Saturday, 27 August 2016

Blog Notice

I posted this notice on Joyful Learning Home Preschool's Facebook Page about a month ago but have not posted it on the blog yet. Here was what I wrote on Facebook:

"With more time spent on homeschool activities and preparation (on top of the usual cooking and household chores that I do at home), I am finding it a bit difficult to keep up with updating this blog. Since the main purpose for creating "Joyful Learning Home Preschool" is to preserve memories of our homeschooling days and to share ideas and resources, I may choose to post more frequently on this Facebook Page instead of my blog. This is also in response to feedback that it is less time-consuming to read a Facebook post than a full blog post. I will still share a link to any blog post that I upload. Thank you for your interest!"

I have written quite a fair bit on the Facebook Page since then. In particular, I am sharing our activities systematically based on themes or unit studies we are doing (e.g. dinosaurs, apples). I think this is an efficient way for me to keep a record of what we are doing in our home preschool. It would also be easier for readers to search for ideas based on themes and topics they are interested in. If you have not followed the blog on Facebook and would like to keep up with what we are doing for homeschool, I invite you to follow us by liking the blog's Facebook Page. There will be times when a particular topic requires the depth that a full blog post can offer. At such times I would post in this blog and add a link to the Facebook page.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

《柠檬不是红色的》- A Literature-Based Unit Study

In my last post I wrote about the literature-based approach and how I used this approach to teach David Chinese. In this post I would like to share a literature-based unit study based on the book 《柠檬不是红色的》.  I am very happy to collaborate with Po Tim, a homeschooling mom from Hong Kong, to produce this learning package to support learning of the Chinese language. Here's a little about Po Tim. We got to know each other through a US-based homeschooling Facebook group and connected with each other as we were both teaching our children English and Chinese. Po Tim and her Japanese-American husband have three lovely young children. She blogs at You can read more about her here.

The book 《柠檬不是红色的》is translated from the English original "Lemons Are Not Red", written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. It is an excellent book that introduces colour concepts with a twist, unlike many traditional colour concept books. Through the clever use of die-cuts, the book stirs the natural curiosity and imagination of children by first presenting objects in "odd" or "wrong" colours, such as red lemon, purple carrot, grey flamingo and blue grass. With a turn of the page, things are made right when objects are represented in their proper colours. The Chinese version is especially suitable for exposing children to the use of  “是”, “不是” and “才是” to make affirmative and negative sentences.

Here is an example of the sentence structure that is repeated in the book with different colours and objects :



Through the reading of this book, children will be exposed to twelve different colours and twelve objects that are all nature-related. The repetitive sentence structure, attractive illustrations and element of fun and surprise all help to make the reading of this book a very enjoyable process for young children. Be prepared to have to read this book to your child more than once. Soon you may even find your child memorising the contents of the book due to its repetitive sentence structure and unique and interesting representation. Needless to say, this is a perfect book to be used for a literature-based unit study.

Po Tim and I have brainstormed and come up with a total of 9 activities (14 if the suggested challenge activities are included) in a downloadable format for parents to use with their children. The link to this unit study can be found at the end of this post. You can choose to download the pages that are most suitable for your use. There are six versions available - Simplified Chinese, Simplified Chinese with Pinyin, Traditional Chinese, Traditional Chinese with Pinyin, Simplified Chinese with English instructions, and Traditional Chinese with English instructions. The activities are suitable for children aged 4-6 but can be adapted for younger children. Parents can use these activities with one child or more children. Here are some of the activities based on the book:

1. 配一配  Card Matching

There are game cards included in the downloadable package that you can laminate and cut out for use. There are 12 colour cards, 12 picture cards and 12 word cards.

Children can play a card matching game with these cards. They can match the picture cards to the colour cards, or for a more challenging exercise, match all three sets of cards together.

2. 对对碰  Memory Game 

Players can play a memory game with these cards.

Shuffle the colour and picture cards together and arrange them face-down on the table. All players take turns to flip over two cards. If they are a match, the player gets to keep the cards. If not, the cards are turned back over and the next player gets a turn. The player with the most cards wins!
(Additional activity: For a more challenging version, play with all three sets of cards. Each player will flip over three cards to try to get a match.)

I suggest starting with a smaller number of cards to help children learn how to play the game and also build their confidence. As they gain proficiency the number of cards can be gradually increased.

3. 重述故事  Story Retelling

You will need the “是”“不是”  and  “才是” verb cards for this activity, in addition to the colour, word and picture cards.

