“My toddler hates Chinese and wants to quit his Chinese enrichment classes. What should I do?”
When our little ones are unhappy about attending Chinese enrichment class, as parents, it is natural to feel concerned.
After all, toddlerhood is the stage of curiosity. It feels too soon to dislike learning – and if they are already responding negatively to learning Chinese now, what does that mean for their later years?
Do not forget that in Singapore, it is an academic requirement for children to study for a mother tongue for PSLE. For things to be smoother down the road, it is important to encourage children to learn Chinese early on.
We spoke to Chen Ying, Assistant Director of Early Childhood at MindChamps, for some expert advice on handling situations when children reject Mandarin lessons – and how to turn it around so that they embrace it.
1. Reasons for negative response to Chinese classes for toddlers
There are a few possible reasons for resistance to Mandarin lessons for toddlers, according to Chen Ying:
Lack of exposure to Mandarin: Children who have communicated with their parents primarily in English up to this point may be less familiar with Mandarin. Hence it is understandable if they seem to be having a tough time initially in Chinese classes for toddlers. However, this should be overcome easily with the right enrichment class.
Their experience of the enrichment class itself: How is the curriculum? Are the classes fun and interesting – or are they dry and based on rote learning? Are there games, singing, and activities? Do they have friends in class?
“A lot of what brings about enjoyment is not just the lesson itself, but also in the relationships that the children have in class. If they have friends, they tend to be happier. This is something that teachers can help facilitate and update the parents on,” said Chen Ying. This is also why parent-teacher communication is important.
A need for more time to adjust: Keep in mind that just like adults, toddlers need a period of time to settle into a new situation – especially if this is their first foray into Chinese enrichment class for toddlers. Observe for any improvement in their receptiveness towards learning Chinese after a few lessons.
2. Engage them in hands-on activities at home
Encourage your children to enjoy Mandarin through simple and fun activities at home – such as art and craft, listening to Chinese songs, reading storybooks, and age-appropriate cooking projects. Even an ordinary activity such as washing their hands could turn into a pleasant Mandarin learning experience with a song about little hands.
Another idea is asking them what their favourite animal is. If it is a rabbit, you could mention its Mandarin name and think of any stories (i.e. The Rabbit and the Moon) or songs about it (i.e. Xiao Tu Zhi Guai Guai). If they already love rabbits, they are likely to enjoy learning a song about their favourite animal:
For young kids, it is always good to introduce sensory activities. To expound on the rabbit example above, an easy activity could be forming a rabbit out of play-doh, and discussing its special features (i.e. long ears, big feet, round tail) in Mandarin, suggested Chen Ying.
3. Be as natural as possible
Learning Chinese at home should be natural and holistic. The key is to get the little ones interested.
“There is no need for learning Chinese to be complicated. Right now, what is important is for the kids to like it. If they like Chinese, they will try to say it and use it in their day-to-day language,” Chen Ying said, adding that parents should do the activities together with the kids.
The activities do not have to be elaborate with numerous materials and steps. Learning Mandarin can take place between running errands, car rides, and everyday communication, using materials that you already have at home. Your own attitude and approach count for a lot: If you would like your child to be interested and engaged, make sure that you reflect the same.
“When a child is interested in Chinese, they may not even realise they are learning. It would feel natural,” Chen Ying said.
4. Manage your expectations
That said, manage your expectations and play by ear. Take their age and attention span into consideration. If toddlers get distracted sometimes, remember that you are not conducting a strict lesson or lecture; there is no grade to be given.
If they start out interested in an activity but are unable to finish it, try not to be disappointed. Take it lightly and simply suggest taking it up another time. As Chen Ying mentioned, the key is getting them to enjoy the experience of learning Chinese.
5. Develop their understanding of the Chinese culture
Go beyond Chinese language and expose them to the Chinese culture, including arts, festivals, traditions, and folk tales. It will add more depth to their learning experience.
During celebrations such as Duanwu Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year, try sharing the stories and purpose behind zongzi, mooncakes, lanterns, yusheng, and the like. Think of Chinese culture as a way to broaden kids’ exposure to Mandarin
6. Foster a love for Chinese language
Through these pleasant exchanges and activities in Mandarin at home, toddlers can develop a positive impression of the language and culture. This would in turn help them to be more receptive to Chinese enrichment classes. A Chinese PreSchool with immersion programmes would foster their skills and love for Mandarin even further.
At MindChamps, programmes such as The Love for Chinese Language and Chinese Cultural Appreciation develop a toddler’s confidence in both written and spoken Mandarin. Developmentally appropriate, fun and engaging activities are incorporated.
“Our approach is based on the latest scientific research into language acquisition and the importance of a child’s engagement with language, rather than the discredited ‘drill and kill’ approach,” said Brian Caswell, MindChamps Dean of Research and Programme Development.
Written by Jenny Tai
Learn the brain science behind mastering Chinese at an early age in this complimentary webinar on 19 June 2021.