Have you considered any CCAs (aka co-curricular or extracurricular activities…) which are taught in Mandarin Chinese, to give your children more language exposure? This can be a much cheaper alternative to formal Chinese tuition, and it might be a lot more fun for the child too.
We’ve never in our house faced an “I-hate-Mandarin” attitude (touch wood), but I like to think that predominantly my kids only use the language for activities which they feel are fun, and not pressurised or stressful. We’ve opted for taking classes like piano, cooking or sport with Mandarin coaches to let them absorb the language in every day situations outside of the formal school classroom. There’s a lovely post by Hands on Fun Chinese, which is an ‘Immersion Parent Guide to Supporting Chinese‘, and it recommends extracurricular activities as a top strategy, and I agree it’s powerful (and fun).
Our family has engaged in several great Chinese taught non-academic classes over the years we have lived in Singapore – and now in a post-COVID world, we’ve even had the opportunity to explore some special online classes too which are offered globally. Here’s a hit list of a few ideas to get your creative juices going.
Art classes taught in Chinese
In Singapore: again, the local Community Club’s often have classes in Chinese Calligraphy for children, which are taught fully in Chinese. Check out OnePA for course listings and locations. Another great option which my elder daughter has done is Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts and Cultural Troupe, who have recently branched out into offering Calligraphy
& Chinese Painting classes too, in addition to the amazing suite of drama classes.
Another one to consider (which we haven’t tried) is Moyuan Culture Education Centre which offers Chinese Calligraphy, Chinese Painting and Creative Art classes.
Online: Bilin Academy is our go-to option here, as they have a wide range of online art classes taught solely in Mandarin. Whilst it’s a US-based service, they have plenty of classes available for Singapore timezones. Topics range from learning about fashion design from top New York Fashion Designers (who speak fluent Mandarin), through to drawing Disney Princesses, or doing a watercolour class on painting Classical Chinese poetry. Classes are affordable at ~US$15-20 per hour, with max 5 students in a class. We have enjoyed every course we’ve done through Bilin Academy, and hope to do many more.
Another great option we’ve enjoyed online is Language Art Fun, which is more suitable for kindergarten age children, as it a similar price to Bilin Academy. The focus is more on crafts and simpler drawing, which always includes a literary element too.
Dance Classes taught in Chinese
In Singapore: Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre offers ballet and contemporary dance classes for children of all ages, taught in Mandarin. Don’t be fooled by their website address – whilst this is also hosted at the Hokkien Huay Kuan Association building, it’s totally separate from the Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts and Cultural Troupe, and their waiting list isn’t quite as long (thankfully!). Classes include western ballet, but also Wushi, Chinese Classical Dance and Chinese Ethnic Dance. At the end of each year, students have the opportunity to perform in the Theatre’s annual dance showcase, which for many (parents included) is the highlight of the year!
Online: Chiwawa Fun have online classes for hip hop and tap dance. They have ongoing classes, and if you don’t see one advertised which fits your schedule, ask them to start one. They’re based in Hong Kong, so it’s a great fit timezone wise for families Singapore. We know one family who even thought about having a hip hop class as a birthday party event, it’s that fun! Lots of choreography to develop your child’s dance abilities, all the while learning Mandarin. Lah Lah Banana readers can benefit from a 10% promo discount at checkout using LAHLAHBCHIWW10.
Drama Classes taught in Chinese
In Singapore: It took us 1 year on a waiting list to finally get a slot at Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts and Cultural Troupe! Their weekly enrichment classes focus on speech and drama, and also broadcasting courses for older children, and it’s not an overstatement to say they’re wildly popular. For children who are particularly keen and talented, there is an opportunity to join their Cultural Troupe for live performances at various venues.
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) also offer a Bilingual Chinese Drama Class, which again is usually oversubscribed. We haven’t tried this one, but we’ve heard it’s also good.
