How to Teach Chinese Stroke Order to Kids While Having Fun

Chinese stroke order tracing board
Basic Chinese strokes

Chinese can be daunting, especially learning how to write each stroke properly. We all know that strict rules can quickly turn children off from learning Chinese! But it’s possible to teach kids Chinese stroke order while having fun.

At the very least, lessons don’t need to be tortuous. Despite my children’s different learning styles, I’ve been able to show them how to follow stroke order through simple activities.

Why is Chinese stroke order important?

What’s the point? Why can’t I just write Chinese in any order? These are questions my children have asked, and to be honest, I’ve wondered this as well.

Authoritative replies like “this is the way Chinese people have been writing for centuries” aren’t going to motivate many people. And just like washing our hands, we’re more likely to follow Chinese stroke order if we can understand why it’s helpful.

Let’s use the English alphabet as an example. Some kids instinctively write their “o” counterclockwise while others move their pencil clockwise. But eventually, single letters will combine into words. Those who have the habit of writing “o” counterclockwise will be more efficient at forming words from left to write, especially if writing in cursive.

For children who are learning to write Chinese characters, understanding the correct stroke order sequence makes writing more efficient. When you consistently write a Chinese character in the same stroke order, you’re building muscle memory. This helps your writing become accurate and legible.

Even if your child is not yet writing Chinese, a general understanding of Chinese stroke order is helpful for learning to read Chinese characters. When kids can recognize the basic strokes, they’ll notice patterns in Chinese radicals that make up characters, which helps with memorizing Chinese characters.

What are the basic Chinese strokes?

Many people find that saying the Chinese strokes out loud can help with remembering the proper order. Perhaps the verbal and auditory input can give a little boost to the muscle memory.

Whether you’re learning simplified or traditional Chinese, here are the names of the basic Chinese strokes:

  1. 横 / 橫 (Héng / Horizontal)
  2. 竖 / 竪 (Shù / Vertical)
  3. 点 / 點 (Diǎn / Dot)
  4. 提 (Tí / Rise)
  5. 撇 (Piě / falling left slant)
  6. 捺 (Nà / Falling rightward press)
  7. 横钩 / 橫鉤(Héng gōu / horizontal hook)
  8. 竖钩 / 豎鉤 (Shù gōu / vertical hook)
  9. 弯钩 / 彎鉤 (Wān gōu / bend hook)
  10. 斜钩 / 斜鉤(Xié gōu / slant hook)
  11. 横折 / 橫折 (Héng zhé / horizontal fold)
  12. 竖折 / 豎折 (Shù zhé / vertical fold)

Fun ways to teach Chinese stroke order to kids

Since we’re raising bilingual children in a monolingual community, we’ve explored countless educational products. After trying so many Chinese learning toys and watching my kids outgrow them, I’ve realized that simple is best.

Whenever your child is faced with strict rules, it’s helpful to give them options and a sense of agency.

Here are fun and affordable ways to teach Chinese stroke order at home or school. Which idea do you think your child will like best?

Learn Chinese stroke order with yarn

Learning Chinese strokes with yarn

If you have yarn or ribbon at home, cut a few pieces to teach Chinese stroke order! Without any pressure of writing, something like yarn is excellent for showing the order of writing.

But I have a confession to make! Despite this pretty rainbow picture, my daughter thought the yarn activity was boring. Nevertheless, the few minutes we spent on together was incredibly impactful on future Chinese writing.

Chinese stroke order flashcards

Chinese numbers stroke order flashcards

These Chinese number stroke order flashcards have colorful dots to let you know where and what order to trace. Inspired by the SunYa Publications Montessori sandpaper flashcards, I created these printable stroke order cards as I felt that rainbow order would be more intuitive for children to follow.

With your finger, find the red dot and trace your finger along the stroke. Then move to the orange dot and subsequent colors of the rainbow.

Write Chinese characters in the sand

Writing Chinese characters and learning stroke order at the beach

Next time you’re at the beach, take a few minutes to make a few marks in the sand! Even if you’re there to relax and not have a formal Chinese class, you can show proper stroke order by writing a few simple Characters. This might encourage your children to follow your lead.

Learn Chinese stroke order with salt

Writing Chinese characters in salt following stroke order

Not near a beach? No worries! You can create a similar sensory experience at home with a container of salt! Follow the dots on the Chinese stroke order flashcards. Then draw your word in the salt.

Make Chinese characters with play dough

Writing Chinese characters flower and grass with play dough

Similar to the yarn activity, play dough can be a fun way to build Chinese characters. With rolling and estimating the thickness and length of each stroke, this activity is more challenging.

No matter what your child decides to create, play dough is a wonderful way to build find motor strength and coordination skills though. Explore more Chinese learning ideas with play dough here.

Teach Chinese strokes with water calligraphy

Magic Water Writing Cloth for Chinese Calligraphy Practice

Water calligraphy mats are a very fun tool for practicing Chinese stroke order. The magical mats make water appear like black ink that fades after a few minutes. No worries about making mistakes or wasting paper. Just try again after the marks disappear.

Play with Chinese stroke order apps

Older children might be more motivated by to learn Chinese through digital games. Also, dictionary apps often have stroke order animation videos. See our list of the best Chinese learning apps for kids here.

What if my child still hates writing Chinese?

It really depends on why your child resents it. Get curious, make patient observations, and ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is your child a perfectionist? Show them your imperfect handwriting. Model making mistakes, and being okay with corrections.
  • Does your child struggle with fine motor skills? Consider hands-on activities to strengthen finger and hand muscles. Some children also benefit from occupational therapy.
  • Does following Chinese stroke order feel like one more rule to follow in an already restrictive schedule? Personally, my goal is for my kids to have a positive relationship with Chinese language. So if writing Chinese is getting in the way of that, I would consider whether is it really necessary.

Teach kids how to read Chinese characters

I have successfully taught my daughter over 1000 Chinese characters before age 5, and I’m passionate about sharing our experience and strategies with other families.

In the following articles, you will find detailed, effective advice on how to teach Chinese characters to kids.

Happy playful learning, friends!

7 Comments

  1. Hello there,

    My name is Lucia and I am a Mandarin teacher in Brazil. Likewise, I have a mixed culture family.
    I would like to thank you for your down-to-earth and hands-in post on teaching Chinese. We are always seeking for the best methods to instigate the learning and the memorizing of the inumerous Chinese characters.
    Cheers.

  2. Thank you for this valuable idea.
    Iā€™m listing birthday gifts for my daughter and since she will enter school next year, this can be her opportunity to learn with me at home during this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *