Learning in Lockdown! – Chinese HBL resources

If you’re feeling the fear (again) of what the next month may look like for homeschooling, then this post is for you. 

This was a post I had hoped wouldn’t be needed.  It’s a simple list of what worked best for us, during a 92 day period where our little family unit didn’t interact physically with another soul ……  the period when I put on three hats (wait, is that five hats?), with homeschooling three kids, and juggling work with homelife, for what felt like forever. Already my different WhatsApp school parent groups are pinging with endless updates on the news, and I’m getting flashbacks to the mayhem of 2020.

Despite the dreary external environment and chaotic internal one, this period of being locked-in together created some of the best family moments we’ve had (and some of the worst, but let’s forget that bit).  There was shared excitement from the kid-zone today when they learn that our humble Homeschool was about to reopen. The kids look back on their home-based learning time with great memories, and it also helped me to become much more engaged and embedded in their individual learning. 

What works for one won’t always work for all

The one thing I learnt last year was NOT to simply replicate school in our house. You home is not a traditional classroom.   And, for our well-meaning school teachers who tried to achieve this via Zoom, I ended up telling them politely that we’d not always be able to participate in all their remote learning classes and suggested home learning activities, because they brought more frustration than it was worth.  I felt bad, but I had to follow the kids, and my own limitations.  Much loved classroom teachers are not always the best in virtual form (it really takes a different skillset and something better than Zoom to engage children meaningfully through the screen), and I didn’t have the time to sit through their sessions alongside my kids (especially when it was three at once on separate computers).  

What worked best for our homeschooling journey

I’m sharing list of what worked for us, in the hope it brings a little comfort to you. If you’re randomly googling how to survive HBL (home-based learning) and virtual schooling during lockdown, please know that we can get through this period together, united, yet separated.  You might be in panic mode trying to remember where the spare printer cartridge is and the glue gun, as the burden on mumschooling + entertaining for an entire school holiday indoors is upon us again.  But you’ve done it before, and you know what works best in your ‘hood. Mums often know best.

There are numerous online platforms and resources that offer lessons (both free and paid for), activities, quizzes and so on, which could potentially be better (or at least a good complement) compared with the work assignment by the teachers. Most of our family’s focus for external support resources was on Chinese, since that’s where we needed it most, with no one in the family able to help the kids.  Where I could, I’ve linked in the blog post to more detailed reviews I’ve written about the resources we liked the most.

These lists are not in any way exhaustive. I’m sure there are many better things out there. And you don’t need everything. Actually, really just focus on filling the needs you need (e.g. is it a specific time with no interruptions from the kids? a particular understanding of a math concept? writing practice? indoor entertainment? etc), and find something great which works, and add it into the routine. We found the huge long lists circulating lists of free online resources and museum visits etc made available during the pandemic were all amazing, but they also took an even bigger amount of energy for the parent to vet, then explain to a child how to use, etc, and then they didn’t last long, and sometimes they just weren’t on point for us. Remember, you really don’t need everything! So why stress on that.

This list is not a homeschool curriculum. It is just what worked for us, without breaking the bank, to fill the void of 3 months of mumschooling whilst we were unable to attend school. Most of these resources we’ve loved so much (especially the Chinese ones) that they’re now incorporated into our regular daily routines, even post the first Circuit Breaker. I’d love to hear your recommendations and suggestions too on resources which have really worked long after the pandemic.

This wasn’t meant to be a long or preachy post (it’s getting that way, I can tell already). But this cannot be shared without a final disclaimer to remind us all that kids need YOU, not technology or things as a replacement. They may not be able to have much of your time, but they need your reassurance and your love more than ever. The move to increased screen-time and removal of green-time is scientifically shown to create heightened tensions, and there’s less downtime/chill time. Your vibe can tell the kids anything and they’ll know. And that’s really all they need to know.

Now for the lists….

