Since it’s hard to find Asian language toys at mainstream stores in the United States, I greatly appreciate that Uncle Goose offer blocks in numerous languages! Around 6 years ago, I bought Uncle Goose Chinese wood blocks and Korean wood blocks for my first child. Over the years, my daughter and son have had lots of fun with these bilingual blocks!
Although Uncle Goose has since revamped the design, I wanted to share this old version because I wish they kept it. After I first wrote this review in September 2018, many parents told me that they found the old version at local retailers and secondhand shops like Ebay. I’ll compare both versions in this post as well as pros and cons so you can decide if they would benefit your family!
Are Chinese language blocks necessary for my kids?
I never want you to get things that you don’t need, so keep reading to learn about the pros and cons! If you find that they may suit your needs, the end of the post has suggested playful learning activities!
When I initially bought these blocks, I was not sure if I wanted my kids to learn Chinese since I had forgotten the language at the time. But it’s one of the first Chinese items that we owned – well before discovering other Chinese learning materials, like our favorite Chinese nursery rhymes music books and our beloved Luka Reading Robot.
Generally, we prefer blank, natural, unpainted blocks for open-ended building and discovery (such as these). However, since Chinese is a minority language for our family, I am always looking for more ways to increase Chinese print to create a language-rich home environment.
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Uncle Goose Chinese blocks: new versus discontinued version
Uncle Goose is a small American company known for their handcrafted, non-toxic blocks that celebrate various languages, science topics, and more.
The set of 32 Chinese language blocks are made of sustainable basswood and packaged in an eco-friendly cardboard box. Each block is 1.75 inches and geared for children ages 2 and up. The sides of the blocks include:
- 32 Debossed Simplified Chinese character with English translation
- 32 Debossed Simplified Chinese character with no translation
- Picture of an object (body part, animal, or nature) with Hanyu Pinyin
- Chinese Stroke order writing grid
- Numbers in Chinese and English
The discontinued version has a map of China with a yellow dragon. This has been replaced with a colorful Chinoiserie design.
In addition, the font has changed from the standard, traditional calligraphy-like text to a modernized typeface with clean lines. Similarly, the previously realistic illustrations have been distilled down to somewhat abstract forms.
You can find product details, photos, reviews of the current Uncle Goose Chinese blocks here.
Pros and cons of the Uncle Goose Chinese blocks
- Detailed images
- Easy-to-read text. Chinese characters are most prominent while supporting Pinyin and English are in small font
- Eco-friendly, natural, durable wood
- Encourages tactile and kinesthetic learning
- Information and colors may be too busy for a young and easily distractable learner
- Simplified Chinese only (no traditional Chinese script)
- Families who are Taiwanese, Singaporean, or Malaysian might not desire China’s map and flag on the discontinued version. Please note that these images have since been removed on the current version.
- In my humble opinion, the current version is too colorful. I have provided feedback to the Uncle Goose company, and their representative replied that the owner has no plans to return to the prior version and is happy with the current version.
Overall, I think the Uncle Goose Chinese blocks can be a great way for toddlers to see and feel Chinese characters while playing, even if they are too young to recognize print. If anything, it serves as a reminder for me to speak Chinese to my kids! Take a look at the photos and suggested activities to see if you think it’s worth getting!
Photos of the Uncle Goose Chinese blocks (discontinued version)
Here are close-up photos of the 32 simplified Chinese characters included in the set. For organization purposes, I will arbitrarily label each side as “side 1, side 2…etc”.
Side 1 has textured common Chinese characters in red: animals, nature words, and human body parts.
Side 2 also has the same Chinese characters, but these are in yellow with English translations under each Chinese character. My kids like to feel the texture of the Chinese words!
Side 3 features realistic drawings with Hanyu Pinyin, the phonetic pronunciation with tone marks which is helpful non-fluent speakers.
Meanwhile, side 4 has a stroke order grid. I think it is pretty neat to see the Chinese characters side-by-side and have talked to my kids about which characters have the most and least strokes. If your kids are interested, you could compare Chinese characters and arrange the blocks by increasing or decreasing number of Chinese strokes.
Side 5 has 32 Chinese numbers with English translation. Again, the Chinese characters are large and easy to read while the English text is smaller. No Hanyu Pinyin is included with the numbers in this version of the product.
Last but not least, side 6 is a puzzle of the map and flag of China puzzle. This has since been replaced with the colorful Chinoiserie design.
Suggested storage and presentation of the Uncle Goose Chinese blocks
Although the blocks come in a box, I suggest taking the blocks out of the box and putting them in an open basket. When the Chinese blocks are are visible and accessible to your child in an uncluttered area, they will be more likely to play with them.
On the other hand, if you leave the blocks in the closed box, it is easy for everybody to forget about them (“out of sight, out of mind”).
For younger toddlers, the blocks could be overwhelming with abstract information on each side. Don’t expect them to take interest to all of the information. Most likely, the will initially be attracted to the illustration side of the block, and you can talk about it in Chinese. Later, they may notice the Chinese characters and show interest in reading.
Since there is so much information on each block, I recommend introducing just a few blocks at a time. Introduce the names with the Montessori 3-period lesson as explained by the Montessori training blog here.
Activity ideas with Uncle Goose Chinese blocks
- Have your child close his or her eyes while choosing a random block! Make up a story about the picture on the block.
- Match animal blocks to other animal toys (eg, realistic-looking Schleich toy animals or these Safari Toob Zodiac animals!)
- Sorting activities:
- Group by object type (body parts, animals, nature)
- Math: Arrange in numerical order; practice sequential counting, skip counting by 2s, sort by even and odd numbers
- Culture: Arrange the blocks following the Chinese Zodiac order!
- Build a tower while sorting!
- Writing practice: Trace finger along Chinese character on the block. Then copy character in a Montessori sensory writing tray
What do you think of the Uncle Goose Chinese blocks?
If you have these Chinese wood blocks, how does your child use them for playful learning? We’d love to hear about your family’s experience. Leave a comment below and don’t forget to tag a photo @CHALK Academy on Instagram and Facebook!
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