Mandarin Reading Club

About a month ago, I finally started that book club I’d been wanting to start for over a year.  This is our fifth week and I think I kind of have the format down now.

There are 4 kids in our club, ranging from 5 to 9.  Because of the range of children, my goal wasn’t to have a the children read one book at home and then discuss and analyze in the club, but rather just to foster reading and have the children discuss books with each other.  The idea came to me when I saw how happy Thumper was, discussing, drawing, and giggling with Bebe about Harry Potter.  I realized then just how powerful it is having peers to learn Chinese with.

Here’s what our most recent reading club meeting looked like (more…)

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…)

Book Review: 跨世紀小說 Cross Century Set

Age:  9
Grade: 3rd-JH (中高年級到國中), most are 5th-6th
Pages: 200+.

For other book reviews, please see my Books page.

It’s kind of strange to be writing a book “review” for a series when Thumper’s only read 2 of them.  But I love what we have read so far and am singing the series’ praises left and right.  Since I plan to collect the rest of the series that are out of print, I thought I will create a reference doc for myself for this book review.

The Cross Century Set, otherwise known as 跨世紀小說 from Eastern Publishing (東方出版社), is a set of 54 books.   Eastern Publishing translated a bunch of award winning or nominated novels (Newberry medals, Carnegie Medals, etc) and also acquired the rights to several out of print books from another publisher, and published them under the Cross Century name.  Their website describes the set as (and I very roughly translate into English):

From countries such as the U.S., England, France, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Ireland, Germany, and Spain, these award winning children’s literature explore topics on friendships, family, adventure, life, and growing up…..



Three Months Mandarin Immersion in Taiwan – Was it Worth It?

We’ve been back for 3 weeks now.  Ironically, life in the States is faster paced.  There are so many more chores and various other “life” activities that need to be taken care of.  The kids don’t have built in daily playdates anymore, requiring way more conscious scheduling and driving time.

Before our daily routine overwhelms me and I forget completely, I thought I should look back on our trip in Taiwan.

So was three months mandarin immersion in Taiwan worth it?

The short answer is a resounding yes.

At the 1.5 month mark, I was questioning whether or not we were seeing any effect.   But since returning, I have noticed how Astroboy would spout new vocabulary that I hadn’t heard out of his mouth before.   The taxi driver on our way to the airport said that the children’s Chinese are more fluid than 3 months ago.  Definitely Astroboy‘s listening comprehension and range of vocabulary is much better.  We listened to Magic Treehouse in the car the other day and he didn’t get bored like before.

Was it Taiwan?  Because he wasn’t interacting with local children daily.  Or was it the huge amount of cartoon they watched in the last month?  Was it the fact that he had to speak Chinese to random people daily, other than me?  That even the little amount helped?  Who knows.  But now, just like three years ago, his overall language development went up because we were only doing one language for three months, instead of two languages here.  That’s just my conjecture.


Case Study: Organizing A Large Chinese Library Collection

This is part of my series on building A Chinese Library.   For a complete list of posts, see here.

Last year, I re-organized Mandarin Mama’s Library.    This year, I helped Fleur organize the 8+ boxes of books elfe brought back from Taiwan.  We’re not quite done yet, but at least the books are mostly on the shelves.  She has a substantially larger book collection, probably 500+ books and tons of magazine.


I wrote a super long post, but really the process is the same, with 1 or 2 tweaks.   So instead I’m going to just modify the original “recipe” and list them here, point out some of the things we did differently, and post tons of pics.  Because, when the Chinese books are all lined up along a wall, it’s so pretty! (more…)

Where to Buy DVDs in Taiwan

This is part of my series on Building A Chinese Library for the Kids.  My previous post was on Where to Buy Books in Taiwan.

No trip to Taiwan is complete without a DVD shopping spree.   Since my last shopping spree three years ago I’ve discovered YouTube.  But I find that it is sadly not a source of Disney movies or non-fiction DVDs.   (However, if you know where to look, websites abound that lets you watch these online!)

Our trip down the rabbit hole of DVD purchase started out innocently enough, first we went to Costo and found some interesting DVDs.  Then, thanks to Dr. Miyazaki’s request to find some good marine-life related DVDs, we went to stores in Electronic shopping district.  Eventually, I ended up going all over Taipei to look for DVDs for friends.

In any case, just like the bookstores, I did not go to every DVD store in Taipei.  But after a few, we kind of saw the pattern in what’s carried in stock and didn’t seek out new ones.


Where to Buy Books in Taiwan

This is part of my series on Building Your Chinese Library.  Check out my previous, related post on All About Buying Books in Taiwan.