Chinese Home Learning Resources

  • Online language classes are a godsend and relatively cheap.  Lots of different online Chinese tuition providers that I’ve reviewed and compared.  LingoAce is specifically designed to follow the Singapore MOE curriculum.  LingoBus is highly engaging, especially for younger kids.  Vivaling will tailor to your child’s learning need.
  • Literacy apps to learn characters (up to 1200):  iHuman and Wukong Literacy.  Each with free trials, and really not expensive to buy either. We’ve used them well beyond circuit breaker. For specific character lists and tingxie rote learning, Skritter is perfect.
  • eBooks:  I particularly liked DuDu Chinese, because it was adaptive reading for a child’s level.  WawaYaya JoyReader is another popular option.  Ultimately we didn’t end up reading eBooks, as I preferred real life books to avoid excessive screen time (see below).
  • Real life books & audio support:  we needed a non-screen based option, and for this, we turned to Luka Reading Robot, which can read picture books (including ones borrowed from the NLB library).  My kids literally spent hours each day listening to audio books and following along with the real books.  Luka also has music and songs in Chinese.  Find a really long books series your child likes (Mi Xiao Quan or Les P’tites Poules is always a good starting place for a primary schooler, or Elephant & Piggy for a preschooler), and watch them enjoy the reading experience.
  • Chinese Dictionary Pen:  these clever devices (like Youdao or iFlyTek Alpha Egg) will scan any text and provide pronunciation / translation, which enabled my daughter to do more extensive reading of Chinese chapter books, without having any adult to guide her.
  • Chinese printable resources: LingoBuddies weren’t around during lockdown last year, but we’ve used them since, and they’re excellent for worksheets to keep preschoolers busy, if you have a printer at home.
  • Graded readers:  this was hard, but for my youngest kids (2 and 4) I literally learnt a new character with them each day, based on some well written Chinese readers which get progressively harder.  There are plenty of different options out there.  For a parent who doesn’t read Chinese, I feel Le Le Chinese, Sagebooks 500, or Odonata are the most approachable (depending on circumstances).
  • Youtube: If you must turn to screen time, there really are some excellent Chinese cartoons and non-animated shows in Chinese, freely available, mainly with great learning embedded.

How the week looked:

  • 30 minutes x 2 of paid online language classes per week
  • 15 minutes per day using a literacy app (+ additional 1- minutes for my elder child using Skritter to revise Ting Xie)
  • 1 hour per day reading picture books with Luka
  • 20 minutes quiet reading per day using dictionary pen
  • 10 minutes per day reading with mum one-on-one, with a Chinese graded reader

Math Home Learning Resources

  • Apps for child to self learn: again heaps available, we really liked Mathseeds and Matific Galaxy.  Both are paid, but much cheaper than something like Koobits.  They’re levelled and match specific years of schooling, from preschool to upper primary.  Another one for a pre-schooler is Funexpected Math.
  • Apps for specific math areas:  For a child learning timestables, there’s a free app called NinjaMath that’s not bad. For fractions, SliceFraction.
  • Assessment books: As much as I hate these, we did end up using a couple that we found at Popular, and they were mammothly helpful in keeping kids engaged.

How the week looked:

  • 30 minutes of a math app per day
  • 30 minutes doing specific pages of an assessment book per day

English Home Learning Resources

  • Literacy apps for a child learning the alphabetMetamorphabet or Alpha blocks.
  • Literacy apps for child learning to readABC Reading Eggs is excellent here.  Teach Your Monster to Read is also pretty good.    Both of these can work on either tablet or PC.  It’s worth noting that the PC version of Teach Your Monster to Read is total free, as the game has been funded by the Usborne Foundation, a charity set up to support early literacy.    
  • Activities to encourage composition:  firstly, we started journaling during the pandemic.  After we read together Anne Frank’s Diary as a family, the kids were excited to document their own journey in isolation – it let them document feelings too and we could talk about them as a family.   In addition to this, I gave the kids each week a research assignment which involved writing/drawing – it was also an easy way to give them a task to do, that I could look over and give feedback on between meetings.  We had topics from designing your own shop (research other similar shops, come up with a name, a slogan, a store layout/menu, etc) through to writing about our favourite animals or recipes. Experts suggests that writing by hand creates stronger memories and understanding, so I found it important to at least attempt this writing offline (it also avoids the automatic spellcheck).
  • Real life books:  just leave the kids with a pile of books, and see what happens! 
  • Graded readers:  we used Usborne and I Can Read, but seriously there are heaps of great simple readers in English.

