Here is the belated update about our trilingual summer homeschool for the kids!
Summer has been over for several weeks, but I’m just getting to finish this post half-way through September!
Our nanny went on vacation at the end of August, and our whole family has been sick ever since my daughter returned to school. (School germs are ruthless!)
Overview of the summer
This past summer, I began once-a-week homeschool lessons with my daughter (currently age 4 years 10 months) in addition to our theme-based, hands-on Chinese learning activities.
The plan was to continue Chinese, math, and Korean plus add English to our learning schedule.
Overall, we made great progress with Chinese and Korean while math and English didn’t go as planned. I underestimated the time it would take to prep and teach so many topics while working part-time.
Chinese alone already consumes almost all of my free time. Regardless, learning was still happening, and both of my kids got abundant free play that is so vital for this age.
In addition, I realized that the time that I have been dedicating to planning and blogging about academic learning was infringing upon our spiritual growth at home.
Therefore, I’m adding Bible learning time to these blogposts to remind myself the true reason any of this matters!
Quick recap of our family
- English is the dominant language (small town, USA); my children’s minority languages are Chinese and Korean.
- Our kids are exposed to all 3 languages almost daily through the one person, one language method (OPOL)
- Dad: English with very intermittent Korean
- Mom: Chinese (limited conversational proficiency)
- Nanny: Korean (conversational proficiency)
- 4.75-year-old 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) enjoys reading Chinese (~1000 characters), and she can read Korean (simple picture books). She speaks and understands all languages, but English and Chinese are preferred. She loves dance class and started swim lessons over the summer!
- 23-month-old 老二 (lǎo èr / second child) speaks 2-4+ word phrases in each language and seems to have a fairly equal amount of vocabulary in each language. In contrast to my daughter who was matching upper & lower case English letters, knew her Hangul consonants, counting to 15, and potty trained at this age, my son does not recognize any numbers, characters, or letters yet. And he’s about a million miles away from potty training readiness. But this little guy is a runner and a builder! In other words, he is a perfectly normal kid. 🙂 I know I don’t write about him much yet on this website, but he’s learning so much each day at his own pace.
- My husband works full-time outside of the house; I work part-time from home.
Summer trilingual schedule for 老大 and 老二
The main changes for the summer were as follows:
- No summer school or camp for my daughter, because we wanted the kids to have more time together.
- No screen-time during the week for my daughter, because it made her cranky and difficult to transition to dinner.
- During the weekend, my daughter had the option to watch a Chinese show for 30 minutes in the morning and my son usually watched with her. (Unfortunately, younger siblings get exposed to everything earlier!)
- My daughter’s Chinese teacher returned to China for 4 months.
Here’s a visual breakdown of our kids’ schedule by language!
- 4.5-year-old 老大 has ~98 waking hours per week
- Red = Chinese = 35 hours (36%)
- Blue = English = 36 hours (37%)
- Yellow = Korean = 27 hours (27%)
- 23-month-old 老二 has ~91 waking hours (nap around 12-1p daily)Red = Chinese = 28 hours (31%)
- Blue = English = 32 hours (35%)
- Yellow = Korean = 31 hours (34%)
Please note that during these times, the primary language is indicated by the color.
However, my children are never 100% immersed in any language because English is always heard in the community and on playdates.
In addition, my kids often speak to each other in Chinese, even when they are with our Korean-speaking nanny.
They will listen to Korean and Chinese music at random times, even if they are with an adult who doesn’t speak that language.
General Weekday Schedule
The schedule was highly variable over the summer.
I’ll share a general overview since many friends have said that it’s helpful to see a typical “day in the life”! Please see the above schedule for exceptions to this general timeline.
- 7am: Kids wake up. Son nurses. Daughter picks an activity of her choice, usually drawing, building with blocks, or puzzle. My son usually copies whatever she does after he is done nursing. Husband goes to work.
- 8:30am: Breakfast & get ready for the day. Daily devotional.
- 9am: Kids play outside
- 11:30am: Lunch
- 12pm: Son’s nap time. Daughter’s Korean learning time with our nanny
- 1:30pm: Kid’s play outside
- 3:30pm: Shower/snack
- 4pm: I am done with work. Nurse son while reading to kids
- 4:30pm: Activities in the kids’ area. Dinner prep.
- 5:30pm: Dinner
- 6:30-7:30pm: Clean up eg, wash dishes, kids put toys away, everybody Swiffers
- 7:30pm: Kids play with daddy when he gets home from work. Veeerrry slooowwwly get ready for bed. Storytime and prayer.
- 9pm: Bedtime (always ran late in the summer!)
Monday Homeschool Schedule
The first few Mondays were slow and unproductive, but when I wrote down our schedule, my daughter responded very well to it!
The schedule was more like a “to-do list” that we made together. I asked my daughter to pick the order that she would like to proceed.
As you can see in the photo, there are no set times per lesson. This is intentional because I don’t know how long my daughter will be interested in a particular topic on any given day.
I don’t want to stop something that has momentum, and I don’t want to drag on something that neither of us are enjoying.
My daughter also asked me to add “拥抱时间 (Yǒngbào shíjiān / hugging time)!” 🙂
I’m embarrassed to say that I almost forgot to add time for our daily devotions on this schedule.
But I wanted to share this unedited photo because in real life, academic pursuits can easily lead us astray from our spiritual journey.
Here is how things went for each subject for my kids!
- Since English is the main language for our family, my husband and I have agreed that family time and bible time should be in English. However, when I’m alone with the kids, my daughter and I will try to pray in Chinese.
- Each day, we read the One Year Devotions Book for Preschoolers with both kids (available here). I love this book because it has a simple lesson followed by a verse and short prayer. The illustrations are realistic with diverse characters. We also have The Beginner’s Bible (available here), but unfortunately we have not been consistent about reading it. I think we will need to build this into bedtime reading so it doesn’t get missed.
- On Sundays at church, my daughter attends Sunday school where they teach a verse and do a bible-based craft.
- Almost daily, the kids have fun listening and dancing to Stream of Praise Chinese Christian music on their CD player. Although it was initially difficult to convince my daughter to trust my son with CDs, my son was excited that he learned how to use the CD player properly! (We still have to remind him to not to throw CDs on the play mat when he’s done with them!)
- On the weekend, the kids would watch a few of the Stream of Praise performances and mini bible lessons on our DVD player. You can learn more about Stream of Praise music in my review here.
Despite our Chinese teacher being away for the past 4 months, my daughter’s Mandarin pronunciation was maintained by listening to Chinese children’s stories on Ximalaya almost daily.
My daughter would try tp apply new words and phrases from those stories into our daily conversation.
Although her speaking proficiency is good for her age, her overall vocabulary is growing at a snail’s pace compared to native Chinese-speaking children due to my limitations and the lack of other Chinese-speaking people in our community.
In attempt to improve speaking while our Chinese teacher was away, we tried to connect with other native speakers.
- Each week, we called my favorite Auntie via FaceTime. However, Auntie uses simple language with my kids. Since she lives in Canada and speaks primarily in Shanghainese with her family, she has lost a little bit of her Mandarin fluency.
- We also tried to FaceTime with my Taiwanese friend (a Chinese teacher) and her daughter a few times. Unfortunately, my daughter was a bit shy on FaceTime, and we were not able to call as frequently as we had hoped.
- A handful of times, we were able to meet a Chinese grandmother at a playground. This nice lady used to be a Chinese teacher and loves children! This was by far the most effective way to improve our Chinese, let alone befriend a kind, like-minded person. Unfortunately, since we live 40 minutes from each other, we were unable to meet regularly.
At the start of the summer, we were on a nature theme but then we kind of went off course and just read whatever!
Here is a summary of our summer reading routine:
For books, I always let my daughter choose, even if the books are below her reading level.
Each time a book is re-read is an opportunity to discover something new with the illustrations and text.
I also choose some new books as well to make sure she is exposed to new concepts and vocabulary.
Here is a partial list of Chinese books that we read this summer with links to these books:
- 鼠小弟 series
- iSuperScience Chinese books
- 多多和他的超级妈妈 (DuoDuo & His Super Mom) + 多多和他的超级爸爸 (DuoDuo & His Super Dad)
- 妈妈, 今天是我第一天上学!
- Odonata leveled readers
- Previously my daughter was stuck at around ~800-900 characters. This summer, we were able to increase her recall to about ~1000 characters (estimated count based on the Odonata readers). However, further reading progress is challenged by so many new words and phrases that we don’t use in our daily conversation.
- Although my daughter was reading Chinese bridge books such as the Little Bear Series and the Frog and Toad series last year, she still prefers picture books. I have been trying to buy a wide range of books from Taobao so that we can expand our vocabulary on everyday topics.
- When we start a new book, we take our time looking at the pictures. Then we listen to the stories on Ximalaya and then read it ourselves.
- For new words, I write it with large font on a Post-It note and stick it to that page. On the back of the Post-It, I write tiny Pinyin +/- English translation for my reference. I also write down words that make my daughter hesitate (eg, needs some time to recall) so that we have an extra chance to review it.
- Sometimes, I also write down similar-looking characters on Post-It notes so we can compare them side by side such as 帅 (shuài / handsome, smart) and 师 (shī / division, teacher, master, expert)
- After reading the book a few times, I take out the Post-It notes so we can review them. We played reading games, such as Tic-Tac-Toe and hide and find the missing Post-It note!
Here is a video of her reading 阿惠的妹妹住院! Currently, she can read several 30+ page picture books back to back with good stamina. You can see some of the aformentioned Post-It notes in this video.
Although I had hoped to introduce Zhuyin and traditional Chinese this summer, there was just no time to diligently pursue that endeavor.
I have always struggled to keep up with learning simplified characters compared to my daughter, so I thought it would be more satisfying for my daughter to just enjoy reading what she knows instead of adding another reading system.
Furthermore, I am thinking it will be more efficient to dedicate time for traditional Chinese learning when my son is ready to learn. This way the kids and I can learn simultaneously.
I also found out that Qiaohu will be teaching Zhuyin with this fall’s monthly packages, so there was no rush for me do that at home.
Although my daughter has been writing English & Korean letters since age 2 to 3 years, Chinese characters are much more complicated.
Therefore, I wanted to delay formal writing lessons until she was ready to follow stroke order rules.
- During the first half of the summer, my daughter learned the basic Chinese strokes through Chinese stroke order sandpaper cards. She also practiced writing basic characters through Montessori-inspired sensory writing trays.
- The Chinese Characters Magnetic Spelling Puzzle was also very helpful for practicing stroke placement.
- We also had fun using our water painting calligraphy mats (available here) and writing in the shower on the steamy glass door!
- During the second half of the summer, I tried to introduce traditional tracing worksheets that I made via the Arch Chinese website, but my daughter refused to use them. Instead, since she likes tic-tac-toe, we just practiced writing with that game! You can read more about how we used Tic-Tac-Toe to learn Chinese and download free printable Tic-Tac-Toe templates here.
Since my daughter can do addition and subtraction up to 12 in her head, I thought that she might be ready for Singapore Math.
We ended up skipping the Kindergarten level (available here) because it was too easy with mostly counting and coloring activities.
The content was similar to the Daily Noodles Chinese numbers activity book that my daughter did when she was 2 years old.
Although she flew through several sections of both the Singapore Math 1A and 1B workbooks (available here), I realized I should hold off on using these books until my daughter reads English fluently.
While she understood the concepts and can compute quickly, reading comprehension is very important for understanding instructions as a foundation for mastering word problems.
I also found that she was getting distracted by the numbers and regurgitating memorized facts instead of trying to think through certain problems.
To me, that was a sign that my daughter need to spend more time on hands-on, concrete materials.
The learning curve is steep for me as a homeschooling parent who learned most things by memorizing worksheets and flashcards!
Here are the Montessori math activities that my daughter did over the summer:
- Reviewed the Montessori Hundred Chart
- Montessori counting boards from Etsy
- Montessori decanomial beads to practice addition, subtraction, and skip counting (2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s); also multiplication and division by 2s (available here)
- Playing the Montessori snake game
- Practicing multi-digit addition with the Montessori golden beads (available here and here)
- Just starting to explore the Montessori Pythagoras board for multiplication
Other math learning activities
Paint by Sticker books
Unfortunately, there is no in between level, so it was a big challenge to jump to the adult books.
These books are fantastic for number and pattern recognition as well as fine-motor skills.
Verbal word problems
Lastly, my daughter’s absolute favorite way to practice math is through verbal word problems!
We have been doing this daily for the past year and have so much fun coming up with silly scenarios!
My daughter will compute basic calculations either mentally or with the help of her Montessori beads.
At the start of the summer, I was planning on teaching my daughter how to read English.
Her preschool teacher noted that my daughter had mastered phonics and memorized several high-frequency words!
However, though she was able to read many short sentences in her Singapore Math workbook, her phonics were quite inconsistent.
When my daughter learned the alphabet at age 18 months, I had taught her the names but not phonetic sounds.
For several years, she though of “u” as “yoo” instead of “uh” since I have been focused on teaching her Chinese and didn’t bother with English.
And memorizing the alphabet does not translate to reading readiness.
For example, she could say “but” correctly in a sentence, but alone, she wanted to call but “boot!”
My daughter has no trouble with Chinese 多音字 (duōyīnzì / words with multiple sounds) knows her Korean Hangul phonics, but English phonemic awareness was challenging.
Therefore, I was unsure about where to start with teaching English this summer.
English leveled readers for children
I have several learn-to-read series, including the following:
- The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons
- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
- Bob Books
The problem with the first 2 books was that they are too thick. I have found that my daughter doesn’t usually do well with huge books like these because she wants to skip or rush ahead just to finish it. We have tried introducing these books several times since she was 3, but we never got very far. This summer, we tried to go through a few of the Bob Books, but neither of us liked them…Actually, we thought they were pretty terrible and had strange, unhelpful illustrations.
Montessori English reading resources
Since my daughter was strongly resistant to English reading practice, I didn’t want to force it.