Separate and stack the picture and colour cards into two piles, leaving a space in the centre. Place the “不是”,   “是”  and  “才是” verb cards between the picture and colour cards. Players take turns to form sentences from the story by selecting appropriate cards from each pile.
(Additional activity: For older children who are learning to recognise the words of the objects in the story, try using the word and colour cards instead.)

Challenge: For children who have read the book multiple times, invite them to "narrate" the story from memory by arranging the available cards to retell the story.

4. 眼明手快  Who's the Fastest?

You will need the “是”, “不是”  and  “才是” verb cards for this activity, in addition to the colour, word and picture cards.

Arrange the picture cards and the “是”, “不是”  and  “才是” verb cards into two separate piles facing down. Spread out the colour cards, facing up. The dealer draws a card from each of the two piles, and at the count of three reveals them. The other players race to find a colour card to complete the sentence. Accept all possible answers.
(Additional activity:  For older children who are learning to recognise the words of the objects in the story, try using the word and verb cards instead.)

5. 连线游戏  Draw Lines to Match

Draw lines to match the correct answers. For a more challenging exercise, print in greyscale instead of colour.

6. 点一点  Do-a-Dot

Use do-a-dot markers to mark out the correct answers. If do-a-dot markers are not available, try using cotton buds or crayons to colour. For a more challenging exercise, print in greyscale instead of colour.

7. 剪剪贴贴  Cut and Paste

Cut out the pictures at the bottom of the page and paste them in the correct box.

8. 依规律涂色  Patterns and Sequencing

Colour each square according to the colour indicated above it. Complete the pattern by colouring the last square with the correct colour.

9. 依提示彩色  Guided colouring

Colour the picture by using the colours indicated on various parts of the picture.

As you can see, the activities in this literature-based unit study are designed to be hands-on, meaningful and enjoyable. They help children make connections to the book and in the process, reinforce concepts they have learnt. Older children who are learning to recognise words also has many meaningful and enjoyable activities (through games and worksheets) to guide them in the process.

My friend, Po Tim, has also written an article on this literature-based unit study in her blog. To download the free unit study based on the book 《柠檬不是红色的》, click on the following link that leads to her blog post. The link to the downloads can be found in the article.

We hope you enjoy the activities in this unit study. Have fun with your children and do give us your feedback! You can leave comments in our blog posts or post your comments on our Facebook pages.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Learning Chinese - A Literature-Based Approach

I have always been attracted to the literature-based approach to homeschooling. That was why when my eldest son was 4 and I was set in my mind to homeschool him for preschool, I chose to use the Sonlight Curriculum, a homeschool curriculum well-known for its literature-based emphasis. So what exactly is the literature-based approach? In a nutshell, it means using authentic texts or books (instead of textbooks, workbooks and flashcards) as the basis for learning. In the classical approach to homeschooling, such books are known as the "Great Books". In the Charlotte Mason homeschooling approach, they are referred to as "living books". These book are usually classics or books that are so well-written that they engage the reader by exciting the imagination and stirring the emotions. In other words, they make the subject "come alive".

When it comes to teaching David Chinese, I also use a literature-based approach. Chinese is a subject that many Singaporean children struggle with. After teaching the language in public schools for 4 years and homeschooling my older two children for preschool, I have come to these conclusions about the teaching and learning of Chinese at home:

1) It is important to make the learning of Chinese enjoyable and meaningful.
2) Children should be exposed to good Chinese literature from the youngest age possible. Parents should try to inculcate in their children a love for Chinese books by reading to them often and demonstrating a real interest in the books themselves.
3) If Chinese is less spoken at home, it is important to read more Chinese books (compared to English ones).
4) The use of age-appropriate Chinese audio-visual materials can help to create interest and increase exposure to the language. This is especially helpful if the language is hardly used at home.

When my two older boys were homeschooled during their preschool years, they enjoyed being read to in Chinese and were able to express themselves in the language well. Sadly, when I stopped the practice of reading to them and they subsequently entered school, they lost interest in the language and gradually grew to dislike it due to the demands of the curriculum. I always wondered how the young boy (each of them) who always requested a favourite Chinese book to be read again and again could one day proclaim, "I hate Chinese!" :(  I can still remember how well they could express themselves with words and phrases they learned from story books when they were younger. Somehow, when the reading sessions stopped (due to busyness and changes in family circumstances), the interest gradually died. Eventually, English being the predominant language used at home and in school, took centrestage.

