Montessori’s First Great Lesson

Age: 7 & 10

Science Co-op Session 1 Week 4: Montessori First Great Lesson


  • First Great Lesson Presentation
  • Van Gogh Starry Night Art
  • Break
  • Moon Log

After 3 weeks of background presentations, this week was IT, the First Great Lesson.  This presentation was already done two school years ago, in Fall 2016.   I’ve never quite liked the lesson the way it was taught to me because I don’t have the best classroom management skills yet and dealing with kids who go off script when you show them the experiments while you’re busy telling the story throws me into a loop, and then I start rushing and things fall apart.

This year, I decided to change things up by using the story as told in The Deep Well of Time.  The author advocates telling the story by doing all the presentations in the weeks leading up to the lesson, then make the story an oral story, without reading from the book.  Alas, I could not memorize the whole story.  So I did read from the book, but tried to tell it as much as possible without reading straight.

The other thing I changed was to tell the story in English so that I’m not stumbling over words and shortening the whole story because I don’t have the words for them.  Thankfully, all the children in the co-op actually could benefit from more English exposure. (more…)

Homeschool Summary Jul 2017

Wow, it really helps to have monthly summaries even though I never manage it for half the year.   I never think we accomplish too much but re-reading the summaries it’s not too bad.

Here’s what the kids did last month.  It may look like a lot, but this is what we did the whole day, not just during our work period.  Also, something I’m trying this year is only doing the item once a week.  I’ll talk more about that in my yearly Workplan post.  Having a revised schedule also helps in us having more downtime to do activities like reading and practical life.

In general, we had a very good 2+ week homeschooling and another 2 weeks half homeschooling half playing.  The changes I made to schedule and workplan has resulted in a little bit less frustration on my end and I like that we’re covering the materials I think we need to cover.


Solids and Liquids are Dense

Age: 7 & 10

Science Co-op Session 1 Week 3: Solids and Liquids are Dense


  • 盤古 Pangu – Chinese Creation Myth
  • Solids are Dense Lab #1
  • Liquids are DenseToo worksheet
  • Lab from Daily Living Science 生活裡的科學

Density is a concept that is repeated very often in the First Great Lesson.  It wasn’t until training that I realized density had a big hand in how the Earth was formed (air in our atmosphere vs the heavy earth core).   It’s why I continue to come back to Montessori science even though I find it hard to implement, because it ties all the disparate scientific concepts together and show how they’re related to each other. (more…)

Using Kindle Paperwhite to Read Traditional Chinese Books

Two summers ago, I bought a Kindle Paperwhite for Thumper‘s annual summer vacation at Grandma.  Originally I bought it for Thumper to read in English.  However, as we moved up to upper elementary Chinese books, I started using it for reading in Chinese as well.  The more we use it, the more I’ve fallen in love with it.    It is an indispensable tool in our quest to learn Chinese.

As they like to say in Chinese, it has a high CP value.

Why buy a Kindle?

Honestly, it probably doesn’t have to be a Kindle.  It can be a Nook.  But I don’t know anything about the Nook, so I don’t know if it can do the things that the Kindle can.

  • It’s great for traveling.  When we Worldschooled this past year for 4 months, I brought only the Kindle Paperwhite along.  We used it to read English books and eventually the Chinese books I managed to find online.
  • No need for an English library at home.   I’ve donated about 80% of my English books at home now that I have a Kindle.  We usually borrow ebooks that we download onto the Kindle.  For books that have no eBook format, we go to the local library.  We only buy non-fiction books we need for homeschooling when we need it.
  • It provides support for English learning.  Use the Word Wise setting to provide definitions over texts, which is super great for learning vocabulary.  There is also a dictionary to look up words you don’t understand.    There is also Kindle FreeTime, which allows you to track reading progress, though I have never figured out how it works.
  • It’s got Simplified Chinese support!  You can read in Traditional Chinese as well, but the menus can only be configured for Simplified.   You can highlight Chinese text and look up translations and definitions.  For simplified, you can configure it to display pinyin on top of words!
  • Entice children to read higher level books.  As I mentioned in my Harry Potter book review, kids can’t quite see how big a book is when it’s on the Kindle, so they are more willing to read a long book that they’re capable of reading, but resist because they’re not used to words without texts yet.
  • Not worry about the kids’ eyes.  I’m no optometrist so I don’t know if it’s actually better.  But I feel better that I can change the font size to something huge for the kids.  Fonts start getting so much smaller the higher the level and I always worry.  In fact, because of this, I actually prefer the kids reading on the Kindle and always try to find an ebook before looking for a physical copy now.  When I asked the kids’ optometrist the last time we went for a check up, she said that for screen devices they just need to make sure to rest their eyes every 30 minutes.


