'Mummy, why must we learn Chinese?'

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Read about immersive bilingual curriculum at My First Skool and why parents, teachers, AND children just love it!

“Mummy I don’t like to do my Chinese homework!”

“I don’t want to go for Chinese class Ma!”

Sound familiar?

In today’s day and age, it can be hard for your child to pick up another language. From speaking at home, to television, to social media, practically everything is in English. How can we ensure that our children stay engaged and interested in learning Chinese? We speak to My First Skool to find out.

Why is learning Chinese important?

“For children who are ethnically Chinese, it is not just important to learn the language but the ethnicity and history, culture and art,” says Yu Kwong, one of the teachers at the Blk 197 Boon Lay branch of My First Skool.

“As for non-ethnically Chinese students – with globalisation, it is good to pick up other languages as it opens up new doors. In addition, there is a shared understanding of Asian values, which can be taught through learning about culture through the language.”

The Chinese curriculum also places emphasis on character building. Pre-school is an ideal time to instil core values. The character building curriculum focuses on helping children develop their inner selves – knowing right from wrong, behaving in ways that are fair and just, and working with others.

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The centre proudly displays their special Singapore community exhibit at the entrance

At My First Skool, the team also believes that children need to learn how to take responsibility for themselves as well as their family, country and even the world. The programme, for children aged four to six years old, helps them cultivate the right set of values and attitude. Teachers apply a “3E” strategy (Example, Environment and Experience) in teaching and children focus on learning the “why” and “how” instead of just “what”, to facilitate learning and internalising skills and values through action.

For instance, children are involved in community-wide projects such as the event held in conjunction with the ECDA Innovation Guidance Project – STEMnovation: Kitchen Science. The children learnt more about their cultural heritage by making local food such as rice balls, roti kirai and dumplings. Moreover, in line with inculcating the value of compassion and a spirit of giving, My First Skool set up a donation drive for the children to sell the hand-made food to raise funds for selected charities and old folks’ homes.

Why is it difficult for children to pick up Chinese outside of class, and why is it important to start picking it up from a young age?

“In Singapore, the main language we use is always English, and all of the activities and games children enjoy are in English as well. This makes it very difficult for them to enjoy Chinese, especially when they rarely or don’t speak it at home.

What we are aiming to do here is to try to make Chinese less of a chore, and more of an interest, something they will seek out and get excited to learn more about from a very young age,” Yu Kwong 老师 says.

A truly immersive environment

My First Skool uses interactive teaching methods, including “Story Stage” (puppetry) theatre, traditional art/calligraphy, and even cooking classes, to create a truly immersive, bilingual learning environment where they will be excited to learn Chinese in fun, innovative ways.

Some other activities include playing language and word games, 语文游戏, dramatisations, storytelling, reciting poems, singing songs and rhymes to build confidence and fluency when using Chinese.

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A little artist practising at the calligraphy corner

“The part I love the most,” Yu Kwong 老师 shares, “is that this learning does not only happen between teachers and students.”

“I had a girl in my class, and she was struggling with the pronunciation of one of the words. A few days later, she asked me a question in Chinese and got the word, the tone, the pronunciation, exactly right!” The stunned teacher asked her how she had mastered it so quickly.

“My friend in class taught me,” the little girl responded.

This is the best thing about creating an immersive learning environment, Yu Kwong believes. When children are young, they pick things up extremely rapidly, and even something as basic as picking up a language becomes a collaboration of the little one’s minds.

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Two girls enjoying themselves while coming up with their own stories!

But now, the million-dollar question:

“What can I do to improve my child’s interest in Chinese at home?”

There are many ways that the teachers at my First Skool suggest. They share their top two favourites:

While shopping

When taking your child to the supermarket, share with them the names of food products in both English and Chinese and explain to them how buying and selling works. This way, they will not only get a chance to improve their vocabulary and see how the language is relevant in their daily lives, but might pick up an important lesson or two on money matters!

By cooking!

From the children’s delighted faces and lively commentary during the activity, it is obvious that they thoroughly enjoyed the process of cooking tang yuan (traditional Chinese rice balls) in class.

Get in on the action at home and get them to narrate a cooking show in Chinese, as you take them through the steps on how to use the ingredients they bought to make their favourite simple dishes!

With the two-pronged approach to learning Chinese in a fun way both in class and at home, your child will not just master the language, but likely have a ball of a time too!

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The little master chefs can’t get enough of their cooking class!

As for Yu Kwong 老师, education does not end in the classroom. This belief, and her obvious desire to go above and beyond for the children, is probably why she is but one of the teachers at My First Skool to have received awards for their outstanding teaching abilities.

Two others who were recognised for their dedication to teaching are Xia Yue Jing 老师 from the Block 507 Wellington Circle branch, and Yang Li 老师 from the Block 208 Choa Chu Kang branch of My First Skool. Yu Kwong 老师 received the MOE Outstanding Mother Tongue Merit Award for her innovative teaching techniques to build interest in the Chinese language.

“I am happy I got the award, but even more importantly, it motivates me,” she says. “I have been teaching for 20 years now, and if you just keep going through the same processes it gets a bit tiring, in the same way learning using the same boring techniques will make a child lose interest in learning.”

“Winning this award is my motivation to come up with better and even more innovative teaching methods and materials!”

She has plans to bring in traditional Chinese ceramic painting and pottery, to name a couple, as new fun activities to heighten the language and culture learning experience.

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Say cheese!

My First Skool has 125 centres all over Singapore. To find out more about their immersive bilingual curriculum, visit their website at www.myfirstskool.com.