Online: We did a Speech and Drama class through Bilin Academy which was excellent. Bilin is a small school based in US, and they really vet their teachers and providers well, so you can be sure to be paying for quality whatever you take through them. This is also where we’ve taken several terms of art classes, which have been beautiful.
Music classes taught in Mandarin
In Singapore: most of the local Community Clubs have Chinese Children’s Orchestra and Choirs, many of which are free to sign up to, provided the child has an existing musical background (eg if they can already read music or play another instrument, then they may be able to learn some of the Chinese instruments like Guzheng 古箏 or Erhu 二胡). Enquire at your local Community Club, or look online at OnePA . Note that often not all the options are listed online, so you are better to talk to the Club / Centre in person. One great thing about these groups is that they often have multiple performance opportunities at local community events, such as Chinese New Year dinners, or Hawker Centre openings, etc.
For more specific musical instruments with one-to-one classes, consider websites like the Happy Pianist or Piano Hub, which match students with private tutors. You can input as one of your requirements that the tutor speaks predominantly in Mandarin. We found two great tutors through there.
Online: we use VIP Pielian for online practice sessions bi-weekly for my daughters to support their regular piano classes. It’s an intriguing service based in mainland China, and good way for a child to clock up the practice, whilst chatting in Chinese. I’ve done a more detailed post about how VIP Pielian service works. Classes are about US$6 per 30 minutes, for one-to-one classes, and multiple instruments are offered.
Sports Classes taught in Chinese
In Singapore: We found out about gymnastics in Chinese by accident! SGActive provides cost competitive Gymnastics classes (for both girls and boys, which is rare and great!) at the Bishan Sports Hall, which coincidentally was run by mainland Chinese speaking coaches. Since then, we’ve discovered that many other ActiveSG courses (such as basketball, athletics) run island wide have Chinese-speaking coaches. You might even be able to find a private one-on-one swimming classes with Chinese coaches, etc.
If gymnastics is your thing, we’ve also heard that at The Junior Gymnastics Training Centre there are also Chinese speaking coaches for gymnastics and wushu, which could be another good alternative for those living around Bukit Timah.
Coding Classes taught in Mandarin
Online: Without doubt, coding classes in Mandarin have been our favourite of all online classes. It’s just a class type which lends itself so naturally to doing it via the screen, especially since computers needs to be involved anyway. Chiwawa, in collaboration with First Code Academy, offer classes in Scratch, Roblox, and Minecraft from beginner through to intermediate. Last school holidays, we arranged a class daily for my daughter every morning, and it was incredible to see the progress she made.
Chiwawa have ongoing classes, otherwise all it takes is 3 students for them to start a new class (max class size is 4 students). Lah Lah Banana readers can benefit from a 10% promo discount at checkout using LAHLAHBCHIWW10. There’s also a free class for your first time trial.
Chess Classes taught in Chinese
In Singapore: There are so many children’s chess groups in Singapore, for both Western/European Chess, and Chinese Chess (Xiangqi / Weiqi) options. Did you even know there was a difference in rules between European and Chinese chess?
For Western Chess, whilst they’re not explicitly touted as ‘Mandarin speaking’ groups, from our experience, most of the children in the chess clubs are CHinese, and moreover, they’re from Chinese speaking homes. The main Singapore Chess Federation is based at Bishan, and they have weekly classes/competitions and also intensive holiday camps; there are plenty of small teams and academies across the island.
For Chinese chess, Xiangqi Mind Train Academy is a good option (update: Jan 2021 I heard they have stopped with Covid), and classes are conducted explicitly in Chinese and are available either in group settings or private lessons. A lot of the Community Centres and Community Clubs also have groups, so be on the look-out, and you might be surprised and what exists nearby to you.
Online: Again, Bilin Academy have classes in Go! and Weiqi. Well priced for both individual and group classes.
