Category: English

Non-Worksheet Way to Learning Chinese & English Handwriting

Age: 7

Wow.  That title is quite a mouthful.  But I am too lazy to write two posts that essentially say the same thing.

Once he turned 7 this school yearAstroboy finally started on formal handwriting work.  Prior to this, he wrote a little, mostly because of zhuyin lessons.  But if he got tired or didn’t want to write, I tended not to push him.   I didn’t want to push writing before the kids had their pincer grip down, and sadly, my kids never had their pincer grip down early because we did very few art activities.


Workbook Options



Review: Explode the Code Online

Age: 8 & 9

Thumper was a late reader.  She learned to read Chinese around 7.5 and English around 8.5.  I like to console myself by thinking that’s only late if you think in terms of US schools. If a child goes to school at age 7, learning to read either language between 7-9 sounds about right.

By the end of last school year, we’d hit a road block with All About Spelling.  Knowing her open and close syllables and how to segment a word definitely lead her to start reading Early Readers.  But once she hit the longer words in higher level books, she couldn’t pronounce it.

She needed more work with her phonics.  She was doing fine learning the digraphs and diphthongs in spelling, because each chapter in AAS focused on one sound, but she couldn’t use it when she read.  We learned when c should be /s/ sound and when it should be /k/, but she never remembered when she read.

It was time to try something else.

Since we were traveling in the fall, I decided to buy Explode the Code, online version, through Homeschool Buyer’s Club.  It’s only $35 a year for the subscription.  Explode the Code is published by the same company that sells Primary Phonics.  At $35, it’s a great deal compared with having to buy the actual books. (more…)

Learning to Read in English is Hard!

fullsizerender-3Thumper, it’s 10:30pm, you need to go to sleep.”

“Oh oh, but this is the exciting part!  Just 5 more minutes!”

Never thought I’d see the day that Thumper is engrossed and binge reading in English.  To me, the road to reading in English was actually way more painful than learning to read in Chinese.  In my faulty mind, I spent maybe 3-4 painful months, max 6, zooming through Sagebooks, learning zhuyin, and then we were off reading.   In the year since then, we went from learning the first 500 characters and not reading to reading without zhuyin (~4th grade).

On the other hand, learning to read in English seemingly took us two years.  Okay, so maybe half of that was only half-ass attempt at teaching phonics.  But still, I definitely feel like the effort has been much, much, much more painful.   Heck, for a period of time, Thumper actually said that she would much rather read in Chinese than English.  I was starting to worry just a little because it seemed her English and Chinese reading level had a 2+ year gap.


Choosing a Handwriting (Cursive) Curriculum

For our new semester, I’ve decided to switch from our New American Cursive handwriting practice to something else, mostly because I was raised on the old style of handwriting and New American Cursive bugged me.  It took me 2-3 days to research.  Never knew that it’s so complicated.


Though we’ve only started learning the curriculum and I don’t know if it works, I must document what I found out lest I forget all I learned.


Learning to Spell with All About Spelling


With the new semester, I made some changes to our daily work plan.  One of the my aim this semester is to get Thumper solidly reading in English.

Last semester, Thumper started with Primary Phonics but got bored and frustrated after set 5.  She kept getting confused by all the various double vowel sounds like oe, ae, ai, ea, etc.   I moved her onto reading Dr. Seuss, then beginning readers such as Little Bear, Frog and Toad, books by Lobel, etc, to see they would help.  With Dr. Seuss, I saw an improvement because it contained a lot of nonsensical words that rhymed.

However, she was still really struggling with long words.  She could not segment words into smaller syllables to read.  I decided that she needed to, just like with zhuyin, refocus on all the phonics and relearn.  She learned her phonics in her Montessori preschool but I did not know how much practice she had or had not with diphthongs (two vowels) and digraphs.  Best to just review everything. (more…)

Making Sense of English Reading Levels

I obsess over reading levels.  Just a little bit.

It’s hard to not obsess when you decide that English comes second to Chinese.  While I know, logically, that if my kids have really high level Chinese, it will take them probably at most 1 to 2 years to catch up to English.  I know, logically, they get good English input from their father, and that is super important to reading and writing.  But I still worry.

So here’s how I assuage my worry, by looking up English reading levels.  This way I can say, my kid is 1 grade behind or my kid is at grade level in English!  Yay!  At the same time, I know there is more to reading that cannot be seen by a simple letter or number.

But I cannot escape from measurements against a standard. (more…)

English Phonics: Primary Phonics

I’m procrastinating by writing posts instead of planning.  I started the year with a big bang as usual and petered out after about a week.  sigh

That said, I’m still planning away, just with many low days and some high days.

One of my goals for this year is to teach Thumper how to read in English.  Last year, I only had energy for her to review her short vowel sounds and work on some sight words.  It wasn’t planned, but it worked out perfectly because she can now read in Chinese.

The series we’re using to learn to read is Primary Phonics.  You can get it at Rainbow Resource for much cheaper than Amazon.  For me, this set is perfect for Thumper, who already knew all of her alphabet sounds and had practiced reading at school, but now needs more practice.  I feel like already knowing all the sounds first, and learning to read words first, makes it easier to the children.  I remember Thumper getting very frustrated with the BOB books for that reason, just too many things going on.

There are 6 sets, 10 books each.  We’ve been doing 2-3 books a day when we remember, for the last 2-3 weeks, and have progressed from set 2 to set 3.  The first set was all on short vowel sounds.  The second set long vowels and magic E (made, cake, etc), and the third set is on blends, first two vowels, then two consonants together.