How the week looked:

  • Really not that much different to our usual week
  • 15 minutes per day journaling
  • 30 minutes per day doing an own-research assignment (including googling)
  • 20 minutes quiet reading

Music Home Learning Resources

  • Online music classes:  we discovered VIP Peilian (a large Chinese online music tuition platform), and started doing bi-weekly piano classes this way.  Added benefit, the classes are all taught in Chinese.
  • Apps to encourage practice and self learning:  My youngest children didn’t enjoy VIP Peilian. Instead we used SimplyPiano and PianoMaestro apps, which plenty of sheet music for popular songs, in a really simply format.  It’s a curated series of lessons, and the app can hear the sounds played on your piano and give you instant feedback. Whilst the lessons are designed for piano, we’ve found it fun to try out with other instruments too. This also has a free trial for the first few levels. It doesn’t beat having the real piano teacher visit, but it does keep the kids practicing and getting excited about learning.

How the week looked:

  • 2 x 25 minute online classes per week
  • 20 minutes practicing songs per day (or more if child wants)

Sport Home Learning Resources

  • Dancing app:  GoNoodle was our go-to free source, to get us up and moving with fun dance moves. 
  • Mindfulness / Meditation Youtube: We also did lots of yoga from Cosmic Kids, where the moves are shared through favourites stories like Frozen or Harry Potter (it’s also a good excuse for mum to take a mindfulness break in the day too, and join in the activity).

Fun Home Learning Resources

  • Fun online classes:  We did any co curricular fun classes only in Chinese, so we were making the most of screen time to give exposure to the minority language.  We found classes which let the kids talk about Pokemon, and learn how to code in Minecraft.  There were classes for painting, and others for hip-hop cooking and chess.  In fact, so many!  I’ve written another blog post about the things we did.  These make great options for online birthdays and school holiday programmes too!
  • Movies & Youtube: we had epic movie nights at the end of each week, as we worked through all the classic musicals from the 1920-40s (Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, etc), which was awesome. We also discovered a lot of interesting non-animated Chinese shows streamed from Youtube. Kahn Academy was another source we enjoyed.
  • Nonscreen time fun:  we had ridiculous amounts of this!  From epic dot-to-dots which when over 1000 dots, to mega puzzles, board games, card games, craft, upcycling, tinkering, growing pet aqua dragons and sea monkeys.  The list of possibility is endless.

Timetable for Home Learning?

All the experts say to create a schedule. We did just fine without one. We didn’t obsess about HBL. In terms of how we organised this…. we had a good routine or rythm, which was crafted as a choose-your-own-adventure. I simple wrote on popsicle sticks a list of the regular daily tasks, and each child could arrange the popsicle sticks however they wanted, provided that by 4pm each stick task had been completed.  The only rule was that between each ‘screen-based task’ they must have a ten minute no-device brain break (usually scribbling on chalk board, singing songs, dance moves, playing with toys, short walk, etc).

The best time of the schedule was after 4pm, when all the formal HBL learning stopped, and so did the office work. It’s when we could cook as a family, and use it to learn maths (measuring, unit sizes, reading the clock), or tidy up as a family and discuss what items are called (shapes and colours of magnetic tiles and lego), or exercise together. There is so much learning in real life, when we’re just together, with time for each other, rather than shuffling between enrichment centres or commuting to the office.

All in all, this approach taught the five of us some discipline and structure, along with embedding self motivation, self control, and own time management skills (for me as the parent, as much as that for the kids).

Good luck and stay chill

The world will never forget Covid-19. I hope that your family will never forget the happy times you build together over this period, even if the external circumstances are far less rosy.

I wouldn’t wish lockdown upon anyone.  But, I know that the collective benefit of our individual sacrifices during this period will yield great fruit, eventually.  Having been I lockdown last year longer than most other families in Singapore, I can assure you that that after a period of home schooling together, you’ll have learnt a lot about yourselves, and children, and no doubt will be closer, stronger and more united. These will stand us all in good stead for our lives to come, well beyond this temporal Circuit Breaker 2.0.

I hope that some of the things in this list can help you to better make the most of this unique opportunity to be at home and learning with your children.

4 thoughts on “Learning in Lockdown! – Chinese HBL resources

  1. I think having a fixed schedule doesn’t work that well for my family either and I think the popsicle sticks idea works very well! I make learning grids for my older kids so they also pick and choose what they have to do for the day. Stay safe Emma and hopefully I’ll see you when Singapore opens up again!

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