There have been a lot of jokes made lately that we should all start teaching our kids Chinese. Guess what? I have started teaching them Mandarin and you can too.
OK, I am not technically teaching my kids Mandarin, that would require a little skill I don't actually have. Namely, I don't actually speak Mandarin. My husband speaks Mandarin, but he works a lot of hours and caters to a very harsh mistress named Neatorama. Plus I think he just prefers to speak to the kids in English. So being the overbearing Mommy that I am I went out and found a very nice group that runs a Chinese school in my area and enrolled my daughter in the program. As soon as the other 2 kids are old enough they will be enrolled as well.
Chinese schools have been around forever. For as long as anyone can remember, Chinese transplants have been forcing their kids to attend Chinese school. It's a way to keep a link to the culture through language and study. You don't, however, have to be Chinese to attend. Many schools, mine included, embrace non-Chinese students. The people who run my school have a passion for their culture and language and just like to share.
The Up-side Chinese School:
- Your kids will learn to speak Chinese. The students are encouraged to speak Chinese in class. At my school the little students are rewarded with stickers for participation.
- Your kids learn to write Chinese. The older classes work on this more than the younger classes.
- Your kids will learn Chinese songs. Even if you can't sing along to the songs it is still cute to watch the kids jump around and hop like long-eared rabbits.
- Your kids will learn about Chinese culture.
- Your kids will learn about Chinese holidays. My daughter's school does a very nice open house with a series of student and adult performances for Chinese New Year. It's a little long, but the kids in costume dancing around on stage make it all worth while.
- You will get information on events going on in the Chinese community that you may not have otherwise even known about.
- You and your kids will meet interesting people. The majority of parents who sign their kids up for preschool do so because they are Chinese. There are others, however, who do it for other reasons. For example one of the parents might be Chinese, but not the other. Some families have adopted children from China. Other families have lived or worked abroad. Everyone seems to have a story. It's really a great way to broaden your family's circle of friends.
- The classes tend not to be super expensive. The entire semester of Chinese school tends to be about what it costs for an 8- to-10- week session of some other extracurricular activity.
- They often offer parent groups, lectures, and activities. My daughter's school does an excellent job of trying to create a Chinese school parent community. They encourage parents to stay on campus by offering lectures on Chinese art or holding a special dance class. They also offer some language classes for the non-mandarin speaking crowd.
- It will help your kids be well-prepared for the new emerging economy. Like it or not China is a big player in the new world market. The Chinese have been teaching their kids English for a long time, and it couldn't hurt to teach our kids a little Mandarin as well.
- It will give you mini-translators at your disposal the next time you are traveling in Asia. The downside, however, is that they will learn Mandarin which won't help you at all when you are lost in Hong Kong with a Cantonese-speaking Taxi driver. You will still be forced to mime your way out of this situation.
The Down-side of Chinese School:
- Classes are typically on the weekend. My daughter's classes are right in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. This puts a little crimp in what we can do on Sundays.
- The classes are very academically based. This may or may not be a plus in your book. Students will sit in classrooms, with books and traditional based instruction. They will be assigned homework and larger projects.
- The classes tend to be long. My school has two 45 minute sessions with a 20 minute break in between. Even the kindergarten class (age 3 to 6 years old) goes for this long.
- Your kids may learn to speak Chinese and you may not. After 6 months of classes my 4-year-old learned to count to 10 and I only learned to count to 5.
- They will ask you to volunteer. The classes may not be expensive, but you will be asked to pay in other ways. My Chinese school has a mandatory safety patrol. No, I am not really sure what type of invasion they are expecting here in the suburbs. Nor, do I really know how all 4 foot 11 inches of me would protect anyone. It's not like they give you samurai sword. Regardless we must be vigilant and do our required rotation in the safety patrol. This is where we guard the halls, entrance, and exit.
- They are not always easy to find. Internet searches don't always tell if there is a Chinese school in your area. There probably is one and you just don't know about it, because they borrow classroom space and hardly ever advertise. The best way to find out about one is the old fashioned way, word of mouth. Seek out members of the Chinese community and just ask.
- Once you have found the school and enrolled your child the school will e-mail you weekly if not daily. They may not have a findable website, but they sure do know how to use e-mail.