They say it takes about 3 years to normalize a classroom. I definitely feel so much better the second year when it comes to prepping the classroom. Last year, I spent most of my time really cleaning our bedroom, washing the carpet, buying all furnitures & plants, reorganizing the massive amount of resources I had that were dumped in way too many boxes. I had the skeleton of the shelves up. But my shelves were meager. And by the end of the school year, they were a mess as I piled one new material on top of another or put knickknacks on top of the shelves. A teacher is supposed to clean and prep the classroom once a day, I couldn’t find the energy for it.
This year, the school room has been slightly re-arranged. I bought a LOT of new math, geography, and language materials. It’s still no where close to being complete! One lesson I learned last year is that advice I heard from a fellow teacher but never followed: If there is a chance to buy a material, just buy it. There are lots of other opportunities to make your own and plan curriculum. I also brought a new shelf in and redesigned the shelves.
Before the tour, here are two other posts on Montessori classrooms that I like and used as reference: What Did We Do All Day and Montessori Homeschooling. They’re definitely more like the traditional Montessori classrooms I’ve seen.
My classroom is pretty tiny. It’s only half of a super large master bedroom. The shelves for books and all my supplies are in the large Family Room that’s directly next to the MB. This is a pic from a corner of the classroom. Walking clockwise from 7 o’clock, you have:
Ooohoo. Thumper and Astroboy finished their respective Sage books in March. Thumper finished Pink Series book 4 and Astroboy the Blue Series book 2. I racked my brain and made a second book for Astroboy. If you think about it, it’s actually quite amazing that you can write a whole book with just 20 characters (our first book) or 40 characters (the second book). For Thumper, she wrote her own book because she did not write a sentence for every 3 characters daily like she was supposed to. I actually like this way even better because she wrote so much it gave me a much better sense of her writing skill. I then edited the story for her with her help, typed it up, and she’s half way done with illustration. I would say the point of these books for her is more in practicing writing than reading because at this point learning new words is so easy for her, she gets her practice in just through repeat reading of the Sagebooks.
Here’s the complete story. It’s printed as the back page of the booklet. I highlighted the new words that she doesn’t know so that I can add zhuyin to them inside the book. By my count, there are 256 characters total, 114 unique characters, with 10 new characters she doesn’t know. That’s about 4% of the total, within the limit set for good reading flow when you’re reading for fluency.
Here are some sample pages, one with the zhuyin in it.
After teaching Thumper the different character shape, I gave her our first writing lesson about 2 days later. I’m definitely on a high because the results were really surprising to me, in a good way.
I only had formal Chinese instructions up to 4th grade, and as an adult, I find my writing pretty atrocious. It just looks like half way between a child’s and adult writing. It’s missing a lot of the components that make writing characters more akin to writing beautiful handwriting or beautiful calligraphy.
As I talked about in the previous post about character shapes, there are a gazillion of them. Yes, I exaggerate a bit. Before our lesson I’ve actually done some random reading while researching stroke order and read about WHY we write Chinese character a particular way. It’s all about Chinese calligraphy, because calligraphy is an art. So good pretty writing is about making it look beautiful.
Unfortunately, with the advent of typesetting, many teachers lament that this skill is getting lost. The typesetting character isn’t necessarily how you would write a character. So it is very important to use 標楷體 when you’re using fonts for lesson plans. Because they tell you how the brush starts and stops. And if you know about strokes then when you see a character, you can look at it for clues on how to actually write the character.
I did not use to like this font because I did find that often they are not how we actually write characters though. But now I do use it knowing it’s mimicking brush strokes. However, I don’t think it is good as a way to copy how characters are written. This is why the character practice sheets from the major textbook publishing companies now have a 鋼筆字 component. One big reason is that the left right stroke (橫) is actually written at a 7 degree angle. Don’t ask me why it’s exactly 7 degrees. But I read about it on this website. I actually then went and drew a character grid and mapped my 標楷體 onto it. And it is indeed 7 degrees for all the 標楷體 characters.