It’s T-6 and seriously, NO MORE Book Buying.  Right now, it’s looking like my books may barely fit into my allowed luggage.

This means I can finally come out of blog rest and detail all the bookstores I visited, both physically and virtually.  Obviously I didn’t visit all the bookstores in Taipei.   But we did go back to the used ones multiple times.  After awhile, patterns emerged and there was no reason to go discover more stores during our trip.

You  may also want to check out the first general overview post I wrote about buying books in Taiwan a year ago.  This post just goes into more details about the individual bookstores.

This post is by no end an exhaustive list of all the bookstores in Taiwan, nor a list of the cheapest bookstores.  You can always be looking for that cheaper bookstore.  As I mentioned in my overview post, a super good deal is 65% of list price.  The cheapest option is easy to find online if you can pay by Cash/ATM Transfer, then carry the books back yourself.  This option is only available for people with relatives in Taiwan or people who go back often.  For me, I try to find stores that accept US credit cards and is wiling to ship to me in the US.

Since it’s the end of the year and my Dramabeans kdrama year-end reviews are fresh on my mind, I’m going to do something similar, give each bookstore a little verdict.

Note:  In Taiwan, prices are talked about as a % of list price, rather than % off.  So 70% list is really 30% off.


Starting Montessori Multiplication

Age: 6

Skills: Multiplication memorization and 2 digit multiplication operation.

“Mama!  4 plus 4 plus 4 is 12!”

Astroboy told me of this discovery a few days ago.   I love watching Astroboy discover his math.  You can totally see how math progression, curriculum-wise, needs to go.

With Astroboy, there really isn’t forcing a child to learn math, he thinks about math a lot outside of homeschool time.  He likes to read random numbers he sees. he wants to know how many more stops till we reach our destination.  He likes to know what day of the week and count how many days until xx happens.

In any case, hearing his declaration told me that he was ready for multiplication, because multiplication is basically addition, simplified.  (He’s very proud and happy to tell his friend this discovery whenever he can.)  I’m guessing because he has recently (mostly) mastered addition memorization, he is now moving to multiplication when he’s thinking about numbers.

For our trip, I brought along both Bead Decanomial and Checkerboard Beads, in large ziplock bags.  The only difference between them is the lack of 10-beads.  I whipped those out today to review skip counting, which is a precursor to multiplication.

Last year, we did skip counting a few times.   This year, he knows how to skip count his 2s and some 3s, and knows more math.  So with the bead materials, I laid them out much like the squaring chains and asked him to count and record into his notebook.

I love my concrete math materials for this reason.  With the same material, I can change the difficultly level by adding more and more writing.  My math trainer stressed that it’s not that important to write in the beginning when working with math materials.  The important part is manipulating said material.

But, like I said, with Astroboy, I can always see how to use the math curriculum.  Last year, he wasn’t interested in writing.  This year, he can write a bit more so we added writing to the curriculum.

Since he didn’t really want to manually count the material, I went ahead and printed out a bunch of skip counting worksheets at 7-eleven.  Tonight, he didn’t want to go to sleep, but instead went through all 12 skip counting stamping game twice.

He was not as enamored with the Montessori skip counting worksheet, which is there for children to discover common multiples.

What he likes the most are the two Montessori multiplication apps we’re using right now: Reflex Math and Edoki’s Multiplication math game.  With Reflex Math, he’s mastering multiplication memorization.  I ask him to read what he sees in Chinese to help him start memorizing the table the Chinese way.

Edoki’s multiplication math has both a memorization game and an operations game.  The operations game has the child move stamps as many times as you’re multiplying, to really drive home the concept that multiplication is just adding.  There is also a memorization game that is a duplicate of the primary multiplication bead board.

Because we’re not homeschooling very seriously right now, we’re using these apps the most.  I’m hoping eventually we can whip out the concrete materials again.  I can see it with the way Thumper is approaching her higher level math.  Having those concrete materials makes it easier for her to visualize the harder, more abstract concepts easily.   I don’t want Astroboy to miss this step.


GYA16: Taking a Break

Things have quieted down here the last week or two because all the classes we signed up for started.   Last week, we had 4 art class, 2 writing class, 1 homeschool group outing, and 1 science class.

Other than Monday, which is our quietest day because we have to stay home for our milk deliveries and can’t schedule classes, we had something going on every day.

On top of that, by Friday morning I woke up with a severe back ache.  I have herniated discs and once in awhile it flairs up to the point where every step is painful.  By the middle of the day I knew this was one of those times and made an appointment to see the PT.

Three years ago it cost $500 each time to see a PT without insurance.   This time it costs $1000.  Sigh.

On top of PT, I basically stayed in bed most of Friday and Saturday.  Fleur was very nice and took the kids out most of Saturday and cooked.   Thank goodness we had art class already scheduled and that just takes up half a day.

In any case, here are other random life slice of life stuff…

  • Watching LOTS of Robopoli.  It’s kind of like Ciao Hu except with vehicles.   I now have the theme song stuck in my head.
  • Drinking tons of grapefruit yukult every time we’re remotely close to a 五十嵐.  By “remotely close” I mean we stop at an earlier MRT stop so we can walk half a mile with cranky kids to buy some.
  • Taiwan is infinitely more fun with another adult who loves to eat and eggs you on to take side trips just for food.
  • Our neighbor has 5 dogs and we live in a neighborhood full of tall buildings.  The echoes from their nightly barking sound like there’s a pack of wild dogs roaming the hills.  How does anyone sleep around here?
  • I feel slightly guilty every time I take Uber; like I’m doing something illegal.  But it has been much cheaper and often a smoother ride in nicer cars.
  • Taking buses is also cheaper than the MRT because kids get half price.  However tonight I realized I’m contributing to all the terrible fumes on the road by endorsing the bus.  (Yes I’m a semi environmentalist.)  during commute hours the buses just line up 4-5 deep in some stops.
  • How can 7 people shed so much hair?  Our white tile floors means we need to sweep just about 3 times a day if not more.  Thank goodness Fleur seems semi immune to messes.
  • For awhile, if Fleur and I can manage not to fall asleep with the kids, we would stay up to watch a dubbed “W” (Korean drama) that’s showing nightly.  It’s like having a MNO!   There are definite pluses to traveling with a friend.
  • Fleur is a super great housemate.  I will refrain from waxing how great she is in the Internet.  But I’m definitely going to suffer Fleur-withdraw when we return to the US.
  • I’m sad the lack of IMei puddings at 7-eleven means I can’t have a cup a day.
  • We really live b**t far from everything.  I have also not achieved my goal of eating one guava a day because it requires walking by a fruit shop.
  • Thumper is taking up finger knitting and crocheting again after checking out a finger knit book from the HUCC coop.
  • What do you suppose is the point of geometry?   I know it’s everywhere in math but for the life of me I can’t think of how its applicable in daily life other than shape names.  A reason we just haven’t picked it up in homeschooling.
  • Watched “Your Name” online last night.  The anime movie was a super huge hit in Japan while we were there. We kept seeing posters and news about it.  Highly recommend!
  • I have definitely reached my limit in book luggage space.  And yet I keep finding more books to buy!

Art Lessons at Soho Art

Two years ago, thanks to Eclectic Mama, I attended a demo class at Soho Art in the US.  During the demo class, the parents had to sit through a lecture on how they teach art.  I fell in love when they mentioned that the children are only provided with 5 colors to work with: red, blue, yellow, black, and white.

Unfortunately, the class is an 1-2 hours drive away and at 5pm.  Plus the cost was very high for 1.5 hours.  So I vowed when I get back to Taiwan I’d sign the kids up for the class.  (They started in Taiwan and now have classes in China and the US.)

Taking the Class

In our branch in Taiwan, you have to take 16 introductory classes, where for 8 of them (啟蒙) parents need to sit through a video presentation on how Soho Art teaches art.  After the class, the teacher will also call all the parents in to tell them what the children did this week.  Part of the goal is for the parents to know how to talk to their children about the art they’re doing.

Classes are taught at 5 or 7pm Mon-Fri, and Saturday all day.  However, they may be willing to start a class for you at an earlier time if you get a minimum of 5 kids.

The cost is $5900 for the first 8 classes (啟蒙班), which includes a portfolio and smock.  Subsequent classes (進階班 and 常態班) are $4400. In 啟蒙 and 進階 they learn to mix colors, work with materials, and how to do self portraits.  In常態班, they work on a topic for two weeks.  For example, they will study “chair” and use two different material (watercolor, clay, Chinese brush) to paint chair.  For Spring and Summer breaks, they have special classes like oil painting.

The Philosophy

I’ve sat through 4 lectures so far, each one on a different artist: Da Vinci, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE these lectures.  I’ve learned more about how to look at art from them than my college art history class.   But the teacher at the front desk says that I’m the only other person who has paid attention in class and laughed at what I’m watching; the other woman being married to a German  All the other parents are looking down at their phone, which is kind of sad.   I guess maybe because these are Western artists and I have encountered them a lot?

Mona LisaIn any case, with 4 lectures, I’m getting a much better general sense of what the founder’s philosophy is.  She repeats, week after week in the lecture, how as far as technique goes, Da Vinci perfected it with his Mona Lisa.  You see this perfection in technique in tons of Classical/Renaissance paintings.

Modern art is about doing things different to stand out.  She shows us slides of how well Picasso or Matisse can do still life.  But it doesn’t make them better or more famous than others being able to draw still life well at 19 vs at 30.  These artists had to break out of the mode by drawing something different.

So how do we train children to do things differently?   To teach them about art, art history, and different types of art?  Specifically these classes have:

  • An emphasis on colors.  During the demo lecture, the teacher showed how if the topic this week is clouds, they will show children pictures of different clouds and ask the children to notice that clouds are not always white; they can be red, gray, blue, depending on the weather and the sun.
  • An emphasis on observation.  They don’t teach you how to draw specifically, though some techniques are touched upon.  But for each topic, they really want the children to look and see that you can draw it very differently depending on the angle you’re looking.  In addition, for any one topic there is no one way to draw.  For example, there are a myriad type of cat, or leaves, or clouds.
  • An emphasis on material exploration.  The children work with different materials each week, crayons, watercolors, pastel, oil, Chinese brush painting, recycled materials, clay, etc.
  • No right way.  One Chinese drawing class I demoed had the teacher giving the children a painting and asking them to paint what they draw, with the teacher teaching them how to reproduce the painting.  In contrast, the teachers here don’t dictate a right way to paint leaves for example, but rather teach them the elements of art.

The Classes Themselves

I first signed the kids up for 8 classes, then decided to put Astroboy in a second 8 without Thumper, partly because I want him to take classes without Thumper’s influence, and partly because he hasn’t touched art much, unlike her.  However, this week, I also put Thumper in a separate second 8 class because I didn’t want her to miss the classes on self portraits.

In our US location, there are only 10 introductory classes.  Not sure why.  Apparently the franchises have up to 20 of these intro classes to choose to offer.

The school is very responsive.  Thumper is the oldest kid in the class.  Most other children are 4-5 year olds.  So after the first week, I talked to the director about how easy Thumper felt the class was (i.e.g mixing colors) and the teacher gave her harder tasks for subsequent classes.

Just a note, I’m terrible at art so I could have the art terms wrong, especially translated.   Right now, with make up classes and two series of 8 classes happening at the same time, we are taking 3-4 classes a week!

Week 1 was introduction to mixing your 5 colors.


Week 2 They continued learning how to mix colors.  The topic was birds.  Thumper got moved to move advanced class so she drew a rooster.  The younger kids made a duck with clay and then had to mix their own background.

Week 3 We’ll make up next week

Week 4 The children painted rice paddies.  They divided up a piece of paper and the teacher hot glued the lines.  They then continue working on learning how to mix colors.  The teacher pointed out to them that a rice paddy can grow different types of plants, which have different shades of color.

Week 5 They learned to mix crayon.  The teacher wanted to show them how you can add 3 colors together.  She showed them a specific artist, whose name escapes me, who drew a face by composing together squares of different colors.  Kind of like those computer generated images made up of teeny tiny images.


Week 6 was learning about composition.  That paintings should have a point, line, and area.   Plus composition ideas like layering, perspective, leaving part of your subject out, etc.  They cut up recycled material.


Week 7 was learning to paint leaves using the concept they learned.  The teacher showed them different pictures of leaves and asked them to think about point, line, and area.  The leaves all don’t have to have to be lined up.  The kids had to mix the colors themselves.

Week 8 is next week!

Week 10 they learned Chinese brush painting.  The teacher showed them that by mixing different amount of water, they can have a range of dark ink.  She also pointed out to the parents that empty space is very important in Chinese painting.

Week 11 will be made up next week!

Week 12 they learned about the face.  The teacher pointed out that your eyes are NOT at the top of your head, but rather more centered; that your nose doesn’t start below your eyes but from your eyebrows; that your mouth has 2 lips, and you have 2 ears.  Astroboy made a face of Thumper with clay and gave her a cavity, which he was very proud of.

I really love these classes.  It’s at that perfect middle ground where there’s art exploration and artistic expression, but also some basic techniques, but not in the traditional strict way.

I quite agree with the philosophy. At the end of the day, art isn’t about drawing great still life anymore, it’s about creativity and expression, being sensitive to colors, and developing a keen observation of the world.  Most kids don’t grow up to be artists.  But they will be able to take these skills and apply them in other areas.