Starting last year, I decided to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font every year to document the evolution of her penmanship. Her dexterity has progressed tremendously in the past 12 months — while she was only able to trace when I first started this project, the Dumpling can now free-write block letters and numbers.
I used the Calligraphr website to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font. The steps are straightforward — fill out a template and re-upload it back onto the site.
But…and this is a big but, it would have been difficult to expect my toddler to write within the boxes and lines, so I had her scribble the alphabet and numbers on a piece of scrap paper first.
Then I digitally “cut” the letters and numbers in Photoshop, scaling each to the proper size and erasing stray marks along the way, and “pasted” them onto the template. I uploaded the completed template back onto Calligraphr to generate my font.
Below is the Dumpling’s font from last year compared to this year.
I did not think it would happen so soon — the Dumpling is now learning Chinese words in school that is beyond my elementary knowledge of the language. Frankly my exact reaction when I saw her second semester vocabulary list was “WTF?!”
While she is not expected to write at three years old, her current curriculum requires her to recognize characters. Feedback from the school’s initial progress report stated that she “needs more practice”.
I dislike the competitiveness, methods, and intensity of the Hong Kong school education system (her current kindergarten is actually considered lax by local standards), so I am unwilling to deploy any tiger parenting tactics that would add additional pressure. That means I do not intend to enroll her in after-school tutoring or various extra-curricular courses so she can “get ahead.” I believe that learning at her age should be done seamlessly through play; anything extra should be purely based on her interest level. For example, I will only sign the Dumpling up for additional classes because it is an activity she loves to do—not something I want her to learn.
My challenge, therefore, is integrating Mandarin into our daily routine without making the process feel like a “lesson.” Despite living in Hong Kong, English is the primary and dominant language in both our household and expat community, so Mandarin is actually a very foreign sound. In order to do that, however, I first have to learn the words myself. Google Translate has been my BFF, and I have been practicing the activities below alongside the Dumpling (and pretending like I know what I am talking about).
I made flash cards and taped them on relevant or highly visible places around the house. For example, 花朵 (flower) was taped right next to my vase of flowers and 牛奶 (milk) was taped on the fridge. Sometime we would play a “scavenger hunt” for the words or we just pointed to them as we went about our day. Those few seconds of daily exposure added up — by mid-semester, the Dumpling’s progress report improved to a “well done!”
I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!
Instead of using just markers and crayons, below are few ideas to keep the activity fresh by “coloring” with different materials.
花朵, 青草, 樹木: Scavenge for small flowers, grass, and branches to glue onto the characters
米飯: Glue rice (I dyed mine with food coloring)
兔子: Glue cotton balls or white pom poms
刷牙: Paint with toothpaste (preferable a colored one) on with an old toothbrush
洗手: Paint with colored foam soap/shaving cream
雨天: Draw raindrops with white crayon and paint over with blue watercolor (wax resist)
Below are a few other learn-through-play activities I have done with the Dumpling in the past:
Self Correcting Puzzle with Vocabulary Words
The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words from her Semester 1 vocabulary list.
This was another puzzle to help the Dumpling get familiarize with Chinese numbers. When we first started the activity, the Dumpling actually lacked the coordination and strength to pinch the clothing pins open, so clipping them on became an exercise in itself.
To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I do not expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started with only two colors and have currently built up to six.
I recently printed a free A-Z alphabet hunt pack from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls to review letter recognition and sounds with the Dumpling. To spice up the activity so that she was not just circling the letters 26 times on repeat, we divvied the worksheet pack into four to five separate exercises and “circled” the letters a different way each time.
1. Apply Sticker Labels
I wrote the letters out on circle labels and asked the Dumpling to stick them on as each letter was identified.
2. Dab On Colored Glue
If you do not have colored glue, create your own by mixing food coloring or liquid watercolor (add more drops for higher color intensity) to white Elmer’s glue.
3. Stamp with Fingers, Bottle Caps, Etc.
4. Paint With Watercolor
This step is optional: I pre-circled the letters with a white crayon so the correct answers were “revealed” once they were painted over.
5. Squirt Watercolor With Liquid Dropper
Sometimes just switching up the tool does wonders to renew my kiddo’s interest. Using a liquid dropper saved from an old medicine bottle, the Dumpling squirted liquid watercolor on top of the letters.
6. Puncture With Push Pins
Placing a folded towel (or two) underneath a worksheet, the Dumpling punctured each letter that she found with a pin.
N.B. Needless to say, the pins are sharp and adult supervision is required.
It started when I noticed the Dumpling drawing lines between random dots on her magnetic doodle board two months ago, so I began making more dots for her to connect. She got really into it, so we moved onto shapes, numbers, and letters and are now even solving simple connect-the dot puzzles!
As much as I want her penmanship to improve, I know that I would miss her scribbles one day. Wouldn’t it be great if I could archive her chicken scratches forever…without keeping piles of paper?
Enter Calligrphr, a free app that I used to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font. I downloaded their template, filled it up with the Dumpling’s traced numbers and letters, and then re-uploaded the template back onto the site.
If anyone is interested in downloading the font, click here! (Please note that only numbers and capital letters are available…no lowercase, punctuations, special characters, etc.)
This would make great “handwritten” holiday cards or letters to Santa!
I plan to turn the Dumpling’s handwriting into a new font annually and to track how her handwriting progresses!
September has brought about a stretch of dry weather in Hong Kong, so the Dumpling and I have been spending most of our afternoons outdoor. For the days that we stayed in, our activities have centered around reviewing the Chinese words that she’s been learning at school, celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and discussing the aftermath of the typhoon that hit our city midway through the month.
Ever since the Dumpling started kindergarten, I wanted to increase her exposure to Mandarin at home to reinforce what she’s learning at school. I tried reading Chinese children’s stories with her, but the words sounded so foreign that she exasperatingly asked, “Mommy, what are you saying?!” When I switched the language of her Netflix shows from English to Chinese, it solicited such a visceral reaction that I quickly reverted everything to its original state.
Eventually I backed off…until one day, out of nowhere, she muttered her first Mandarin words at home. At first it was counting to five, then to ten, and now a few words and broken phrases. She was so proud of herself at times that she wouldn’t shut up! I quickly capitalized on her newfound interest by creating several puzzles to further engage her through play.
The Dumpling and I experimented with different methods of making lanterns throughout September. Details can be found here.
Dealing with the Aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut
Typhoon Mangkut was supposedly the fiercest storm to hit Hong Kong in the last 30 years. For a few hours, our windows and door shook violently and rainwater leaked in non-stop.
The next morning, the Dumpling and I ventured outside to assess the damages. There were lots of downed trees and foliage as expected, but to our surprise there were also shattered seashells outside our flat! We live less than a quarter of a mile away from the beach, but we are also situated on a hill approximately 80 feet above sea level so these seashells were a long way from home. The Dumpling and I managed to find several intact ones which we brought home and painted.
One of my favorite activities to keep my two year old busy is coloring: I strap her into a highchair away from walls and other furniture, layer my dining table with a large plastic bag, and let her go at it.
Instead of buying coloring books, however, I typically make my own because I can tailor the graphics to my toddler’s interest—which lately has been the alphabet.
Creating a coloring sheet is actually quite easy in PowerPoint. Yes, PowerPoint—a program that typically comes bundled in our Microsoft Office! Check out my video* below for a quick tutorial. Print a bunch for the next rainy day activity or personalize it with someone’s name for your next gift bag stuffer along with a box of crayons!
* It’s my very first video tutorial! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
A thought about the typefaces
One of my biggest pet peeves with children’s books, especially those that try to teach the alphabet, is their choice in typeface. Many popular ones use the two-story lowercase “a” and “g” for legibility reasons, but this could be confusing for pre-schoolers who are learning to write the one-story version. While it’s not a big deal with older kids and adults, the Dumpling and I definitely have had disagreements about this. Therefore, I tend to stick with Century Gothic as it has the one-story “a” and “g.” Comic Sans is another one that often comes pre-packaged with Office…laugh all you want, but kids actually like this!
