Chinese-English Homeschooling during the Pandemic and 小行星 Review

With the uncertainty surrounding COVID, homeschooling is now being considered a option for many families, becoming more mainstream than ever before. A lot of mom friends have expressed to me their concerns for being able to homeschool. I would like to reassure you and any other parents out there, that homeschooling is not only a necessary option for those at high-risk, or those like me who just don’t want to deal with the back-and-forth of government mandates and shutdowns, but it is an ideal option for those wanting an individualized education for their children.

If you are a bilingual parent, realize you have a skillset that is not commonly found in public schools (except for dual immersion, which for some kids is not very effective, there are many gaps of language ability) and that your children can benefit from your one-on-one instruction in an true bilingual learning environment.

As you are debating the option of homeschooling, see the opportunities that come with homeschooling, not the limitations. I see a lot of panic, worry and fear directing parents’ decisions about their children’s education and that is a disservice to our children. Change your mindset, be open to new possibilities and commit to making it work, rather than feeling guilty for your children’s loss of “normal” traditional school experiences or lack of socialization. Let’s quit trying to compare the two avenues of education, and just accept and even celebrate that they are different and both have benefits.

One example is to use this time to improve your children’s language abilities in Chinese. You know that your children’s minority language skills have often been put on the altar to pursue competency and stay on grade level in subjects taught in English. This year, while very uncertain and stressful, is a gift and you can tap into that gift through self-paced learning, that is, homeschool. Homeschooling is all about the gift of time and nurturing relationships. Optimal language development happens most naturally with time and in community that uses the languages, or in the case of COVID times, healthy familial relationships. This could be a great opportunity for your family!

There are many resources for bilingual Chinese-English speaking children from ABCD (they distribute Ciaohu and also Kang Xuan for the United States). I have reviewed both before on the blog.

They sent me these learning magazines Xiao Xing Xing 小行星 for this review:

  This magazine series is compatible with a reading pen. I was not sent one, but it works similar to other reading pens we have used. One unique feature of this magazine, is the ability to use reading stickers on several of the story pages so that the child can listen to the audio version of the story independently.

This would be a great option for working parents who still want their children to have the opportunity to hear native Chinese during the workday but are unable to physically be at home or are busy working from home.

The magazine also comes with a CD.

  There is also a sticker workbook and a small English picture book that is probably not necessary for bilingual children raised in America.

This magazine series uses zhuyin (注音) so that if you are like me, unable to read all Chinese characters but can decipher the phonetics of zhuyin, this is a great option. (Qiaohu only has zhuyin in chengzhangban and higher levels meant for the children to use/practice. The lower levels do not have zhuyin, as they assume that children are pre-reading or unable to read on their own and would require a parent/guardian to read it.)

I personally am still going to subscribe to Qiaohu because I think with the levels we already own, it’s nice to build the library of materials. However, if I were looking for a new subscription, this would definitely be a contender. Qiaohu lightly covers Tang poems and zhuyin which are not “necessary” subjects for American Chinese (ABC) children to learn, but Xiao Xing Xing covers more of a STEM style which has a broader appeal. I would say it’s on par with Kang Xuan.

If you have additional questions about this or other educational magazines for children in Chinese, please contact Nicole or Joyce at ABCD. Try to talk to them in person over the phone rather than relying on websites which are very basic and don’t give enough information to assess your family and child’s educational needs.


Nicole or Joyce

Tel:949-549-1288 Fax:714-265-3630 ciaohu.com c-stems.com

The Good and The Beautiful Curriculum Review

In this post, I am reviewing the curriculum we have been using since July 2017 called The Good and The Beautiful. We began homeschool preschool in March of 2017, so this curriculum has been with us since almost nearly the beginning and wow, what a blessing it is!

Last post on homeschooling was about Simply Learning Kids (SLK.) Their approach is a very gentle Charlotte Mason/Waldorf/Montessori approach to homeschool. It is not rigorous but does emphasize good quality children’s literature and fun art projects that go with the letter or books. Its schedule uses Letter of the Week (some even extend to a letter per 2 weeks) and for a certain age, I think that is a little too slow to introduce letters and sounds once kids are motivated to read. I know we are aiming for mastery, but many letters of the alphabet do not need 3 to 8 days of coverage. I think SLK is the perfect pace for 2-3 year olds but for my 4 year old, he was asking for more and I didn’t have any more than what I prepped for that day. For that reason, I am glad to have implemented The Good and The Beautiful and Challenger Phonics Fun using songs to learn letter sounds and rules (see below).

I found The Good and The Beautiful (TGTB) curriculum through online searching for homeschool curriculum that used Charlotte Mason style. I was impressed by the affordability of the curriculum and looked at all the samples on their site as well as watched Youtube review videos (we like @monsonschoolhouse, a mom of 4 who shares our faith) which are extremely helpful. TGTB also has an emphasis on good literature, but its Pre-K teaches essential skills like letter sounds, counting, colors, and introduces money and art appreciation. There are not arts and crafts and handiwork projects like other preschool curriculums. Those get overwhelming and can easily be found doing a simple Pinterest search.
I started TGTB when D was almost 4.5. I knew at that stage he needed more academic work. His Chinese was pretty good but he was a little behind in English proficiency. After several months of using this, I knew this is a good fit for my son. He loved the literature of SLK, but I didn’t use the curriculum in full because I don’t have the time to prep for and do all the fun activities. TGTB is just the right amount of schoolwork. It seems too simplistic at first glance but it actually perfectly addresses the student’s needs and gives exercises to help them practice but in short lessons that don’t exhaust the child. For example, I had no idea that kids this age confuse lowercase b and d but the course book addresses this using fun practice activities. Kids do not realize they are learning but they are.

A friend (who does an informal homeschool co-op with me) thought her daughter knew all the letter sounds and identified letters but when we tested her blending skills it was so apparent she’s still working on letter sounds especially the vowel sounds. We’ve been working on each letter using TGTB when we’re at our place and it’s just the right amount of work for these 4 year olds.

I think the right amount of work is a lesson from TGTB and a literary art activity from SLK or Habitat Schoolhouse.

I have purchased the science units and history in support of this curriculum even though it is intended for grades K-6. They are so beautifully printed and thoughtfully made but we haven’t used the history yet. There is a very minimal prep work involved, which for a busy mom like me, has been a breath of fresh air. My preschooler is of the logical and concrete style, so he doesn’t really miss the art. I think I will still try to incorporate it every once in a while for a well-rounded education. I find he really loves doing homeschool every day and asks for more. That’s pretty incredible.

I think it no coincidence that I gravitated towards simple but engaging curriculum like The Good and The Beautiful and that my blog (2013-present) has been called Simply Beautiful Beautifully Simple. I like things to be simple; I like things to be beautiful and uplifting and want to create this type of world in my home as a contrast to what is out there in the world.

I will add that The Good and The Beautiful have amazing Facebook Group online communities; it really adds to my faith knowing there are others with similar values and are trying to intentionally raise their kids with a love of God and His word, respect for country and self, and many other things I feel is lacking in the public schools. I feel there is a great support system now that we have the Internet to connect us.

How we use it: We consider each level of language arts to be advanced, so don’t be afraid to go slowly. Doing a lesson every single day can get tiring and lead to burnout. Try doing language arts 4 days a week, for just 30 minutes (20 for pre-K, 30 for level 1) When your child has done enough, stop before it gets to be too overwhelming or tedious.

We take a year-round schedule for homeschooling, which allows us to take breaks throughout the year. Doing this type of schedule is great for TGTB so you don’t have to do every subject every day. You can take a off-season vacation or use a weekend to catch up on household duties.

Overall, we love this curriculum. I highly recommend to everyone, especially those new to homeschool.


A short side note about Challenger School Phonics Fun – This is super old school (circa 1991) but I still like it. I attended Challenger School for preschool and still recognize some of the songs. It is much more intelligent than most (if not all) of the trash on YouTube pretending to be ABC and phonics songs. D loves the characters and the music. What I love is that the songs teach phonics rules and their alphabet song (“What does the A say?” A and aah) will teach vowels’ long and short sound as well as all the other letters’ sounds. The alphabet song (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle) most kids in America learn, “A,B,C,D,E…” is not enough because it only teaches letter names (which is not needed for learning to read). The videos are dated (you can find them on YouTube) but what we really like are the songs. We still listen to the Alphabet songs and Challenger Alphabet Chant in the car, so I recommend the CD for those looking for alphabet songs.


2018 curriculum:

I used pre-K and the K Primer in the year 2018 with my 5 year old. We did not do the curriculum daily. We took it slowly.

We also used Habitat Schoolhouse for supplement at the preschool level. It is similar to TGTB in that it is nature-based, color printed curriculum without a lot of extraneous supplies or work but there is some prep work involved. I think you need to buy time at that age, waiting for some of our kids to mature to being readers. This happens at different times for different kids.

2019 curriculum:

We started Level K 2nd edition in the fall of 2018. We restarted Level K 3rd edition spring of 2019.

2020 curriculum

We are currently using LA Level 1 and my son would be entering 2nd grade in the fall of 2020.

Qiaohu 巧虎 2019-2020 Preview and Review

Hi friends,

We have subscribed to Qiaohu for the last three years and used a total of 4 levels of Qiaohu, so I’d like to look back at what our experience has been with the levels 幼幼版 (youyouban), 快樂版 (kuaileban),成長版 (chengzhangban) and 學習版 (xuexiban).

We were given a full subscription’s worth of DVDs from a friend with a few of the toys, around the time my twins were born. But we officially started the subscription in the summer of 2016 when we purchased the last three months of 幼幼版 and then advanced to 快樂版. You can start anytime but I strongly recommend starting your subscription in September if possible to get the full year’s worth of scheduled content for the complete experience.

Of all three levels, my favorite is 成長版 and 學習版. Let’s go through each one.

幼幼版 (youyouban)
Last school year we subscribed to the latter 6 months of Qiaohu yoyo ban (2018-19) for my 3 year old twins, then special ordered the previous six months so we could have the full year’s worth of content (It’s more expensive to order each month separately). Before this, I had ordered 3 months of 幼幼版 youyou ban for my oldest before advancing to kuaile ban, because that is simply when we started ordering.

As usual, I recommend starting your subscription in September (you will want to contact the Southern California office in the summer to make sure the subscription starts and there isn’t a delay in shipment.)

Yoyo ban feels like a luxury for 2-3 year olds simply because there is a flood of toddler educational materials Because we used this subscription for the twins and they are at home with me, I felt it was totally worth the money. I love their music and stories at this level. They are very well done and the DVDs feel very wholesome and positive, without being overtly obnoxious (I can see how some adults might think this is obnoxious but just compare it to the other content on YouTube, and I think you can agree with me that it is not as offensive or dumbed down as other kids’ programs.)

My kids sing the music from yoyo ban for years, so it’s definitely catchy.

I have noticed a decrease in the quality of materials: there is a lot more cardstock and punch board toys and games than there used to be, so be aware of that if you are looking at a friend’s older materials from previous years.

快樂版 (kuaileban)
This year we are going big by doing two subscriptions (Obsessed a bit?). I subscribed my twins this year to kuaile ban. We have this level from 3 years ago, however, I have played the audio tracks over and over for the last three years and we “read” the books that come with a reading pen over and over. I wanted new content and hopefully will get it in this year’s lineup.

We plan to do preschool at home and part of our “curriculum” is Qiaohu.

This level has some safety topics which feel really unnecessary and overcautious, like “Don’t push the shopping cart. You may run into people.” “Don’t run indoors. You might slip.” “Don’t take in large bites of food. You might choke.” In America, we have kid sized carts at Trader Joe’s and most kids are allowed to run inside within certain limits. And shouldn’t kids know by experience they will choke on large amounts of food without us telling them? We allow them to run and push carts, but just teach them the proper way to do these activities first. Safety is emphasized, sometimes over-emphasized. But I understand why it’s emphasized in Taiwanese big-city culture with more dangers.