Math and Problem Solving Classes taught in Chinese
Online: Online classes in China have seen exponential growth in recent years, and math classes have been a key area of this. Hence there are at least six providers of math classes taught in Chinese, and we’ve done trials with most of these. Some follow Mainland Chinese Math, others follow Singapore Math syllabus, and others still follow Math Olympiad or other problem solving methods. We found one particular problem solving course (eg Suduko, Rubiks Cube, other puzzles) we enjoy called Pea Math, which has 2 x 45 minutes of lessons per week in a group of 4. It’s been excellent. Initially, when we signed up, I thought the primary intention of the course would assist with speaking /listening skills in Mandarin in a different setting (which is does) but there has also been a lot of reading too, which is a real bonus. For more details, see my post where I compare six different online math class options.
Themed Conversational Classes Taught in Chinese
Yes, there are lots of ‘one off’ classes around the place if you keep your eyes peeled, which focus on conversational Mandarin for children. One helpful source is a Facebook group called ‘Classes for Kids in Chinese and Spanish‘, where group members share their favourite classes.
Honestly, Outshool is a mixed bag, but you can see the parents reviews and all the classes are about US$10/hour, and you will find some gems. Our particular favourites have been a series of classes through Outschool about Pokemon, where a Pokemon theme is used throughout to discuss various concepts from colours and numbers, through to more advanced levels with idioms and shopping lists. Outschool offers $20 free credit for first time users (no strings attached!) which is usually enough for 2 Chinese classes. Riley Lu is a great teacher to look out for.
There’s also an amazing Outschool science class in Mandarin by Jill Laoshi.
Here’s a referral link to get the credit (for full transparency, this also gives me US$20 credit ….. so if you have friends already using the service, do ask them for their codes, as you’ll be doing them a favour using it).
Chinese Church Services and Sunday Schools
This isn’t really a class, but I’m just adding add this onto the list, in case others out there also attend a church which has both English and Chinese congregations. We had been attending English service regularly for years at a particular church, when one day we accidentally arrive a little earlier to discover an amazing Sunday School led fully in Mandarin. We’ve been attending church early ever since then!
Chinese Reading Circles and Debating
In Singapore: We’ve been part of several different “book club” circles with friends, either in person or more recently online, where the children have all read a similar book (or series of books like Le Le Chinese) and then met weekly to take it in turns reading, and playing games / answering questions related to the books. These have always been fun, but really require the dedication of a parent (or teacher) who can fluently speak the language and passionately share it with the children. It’s certainly an interesting option if you can find a great person to lead it!
Online: We’ve done a series of Chinse debate online classes through Bilin Academy – they have classes for intermediate and beginners, including lower primary. They feature a new topic in each class and assist the child to construct their thinking framework. I feel it’s a super way for a child to learn about public speaking and argument formation, and doing classes in Chinese is much cheaper than the equivalent English alternatives!
There’s another online debating option that we haven’t tried which is for upper primary school and secondary children that looks interesting looking called Children’s debating group in the US run by the inspirational bilingual blogger Oliver Tu.
Summer Camps and Holiday Camps in Chinese
Another really fun idea is holiday camps in Chinese during the School holidays – where kids go on excursions, cook, do sports and play games and generally have loads of fun, fully in Chinese. There are usually so many to choose from! I’m really hoping that the virus situation will improve enough to make Summer and Winter Camps (ironic words I know given it’s in Singapore where there’s only one season!) an option for our family again soon.
If you’ve come here hoping to find more conventional or conversational Chinese class options online, we’ve also done this through the COVID lockdown, and I’ve compared a few options for online Chinese classes for children at in earlier post here.
For those not in Singapore, look at this list by Betty Choi of CHALK Academy of other non-academic classes for children online and in USA.
I’m always looking for more way to slip fun Chinese into our day-to-day routines! What classes have your family tried and enjoyed?
By the way, if you got to the end of this post and are still reading, perhaps you might be interested in some other posts I have written about learning Chinese, such as: