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Learning fun at Chengzhu Mandarin Centre [Review]

July 5, 2013

If you don’t already know, my children speak little Chinese and the Mandarin they use in speech is so poorly pronounced it sometimes puts me, the student who used to ace Chinese from primary school to JC, to shame. My children think it’s funny to converse in Chinese, although their nurturing Chinese teachers in kindergarten are slowly changing their minds about that.

As for me their mother, I am quite helpless, really. They think Mama’s telling some joke when she uses Mandarin to speak to them.

So I would gladly outsource teaching the Chinese Language to anyone other than me.

During the second week of the June holidays, Becks was invited to attend the Holiday Programme at Chengzhu Mandarin Centre (成竹华语中心). Titled Kaka’s Teeth (卡卡的牙齿), the 5-day programme was designed for preschoolers aged 3 and 4 to immerse them in the world of Kaka, the friendly dinosaur, who helped his animal friends crack open nuts of all sorts with his strong teeth.

Becks was, of course, initially very frightened to be suddenly surrounded by people who spoke in Mandarin in a wholly Chinese environment on the first day. She was initially reluctant to go for class, until she stepped further in and saw this:

Spacious play area

Spacious play area

The school, located at Rochester Mall, is designed so brightly and cheerily to reflect the richness and uniqueness of the Chinese culture. I was awed by the details that were in the classrooms, hallway, walls and even the toilets!

A very bright and cheery learning environment that highlights the richness of the Chinese culture

A very bright and cheery learning environment that highlights the richness of the Chinese culture

Needless to say, my little girl was too happy to embrace their play before work philosophy:

Getting around in her Little Tike before class

Getting around in her Little Tikes before class

When it was time for class, we joined 7 other children (whom we would spend the next 4 days with) and Teacher Zhang Ping to explore the world of Kaka from the story, Kaka’s Teeth.

First lesson

Becks at her first lesson

Over the next few days, we met a squirrel, a monkey and a cat from the story, all needing help from Kaka the Dinosaur. Kaka‘s strong teeth helped them crack open the hard shells of pine nuts, walnuts and the tough husks of coconuts.

Story of Kaka's Teeth

We were also introduced to new words from the story through games, songs, flashcards and experiential learning.

Building vocabulary through flashcards, games and songs

Building vocabulary through flashcards, games and songs

Teacher Zhang Ping even brought food mentioned in the story to class to help the children make meangingful connections and relate to the story. So the kids got to try coconut juice, walnuts, pine nuts, and even tasted bittergourd, chilli sauce and lemon as they were learning words like 味道, 椰子, 核桃, 松子.

Making meaningful connections through tasting!

Making meaningful connections through food tasting!

They were plenty of speech and drama and storytelling bits incorporated within each lesson, which I hear, is Chengzhu’s niche. The teachers are all native speakers who spoke very well and are very experienced with children. Teacher Zhang Ping and her assistants were always engaging the kids with songs, puppets and lots of dramatic play. The kids also looked forward to the hands-on part in each lesson where they would create their own “storybook” of Kaka’s Teeth, by pasting slips of cut-outs that matched the illustrations.

Becks got to make a few pages of her "storybook" by sticking slips of paper to the pictures. The children then ran aloud with the teacher after the "storybook" was done.

Becks got to make a few pages of her “storybook” by sticking slips of paper to the pictures. The children then read aloud with the teacher after each page of the “storybook” was done.

Of course, Teacher Zhang Ping also constantly encouraged parents to help the kids retain what they learned in class by revising what she taught that day. She gave parents a quick briefing before dismissal every day on how to do just that.

Becks had a lot of fun, and actually spoke A LOT of Chinese that week! She remembered the songs, the dramatic play and the phrases that were taught, reinforced and repeated from each day’s lesson. It was great to finally hear accurate pronunciation from her. I am now more convinced than ever that I need to keep using the language with the kids, no matter how odd I sound to them. Persistence, Motherkao! Persistence!

All in all, the 5 days of learning the language was fun (and not funny, like she used to think) for Becks who thoroughly enjoyed “going to school” during the holidays. She now reads her “storybook” with pride and even went home to teach Ben what she’s learnt!

More details:
  • At Chengzhu Mandarin Centre, children and their families can look forward to being immersed in the Chinese language and Chinese culture, as well as holistic, meaningful and long-lasting learning experiences. The centre runs regular Adult Accompanied Programmes, Preschool Programmes and School Years Programmes throughout the year, as well as Holiday Programmes in the month of June and December.
  • Chengzhu Mandarin Centre is located at 35 Rochester Drive, #03-01 Rochester Mall, Singapore 138639 | Tel: (65) 6737 5348

Stay tuned for a giveaway happening in October for the next run of Chengzhu’s Holiday Programmes at the end of the year!

Disclosure: Becks was invited to the Holiday Programme and I was allowed to sit in for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

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