that you read, to practise your language skills as a family.

 

List of Recommended Chinese Books for Three Year Olds

Here are some Chinese books that are suitable for three year olds:

Wo hui chuan yi fu (I Can Get Dressed)

E yu xian sheng li ti shu. Shen bian de fan yi ci (Up and Down: A Mr Croc Book About Opposites, available in English)

Xiang ma ma yi yang (Just Like Mama)

Wan an, Aima (Elmer’s Bedtime, available in English)

Shu xiao di de sheng ri (Little Mouse’s Birthday)

Xiao xiong zong you hao ban fa (The Little Bear Book, available in English)

For four year olds, focus on their interests—such as construction, trains, or favourite animals—when choosing Chinese language storybooks.

 

List of Recommended Chinese Story Books for Four Year Olds

Below are some Chinese stories that a four year old might enjoy:

Shen qi de xiao shou (Magical Little Hand)

Bu ke si yi de cai hong (The Amazing Rainbow)

Chao nao de jian zhu gong di (The Noisy Construction Site)

Shui de ying zi (Whose Shadow Am I?)

Xiaoxiao mi lu le (Little Owl Lost, available in English)

Hao e hao e de yu (The Very Hungry fish)

Chuang ke tie bang bang mang (All Better!, available in English)

Yi kuai zhuan de li liang (Brick by Brick, available in English)

Need help reading to your kids in Chinese? You can use our read-aloud videos instead!

Here are more videos featuring our Chinese teachers reading storybooks:

 

Fun Chinese Activities for Preschool Kids

Chinese songs are a great way for helping preschoolers to pick up and remember new vocabulary! Beyond learning new words, preschoolers may also want to try writing Chinese characters. Here are some examples of our Chinese learning activities for preschool children, which you can try at home.

 

Activity 1: Learn the Lyrics of Chinese Songs

learning chinese through songs preschool

What we do at Shaws: Preschoolers are always game to learn a new song, and by printing out the lyrics for them to read, they can pick up new Chinese words at the same time. 

What you can do at home: On Spotify or YouTube, look for Chinese songs with simple lyrics that you can play for your child. If your child hears a song that he or she likes, print out the lyrics and stick it on a chart. You can compete to see who can remember the lyrics by heart first!

 

Activity 2: Learn About Chinese Character Strokes

What we do at Shaws: We use dough play to teach our preschoolers about the strokes used in Chinese characters, as well as the order of the strokes:

What you can do at home: To help your child recognise the strokes needed to write Chinese characters, you can write Chinese words on a large piece of paper, and ask your child to ‘form’ each stroke using blocks or other manipulatives.

learning chinese strokes kid preschool

If your child expresses interest in writing Chinese strokes, you can create a guided drawing activity with dotted lines, such as what we’ve done below:

writing chinese strokes kid preschool

You can also get your children to try Chinese calligraphy, which can help to develop fine motor skills and concentration:

chinese calligraphy kids preschool

How to Help Kindergarten Children Learn the Chinese Language

Picture books will still be a big part of your kindergartener’s life—and you can continue to use them to foster a love for the Chinese language. 

What are the best Chinese storybooks for kindergarten children? Between the ages of five and six, children will enjoy the following types of Chinese picture books:

  • Stories with ‘exceptional’ characters—protagonists with special talents, or an unusual way of viewing the world.
  • At this age, kids can better appreciate plot twists and tension in a storyline, for instance, when a character is thwarted from achieving a goal.
  • For school-going children, they are likely to be exposed to traditional stories such as fairy tales, and may be keen on picture books that ‘subvert’ familiar narratives—for instance, a villain who is not so evil after all, or a damsel in distress who turns out to be the real hero.
  • Children will still enjoy some repetition in the graphics and text, as it gives them the confidence to read by themselves.

 

Recommended Chinese Storybooks for Kindergarten Children

Here are some Chinese storybooks that your kindergartners might like:

Ge zi jian dao yi ge re gou (The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, available in English)

Wu ya mian bao dian (The Crow’s Bakery, available in English)

Tu shu guan shi zi (Library Lion, available in English)

Wo men yao qu zhuo gou xiong (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, available in English)

Yuesefu you jian jiu wai tao (Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, available in English)

Chi dao da wang (The Boy Who was Always Late, available in English)

To help your kindergarten children remember the new Mandarin words that they’ve acquired from books, you can:

  • Write the Chinese words on a Post-it note or cue card for review. If the word is for an item found in the home, you can stick the note on the item as a visual reminder.
  • Beyond being able to recognise and read a new word or phrase, children should also be aware of its meaning.
  • Try to use these newly learned Chinese words in real-life conversations.
  • Look out for these words in other Chinese storybooks that you read, and see if they are used differently in different contexts.

Sing (or Play) Chinese Songs to Your Kindergarten Child

At this age, you can encourage your child to sing along to both nursery rhymes and other simple Chinese songs. They could include the following:

 

Fun Chinese Activities for Kindergarten Children

To encourage children to use Mandarin, you’ll have to ensure that they’re not stressed about having the ‘right’ vocabulary, or constructing a sentence in the ‘proper’ way. When they feel relaxed, they will be more open to conversing in Mandarin, and it is through such practice that they will gain confidence to use the Chinese language. 

Here are some Chinese learning activities that we carry out at Shaws with our kindergarten children, which you can try at home:

 

Activity 1: Role Playing in Chinese

supermarket roleplay kids preschool

What we do at Shaws: Five and six year olds can learn a lot from role playing in Mandarin! For instance, you can see our kindergartners at the ‘supermarket,’ where they can learn the names of the vegetables that they want to buy, as well as what to say when paying for groceries. 

What you can do at home: On your next trip to the supermarket, try speaking Mandarin to your child in the store. Or set aside a time at home—such as 10 minutes during lunch or tea time—to only speak in Mandarin, and see who can keep it going the longest!

 

Activity 2: Learn about Chinese Idioms

What we do at Shaws: To give our children a better understanding of the Chinese language, our Chinese teachers make an effort to introduce them to commonly used Chinese idioms. Known as 成语 (or cheng yu in Mandarin), these are four-character phrases that convey a particular meaning drawn from the stories of classical China. 

What you can do at home: By now, you have probably come across a few Chinese idioms in your child’s storybooks—highlight them to your child and see if you can use these idioms in a sentence of your own!

Don’t Speak Mandarin? You Too Can Support Your Child’s Language Learning!

The tips that we have provided above will be most helpful to parents who can speak at least a little Mandarin. However, we know that many parents in Singapore do not speak Mandarin at all. 

As a parent who doesn’t speak Mandarin, how can you provide immersive experiences for your child to learn Chinese? Here are some suggestions:

  • Show an interest in what your children learn during Mandarin classes: Ask them about the activities that they did, or get them to teach you any new words that they’ve picked up.
  • Have a “Chinese Movie Night” every week: On streaming services like Netflix, there are kid-friendly shows in Chinese, as well as English shows that can be played in Chinese (with English subtitles). This is an easy and fun way to increase Mandarin exposure at home.
  • Use a Chinese audiobook version of stories: This will ensure that your children can pick up the right pronunciation for the language without unduly stressing you out!
  • Listen to a Chinese radio station or play Chinese pop songs in the car: This can be a way for you to learn Mandarin alongside your child.
  • Encourage your children to speak to others in Mandarin: If you have loved ones who speak Mandarin, ask if they are willing to spend time to converse with your child in Mandarin on a regular basis. Where possible, such as in taxis or at a Chinese restaurant, you can ask your child to give directions or make simple orders in Mandarin.
  • Start learning Chinese yourself, with a tutor or through an online class: You won’t become a fluent speaker overnight, but you can let your child sit in on your classes, and show him or her that learning Mandarin is fun!

Conclusion

kids making chinese dumplings preschool

When guiding your children to learn Mandarin at home, be mindful not to stretch them beyond their capabilities, as they may feel discouraged and reject the language.

As all children develop at a different pace, we should set realistic expectations for learning Mandarin. At Shaws, our goal is that when our students graduate from kindergarten, they will love the Chinese language and use it comfortably and confidently—both in speech and writing. We hope that by sharing our tips with you, you can help your children to do the same!

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