Last Saturday we had our second day at Chinese kindergarten. It was substantially better than the week before, but there are still some issues we need to overcome.
When we arrived, we found an entire second class complete with about 9 other children all between the ages of about 3.5 and approaching 7. The teacher turned out to be someone other than the person we had met the week before, but she was nice enough. She conducted the entire class in Chinese, announcing (in Chinese), that when we walk into the room we do not speak any English (great!) and then she asked the parents to sit in the back so they would know what to study with their children during the week. Initially I thought that was great, too, since it was free Chinese lessons for me. It turned out, however, that our kids seemed a bit distracted and self-conscious in our presence (Jie-jie, anyway).
The content of the class ended up being completely appropriate. They were working on identifying the characters for 1 – 10 and hundred but using age appropriate methods to do it. They even got to get out of their seats and act out the Chinese poem about the 5 squirrels and the tiger (by the way, if anyone can send me a link to an mp3 of that one, I would be grateful). In future weeks they will have to spend a lot of time on writing, but overall it was a great set-up.
The problem? Well, my kids were shy and withdrawn and tired. The lesson takes place exactly during nap-time. They are understandably a bit shy in the new setting and I think that it did not help that the week before they were asked to sit quietly in their seats and color in their notebooks. So, basically, Mei-mei sat down at her desk, got out her art supplies and sat drawing pictures. I truly think she was trying to behave the way she thought appropriate. When the teacher asked her to participate, she was shy and quiet. She never really engaged. Jie-jie participated more but she was reluctant to speak publically (answering with whispers and nods and shaking her head).
It’s not that there weren’t other kids behaving the way that my kids were, just that my kids face heightened scrutiny and skepticism when it comes to their language ability. They need to demonstrate their competence in a way that the other kids in the room do not have to. At the end of class, the teacher said that Jie-jie would PROBABLY be OK in the class but that she thought Mei-mei was too young. Un willing to engage in a conversation about my kids’ abilities when they had clearly not been demonstrated, I closed off the conversation with a brusque, “she is shy and tired. she will try again next week.”
In the car on the way home we explained to the kids that they needed to participate if that wanted to be included and we explained very clearly what it meant to participate and cooperate. I then explained to Mei-mei that the teacher thought she was too little. She was devastated. We talked about what she could do to show that she was old enough to be there. In truth, she is the youngest but at least a few months and I think she will struggle a bit with writing. On the other hand, if she can muster the effort to sit through the class, I think she would benefit and do it in such a way that she does not adversely impact the classroom environment. We’ll have to see how it goes. There is no other class option for her on Saturdays and we cannot make Friday classes since I am just driving back from New Haven.
That evening the teacher emailed the homework for the week and I took the opportunity to send her a link to the clip of Jie-jie speaking Chinese and explained that the kids already knew the characters 1 – 10. I also told her I regretted that I did not have a clip of Mei-mei speaking as well (although, truly, I think I have one somewhere which I have to find and send). I used all of our Chinese names (with characters) in the email, too. The tone of her reply was completely changed. She used our Chinese names, too, and was effusive about how cute it was to watch Jie-jie speaking and she sent additional practice materials. Hopefully I have helped the kids establish a bit of credibility.
So, there you have it. Another episode our continuing effort to make it work.