I did have to convince my husband that it was perfectly okay to wait on teaching English reading, especially since it is her strongest spoken language. He was concerned that she would be behind, but time is already stretched thin from Chinese and Korean learning.
My daughter liked to pretend we were baking alphabet cookies while using the moveable alphabet!
The phonetic reading blocks were also a clever way to teach how letters in different positions produce different sounds.
The red and blue color coding of the consonants and vowels was very helpful for her!
Before this summer, my daughter took an 8-month break on Korean reading/writing due to significant resistance and negative feelings.
She was also forgetting a lot of vocabulary during the school year.
Since my daughter didn’t have school this summer, her Korean improved back to nearly conversational.
Our nanny has been doing Korean reading/writing with my daughter twice a week for the past 2 months.
In addition to playing tic-tac-toe and doing other learning activities, she completed 2 workbooks:
The books are mainly for stroke order writing practice.
For the K2 book, she did 4-5 pages per session.
Here is a video of the completed workbook!
While she has not really progressed in terms of reading level, her interest and motivation has improved because speaking and listening comprehension have improved.
She is also able to sound out the Hangul combinations more quickly.
Here is a video of my daughter reading a Korean picture book; each page has only 1-2 lines of text.
This is where most of the learning occurred for my children!
Of course they fought with each other and invaded each other’s personal space. But they also learned how to apologize and forgive each other.
They learned how to help each other and when to ask for help.
Chase, hide-and-seek, block-building, and drawing time were favorite activities at home.
At the park, the kids had so much fun on playdates!
1. Learning is not necessarily a linear process.
You may notice that we are not necessarily progressing to “harder” or “more advanced” materials.
If my daughter expresses interest in something that seems “easier”, than that is what we will do.
I strongly believe in following the child’s interest and that there is usually something to discover and learn no matter how “simple” something might be.
This is why I am a huge fan of the Montessori method which encourages a solid foundation of patience and discovery.
2. Sitting down to teach an older child is very difficult with the cute distractions of a younger sibling!
When my daughter and I have one-on-one time, she actually has an extraordinarily long attention span for her age.
I am grateful that I was able to take one morning off from work per week to do our Chinese/English/Math teaching while our nanny watched my son. (I work from home and can catch up with work at night).
Our nanny did her Korean teaching during my son’s naps.
Otherwise, “academic” learning often occurred in short and sporadic carpe diem spurts!
3. Just because something is working for one language doesn’t mean it will work for another language!
We have a fantastic Korean workbook that my daughter enjoyed completing with her nanny. But my daughter refuses to do worksheets or workbooks for Chinese learning. On the other hand, my daughter will choose to read Chinese any day over Korean and English.
4. Turn off distractions from social media.
While I credit Facebook groups for a wealth of information and support that I don’t have in real life, the downside is FOMO (“fear of missing out”) if you don’t do something that everybody else seems to be doing.
Over the past year, I sometimes would second-guess my teaching style after reading too many posts from other parents who are against hands-on learning.
But I realized that the whole purpose of my writing about our family’s learning was never about fitting in with the “norm” or marking off check boxes.
All parents are trying to do what’s best for their family, and children benefit from a caregiver who are in tune with their unique needs.
The best way to learn for one family may not be the best for another family’s circumstances.
Putting down other learning methods only discourages others from exploring other ways that could help their children.
5. Parental support is always needed!
Find a group of parents that share your goals and interests who can lift you up instead of stress you out.
Since the idea of hands-on, child-led learning is still relatively new when it comes to learning Asian languages, I hope that it can become more accepted by our sharing.
I am motivated to continue writing about our experience and hope it brightens your homeschool experience!
For the next school year, my daughter will be repeating preschool due to her fall birthday.
In California, schools strictly adhere to the cut off of 9/1 for Kindergarten entry, and schools don’t care if children are academically advanced before they turn 5.
Therefore, we decided to send my daughter to a part-time classical school for 2 half-days a week so that she can still have fun socializing with friends at school but have more time for Korean and Chinese homeschooling.
This will also allow us to take our time with morning devotional on the days when my daughter does not have school.
We will also increase to two dance classes and continue swimming through the school year.
In addition, I will start teaching my daughter how to play piano!
As for my son, we will continue to enjoy playful, open-ended learning with him! It’s nice not having to worry about planning a curriculum for him at this time!
Raising multilingual children
For advice on raising multilingual children, please explore the following posts:
- Raising Multilingual Children As a Non-Fluent Parent: 7 Lessons Learned
- Teach Your Child A Second Language at Home: 5 Key Steps
- How to Get Your Child to Speak the Minority Language
- One Person, One Language: Our Family’s Trilingual Schedule with 2 Toddlers
- Fun & Educational Chinese Activities – A How-To Guide