I’m loving the set so far.  I tried to be cheap by printing out a free phonics set online.  But it only had 18 little booklets and by the 7th and 8th book, I knew it was just progressing way too fast.  Thumper had a lot of trouble sounding out words and reading smoothly.  So I bit the bullet and ordered sets 3 and 4 from Rainbow Resource.  So far so good.  The books are written so there’s repetition of words and focus on specific sounds for each book.  We go through the list of focus words on the inner flap before we read, and I let her read a few pages so ensure she gets it and then just go away and listen with half a year.  The other day we went biking and she read a whole phrase on the bike map, which let met know that she’s really learned those vowel blends finally.

You can buy workbooks and comprehension books along that match each set.  I like the workbooks because Thumper likes to go through and color the pictures and do the exercises for fun.  It’s also an easy way to turn in to our charter school when it’s time to collect samples.  I’m not sure if comprehension is necessary.  I read this book once wrote by a veteran homeschooling mom, who basically said that when you learn to read it’s about sounding out the words, not necessarily about comprehension, because the children are spending all their efforts on learning to read already, why are we asking them to also think about what they’re reading at the same time?  You can do comprehension with other non-learning to read activities.  That logic makes sense to me.


專名號 Introduction to Chinese “Capitalization”

Did you know that you can use  Chinese characters to write numbers and that’s considered capitalization (大寫)?  It’s 零、壹、貳、叄、肆、伍、陸、柒、捌、玖、拾、佰、仟、萬、億

I found a whole website on just punctuation rules from the Education Ministry.  The equivalent of “capitalization” in Chinese is really English Proper Nouns, which I learned is called 專名號.   For example, people’s names, country names, names of agencies, or you as I tell Thumper, 人名,地名.  (there’s more of course such as agency names, but majority is people and places)  Apparently 專名號 used to be called 私名號 and it isn’t used in China much anymore except in old texts.  It is however, still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.  I think though, if you read Chinese in a horizontal format, you will seldom see proper names underlined.  Or maybe adults just seldom underline things.   Basically it will be in children’s textbooks, but perhaps not adult books, at least not as strict about it.

The examples from the websites are:

  1. People Names:  孫中山先生 (Sun Yat-Sun)
  2. Name of aboriginal tribes:  阿美族 (A-mei tribe in Taiwan)
  3. Country Names: 美國 (United states)
  4. Other locality names:  台北 (Taipei)
  5. Transportation Routes: 橫貫公路 (Taiwan’s Central Cross-lsland Highway)
  6. Agency names: 教育部 (Ministry of Education)
  7. School of Thoughts: 桐城派 (some school of thought I have no clue about)
  8. Buildings: 萬里長城 (Great Wall of China), 狄斯奈樂園 (Disneyland)
  9. Names of Dynasties: 戰國 (Warring States period)
  10. Mountains and Lakes: 喜馬拉雅山 (Himalayas)


Introduction to Capitalization in English

Sometimes I start on something and then it becomes a rabbit hole that I sink into.  The latest research is on capitalization.  Now that Thumper is starting to read in earnest in Chinese and really practicing her English phonics, we’re encountering capitalization.  I notice that she does not capitalize when she writes.  Probably because Montessori starts writing all in lower case.  Perfect timing I randomly decided to do this presentation first!

Capitalization in English

Obviously, lots of resources for capitalization in English on the web.  I did a quick search and came across quite a few links for exercises.  In my research I read that some kids just kind of pick this up as they read, others need a refresher.  I printed a bunch of them out for Thumper to practice.   The eight rules, according to Montessori for Everyone, are:

  1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence. For example: Everyone likes the new exhibit at the museum.
  2. Capitalize the pronoun “I”. For example: The birthday present is just what I wanted.
  3. Capitalize place names: countries, continents, oceans, states, provinces, towns, cities, and street names. For example: Namibia, Rwanda, and Gabon are all countries in Africa.
  4. Capitalize the days of the week, months of the year, and holidays. For example: Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday celebrated on the 5th of May.
  5. Capitalize the words in a title, except for prepositions and articles unless they are the first word in the title. For example: I’ve always wanted to read The Wind in the Willows.
  6. Capitalize people’s first, middle, and last names. For example: Johann Sebastian Bach was a great composer.
  7. Capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence. For example: As Abraham Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation.”
  8. Capitalize titles of address, like “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Jr.” and “Dr.”, and place modifiers like “St.” and “Ave.” For example: When my brother got sick, my mother took him to see Dr. Green.

How we’re teaching it

I just researched and printed out a bunch of capitalization worksheets.  One of them, the Montessori for Everyone one, has the rules printed on top.  I asked her if she could think of some rules on why we capitalize and she came up with needing to capitalize “I” and beginning of sentence.  We then talked about the rule, then talked about it some more at dinner with Baba.  I like having her talk to him about what she learned so I can see how much she recalls.  Now we’re going through worksheet one by one because she can’t actually read the English yet.  I’m asking her to circle the letters that need capitalization and then tell me why they need to be circled.  It’s kind of nice that I’m able to just go through it one on one with her for the first worksheet.  I’m leaving her to do the 3 more that I have to see how it goes…

Oh, we had a moment where she said, “oh nooooooo, I made a mistake” and I, having just recently read the Mindset book, said, “….and we can learn from it.”  I had to repeat a few times.  Trying to implement this new growth mindset thing…even though I didn’t finish the whole book last Friday when I looked through it at the bookstore.

Chinese Capitalization

I originally had the Chinese capitalization post in here.  But I realized that in itself is a big subject because there are some gotchas for children if they’re learning both languages.  As Chinese “capitalization” is just slightly different from English!  So you can follow the link and read on…..