Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of September 2018

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.

Learning Chinese 

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.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle Match

Click here to download.

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I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.
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Directions: Glue each printout to a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Finally (and optionally) cut a semi-circle at the bottom of each piece so that it’s easier to pull off from the puzzle board.

Self-Correcting Chinese Vocabulary Puzzle

(Sorry, folks—because I used stock illustrations* to make this puzzle, I do not have the license to re-distribute this as a printable.)

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The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words the Dumpling is learning at school. I don’t expect her to read yet, so I just sound out each character as we match the pieces.

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* Some illustrations used in this puzzle were stock illustrations downloaded from Feepik.

Chinese Color Match Memory Game

Click here to download.

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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 don’t expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started playing with only two colors and have currently built up to six.
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Directions: Make two copies of the printable, glue the sheets onto pieces of cardboard, and cut out each color circle.

Celebrating Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

The Dumpling and I experimented with different methods of making lanterns throughout September. Details can be found here.

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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.

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Our souvenirs from the typhoon.

How I Taught My Toddler to Read Numbers in Five Days

By the time the Dumpling turned two, she could count to 16 by rote (although she sometimes skips a number or two after 10), but could not read nor truly grasp what a count meant. While the latter is still an advanced concept for her to understand, teaching numbers recognition had been on peripheral vision since she was 18 months old. As a starting point, I did what most childhood experts recommended—we read numbers and counting books together. Progress, however, was painfully slow. After weeks, then eventually months, of not moving forward beyond “1”, “2” and “3”, I decided to toss her books aside and seek an alternative method.

After scouring the internet, I came across a mommy blogger who shared a simple approach that worked for her child. I can no longer find the original post, but I followed her methodology most of the way through with a few minor tweaks. By playing a game with the Dumpling for a few minutes at the start of each morning, I taught her how to visually identify the first 10 digits in just five days.

I first printed out a set of flashcards with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in big, legible font. Just to be clear, I’m talking about numerals, not the numbers spelled out. Mine were in color with cute animal pictures because they were repurposed from another activity, but even handwritten flashcards would work for this lesson.

I taped the cards up all over our apartment in visible and highly frequented places, such as the refrigerator or front door. (Tip: I hung them high enough so that they were just out of reach from her curiously mischievous hands.) The original mommy blogger emphasized the importance of sequence—”1″ had to be the first thing her child saw, followed by “2”, then “3”, etc. as they move through their morning routine because order was how they made sense of her surroundings. I, however, didn’t worry too much about the arrangement as long as the numbers were not entirely out of place. For example, I taped “1”and “2” in the same room but made sure “1” and “10” were not within sight of each other.

On the first morning, I showed the Dumpling where all the flashcards were in sequential order. As we passed by each one, I said the number aloud, then immediately asked her to find it. When she pointed at the same flashcard, I clapped and cheered.

After we did a round of all 10, I told her that we were playing a game—a scavenger hunt! It was essentially the same exercise without me giving her the answer beforehand.

“Can you help mommy find “1”? I asked.

The Dumpling responded by pointing to any random flashcard.

“That’s a “5”. We are looking for “1”.

I would keep correcting her until she found “1” through the process of elimination. Even though it was pure guess work and luck at the beginning, I made a big deal, jumped up and down, clapped, and danced whenever she got something right.

We repeated these steps until we got to “10”.

Throughout the day, I would also casually point to a flashcard whenever we passed by one so the Dumpling began associating a number with a certain place in the apartment. For example, “4” was taped on the refrigerator so she knew that was where her milk was.

For the next couple of days, we would spend a few minutes every morning doing the scavenger hunt. She had the “route” memorized by the fourth day, so I decided to “trick” her by playing the game entirely out of numerical order on the fifth day…and she correctly found every one! We made a big deal with a celebratory dance.

To make sure this wasn’t a fluke, we played the game again. To be triple sure, I wrote the numbers 1 through 10 on her magnetic doodle and asked her to point to the number that I was asking for. Again, she got every single one. Yay! Another dance!

At this point, I was confident the Dumpling had it down but we further reinforced her newfound knowledge in the real world by reading anything that had numbers, such as front doors, bus signs, ads, posters, etc.

Even though we still need to work on everything that comes after 10, the scavenger hunt was a huge breakthrough in developing the Dumpling’s interest in numbers. My mommy sense tells me that this method can be applied elsewhere… seems like learning the alphabet is on the horizon!

Teach the Way They Learn

“If a child cannot learn from the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

Ever since the Dumpling was a newborn, I have dutifully incorporated reading as part of her nightly routine. On regular rotation were classics such as Goodnight Moon, Are You My Mother, The Runway Bunny, and nursery rhymes. Although her “meh” reaction was initially discouraging, online articles by child experts assured me that my efforts were not wasted. They seem to unanimously agree that reading to kids from an early age constitutes quality bonding time, promotes early literacy, develops their imagination, and brings an abundance of other benefits down the road.

As the Dumpling grew older, so did her interest in books…but not in the way I expected. While she was teething, they became her chewing toys. Then she went through a phase where she ripped off all the flaps from her flap books. Now she just loves flipping maniacally through the pages. On some evenings, she wouldn’t even sit through an entire story before wiggling away. I initially thought it was my choice of literature, but her behavior was the same whether we read her “favorite” story or a Toys“R”Us circular.

While the futility of our reading time didn’t escape me, it didn’t bother me either…until I actually tried teaching her something. It started when the Dumpling developed an interest in colors at around 19 months, so I picked out a few books to help her along. While nothing in our routine changed, my perception of it did. Instead of a leisurely past time, reading now had a purpose.

Information Overload

The reality was that the Dumpling’s primary interest laid in flipping, crumpling, or ripping pages; the content was secondary. Delving into my graphic design background, my guess was that there was just too much visually going on to hold her interest. As a result, she looked at everything—and therefore, nothing at once. For a toddler learning a new concept, a spread with seven to eight colors along with pictures, words, and numbers can be overwhelming. Even if an entire page was dedicated to one color, her attention was often fixated on familiar objects but not their attributes. For example, she would focus on the frog rather than the frog being green. This was understandable since her vocabulary up to this point consisted mostly of nouns and verbs; adjectives were new territory.

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Excerpts from the Dumpling’s books: there’s too much going on!

After a few attempts, I shifted away from books to experiment with a few activities designed to channel the Dumpling’s attention. I have always been a hands-on learner, so I built a color lesson around finger painting. I started by hiding all of the paint colors except for one and kept repeating that color over and over again. When the Dumpling started losing interest, I took the first color away and introduced a second. Again, I repeated the new color until I brought out the third and hid the second.

In our first painting session, she was exposed to a total of four colors: yellow, blue, red, and green. Once they were all introduced, I laid them out of reach and asked her to point to what she wanted as I named the chosen one aloud. Towards the end of the 30 minute activity (which as about 25 minutes longer than what I would have gotten out of reading), she was pretty much able to point correctly to a color when asked and verbally name blue and yellow.

In the next few weeks, we replicated this approach by playing with sets of identical objects that came in different colors, such as crayons, balls, pipe cleanerspom poms, and spoons. I was strict with having only one color of each available at the beginning. For example, if we were playing with pit balls, I had one red, one blue, one yellow, and one green out even though the set came with 100 balls. I didn’t want her to be distracted by the other 96 balls bouncing everywhere because our attention was on the colors, not the balls. Once I felt she developed a solid understanding of the initial four colors did I introduce additional ones.

Learn Through Play Activity Ideas

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  • Rolling balls: There’s something very calming about rolling balls down the stairs and watching them bounce. The Dumpling could spend 40 minutes doing this (she would have gone on longer, but I was tired picking them up), so it was an opportune time to talk about colors!

  • Fishing with pipe cleaners: I molded pipe cleaners into fishes, handed the Dumpling a magnet, and asked her to “fish” for different colors. (Tip: Find a magnet strong enough to pick up the pipe cleaner, but not so strong that it picks up multiple ones. Otherwise the game would be over very soon.)
  • Color sorting pom poms: After cleaning out plastic takeout sauce containers, I layered the bottom with colored construction paper and showed the Dumpling how to color sort. We started on easy mode with four colors and slowly added more.

YouTube also became an effective medium after the Dumpling started watching videos of an animated baby sliding into a ball pit. The character would do this repeatedly, except the balls were a different color each time.

Through simple and repetitive activities, the Dumpling learned to identify and say 10 colors before she turned two. As I was dressing her recently, she demanded to wear a blue outfit. When I was about to put a baby blue shirt over her, she stopped me and said “NO! Dark blue.” Apparently she can now differentiate between light and dark hues too.

I still read to my daughter on a regular basis in hopes that she would develop an interest in books one day. However, I also recognize that reading doesn’t always necessary equate to learning. While books are great resources, they’re only as useful as the amount of information a child can extract from of them. Just in case the Dumpling learns more effectively through other methods, I’m always ready to explore new activities as we learn together.