Despite my love for wooden toys, it’s not realistic for our family to escape plastic ones entirely. They are everywhere because the truth is that there is a lot to love about them—they’re affordable, easy to clean, and come in so many vibrant colors and shapes. These are the ones currently in our toy rotation because the Dumpling and I play with them so often!
They are a huge crowd pleaser when we host play dates, but I normally keep just few out and hide the rest…otherwise they end up everywhere—under the couch, on the beds, inside the washing machine, etc. The balls are great for gross motor skill activities: we toss, roll, and kick them around the house since they’re too soft to do any damage.
I don’t let the Dumpling have free access to crayons or markers (for good reason), so we have a magnetic doodle board instead. It is a staple and has never left our toy box (our second one is currently on its last legs). We use it to free draw, review shapes, letters, and numbers, and have drawing contests!
Magnetic Foam Alphabet
Given the Dumpling’s obsession with the alphabet lately, we use this to review letters quite often.
I love these water “magic” pens because they also provide mess-free coloring. While the Dumpling initially didn’t pay attention to the alphabet on top, she “colored” the pictures so often that they were always in her peripheral vision.
We love open-ended toys because our imagination is really the limit. The Dumpling just builds and builds and builds…I’m pretty sure she constructed something like the double decker couch once.
Cutting Food Set
The Dumpling loves pretend play in the kitchen, so I’m looking to replace the set (which was a hand-me-down) with a wooden alternative since she actually tried to lick some of these.
This wraps up what is currently in our toy box. I will continue to update what is in our rotation once we shake things up a bit!
I recently purchased two sets of barn and jungle animals from a mom-and-pop store in Tsuen Wan. From the outside, they looked like the plastic toys used in zoo/farm/safari “pretend play” activities that I’ve been seeing all over Instagram, so I was pretty excited to open them when I got home. The moment I ripped off the packaging, however, I was overcame by a terrible chemical odor. Luckily I was able to toss everything out before the Dumpling knew of their existence. (I normally buy toys behind her back and always examine everything behind closed doors before letting her to play.)
After this debacle, I decided to phase out most of our plastic toys because I’m tired of researching whether something is BPA, PVC, or [insert whatever chemical name]-free. Even if the Dumpling is past the phase of putting everything in her mouth, anything that’s radiating a chemical odor cannot be good.
My goal is to slowly replace the Dumpling’s toy box with quality wooden toys. Although the market is smaller and more expensive compared to its plastic counterpart, I’m only looking to purchase a few sets—specifically those that are multi-functional, offer replay value, and, if possible, have resale value as well. (I purchased two used sets that are in great condition; one of the sellers disclosed that she bought it used from someone else!)
Our household has always enforced a strict toy rotation system where the Dumpling is only allowed two boxes of toys—I cannot stand the clutter, so it forces me to be more thoughtful of my purchases and makes the Dumpling’s responsibility of cleaning up more manageable (and therefore, she’s more likely to do it). Most importantly, it challenges both of us to think of playing with existing toys in new, creative ways. This ensures that everything in our toy box gets play time; those that don’t get replaced with “new” ones until they find their way back in rotation or get stored away once she outgrows them.
These are the wooden toys currently in our collection and the creative ways we play with them to ensure that we get the most mileage!
This was my first impulse wooden toy purchase, and in hindsight, probably my least favorite because there’s not much to do beyond solving the puzzle. It took the Dumpling a full afternoon to learn that she needed to flip all the pieces to face the same side, but she can now assemble everything in minutes. I guess that’s the problem with puzzles: they cease to be fun once the challenge is gone.
Thats it for now, but I’m still looking to add two or three more sets. In the meantime, I will continue sharing new ways we play with our old toys…including the plastic ones I tend to keep in my next post!
These were the instructions that someone once used to teach me how to draw a dog:
My ten year old self thought it was the most awesome drawing tutorial ever! Actually, it’s still awesome because it’s the same set of instructions I give myself whenever I draw a dog today…which is often since it’s a regular request from the Dumpling.
I wanted to share the story with my toddler because this wisdom must be passed on to future generations! Having been tinkering with layer art recently, I thought making a layer puzzle would be a fun way to get her involved.