Properties of Solids, Liquid, Gas

Age: 7 & 10

Science Co-op Session 1: Week 2 – Properties of Solids, Liquids, Gas


  • Mayan Creation Myth
  • Nomenclature Overview – Solid/liquid/gas
  • Air Takes up Space Lab
  • The States of Matter Lab: Presto-ChangE-o water Lab
  • Supplmental for kids who are interested:
    • Radio Lab: Solid as a Rock
    • Radio Lab: Speed

Looking back after we finished the session, I planned too many activities.  Everyone is still getting used to the schedule of arriving at 10:30.  So if we don’t start on time, then the kids start loosing focus by 11:30 because they’re hungry. (more…)

Cold and Very Cold

Age: 7 & 10

Science Co-Op Session 1 Week 1: Cold and Very Cold


  • Norse Myths
  • Cold and Very Cold
  • Blow up Balloon with Dots

After a whole year of gap year traveling, we are back to doing our science co-op.  This is the only way I’m able to squeeze in science, by forcing myself to meet with other homeschoolers once a week.

After talking to Eclectic Mama, we decided to change the format of the class now that the kids are older.  Namely:

  • Limit to age 7 and up.
  • Limit to 4 kids in the beginning
  • One person teach
  • $10 material fee per person.
  • A scheduled start and ending time
  • Bilingual science/history class

The format of the class got set once I realized that I really do want to teach the class because I wanted to do Montessori science.  I’m partial to it because it ties all the different disciplines in science together.   The other thing I really need, because I now have a 4th grader, is a class that doesn’t just have fun activities, but more thoughtful discussion and perhaps some writing.

In order to do that I had to limit it to a group of similar age kids (3 year difference max).  To help with the prep and to encourage people to arrive on time, we also added a $10 material fee and I even wrote up a class description.  All to make it feel like a class that you need to commit to.

Lastly, now that the children are older, we can add English into the class.  In fact, most of the kids actually need some English instruction to help with English exposure.  This, along with the material fee, would help make prep easier, as one reason I kept procrastinating was because I did not relish the painstaking task of translating something like the First Great Lesson story into Chinese.

Thankfully I have cool friends who are easy going and willing to go along with my always overly ambitious plans.  Eclectic Mama even spent an afternoon with me while I babble through my lesson plan options.  Because I can only think through problems by talking about it, rather than thinking in my head. (more…)

Practical Life: 彩虹編織器 Rainbow Loom

Ages: 6.75 & 9.75

During our summer vacation, Thumper got a hold of a free Rainbow Loom and she became obsessed.  It’s now infected Astroboy as well.  Both spend all their free time on it.

I was very surprised to learn that while I was gone running errands, she asked my mom for her iPad and searched on Youtube herself for instructional videos on what you can make with the Rainbow Loom.  (Just google “rainbow loom project-name” and you’ll see a bunch of YouTube videos). She started with bracelets and has gone on to ornamental items.

She’s really growing up and becoming independent.

Of course Astroboy wanted to do it as well but Thumper was hogging it all up.   I finally caved and bought a set for him.   I didn’t know until after Thumper broke hers (just a week of use no less!) that there are actually tons of imitators out there and you want the real thing which has a metal hook instead of cheap plastic ones.


