How Open-ended Materials Help Build Connections To Mandarin Literacy
by Zhu Yueju, Vice Principal of EtonHouse Changshu
As I reflect upon my previous Mandarin teaching experiences, a question forms in my mind. How can we help foreign children develop further interest in learning Mandarin? This is an important consideration for many children within our EtonHouse bilingual language environments.
Building Interest – Mandarin is a second language for many children. Hence, building interest is the most important element in the learning process. Teachers should choose materials to enhance curiosity and encourage interactions within the language environment. The items could be open-ended, natural or connected to everyday life to build familiarity. Materials provide the possibility for children to question, investigate and be creative. The ‘creative process’ provides an opportunity for children to try their ideas and helps them to challenge themselves in all aspects of learning. Learning a language cannot be separated from other areas of development such as critical thinking skills, social skills and physical skills. They go hand in hand! Exploration whilst being immersed in a language is an authentic approach that we strive towards.
Understanding Chinese Culture – Chinese costumes, food, calligraphy, poems etc give children experiences in visual/ performing arts as they connect to Chinese culture alongside learning a new language.
Mandarin Inquiry – My experiences allowed me to evaluate how best to introduce Chinese characters to children in a way that encourages exploration and building meaning with each word. I encouraged them to use their bodies to create different characters. They liked using movement in this social experience whilst building Mandarin proficiency at the same time. I could visibly see a higher level of enthusiasm and participation. Afterwards, they extended their exploration to different open-ended materials around the classroom and the whole school to represent their chosen characters. This led to confidence with character formation and orientation! Soon the children were making more formal representations on paper. Their interest translated into home life as well, Eden (6yrs, EtonHouse Claymore) shared with me, “Teacher, look, I created some new Chinese characters with some flowers and sticks from my home, which means moon flower.”
This experience led me to question how can we include more informal materials to help children build deeper connections with Mandarin? Open-ended materials provide more possibilities for the children to engage, they also encourage shared learning, which makes Mandarin inquiry fun!