成長版

I feel like 巧虎 really shines in 成長版 and becomes significantly more academic than previous levels.

There is still some EQ topics (“emotional IQ” is what they term it) teaching social skills but they are not as childish about it as lower levels; they use short stories that teach a lesson.

I love that the 2019-20 subscription still covers natural science topics, as well as a separate smaller workbook that has math sense and reasoning skills presented in engaging ways (topics such as counting on, dividing, symmetry, 3D shapes, telling time) are briefly introduced for all 12 months.

I believe their math topics to be more advanced than most K programs in the US and really helped my son to be above grade level in math, not to mention the added bonus of learning math terms in Mandarin Chinese.

They also break down zhuyin into groupings and teach them as a set of 3 or 4.

This level uses a “Little Prince” reading pen that reads sections of the workbook on natural science. September 2019 talked about dinosaurs. It also uses small posters on laminated paper to teach zhuyin and also teach a series of Tang dynasty poems using song. The songs for zhuyin and the Tang poems are actually very catchy. At this level, kids receive are fun and entertaining but educational materials and less toys.

學習版 (xuexiban):

For 2018-19 I saw a lot of games put into this level of Qiaohu, and it looks like for this coming year, there is lots of new content and manipulatives meant to teach puzzles or symmetry. There are reasoning skills building on what they learned in chengzhangban; graphs and reading graphs are introduced. This was a fantastic supplemental tool to use during my oldest’s kindergarten year of homeschool. This approach to math is fun and engaging yet completely effective. Math is definitely my son’s strong point and being able to teach him math concepts in his dominant language (Mandarin Chinese) was a great help to him achieving academic success.

My oldest is moving on to 小一生, the first level without Qiaohu and company characters but they did transition my son to the new program starting in xuexiban. At this level they start to use comic book format in some of the workbooks. They introduce new characters. There are also a lot of story books, but my son cannot read them on his own yet. I will post a review when we have used this level more.

A little background on how we use it:

Our kids’ dominant language (at age 6, 3, 3) is Mandarin, so Qiaohu materials are well-loved because they like the characters and understand the 80-90% of the content. The content is meant for native speakers, not for kids just starting to learn Chinese as a second language. Kids will already need a working knowledge of Chinese to use Qiaohu.

It is really difficult to find quality Chinese academic materials in the US, but the Qiaohu subscription makes it really easy to have a continual flow of reading and viewing materials in Chinese. Having researched books and learning materials for Chinese for years for my homeschool, I know there are a lot of poorly illustrated or silly/immature content out of publishers in Taiwan; however, Qiaohu is the exception. Yes, compared to American TV, it feels more “childish” and I have had a few moms tell me their kids are bored with the YouTube videos of Qiaohu. I think this is a commentary on the fact that our kids here in America are overstimulated so they get bored easily. I believe many are losing their childhood innocence too quickly and have lost a true love of learning and play.

Qiaohu is one of the few shows on TV my kids are allowed to watch; we do not regularly give them screen time and we use it as a homeschool supplement, to strengthen their listening and reading comprehension in Chinese as well as learn about fun subjects in math and science. Whenever they get some Qiaohu time, they are really happy because they regard it as a treat.

Remember each year is slightly different but the lower levels mostly stay the same in content; topics are generally the same, the toys and presentation of those topics changes slightly. The above schedules are for 2019-2020.

The yearly subscription rate is $345. The six month rate is $188.

If the information has been helpful, please consider adding me as a referral when you order. Here is the website. The order form is here. If you have additional questions, please contact their office phone number 714-888-5190. Both Nicole and Joyce are extremely helpful.

My referral ID is 2900000560 and my name is on the account (Kyleen Gene). Referrers get a small Qiaohu toy; my kids would love it so much. Thank you!

康軒 Review and Subscription Info

We were sent one month of 康軒 (Kang Xuan (kang hsuan in Taiwan)) materials to review for this blog post. Kang Xuan features a STEM topic each month, including short experiments or craft projects young children can do at home.

Right now 康軒 is holding an anniversary event:  If you order a one-year subscription you will receive one extra free months worth of materials (13 months for the price of 12) (Valid til 10/30).

康軒 is divided into three versions: 進階版(3-7), 初階版(8-12) 進階版(13-16) so its scope is going allow your child to use these materials much longer than Qiaohu.  

Each subscription box contains a themed workbook, a sticker or activity book, a CD or online audio accessible via QR code, and a variety of games or educational materials.

進階版(3-7): One year subscription fee is $297      
初階版(8-12) :One year subscription fee is $327
進階版(13-16)  :One year subscription fee is $327

My 6 year old and 3 year old twins all really enjoyed using it. I feel the content of the workbook is too advance for my 3 year olds, but about right for my first grader. Kids in 1st and 2nd grade could really benefit from the workbook.

There is a sticker or activity book that my twins really like. They love using stickers. The activity book is made of good quality material; some of the stickers were difficult to remove, so I wish that they were cut a little cleaner.

There are definitely appealing things about this subscription box:

  1. It is all academic content. Some parents might like really like the EQ (emotional IQ) of Qiaohu or feel that the Taiwanese style is too babyish. For this subscription, it still uses cartoons which are humorously drawn, similar to most Taiwanese publications (Little Earth People), but has a lot of learning activities built in.
  2. The quality of printing and materials is quite good. I wouldn’t say it’s as nice as Qiaohu materials but it is well constructed.

I personally am still going to subscribe to Qiaohu because I think with the levels we already own, it’s nice to build the library of materials. However, if I were looking for a new subscription, this would definitely be a contender. Qiaohu covers Tang poems, zhuyin and math but KangXuan covers science and math. Both are valuable but different.

School Room Reveal

UPDATED SEPT 2019

I had a goal in 2017 to be slightly more minimalist and we conquered a huge problem area: the formal dining/mom office/homeschool room.
Let’s clarify that I’m not an extreme-minimalist. I see the need to cherish your stuff and to not spoil your kids but I think there is also no problem with having an abundance of good literature and even age-appropriate toys, as long as what you have is organized and taken care of and used. Toys should be rotated and sorted through every now and again. My kids don’t receive too many gifts for Christmas and birthdays but since I have three kids now, those gifts are quick to take over if I’m not careful.

Here was the desk area around February 2017. I kept books and curriculum in boxes under the desk. Now that I look back on it, this was completely insane. I don’t know how we lived like that. It was not only an eyesore but completely inaccessible.

Before pic: total chaos

There is hope! Around June or July, the desk space became like this and there were fewer boxes of random Amazon purchases I was keeping hidden underneath from the littles. But still a few. 😉

During our first year of homeschool, I was inspired by Pinterest and Instagram homeschool moms, many of whom use Montessori method for their school rooms. Even though I am more of eclectic (perhaps Charlotte Mason inspired) homeschooler, I wanted to try Montessori ideas for play areas but we were never Montessori purists.

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At the beginning of 2018, we started with too many toys (picture above) and transitioned to a more traditional Montessori orderly system (pictured below) in which each toy or material has its home. This made organization and clean up very easy and doable, even for my two toddlers.

Less is more. But 2 years later, I am now persuaded that Montessori materials do not belong at home, they belong at a school. What I mean to say is that the gorgeous wooden materials you see in a classroom were made for a classroom. I think you can still DIY Montessori, specifically practical life work in the regular kitchen and cleaning supplies for small hands, etc but it is not economical to try to replicate a classroom in your home on a tight budget. I feel I spent way too much on sensorial materials for such a short age span (ages 3-6) even for a family that has three kids. I am not a trained Montessori teacher so I took on way too big a task for myself trying to do Montessori work at home. This is just my opinion, remember.

I tried in the beginning to be minimal in homeschool and I still think that on the spectrum of minimalism we are generally on the minimalist side. But social media is a powerful marketing tool and in just two years of homeschooling, toys, books and other materials were taking over! The shelves were full of stuff.

This is our current set up, in the fall of 2019, where I have simplified the materials we used and yes, used both bins and open shelving. The space is adapted for our curriculum, The Good and The Beautiful. The coursebooks use a lot of bins for each grade level or subject, which are stored with manipulatives or mini books or vocabulary cards. Science units are kept in the bins and the one being actively taught or used has its own bin and necessary supplies for the hands-on activities. Toolboxes for Teaching are usually stored up high on that Itso cube shelf.

There are still Montessori inspired materials but most of them are stored in D’s closet and are rotated. Grimms and Ostheimer wood toys, which I used to think were essentials for our homeschool room aesthetic are also rotated, stored in the twins’ bedroom when not in use. They are act as decoration when not actively played with.

As our kids are getting older, our bottom eight white shelves are often rotated to even include books there or board games. It’s constantly changing, just like the homeschool lifestyle is also full of constant flow and change. I have learned to embrace these changes and to use the phases of my children’s lives to ponder what they “need.” Do they need more imaginative play? Do they need more read-alouds? Do they need holiday-themed scenes? Do they need materials from the natural world because it’s too cold to go outside?

These are great questions and inspire our homeschool to look differently because we are unique in our needs as a homeschool family.

The huge desk from Costco from the before pic was way too wide and usually completely cluttered; it was replaced by the sleeker and longer Ikea double length Micke desk (we chose black because it is more kid-friendly to keep clean but I wish they made a high gloss white like the Kallax shelves.) This desk is perfect for two people to sit together. D has one drawer of workbooks, magazines, etc. I have a mom-drawer where my keys, cords, and chapstick hang out. Surprisingly, when things have a place, suddenly I don’t misplace them as much! The drawers are longer but shallower. They are great places for kids’ art projects or putting a few workbooks instead face up.

Find a space that can optimally used.

In 2019, we bought a second double length Micke desk as the twins were starting to need more room. Then we placed the desks side by side near the window for natural light. Our kids and I share these two desks; each person has their own drawer and it works really well without taking up a lot of space.

This set up has worked really well for our little schoolroom. Hope this inspires you to create a fun space that meets your needs as well.

Love,

Kyleen @ Gene Family Schoolhouse

Homeschool 1st Grade Plan

There have been some major changes in our schedule from kindergarten to 1st grade. We usually start each school year around August 1, but we do homeschool year round. Texas summers range from around May to October and by July or August, I am exhausted by the heat and lack of schedule. (We survive with a pool til that time.) Then we really crave and need routine. During the previous summer months, we did school if D wanted to. Some days he didn’t want to, but most days he did. We finished The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) Math K and started the newly revised (3rd) edition of Level K Language Arts (LA).

It took a lot of time for D to go through Level K as a kindergartener age 5. Once he turned 6.5, language arts and schoolwork in general went much more smoothly. Many people using TGTB struggle with their kids using Level K as 1st grade work, but I am here to tell you that it’s pretty normal since the curriculum is advanced.

Hybrid schooling

One major direction change we took was half-way through K year (1/2019), we enrolled my son in part-time enrichment school. It is a project-based learning microschool run by a small Lutheran church, that offers a part-time option of 2 days a week and it’s been a good fit for my son with smaller class sizes and margin days at home while still working on our curriculum (we use mostly The Good and The Beautiful.)

My son really needed an English immersive experience since our home language is Mandarin Chinese and he reverts back to Chinese when speaking to his family. He is reserved and shy, so he needs more practice with social interaction. We tried to go to homeschool groups but I feel it was not enough to address these issues; we often missed meetups because my twins were napping or the groups felt too big and impersonal and friends we made weren’t regularly attending. I needed something that was more structured and quality, where D really was independent of me and my help. I know this is not an option for a lot of people but it really works well for us.

We re-enrolled him for his 1st grade year; my hope is that his social and communication skills will improve so he doesn’t need this every year, that it would only for the first few grade school years, but it’s too early to tell. We will evaluate every year.

Academically, he is just right where he needs to be and his teachers have confirmed this (which is so validating); the school experience is really about peer-to-peer interaction and having another teacher besides Mom, forcing him to use his English skills. They cover reading, spelling, math and “projects” which are usually student-led real-world based work (robotics, inventions, pinball, legos, mapping etc).

I have been really happy with the part-time school but I sometimes wish he could just be at home so we could go faster through our own curriculum (which is so good and so academically sound) but it’s not really about what I want, it’s about what is best for my son.

Core curriculum

On the 3-4 days not at school, we do homeschool. We start each day with a daily morning time devotional, where we sing one hymn and recite one scripture. We did fairly well with the four Gospels using Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families (New Testament 2019) but it’s been harder to apply the second half of the New Testament to children as young as ours. Next year 2020 my goal is to study Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families (Book of Mormon 2020) curriculum with my children.

We used to do block schedule for kindergarten, but now that D is a little older, he is able to do all core subjects in one day: one math lesson (1-2 pages), one LA lesson (1-2 pages), one handwriting page, two lessons of Sagebooks for Chinese reading (2 characters, 5 pages each), and two Dash into Learning readers for English reading practice. This is a huge improvement over last fall.

We practice reading skills daily by reading one of TGTB mini books for level K and going through 6-8 phonics cards. Basically the plan I wrote for kindergarten is now finally being implemented a year later. My expectations for my kindergartener were totally out of whack.

Also new this year, we use a rewards system (pictured below, that is a magnetic daily progress chart) where if he does all his subjects then he earns one school dollar to save up for a diecast car or truck which costs $10-20 in school money. It’s very effective and I like he has to learn to save his money for bigger prizes.

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TGTB Math 1 is similar to Math K in style, which really works well for D. One lesson a day is the perfect amount of work; if we don’t get to the bonus activities, we save them for a Saturday. Because my husband works half days on Saturday, we still do some school most Saturdays.

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We cover science minimally and sporadically, as we feel motivated to, for about 8 to 12 weeks. We do each unit with a very condensed version of a science unit from The Good and The Beautiful, sometimes adding with picture books (non fiction and fiction) on the topic. We do the hands-on activities/projects and read some of the science mini books. Last year we did space and arthropods. This year we are doing marine biology and safety or botany.

Extra-curricular activities

Because we do part-time school, extra-curriculars are now down to 1 a week (2 a week if school is out). These activities do not go year-round; they usually have “semesters” of about 6-12 weeks.

My son still participates in Millennial Choirs and Orchestras (MCO); this is his fourth semester with them, their semesters run bi-annually for 12 weeks each semester. I am most impressed with the directors of the choir, who strive for excellence in their own lives, share our faith, and have high expectations for the youth. I like the disciplined yet kind environment; a lot of today’s youth could really benefit from being a part of something bigger than themselves and developing a work ethic and sharing their talents in such professional setting that is spiritually edifying. I highly recommend their organization.

The rest of the year is focused on physical activity: D participates in a basketball skills class in the spring and summer; we do swim lessons 3 times a week for 4-6 weeks; this was plenty for the summer and we even need a break afterwards. These sports sometimes overlap a little but it’s a great dynamic going from music to sports throughout the year. It’s worked really well for us.

Some of my 2019-2020 goals:

We are still going to work Hoffman Academy into our school day somehow, perhaps in the mornings, but we are really not morning people. We still need a better keyboard with weighted keys. We should have more structure in the mornings to include beneficial things like piano, but it’s really hard to right now.

We tried two separate homeschool groups last school year and weren’t too successful with them. We had great field trips with them but it was not a good fit overall; groups schedule a lot of things, most of which didn’t work with our schedule. This year we are meeting another homeschool family regularly at local parks and hoping to add members into a small playgroup if possible. It’s been hard to find others to commit, which is why we are still doing the part-time school option.

The second year of homeschooling is still full of uncertainty but most of my concerns and worries are gone now, so it paves the way for more peace and confidence in my abilities. I think this journey is a such a refining one; one where you can really control and prioritize what is important to your family. I love the journey and recommend it to anyone who is curious and brave enough to try!

Homeschool Kindergarten Plan: Second Sketch

We have altered our schedule quite a bit and I wanted to share it with you because our first plan was overly ambitious and I want to set the record straight about our school days. As outlined in the first sketch, there was way too much to cover and I felt like a failure if we didn’t make it through all the material.

Core curriculum

We now do a block schedule where we alternate core subjects each day and we simplified our materials and lessons quite a bit.

We start each day with a daily devotional, where we do a combination of learning hymns, reciting scriptures, reading from The Friend magazine, and/or watching scripture stories video clips from lds.org. We have ditched the Ites series and we only read scriptures now, just because I felt that the books were too advanced for my Kindergartener. In 2019 my goal is to do a simplified version of Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families (New Testament 2019) curriculum with my children.

We practice reading skills daily by reading the The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) mini books and going through sight words and phonics cards. We try to read at least 2 or 3 mini books per day.

Next, we do either a lesson from TGTB Language Arts Level K or Math Level K and alternate between the two subjects. I want to stress that it is difficult for us to get through an entire lesson of Language Arts Level K and I no longer push D to get through a whole lesson. Rather we spend 20 minutes or so on a lesson and resume where we left off. Math Level K is easy for my son but we do one lesson per day in its entirety, including the daily dose, and usually we do the bonus activities. If we don’t get to the bonus activities, we save them for a Saturday. Because my husband works half days on Saturday, we still do some school most Saturdays.

Each day we try to do Chinese reading practice with Sagebooks Basic 500. This is a short exercise and relatively easy for my child because Chinese is his current dominant language, so we pushed Chinese practice after English reading practice is done because English decoding is the more difficult task for him and should be completed while he still has the attention span and motivation.

If we have time remaining, we read aloud, do simple crafts, or watch Qiaohu. We read storybooks in Chinese. We do cover science but minimally, only for a unit study (about 8 to 12 weeks), but we do so with a very condensed version of a science unit from The Good and The Beautiful with picture books (non fiction and fiction) on the topic. We do the hands-on activities/projects and read some of the science mini books. We dabbled with Space; in 2019, we will try out Water or Safety.

Extra-curriculars

After much trial and error, I’ve decided that two activities per week for my Kindergartener is about right. Keep in mind that these activities do not go year-round. They generally go for 6 weeks to 3 months, with breaks for holidays or we take our own breaks in between for more family time or outings. The breaks are good but after a few weeks, he starts to get restless and it feels right to resume activities.

My son still participates in Millennial Choirs and Orchestras (MCO) and will continue next year; their semesters run bi-annually for 12 weeks. I like this choir for multiple reasons, foremost because the organization’s goal is to teach sacred songs to children ranging from ages 4 to adult levels, so all my kids will eventually participate. I like the disciplined yet loving approach the directors have and all the kids still enjoy it at the same time. In the same way Charlotte Mason encourages the use of “living books”, I believe hymns and classical music are a musical equivalent, “living music” if you will. They do include some contemporary music, but they are modern classics—works that have increased depth and meaning each time you read/perform them.

We will finish a year of swim classes next January and will do swim classes only in the summer since choir and basketball will take breaks during that time.

We will also resume a basketball skills class to replace swim as a weekly physical activity, especially for the winter and late fall when the weather is not as ideal.

Some of my 2019 goals:

We are going to introduce my son to the piano using Hoffman Academy. I think this is the best way to gauge his interest in the instrument before committing to a teacher, lessons and commuting to the lessons with all of my kids in tow. It can also be done at home which is very important for us right now with my active soon-to-turn-3 twins.

We did Tinkergarten which my kids love, but it is extremely expensive for all of my three kids to enroll, so we will likely discontinue. I also feel as a homeschooling family that we need to meet with other homeschooling families, not to exclusively socialize with them but to gain more friends with a common lifestyle. We have completed two Tinkergarten sessions as a family and I think it’s time to move on to other things since my oldest will be 6 next year and most of the kids in Tinkergarten are preschoolers. We are considering a local homeschool co-op that meets monthly for park days or joining the local Wild + Free group since they also emphasize nature play and hikes.

This past year I’ve learned that young children do not need a big social life. They need a friend or two, a trusted aunt, friend’s mom, or teacher, and most importantly a family. They will need friends later, some kids need more friends than others, but right now, they really need a family where they can play, grow and learn together with their tribe who love them unconditionally.

With that in mind, I am keeping my kids at home longer and with a more calm and relaxed environment. We can do the soccer mom schedule later but right now they just need me.

Qiaohu 巧虎 2018-2019 Preview and Review

Hi friends,

Next month we will have completed our 2nd full year of subscribing to Qiaohu, so I’d like to look back at what our experience has been with the levels 幼幼版 (youyouban), 快樂版 (kuaileban),and 成長版 (chengzhangban).

We started using Qiaohu in 2016 and purchased the last three months of that school year’s 幼幼版 and then advanced to 快樂版 but we were given a full subscription’s worth of DVDs from a friend with a few of the toys, around the time my twins were born (1/2016).

I recommend starting your subscription in September if possible to get the full year’s worth scheduled content.

Of all three levels, my favorite is 成長版 . Let’s go through each one.

幼幼版 (youyouban)
I loved the toys of 幼幼版 and initially thought they would be keepsake “forever toys.” They are very durable and cute, we have kept all of them, but after subscribing to a year, you will have tons of these toys. We use a toy rotation and bring them out every once in a while, but these toys are no longer our standard go-to (always out) toys. The only exception is the XiaoHua meimei 小花妹妹 (Little Sister) toy plush. My 2 year old twin daughter really loves her XiaoHua and it is her favorite stuffed animal. The rest of the toys have gone into closet storage and are rotated to preserve my sanity. I feel these toys should be viewed as a kind of a fun short term activity rather than a long term keepsake toy. It’s also my opinion that child will likely outgrow them faster than other toys made for open ended play like blocks or legos.

I love the play food and the grocery register; those are my kids’ favorites. They love to use them with Xiaohua meimei. They are the perfect size for toddler hands.

快樂版 (kuaileban)
快樂版 has a good introduction to science; sometimes they use photos (which I prefer, being Montessori inspired) but other times they use cartoon animals. This level also has some safety topics which feel really unnecessary and overcautious, like “Don’t push the shopping cart. You may run into people.” “Don’t run indoors. You might slip.” “Don’t take in large bites of food.” In America, we have kid sized carts at Trader Joe’s and most kids are allowed to run inside within certain limits. And shouldn’t kids know by experience they will choke on large amounts of food without us telling them? We allow them to run and push carts, but just teach them the proper way to do these activities first. Safety is emphasized, sometimes over-emphasized. The toys are less appealing than before except for the wood stacking circus animals; they are well made and the story about the circus animals is really cute.

I feel like 巧虎 really shines in 成長版 because the content becomes academic. There is still some EQ (“emotional IQ” is what they term it) teaching important social skills but they are not as childish about it; they uses short audio with books to teach an EQ lesson. The 2017-18 subscription had 6 natural science topics of the month that came in a smaller book, and that math topics (counting on, dividing, symmetry, 3D shapes, telling time) were briefly introduced for all 12 months using a workbook and DVD segment. D has a very math-oriented brain and this introduction to math catered to his interests. I believe their math topics to be more advanced than most K and pre K math programs in the US. They also break down zhuyin into groupings and teach them to the kids. We have non-Qiaohu flashcards with photos and a dry erase workbook both from Taiwan but we don’t emphasize learning zhuyin. Even so, D has learned most of the zhuyin symbols just using Qiaohu zhuyin toys, poster and songs.