How to Pack Books from Taiwan for Luggage and Shipping

Back in December last year, Fleur and I shipped about 50 small and big boxes of books for friends and brought back 14 boxes of books ourselves.  When I had to take a last minute 3 day trip back to Taipei in March this year, I brought back 2 boxes of books that I packed without Fleur’s help.  All of these books arrived in one piece and I think I finally had the packing down to a science.

In my few years of buying books through my book vendor and organizing my own group book buys, I heard a few horror stories and encountered a few issues with packing and shipping.  Let me list the horror stories I’ve heard and encountered myself:

  • Boxes of books shipped by sea, packed by relatives, lost forever.  Each box of 20kg books probably cost someone around $250-$350 total.  That’s a lot of money.
  • Boxes of books shipped by sea, with corners bent or moisture issues, unable to be sold.
  • Boxes of books purchased through a publisher, shipped by sea, arriving ripped open and books lost or books moldy.
  • Box of book getting forwarded to USPS Lost and Found because mailing label fell off, and even though we know exactly which processing plant it went to, lost forever.
  • People receiving shipment notice by USPS and USPS not finding the box when they go pick it up.
  • For my March 3-day trip, I didn’t buy enough books to put them all in Post Office boxes so I had 2 carryon suitcase of books.  A hardcover got gauged in the process by the tabs in the suitcase because I didn’t pad it well.  So so sad.   

Next time I go back to Taiwan, I will try to pack all my books in boxes rather than stuff them in my suitcase.  If you’re carrying books back on the plane, it is best if you just use a box instead of packing them in your suitcase.  Books are heavy.  Often just a few of them will push them over your suitcase weight allowance.  They like to come in square shapes.  You can’t bend them to pack them in a suitcase tightly.


Book Review: Harry Potter 哈利波特

Ages: 6.75 & 9.75
Suitable for 4th grade and up.

I don’t think people need me to review such a well known series like Harry Potter.  This post is more about Chinese translation of Harry Potter and where they fit in the scheme of learning Chinese.

First a little backstory.  If you’re impatient, skip to my point.

Two weeks ago, I sent Astroboy to an English camp for a week and Thumper had a week “off”, where she can do whatever she likes and I generally don’t bother her about when to get up or go to sleep.  She spent that week re-listening to Harry Potter books 1 to 3 again, in English.

This was after we’d gone to the local library and borrowed Harry Potter 4 in Chinese for her to read, as I’d told her last year that she can read the fourth book after she turned 10.  She dropped that after a day and went back to listening to the English version instead.  She said while she could read the Chinese characters, she did not understand what it was saying.


Learn Chinese Profile: Chinese When Your Kid Goes to Public School

Recently, I’ve been having random conversations with Dots about possible books to buy and offering unsolicited opinions on how she ought to teach her kids Chinese.  Then I realized I often start my sentences with, “xx does this with her kids”, “yy does that with her kids”, hoping to give her some inspiration.

What I realized is I need to write all of this down as I often use one friend as an example when talking to another friend.

Because to me, many of my friends are way more successful in teaching Chinese than me.   But that’s why I homeschool. I wouldn’t be able to do it if my kids went to school.

So I want to write down the stories of friends whose kids have finished Reading 123 閱讀123 by the end of second grade.  I think that’s a good marker for Chinese reading success.   Why?  Because by third grade, English gets harder. If you can develop that habit of reading a longish book by second grade, you have a fighting chance of continually increase your Chinese level through reading without a lot of parental effort.  By 2nd grade, that’s 7-8 years of pushing making an effort for Chinese.  It starts getting tiring.

Of course, there are other things one would still need to work on, like idioms, writing, non-fiction Chinese, literary Chinese, etc.   But the creation of a reading habit is of the utmost importance for those kids who are learning Chinese almost as a second language.

So the first person I want to profile is Lavender.  Her story is truly inspiring and I hope others who read it realize it is never too late to teach your kids Chinese. (more…)