I’ve been searching and searching online over 3 years for a font that mimics 鋼筆字 and really none are exactly right for young children, because they do add a beautiful writing component to it and this means that the strokes are sometimes not very clear, they kind of start mimicking brushes. However, I’m now using the 華康雅風體 in my dictionary since it’s going to be used for writing. You can find bootlegged copies online all over the place.
Because writing Chinese characters is all about fitting into a square. So another thing I learned about strokes is that sometimes strokes change in order for the character to fit properly into one square. For example, for the character 林, which is made up of two 木’s. 木’s stroke order is 一橫，一豎，一瞥，一捺. When it’s written on the left side, it’s 一橫，一豎，一瞥，一點. So the left to right diagonal () is shortened in order to allow room for the right 木 to fit in there. There are many cases like that.
Apparently if you look at the character practice sheets from New Taipei Government, you can kind of see this. When they teach characters, they do point out these little gotchas. I really really wanted to use these character practice sheets. But alas, we’re following Sagebook, so instead I’m making more work for me by doing it myself through using the 華康雅風體 font.
How I presented
Tonight, we started our lesson with the character 林. First we looked at the character structure reference I made for Thumper and we talked about its character structure. Then we talked about the character shapes of the character and decided that they were two same long rectangles. I then gave Thumper a few example of what long rectangles mean. The left/right stroke is proportional to the diagonal strokes, this is how you can make that rectangle. It isn’t too long nor too short. I also talked about how the point of writing character is it’s in the center of the square. It isn’t hiding on the top left corner or bottom right corner. Finally I talked about how when we actually write Chinese, the left to right stroke goes slightly up. (I read about the 7 degrees only after the presentation).
After practicing different ways to NOT write 林, I finally got down to work showing her how to write it. I wrote it on the character practice booklet I made 6 months ago for her. (Finally!) And wow, if I may say so myself, my writing actually is not bad looking for once. These workbooks have 7 characters total in one column only, with the top to be written by the teacher. From the character component paper and other things I’ve read, they say that practicing and practicing and practicing writing is not going to make the child actually remember how to write it. This is one reason why I’m limiting it only to 6 characters. I’m hoping that with other writing practice it’ll stick better. However, I do see how beautiful writing characters is both a muscle memory and mindful writing thing so I need to figure out what to do about that.
Anyways, borrowing an idea from the English handwriting workbook I purchased, I asked Thumper to write two characters in her book, make little circles in the character of where she thinks she needs improvement and where she’s writing well. Then she tries again with the next two, and finally with the last two she writes them w/ no critique for me to see.
Since the practice sheet does have a crosshair in it to guide you, it helped her see where to start the writing when she’s copying my character. Her character writing turned out very well for 林. She wanted to try it with 凱, but we had a tough time deciding what type of character shape & structure it has. We analyzed it to death. It did turn out pretty good too compared with before. And definitely I’m amazed at how much better I write. But I can see she does just need more practice writing in general because she can’t quite make her lines too straight or her curves curvy enough yet.
I’m not sure how long we can make this interest in writing beautify characters last. I will have to figure out how to make it more interesting as we go along.
In regards to writing in general, I’m glad we’re finally starting at age 7.5. It is a bit old and it isn’t like she was not writing before now. But for 3 years I was super frustrated that she was holding her pencil incorrectly but her school work makes her write. It’s mostly her choice to write of course but we weren’t going to a play-based school. Finally this year she’s got enough strength in her hand to hold her pencil right. And I can see how an older age makes a bigger difference in how well she can manipulate that pencil. She was just one of those kids who did not develop her pincer grip early enough.
Lastly, after reading that article about 7 degrees, I’m going to be changing all of our practice sheets to that format instead. I am a lazy person and I don’t like to nag. I hate for her to develop the habit of writing a specific way, having her muscles remember it, and then having to correct it when she gets older. It seems just so much easier that the guides for writing slanted is IN the practice sheets.
I’m going to be making my reference guide for these character shapes next.
This week I introduced the second part of Chinese character structure. These are two different things but I don’t know how to translate them into English. The first one was called 漢字基本結構, so more Chinese characters’ basic structure. It’s really more about how the character components fit each other to form a character. This second part is 字體結構, and it’s about how to write these character components so that it looks nice.
