Everybody has cardboard rolls, but most of us don’t have much time. The good news is that Chinese learning activities can be set up quickly with free, recycled paper towel or toilet paper tubes!
As always, you can apply these ideas to any language!
Most activity examples on my website are in Chinese, because it’s a minority language for my family.
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Using cardboard rolls for language learning games
Although English is their main language, I want them to speak Chinese, their heritage language.
Since they technically don’t need Chinese in our area, I try to make their Chinese learning experience unique and memorable.
I also use activities to help them learn to read Chinese characters while having fun!
Over the past few years, I’ve used cardboard rolls to make quick learning games with both of my children while learning Chinese with them.
If you haven’t already, start saving up your cardboard tubes (纸板管 / 紙板管 / zhǐbǎn guǎn) or toilet paper rolls (卫生纸筒 / 衛生紙筒 / wèishēngzhǐ tǒng)!
My son is currently 3 years old and my daughter is 6 years old, but some of these activities are great for kids who are older or younger!
This post includes:
- Speaking activities with cardboard rolls
- Chinese numbers, shapes, and color activities
- Chinese reading games with cardboard rolls
- Crafts and other learning activities with cardboard rolls
1. Speaking activities with cardboard rolls
A) “I Spy” with cardboard binoculars
I Spy” can be played at home, as a car game, or out at the park!
Kids can make their own 望远镜 / 望遠鏡 (wàngyuǎnjìng / binoculars) with cardboard rolls.
In Mandarin Chinese, I spy can be translated in a few ways:
- 我用眼睛偷瞄 (Wǒ yòng yǎnjīng tōu miáo / I use my eye to peek)
- 我用我的小眼睛看到一样_色的东西 / 我用我的小眼睛看到一樣_色的東西 (Wǒ yòng wǒ de xiǎo yǎnjīng kàn dào yīyàng___sè de dōngxī / I used my little eye to see a ___-colored thing)
- 猜,猜,猜猜看! 我看到___的东西 / 猜,猜,猜猜看! 我看到_的東西 (Cāi, cāi, cāi cāi kàn! Wǒ kàn dào___de dōngxī / Guess, guess, guess, guess if you can! I see a ___ thing).
B) Whoever has the cardboard roll has to sing!
We made up this silly game where my kids and I pass a cardboard roll to each other.
The person who is holding the cardboard roll has to sing a (Chinese) song until the roll is passed to the next person!
C) Cardboard pom pom ramp races
Have fun talking about 毛绒球 / 毛絨球 (máo róng qiú / pom poms) and watching them roll and bounce down a DIY 坡道 (pō dào / ramp)!
Create big signs for 起点 / 起點 (qǐdiǎn / start) and 终点 / 終點 (zhōngdiǎn / end) for exposure to the written words.
You can tape it to the wall with painter’s tape or make a smaller version with a box lid!
2. Chinese numbers, colors, shapes
A) Montessori spindle box (蒙特梭利纺锤棒箱 / 蒙特梭利紡錘棒箱)
The Montessori spindle box is an important material for introducing the concept of “zero”, relationship between quantity and number symbols, and number sequence.
DIY details and teaching tips for the Montessori spindle box here!
B) DIY Cardboard roll number stamps
With foam or dried glue, you can add this to cardboard rolls and turn them into stamps!
For the number template, read more about the Foam Number Paint & Stamp activity!
C) Number color patterns with cardboard rolls
Have fun creating number and color patterns with cardboard rolls!
D) Color matching cardboard rolls and craft sticks
Match colored crafts with colored cardboard rolls!
For exposure to written language, write color names on the wood stick with a black marker!
E) Shape stamping with cardboard rolls
My daughter enjoyed this shape recognition and reading activity a few years ago!
Read Trilingual Shape Stamping! for tips on how to adapt this activity for different levels!
3. Chinese reading games made from cardboard rolls
A) Sun and moon stamping with cardboard rolls
B) DIY Word Projector
This incredibly cool reading activity involves science! My kids love experimenting with making the words larger and smaller!
Learn how to make cardboard roll projectors without wasting materials here!
C) Cardboard tube bowling
Okay, according to my son, this is actually “golf-bowling”!!
We set up 6 “bowling pins” and put Chinese word cards in slits at the top of the cardboard rolls!
For Chinese words that have different simplified and traditional Chinese characters, I included both scripts on each side of the heart, such as 黄/黃 (huáng / yellow).
D) DIY Golf Game
Through this golf game, I taught my son the first 2 Chinese characters in Sagebooks!
D) DIY Catapult reading game
If you have too many toilet paper tubes around, cut them up into thirds and make this interactive reading game!
Read DIY Catapult Sight Word Reading Game for details about how to make a catapult and set up this game!
The kids had SO much fun trying to launch pom poms into the Chinese word spots!
F) Chinese radicals spinning wheel
With toilet paper rolls, my daughter and I made a spinning Chinese radical wheels! This clever idea was inspired by @cathyfp!
G) Chinese characters word puzzle
Cardboard rolls are also a convenient way to save paper and make a puzzle!
You can write words and cut them up to make a quick puzzle! (Typically, I use cardboard from a cereal box, since it’s easier to write on a flat surface.)
But you can also use cardboard rolls to make a Chinese radical puzzle, similar to the spinning activity in number 4!
H) Bilingual memory word matching
Earlier, we shared these cardboard rolls that were cut in half length wise. They have been repurposed many times for quick little activities!
The above version shows a memory matching game with Chinese and Korean colors!
You can write different words that your child is learning, and skip the painting to save time.
I) Cardboard tree word matching
We’ve also use cardboard rolls to match the tree top to the tree stump bases!
See Paper Roll Christmas Trees Word-Matching Game (Multilingual) for translations of the Christmas words we reviewed!
You can also review nature words!
J) Dot sticker word matching
This is an easy activity that you can grab on the go and keep in your purse inspired by Busy Toddler!
Write a few Chinese characters on the toilet paper roll and dot stickers, and voila, an easy matching game!
4. Other Chinese crafts and activities with toilet paper rolls
A) Cardboard miniature playground
My daughter and I had great bonding time making this mini cardboard playground together!
To normalize Chinese words, my daughter and I labeled the playground with Chinese characters.
Learn more about our DIY cardboard playground and Chinese translations here.
B) Chinese market with toilet paper roll roof tiles
To learn more about Chinese culture, we built our own Chinese market with cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls!
Read DIY Cardboard Chinese Lunar New Year Market for Kids for the details and printable Chinese decorations!
C) Earth Day sorting activity: trash, recycling, green waste
This sorting activity teaches kids how to discard trash and recycle appropriately.
Click here to learn more about this Earth Day Recycling Activity and relevant bilingual translations!
D) Cardboard roll counting octopus craft
My daughter made this craft a few years ago when we were learning the 3 ways to say octopus in Chinese!
Read Cardboard Roll Octopus: A Chinese Counting Activity for more details!
E) Cardboard roll car and train
Since my son is obsessed with cars and we collect bottle caps, we often make cars and trains with cardboard rolls!
This is a simple craft that only requires glue! Paint and other designs are optional!
To encourage a print-rich environment, you can also label the cardboard tube car or train with Chinese characters!
Have you tried any of these cardboard roll activities with your kids!
If you try any of these activities, please let us know in the comments below!
We’d love to hear about your learning experience and see how everything turned out! 😀
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