This level (chengzhangban) also teach a series of Tang dynasty poems using song (I’m not sure if 2018-19 will have the same content) and D learned several of these building off what he learned in 幼幼版. The songs for zhuyin and the Tang poems are actually very catchy. There are even fewer “toys” or activities for this level but these are really used even less than the toys of 幼幼版 simply because D already has other toys and his playtime is more imaginative and on a larger scale. He enjoys watching 成長版 on some homeschool days after his lessons are completed. They are fun and entertaining but educational. Because of the increase in academic content, I’m willing to continue subscribing to Qiaohu for a couple more years, our next level is 學習版 (xuexiban):

Remember each year is slightly different but the lower levels mostly stay the same in content. The above schedules are for 2018-19.

The yearly subscription rate is $345. The six month rate is $188.

If the information has been helpful, please consider adding me as a referral when you order. Here is the website. The order form is here. If you have additional questions, please contact their office phone number 714-888-5190.

My referral ID is 2900000560 and my name is on the account (Kyleen Gene).

Referrers get a small Qiaohu toy; my kids would appreciate it! Thank you!

Homeschool Kindergarten Plan: First Sketch

This year is much more varied than last year doing pre-K but we are really not devoting that much more time to school, which means we need to juggle a lot of different subjects. Last year’s curriculum consisted of The Good and The Beautiful Level Pre K and subsequently Level K Primer, some Peaceful Preschool with read alouds, and some reading from Qiaohu 巧虎. Last year we also did not have any classes, just regular playdates or park outings (a homeschool playdate co-op for a few months last fall.)

 Fall Spiritual Core

Hymn “I am a Child of God” in English and Chinese

The Friend Magazine “Scripture Stories” and Old Testament Heroes 2018

This year, as inspired by @monsonschoolhouse, I have set a goal to strengthen the spiritual component of our day and to make it a habit to start out our “school day” with a devotional. I believe there is a reason so many people of faith (of all denominations not just LDS) are being inspired to homeschool.  I used to think it was not important to include a religious viewpoint in my children’s education, but now I think I was crazy for thinking that. I am now convinced that our main intent of homeschooling is to spiritually educate and to incorporate faith-building material into school as a contrast to the world. Some homeschoolers have lengthy circle time but I can never plan to that detail but this is my equivalent to circle time and is only 5 or so minutes long. I’m teaching D the hymn “I am a Child of God” to be sung in both Chinese and English. This is one of the most well-known LDS hymns for children and adults and really represents a key part of one’s testimony and faith.  We also occasionally review and sing How Firm a Foundation since D learned it with the Millennial Choir last spring.

I was going to do scripture study using the books Ites, but I am simplifying but using The Friend magazine and scripture stories videos found on lds.org, in connection with the scripture passages. This is an age-appropriate scripture study for my kindergartener and using scriptures really sets the tone for the day.

There will be a new LDS home study curriculum called Come Follow Me for the New Testament (KJV) available in 2019. I am still not sure what that will look like in action, but I will update you once it is released.

The Good and The Beautiful Level K LA and Math and Sagebooks Basic 500

Fall Academic Core

TGTB Language Arts Level K

TGTB Math Level K

Sagebooks Basic Chinese 500 (Traditional Chinese) 1 or 2 lessons a day

The curriculum The Good and The Beautiful (TGTB) is our major source of core subjects. Chinese is a core subject for my child and we use Sagebooks Basic 500 for learning traditional characters (available in both traditional and simplified characters.) Each Sagebooks lesson is 5 sentences long, so 2 lessons and more if D is motivated is very doable in 5 to 8 minutes.

Fall Subscription Schedule

Chinese Qiaohu monthly subscription (3-5 days to complete)

Letters from Afar monthly subscription – geography unit study on one country/region per month

We loop these activities monthly. They are not done daily but if D is very motivated and the twins’ nap goes extra long (rarely) we can go through all the activities.

We were planning to do a lot to supplemental activities and I’ve decided to scrap them all except for Qiaohu and Letters from Afar. It was too much to juggle. In exchange we will be doing longer unit studies, basic science and history concepts with read-alouds.

 Field Trips

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden: fall

Heritage Farmstead Museum (Plano): spring

These are our field trips for fall semester. We have a pass to the Dallas Arboretum and will be visiting the pumpkin village. The Heritage Farmstead Museum has monthly homeschool days but their fall schedule is not yet up on their website so the date is to be determined likely after Tinkergarten ends.

Classes

Tinkergarten (8 weeks)

Swim (12 weeks)

Millennial Choir (12 weeks)

We have these classes/activities for the children from end of August to December (they repeat in February to May). They are intentionally chosen so they provide meaning and purpose, and are not just time fillers or socializing just for the sake of socializing. I do not believe in overscheduling the kids’ schedule. These three main activities along with a basketball skills class rotate so there are only up to 3 activities per week at a time, but we take a big break in the summer to only have swim class so we can do more family swim time at home. We strive to pick wholesome and spiritually edifying activities. Exercise promotes mental and physical health so we offer some physical activity to D all year round. Swim and choir are for D; Tinkergarten is a class for all three of my kids and is our feeble attempt to do nature play/study but I also find it a valuable opportunity to observe my children during play and to learn from nature.


Additional Notes:

I still attempt to speak 90% Chinese to my twins and all the books I read with them are in Chinese. They are currently 2.5 years old. They attend a nursery class at church which is in English and Dad speaks to them in both English and Chinese. He reads some books to them in English and I will direct them to Dad if they want a book read in English.

D has a two hour primary class at church in English every week. He also has swim, choir and/or basketball in English. He used to be in an almost all-Chinese environment at home so to improve his English, we read almost exclusively in English during the twins’ naptime so that it does not affect the twins’ growing fluency in Chinese.

Hope this is helpful. Comment below if you have any questions!

A Heritage Learner

I do not know if words can describe the complex relationship I have with the Chinese language, but here’s my attempt: as a heritage speaker I’ve struggled all my life with this language.

People expect a Chinese-looking person to speak Chinese. When you don’t speak or don’t speak well, you find you disappoint everyone from strangers you just met to your closest family members.

As a teenager I loved all Western cultures. I studied French. I wanted to work for the United Nations, learn 5 languages, and live in Paris. I loved English literature, culture and language. I later studied English in college and earned my teaching credential to teach secondary level English and got an ESL endorsement. Chinese was never a priority for me, even though I clearly appeared to be ethnic Chinese and was taught to speak it at home. In contrast, Chinese was and always will be my father’s passion; his father (my grandfather) was a talented calligrapher and artist and had deep love for the culture also. I wanted to be multilingual but I didn’t have a love of the Chinese culture or the language the same way I loved French and English.

I struggled many years with the annual New Year phone calls to Taiwan. Each of us four kids had a turn to wish both sets of grandparents a happy new year. We couldn’t communicate with them very well so we kept to the few phrases we knew (sort of like vain repetitions in prayer). It did affect me though; as I grew older, I cried after it was my turn; it was an embarrassment to me and painful to not have the ability to connect to loved ones. I was pretty devastated to not be able to communicate with my relatives but I was never motivated enough to improve my language skills either.

Then I struggled and struggled with the language.

Yours truly on UC Berkeley campus

I served as missionary for my church in Oakland, California for a year and a half. My assignment was to prosecute full-time in English which I did just fine, but I also had to use my Chinese every single day. In some crazy twist of fate, I became an ambassador for the gospel in Chinese since out of the blue I was assigned to the visitors’ center at the Oakland Temple and there I met so many from Oakland residents to tourists (even Buddhist monks) from all over the world including many who spoke Mandarin Chinese. And while my Chinese improved, it still was nowhere near native. At least in His service, God made me enough.

As newlyweds, we attended church with a local Chinese ward (congregation) in SoCal where suddenly I began to meet a lot of friends of my parents who had all immigrated to the US from Taiwan. It was like meeting a family I never knew I had. Luckily they gave me a calling to teach Primary (English-speaking) but we still gave talks in Chinese. Public speaking in English gives me and my husband a natural high and a fun challenge; public speaking in Chinese on the other hand is anxiety-laden but we did it. Somehow.

As a young family we currently attend church in Chinese instead of with the local English speakers here in North Texas and it’s a sacrifice because we all volunteer in church teaching and leadership positions and the group is small, about 30 Chinese speaking members in a city (population of under 300,000) that is at least 5 to 10 percent Chinese depending on whether or not you trust the census. There are a lot of opportunities for growth and community outreach in this region. Yet for now, we manage with a small number of members and wear many different hats,with a variety of roles and responsibilities. My Chinese struggles tremendously especially after becoming a mother (mom brain, anyone?) but somehow we’ve managed this for 5 years and have served in voluntary leadership positions.

As I try to navigate my history with the Chinese language, I am now fully aware of how much anxiety, stress and pressure was holding me back. As a youth I was pretty unwilling to learn and essentially tuned out my parents and any other teacher-figure of Chinese. A lot of the problem for me was there were very unrealistic expectations set on us kids to master Chinese in an environment with very few Chinese speakers and yet using with very traditional methods of Chinese teaching which we were not accustomed to growing up in the US. My family and community where I grew up (predominately members of my faith) placed a lot of emphasis on perfection or a false sense of perfection and this was crippling to me.

I’ve reconsidered how to better teach my kids Chinese. Yes, there is still a lot of rote memorization and practice for that perfect tone required in Mandarin, but I am much more realistic about what to expect from my heritage learner-kids because I was one.

Our speaking abilities will never be the same as that of the natives, but we can patiently nurture the language. In that light, there are a few things I have intentionally decided to do:

  1. Live in a community where there is a natural need for speaking Chinese. I use Chinese every time I go to church, every time I talk to my neighbors and every time I go to the Asian market. My kids will see a real need for speaking Chinese just by walking out the front door.
  2. Homeschool my kids so that the two languages are nurtured together and can be practiced in real-world settings, rather than choose public school where even in the best “immersion” programs, the kids aren’t exposed to enough real-world use of the language because they are stuck in the classroom. Most public schools here only use English because passing test scores and “academic rigor” for attending college is important to the immigrants in this area, but we can adopt a truly bilingual environment for learning while still focusing on high academic standards.
  3. Expect best efforts, but not perfection (from both myself and my kids). Never give up on the process. It takes longer to develop the same type of mastery as native speakers so we need to know we are doing this bilingual education for the long run, it’s an long term investment. Consistency is key. They don’t necessarily need to all take AP Chinese as high school freshman. They can still learn or relearn Chinese in college. It is never ever too late.

I now have three children who speak Mandarin to the surprise of our relatives and church friends. How this this happen? It is nothing short of a miracle. I trust in Him who makes my offering whole, because this is starting to turn into one of those “whole-soul” offerings, a “heart, might, mind, and strength” endeavor.

In teaching my kids, I do not hide the fact that Chinese is hard and that we persevere til it gets easier. They at least know very well, sometimes their mom makes mistakes or easily forgets vocabulary words, correct tones or mixes China-Chinese and Taiwan-Chinese pronunciations, and that it’s okay. We try to make it fun with books, videos and music, and yes, it has become fun. The language I dreaded to speak on Chinese New Year and the language I have worked so hard at, is sort of fun. Most importantly, we devote our learning, all of our learning not just of Chinese, to the service of others and to God. I am pretty sure He has been telling me all along, “You are enough” even when it comes to Chinese. Because ultimately, we can serve others with our smallest and most imperfect talents and with His help still reap great success in faith, love, and personal growth.

The struggle that came with being an American-born Chinese has become a deep love of the blending of these two cultures. It is probably a deep love as a result of the struggle. And now, it is a life-long goal to preserve my children’s heritage language.