So this is part 3 of my lesson plan on teaching how to write. One was stroke name, two was character structure, and three is character shapes. Two and three are really inter-related.
The easiest way to explain character form is to look at some characters. For example, 山. This character is triangular in shape when you write it. Or, a character like 牙, which is long rectangular shape. Or, the one character that Thumper tends to write funny, 天. You can see it’s kind of triangular shape. But Thumper likes to write it so that the first left-right stroke is as long as the second. It was because of this that I thought it would be important to talk about character shapes with her. The 8 shapes for simple characters are:
inverted triangle 下
wide rectangle 丑
For characters with character components, you can break down the character shapes even more. For example, one of a character’s basic structure is left/right, where the character components are left and right of each other, e.g. 朋. Then you can break this down even more and say some characters have the left side bigger, some the right side bigger, some the left is long rectangle, right short rectangle, etc. Here are the 6 basic ones for just the left right structure:
left wide, right narrow 割
left narrow, right wide 姐
left long, right short 私
left short, right long 喔
let tall, right low 胡
Crazy right? I count 27 of these for the different character component, plus the 8 for simple for a total of 35!
How I Presented
As usual, to make sure I don’t spend 5000 days to actually create the material (which I’m doing now, hours and hours of work), I just printed out the relevant pages from the research paper as prep. This was actually just a 5-10 minute lesson I squeezed in before cooking dinner. I first showed Thumper the reference material I made for her the other day.
I then talked about how it’s not just these basic structures but the characters themselves have specific shapes. For example, her 天 she often writes it with two equal lines. (I know I know, I really should not be pointing out her mistakes. sigh). But really 天’s shape is a triangle. (Here I draw a triangle around the character. We then just went through and talked about the 8 basic character shapes. I definitely stressed the long rectangle shape because that is seen the most often. And then we went through some of the shapes for the left/right components. By then she was getting tired so I just left it at that.
One technique I’m using from reaching Nurture Shock. I tend to give many examples of what NOT to do. Thumper really really found it funny to show me examples of how not to write the characters. Looking back, I think I should have let her go with it. But at the time, I stopped her after a few examples.
BUT! there is an epilogue. Two days later, we finally talked about how to write Chinese characters, and we started practicing. Wow, what a difference knowing character structure makes!
Last week, I had a crazy idea that I would take the 20 characters in Sagebook Blue Series book 1 and make up a new story with it. Once this idea took root, I had a sleepless night, tossing and turning in bed, thinking of how I could combine the character into long sentences. After a week of stewing, I came up with a book.
Astroboy is on Book 2 of the series. And while he recognizes all the words in book 1, I wanted to introduce to him new words from these 20 characters. And also have a 10-12 page book similar to the Treasure boxes you can read after the first 100 characters.
I typed this up and asked Thumper to illustrate it. She insisted on using pastels. I didnt think pastels would work. But it turned out rather nicely, except by the end when she got tired and didn’t want to do it anymore. Astroboy ended up illustrating the last two pages.
I think as an activity, the best is actually to print it out and then have the child illustrate what they read. However, because Astroboy looks up to Thumper, he rarely wants to draw things himself. He says that she draws better. Astroboy giggled and giggled while he was reading it. I have no idea why. Was it because the hand is as tall as the mountain? I was also quite surprised at how he kind of struggled with reading the book even though he doesn’t have as much of a problem reading book 1 itself.
Another idea I have is to illustrate this semi-professionally and maybe put it out as an ebook? What do you think?
Things got a little crazy after we started on Sagebooks. I started researching on teaching stroke orders, character layout, character components, and then started school. Yikes, it’s already been 5 weeks since we started on Sage.
For Thumper, as we wrote in our January monthly summary, we have spent this week and last week reviewing. I think we’re losing momentum a bit because of our scheduling issues. I have not actually had time to review the characters she doesn’t know with her. She has just been reading the treasure boxes and also this week started on the idioms. On our work plan, I basically gave her a daily item she needs to do, which is to read Chinese for 10 minutes to me. She can choose books from the Little Bears series, the idioms, the Sagebook Readers, or the Sagebook Treasure boxes, any of the first 3 levels.
Thumper actually loves the idioms books. I say so because as a child who does not want to read and seldom repeats work twice, she asked to read the same idioms book (book 3) 2 days in a row both with me and by herself. Astroboy also wanted me to read it to him. The books themselves really require an adult to be there to explain the concept to them. My kids are not going to be able to start making sentences with these idioms without some examples from me. Unfortunately I’m slightly rusty on them myself and the Sage ones don’t come with examples, so I don’t even know if my examples are proper. But whatever, she loves the “jokes” part included after each idioms intro, even though that also requires some explaining.
Anyways, yes she doesn’t remember some characters, but I’m still amazed at how she can remember the strange conceptual ones that are not nouns. There’s nothing to hang these on other than the intro we had 3 at a time, and composing and writing down a sentence. We didn’t even bother with reading the reader books much this time around as we were jumping around the books in this series since she knew about 60% of them already. I super envy young kids’ memory ability.
As for Astroboy, we kind of started on book 2 of Blue Series. I’m kind of neglecting him because of my obsession to create materials for Thumper. So I think I formally introduced 6 characters total in 2 weeks? However, seeing his sister reading the Treasure book one day really spurred him on (because she read the whole book). Just that one day, he wanted to read the WHOLE book. We spent maybe an hour on it. I could not dissuade him. So at least he’s seen all of them. After about character #10-#12, he started getting confused on all of them.
This is the third week that Astroboy is on Sagebook’s first book. He seems to be having a lot of trouble with the “concept” characters like 很, 指, 隻, etc. Given the success of the other games I introduced last week, I thought I would try a character game with him this week. Today, I pulled out the Chutes and Ladders game. I realized the other day that Chinese characters are just like sight words! So any sight word games you see in English, you can do it in Chinese too.
Chutes and Ladders
Place your tokens at the starting point.
Roll a die and walk as many steps. Read the character you land on. If you read it wrong, go back to previous step. If you read it right you can stay.
You may sometimes go up a ladder (red line) or go down a chute (green line). You may also land on a square requiring you to sing the zhuyin song or use your body to compose a character.
The first person to reach the finish line wins. Make sure you discuss in advance if you need to roll the exact number to reach the finish or not. Otherwise you will have cranky kids!
If you homeschool at home, suddenly there are many “tools” you need to get in order to make materials. In Montessori education especially, there are many nomenclature cards. A friend asked about laminator this week so I thought I’d note down the specific items I’ve used to make these cards. Because I hate researching and I had to research for each one to find cheapest price.
Originally I tried using 110lb paper because I wanted the thickest card so it feels like a commercial product. But alas, I discovered that anything over 90lb most home printers won’t print and cheap laminators won’t laminate.
3-mil 9×11-1/2 Laminating pouches, 5-mil laminating pouches
I use both 3mil and 5mil. Again, I originally wanted 5mil for all my nomenclature cards. But when you start making massive amounts, you realize that you don’t really need 5 mil except in a few instances. So I’ve used 5mil for things like bead arrows. In general I make my materials in the following combo:
Regular paper + 3 mil lamination
Cardstock + 3 mil lamination
Cardstock + 5 mil lamination
For example, for the Hundred Board game, I used regular paper + 3 mil because this was a quick material. For a bit of flexibility in feel when you hold the cards, I use card stock + 3 mil. For example, the Fraction Game cards. For items I want to last a super long time, I use Cardstock + 5 mil. These are cards I want to reuse for a long time by Thumper and Astroboy or to resell later or small items like the bead chain arrows I rarely use 5 mil now. Every time I think of how fast the kids will go through the cards, I’m reluctant to use 5 mil.
Royal Laminator (PL2100)
Laminator can be super cheap or super expensive. I got a cheap one because I figured I wasn’t going to be doing it day in and day out. It does my 5 mil and 3 mil fine. I usually run each one through twice. I’ve seen better ones at work from Fellowes where you can specify up to 7 or 10 mil and it is HOT. But this one is only $30 and it does the job.
Bypass Paper Trimmer
I went the expensive route for this cutter. Cutters are temperamental. The not so great ones just don’t allow you to cut straight. And the cheap ones sometimes don’t allow you to cut thick materials like 5 mil + card stock. I spend the money and the toner and ink to print something out, only to have it not be cut straight?! Drives me nuts. For trimmers, I did some research and discovered that you don’t want the rotary ones. Also some trimmers don’t allow you to change the blade. I think this one does. I got a 50% off coupon and though it took several trips (I hate Joann’s! Long story) I did get the thing for around $50.
Scissors- Fiskars 9 Inch Premier Titanium Nitride Shop Shears (12-96536984)
What I do at least 70% of the time is actually cut by hand. If you are patient, often this gives you a better cut than a cutter. Because I hate that white edges on my cards. Making materials really bring out the perfectionist in me. Though with 5 months of material making under my belt now, I’m starting to see why teachers have always not been so exact. You do get tired after awhile, especially knowing the children may be will only touch the material 1-2 days.
For scissors, I also went for a fairly good one because I’m cutting a 5 mil sometimes. I’m sure you can also get this while Joann’s Fabric has a sale.
Corner Rounder – R Memory Keepers Crop-A-Dile Corner Chomper Tool
After you laminate and cut, I like to corner round each one. It is very sharp otherwise. And also a pain in the neck as it takes a long time. This corner rounder does 1/2″ and 1/4″. I usually do 1/4″. These things wear out quickly so you can’t have too many of them.
And let’s not go into the super expensive printer I bought to make my nomenclature cards and the tons of paper I burned through trying to print duplex correctly.
This week, we continued our work in Sagebook. Those flashcards are making learning a bit easier because there are so many uses for them. For Thumper, she’s starting to drag her feet just a little in learning new characters, and having trouble remembering them when introduced. I can see that she needs more work in the introduction part. For Astroboy, we’re having a good time playing games with the character flashcards. One night he told me, “I want to do 高山.” It’s what he calls the Sagebooks because those are the two characters he intimately knows from the first book of Blue Series. Warms my heart, especially since he lost interest last semester.
I owe it all to the games we can play with those flashcards. Now, I know there is an aspect missing in all this work, which is self-directed repetition without teacher. This helps build concentration and order. I’m still searching for an activity that is interesting and does that. However, right now my head is swimming with all the games I can think up with these characters. Next week I’m going to try a Hundred Board.
One reason the children have problem remembering is because we are not spending enough time in the introduction work. In Montessori-speak, the three-period lesson is how you introduce any new concept. This is actually documented in Eric Eriksons’ work. He was a student or student of a student of Montessori. I wanted to point this out because it’s something I’ve made the mistake of not doing again and again.
For Thumper, we’re still only writing sentences. This week I pre-selected 3 cards for each day and paper clipped them. By Tuesday she was getting the material out, selecting her 3 cards, constructing her sentence and writing them all down, all without my supervision. She just gets me when she needs me to go over the characters with her. I can tell though that she is starting to not remember some of the harder ones as now we’ve learned about 20 characters so I need to think of more materials that will help her retain the info.
Games We Played
Here are some of the games we’ve played this week to work on character recognition. Astroboy is really enjoying these games. Currently we’re working on all 20 cards in book 1 of Blue Series, because he has already read through the book numerous times since last semester, without a formal introduction to the characters. But he just can’t remember the abstract concept ones like 很, 有, etc.
1. Who can find the card the fastest?
I laid out 5-10 cards in order on the rug. I name a card and we see who can find it faster. When you find it, slap your hand on it. For some reason, Mama is always slightly late! If Astroboy gets it wrong, I get the card instead of him. I keep refilling the cards as we play so there’s always 10 on the rug. Whoever has the most card after the game wins.
After awhile, I let him call the cards out and name them. He likes to name them and slap his hand on it. This is kind of like writing before reading concept. He knows the word he wants to use so it’s faster for him than thinking about what I’m asking for and then looking for it.
2. Matching little cards to big cards.
Astroboy has his own set of dictionary. We played a game to see who can match the most number of cards. Of course I chose the easy cards to match while leaving him with the harder words. He has a lot of problem with all 20 cards out. I had to show him that we match from left to right, top to bottom (another indirect way to teach reading). I could totally write another post about how Montessori reading doesn’t help with Chinese reading (which is top to bottom, right to left).