Now that I am homeschooling my youngest boy, I am making a conscious effort to help him enjoy the language. When we visit the library, it is my practice to check out more Chinese books than English ones. There was a season when I borrowed mainly Chinese books and read those books to him often. During that period of time his Chinese improved by leaps and bounds. He would initiate conversation in Mandarin and make up stories using words and characters from the stories he heard. When I felt he was on track I gradually increased the number of English books to be read to him. I am convinced the literature-based approach is the way to go for teaching Chinese if I want to make the process meaningful and enjoyable.

To help reinforce vocabulary learning, I tend to use books that are associated with a particular theme for a few consecutive weeks. The activities I do with David during those weeks would then be book-based or theme-based or a combination of both. Here is an example of our theme on "Colours":

We borrowed the following books from the library that are related to the theme. Many good Chinese children's books are translated from other languages. The selection below is no exception. You may recognise that two of them are the Chinese versions of the popular "Mouse Paint" and "Lemons Are Not Red". If I know a particular title is available in both English and Chinese, I would make a conscious effort to introduce the Chinese version first. I think this is helpful for most Singaporean children as for most of them, English would be their preferred language of use.

As the books are all on the same theme, reading the books means there is a consistent exposure to words related to the theme. In this case, we kept coming across the Chinese words for common colours like red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. The increased exposure to the same words presented in different contexts in the books helps to contextualise meaning and reinforce learning. Please note that for the preschool years, the emphasis is not on individual word recognition but on the development of oral and listening skills. The best thing to do for this stage is to cultivate a love for reading and learning. If individual words are taught, they should be done in a meaningful and playful way free from stress.

Here are two examples of activities we did based on the colour theme:

1. Colour Scavenger Hunt - The book "颜色找找看" is about looking for items in the book that have a particular colour. We did an extension activity after reading the book by doing a "colour scavenger hunt" at home. I conducted the whole activity in Chinese and asked him to bring me items he can find around the house that are of a particular colour. This is a fun activity that got him running about the house looking for things. Through this activity, words and concepts related to the theme are reinforced.

2. Fine Motor Water Play and Colour-Mixing - The book "三只老鼠爱涂色" introduces the three primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and the concept of colour mixing to obtain secondary colours (orange, green and purple). After reading the book several times, I did the following fine motor water play and colour mixing activity with David.

I prepared 3 containers of coloured water with a dropper (pipette) in each. David had to use the droppers to transfer coloured water into the bottle caps.

Here he is at work! This water transfer activity requires a certain degree of precision and control. It is a good activity to practise fine motor skills as well as hand-eye coordination.

The picture above shows colour mixing in progress. He had already transferred some red water into the bottle cap. When he released blue water into the cap the colour of the water quickly turned to purple.

A closer view of the results of colour mixing. The colours orange, green and purple were all obtained by mixing two primary colours together.

As we did this activity, I talked about how the mice in the book "三只老鼠爱涂色" did colour mixing just like him. We reviewed parts of the book verbally as he did the colour mixing. This process certainly reinforced his learning as he was personally involved in the hands-on activity as well as the narration of parts of the story.

I really enjoy the literature-based approach in homeschooling. I use this approach for teaching both English and Chinese, but I make an extra effort in the early years to do more for Chinese as I know (and statistics have shown) that it is a language that is more difficult to learn and master. It does not help that the overall environment in Singapore is not favourable to the learning of the Chinese language. Step into our local libraries and one would see a vast difference in terms of the number of English and Chinese books in the children's section. The audio-visual selection for Chinese materials is pathetic compared to what we have in English. In school, the number of hours children are exposed to the Chinese language is way less compared to the total amount of time instruction is conducted in English. Most children now come from English-speaking families, and if they come together to play and interact, they would mostly be doing so in English. The list goes on. The first three years of a child's life are especially important when it comes to oral development in any language. If parents do not make an effort to expose their children to Chinese and cultivate a love for learning it early in life, it would not be surprising if their children find it difficult to learn or even like the language.

Personally, I feel there is a lot in the Chinese language and culture that many youngsters fail to appreciate. God has given mankind diverse languages since the Tower of Babel. Each is unique, useful and beautiful in itself. As Singaporeans, we are very fortunate to be able to learn two languages from a young age. We have an extra key to unlock treasures of knowledge and ideas compared to people who are monolingual. Most importantly (in my opinion), we are in a very good position to bring the gospel to the Chinese-speaking world. Hudson Taylor was able to work hard at learning Chinese so he could be a missionary to the people in China. Isn't it a shame that many Singaporean Chinese complain and say they hate Chinese because it is difficult to learn?

This post is getting long. In conclusion, I highly recommend the literature-based approach to learning Chinese to make it meaningful and enjoyable. Keep reading to your child and don't give up! :)

Monday, 18 July 2016

Fun With Letter N - Creating a Night Sky

As part of our activities for Letter N, we created a picture of a night sky. We went through the days of creation and talked about God creating day and night on the first day. I told David that N is for 'night' and we were going to make a picture of a night sky. The 'night sky' done by David is my favourite of all the pieces of artwork he has done thus far. Here it is:

This piece of work may look sophisticated, but it is actually very easy to do.

Materials used:

- a piece of black card stock or black construction paper mounted on cardboard.
- a paint brush
- glue stick
- gold and silver glitter glue
- pre-cut crescent and stars (I used two star-shaped craft punches to punch out stars of different sizes from gold and silver metallic paper.)

I dribbled some silver glitter glue onto the black paper and asked David to spread it out using the paint brush. He enjoyed doing it as he had never 'painted' using glitter glue before. The glittery effect was certainly enticing to him!

After that I dribbled gold glitter glue and asked him to spread that out too. It did not matter if the colours came together. He had complete freedom to spread the glue as much as he wanted.

After the paper was 'painted' with glitter glue, I asked him to paste the crescent and the stars onto the paper. Although the paper was sticky with glitter glue, I knew the crescent and stars would come off easily when the glue became dry. That was why I asked David to use the glue stick to apply glue to the crescent and stars before pasting.

David didn't really like getting his fingers all sticky, so I prepared a piece of damp cloth for him to wipe his hands whenever he felt like it. (In fact, I always need to have a cloth ready for him whenever he does painting or other forms of process art. He is one who doesn't like to get his hands dirty.)

When the crescent and stars were all up and the glue had dried sufficiently, the 'night sky' looked like a masterpiece! Vincent van Gogh, I love your painting "The Starry Night", but David's "Night Sky" will always be more beautiful in my eyes!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Fine Motor Math Activity - Counting Beads on Pipe Cleaners

Young children are often capable of recognising number symbols from 1 to 10 and reciting the numbers (one, two, three, four....) in the correct order. However, many of them do not yet grasp the concept of one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is usually explained as the ability to match one object to one corresponding number or object. A child who does not understand one-to-one correspondence may skip counting an object when counting by rote memorisation, or count the same object twice or more. Preschoolers may take months or longer to master this foundational mathematical skill. Therefore it is important to provide young children with lots of opportunities to practise "one-to-one correspondence" in as many different contexts as possible.

Below is a picture of a set-up that provides opportunity for practising one-to-one correspondence when counting. I folded a sticker label into half on one end of each pipe cleaner and labelled all of them from 1 to 10. You can use paper and glue too if you do not have sticker labels. I also prepared a bowl of beads to be used with the pipe cleaners.

I asked David to tell me the numbers that were labelled on each pipe cleaner. He had no difficulty recognising them. I explained to him that if the number on the pipe cleaner is '2', he had to thread 2 beads onto the pipe cleaner; if the number is '5', he had to thread 5 beads. He caught on quickly and started to count the beads while threading.

This counting activity is also great for practising fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. A steady hand and good coordination are both needed to pick up a small bead, find the hole in it, and insert the pipe cleaner through the hole. It may seem like a very simple task for us adults, but it really takes some practice for young children to do it well. David had been exposed to threading activities before and now has no problems with threading beads of this size.

Initially I was a bit concerned that David may not have the patience to thread all the pipe cleaners. He had to thread and count and check the number of beads for each pipe cleaner. Would he get frustrated or lose interest? In the past our threading activities were never this long and he did not have to deal with numbers and accuracy. I was prepared to let him stop if he showed any signs of frustration. After all, he only just turned 3 and only very recently learned to thread beads this small. My concerns were unfounded, for he apparently enjoyed the task and was able to stay focused. He would happily show me the completed pipe cleaner whenever he finished counting and threading for one number. I gave him lots of encouragement throughout the process and I believed that motivated him a lot!

The picture above shows the fruit of his hard work. Each pipe cleaner has the correct number of beads on it. Well done, David!

For more ideas on fine motor activites, you may wish to follow my "Fine Motor Skills" board on Pinterest:

Monday, 11 July 2016

Creating Music with a Water Bottle Xylophone

One morning, David came running to me and said,"Mummy, I want to play xylophone!" I was wondering why he had the sudden interest, then I thought it could be due to the xylophone image we have on one of our letter X resources.

"But we don't have a xylophone!" I replied. "Wait... maybe Mummy can make a xylophone for you. Let me see..."

And so a simple request to play on a xylophone resulted in the set-up below - a water bottle xylophone experiment!

You probably know by now that I collect lots of recyclable things. Glass bottles from bottled pasta sauce, kaya spread and bottled seasonings have been accumulating in my kitchen cabinet. Due to lack of space, I have actually sent some to the recycling bin in my neighbourhood. I kind of regretted doing that when it was time to make this "xylophone" at home. How I wished I could have 8 glass bottles of the same size so I could play the whole scale! It would be much easier to play songs too if there were more notes. Alas! I only had 3 big glass bottles of the same size, and so had to settle for just 3 notes - doh-reh-me.

It took a bit of time calibrating the amount of water in each bottle so it could produce the correct note. More water will produce a lower pitch, and less water will produce a higher pitch. When it was finally done, I took a pair of metal chopsticks and showed David how to make music by hitting the glass bottles. Do you know you can play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with just doh-reh-me? It was like an eye-opener for David. He immediately took over and starting playing his own "symphony" :)

Below is a video of how the water bottle xylophone was used to play a song. Enjoy!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Fun with Letter M (Part 2) - Magnets and Magnetic Painting

As part of our activities for Letter M, we did some hands-on activities with magnets. Specifically, we did a 'magnetic' vs 'non-magnetic' sorting activity, made a magnetic discovery bottle, and created a piece of art with 'magnetic painting'.

Magnet Sorting Activity

Below is a picture of the set-up for this activity. I chose some magnetic and non-magnetic items from around the house and placed them in a basket. There were two distinct spaces for David to place the magnetic and non-magnetic items. I showed him a bar magnet, told him what it was, then proceeded to show him what to do with it. The interaction went something like this: "What is this? Yes, it's a paper clip. Bring the magnet close to it. Does it stick to the magnet? Yes! That means the paper clip is magnetic! Now put the paper clip here. This word says magnetic, so we put all the magnetic things here. Now what is this? (Hold the cup) Yes! It's a cup. Do you think it's magnetic? Let's test it with the magnet. Does it stick? No! The cup is non-magnetic, so we put the cup here..."

David particularly loved testing the paper clips and house keys with the magnet. I gave him more paper clips to see what would happen if he were to place the magnet close to many of them. He was surprised when the paper clips all came rushing to the magnet. Then he wanted to do it again, and again, and again...

He was so proud to be able to hold the bunch of keys with a magnet this way, with just the rim of the ring chain touching the magnet!

The final result of our sorting activity. I arranged the items neatly before taking a photo, David wasn't too interested in putting the things down neatly during the activity. He was too eager to move on to the next item!

Magnetic Discovery Bottle

Materials used:
- some pipe cleaners, cut into shorter strips
- a clear plastic bottle, filled with water
- magnet

The picture above shows the set-up. I asked David to put a bar magnet on the side of the bottle near the pipe cleaners and observe what happened. The pipe cleaner strips were attracted to the magnet and they all clumped together in the process. It was interesting to watch magnetism at work in this setting, through thin plastic and water. I added water into the bottle so David could have some fun watching and feeling how the magnet could 'drag' the pipe cleaners all over the bottle (in slow motion). You can do this activity without water too. I had to discard the pipe cleaners after some days because they started to rust in the water.

Magnetic Painting

Materials used:
- one paper plate with 3 dabs of paint (primary colours - red, yellow and blue) on it
- one paper clip
- magnet

Directions: Place the magnet under the paper plate, touching the base, just below the paper clip. It should attract the paper clip even though the paper plate is a barrier. Drag the paper clip using the magnet so it moves in various directions on the paper plate. As the paper clip cuts through the colours, it will leave a trail of the colours it comes in contact with.

David sat down, held the bar magnet in one hand, and started to slide the bar magnet around, touching the base of the paper plate. It was interesting to watch as it seemed like the paper clip was moving by itself! To me, it was as if a robot was moving around, cutting through the colours and painting on its own!

As the paper clip cut through the colours more and more, the effects of colour mixing could be observed. The secondary colours, orange, green and purple, became more visible.

This was really an exercise in patience. It took quite a long time for David to 'paint' the plate. Above is a picture of the 'magnetic painting'. I thought this was a unique way to paint, and David certainly experienced and learned about the effects of magnetism through this activity!