China Journey 2
I had the opportunity to visit a Kindergarten/Childcare program in late September. After much time spent on obtaining permission, I got ready to do a lesson (or shall I say facilitate) to introduce children to English language. Since I was told there would be 34 students in the class, I requested if a couple of our students could join me as some of them had expressed interest in visiting programs and schools here. Then there was the issue of whether or not we have health insurance (hum) and then if we have any health problems. First, I was going to teach this lesson to Kindergarteners and then it changed to 3-4 year olds. My contact got the permission for the visit finally by saying she would take me only to her child’s class and have me teach a lesson there! She appeared to be nervous about the whole visit. After the date and time was finalized for the visit, she would call me to either give me an update about the changes or the issues she was dealing with or simply to remind me the time and the date! She also seemed very anxious and would ask me if she could help me make “flash cards.” I reassured her that everything was under control.
On the day of the visit, we met with two women in the main office, one who appeared to be the director. The conversation between my contact, whose child is enrolled in the program, and the director was very formal, unlike what a conversation between a parent and the director of the program would look like in the US! When I inquired about the math education in kindergarten, the director responded by simply saying “the directives for math education comes from the ministry of education and the teachers follow the directives.” Probing further, I asked if could buy the textbook they use to which she responded with a firm “No.” Then I requested if I may simply see the textbook and she obliged. She brought me a whole lot of Chinese language books and one math book. I got to glance through all of them in a rush and simply could not grasp much as everything was in Chinese. I pushed the issue a little more to look into the possibilities of observing a math lesson, and you guessed it! Her response “China is number 1 in math and science, and we are very proud of it!” but she did not give me permission to witness how they achieve this excellence! The whole meeting lasted for no more than 10 minutes and we needed to rush out as the children and the teacher in the classroom where I was to teach were waiting! Whatever little hope I had about visiting the program again faded away after my meeting and knew that probably that would be the last time I would ever visit the program.
The second professional who was present at the meeting, took us around. The facility was simply beautiful! The layout of the building was triangular inside. The classrooms, which we could only peek into, appeared clean and tidy. The children were not in the classrooms. The classrooms had plenty of windows and as one walks along the corridor, one could see and hear whatever being taught or how the children were engaged. The structured lessons are done in the mornings. Maybe that explains why we were given an appointment at 3:00 pm?
Up the stairs into an open hall-way, with two doors each leading into a classroom, we enter one. The children (3 year olds) had just woken up after a nap I was told, were sitting on child sized green chairs lined up against the back wall and a few chairs arranged in a line on either side. The environment seemed formal. There were about 34 children in that small room with three adults. In the center there was some space where we stood in a line, me and then my two students. Behind me there were four small, light blue tables arranged in a square where I plop my things: the book I was going to read to children, The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett, a stack of “This journal belongs to ________” notebooks (a few sheets of colored papers, folded and stapled) I had made for children to scribble, the cutouts of eggs and birds for children to glue to make their own follow up stories and sticks, crayons and stickers.
In an attempt to connect with the children, I introduce myself in Chinese:
Ni hao (Hi)
Qin aide hai zi men xia vu hao (My dear children, good afternoon).
Wo de Ming zi Jiao Vidya laoshi (My name is called Vidya teacher).
This was scripted by my Chinese laoshi Pang (thank you, laoshi) so I could share with children to ease their stranger anxiety! Then I tell them in English we are going to sing some songs and “Qin gen wo shuo” (Please repeat after me). I begin with “twinkle, twinkle little star,” a universal rhyme that most children in many countries seem to be familiar with or at least the tune and “One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive” as it involves counting in English and A,B,C,D” song to introduce English alphabet. My students who accompanied me knew the lesson I had designed and they backed me up by repeating after me. I tell the students to join me and a few children start to make some sounds and as did the teachers. Then we clap and wiggle our fingers and I pull a chair and sit down to read the book. We examine the pictures, some curious eyes began to engage and I start to read as my escort starts to translate it for the children. I say “Crack and CRACK” in soft and loud voice as the eggs hatch and birds come out and children repeat. Then I request the teachers if we could distribute the note book to the children and have them write (scribble) their own sequel to the story by gluing the cutouts. I assured them that my students and I would help with the activity and clean up. But the teachers felt it was too much for children to handle and that they can send the booklets and the cutouts home and parents can do that with their children. We nodded politely and gave the children the stickers to the children and exit from the class. They children follow us to the play ground.
In between the buildings and the front there was a big play yard with slides, monkey bars, seesaw and space for children to run around or do some exercise. This space was bustling with activities. Children running and playing on one side and a group engaged in drill practice. The kindergarteners were getting ready for the National Week celebrations. A teacher stood in front of the group and moved her hands up and down and sideways as the children mimicked with the big red silk roses in their hands. The music was loud and the children’s actions were well choreographed. The director and the teacher who showed us around waited for us at the main gate. I thanked the director and give her and the teachers the key chains and pens (SOE-yeah! Thank you) and “Thank you” cards to them and walked out of the premises with little hope of returning to the school or having any interactions with children or teachers or parents.
The next day unfolded much differently than I had expected. I got a call from my escort if I would such activities once a week! I was not sure I was hearing her right? I say “Come again” and she repeats. My response, YES! Of course! Parents called her to find out about who had visited the school as the children shared with them what they learned. They asked her why the school could not have such lessons more often, at least once a week! But my contact felt that it would be too difficult to obtain permission and hence discussed with the parents alternate ways to arrange these sessions. Things moved at supersonic speed! Within a few hours the 15 parents had rented a couple of rooms in a tea house, right opposite the Kindergarten program, for every Tuesday evening (from 7 to 8 which after the first week changed to 6 to7 pm) and asked me to give them a list of things I would need to engage children. Since I do not know the place well enough to know what is available where, I relied on her to get me some colorful transparent scarves, a parachute and child-safe scissors and a few English books (which are almost impossible to find here). I too explored the local stores for some musical instruments-like bells, shakers and drums-, glue sticks and lots of colored papers and stickers and stamps- thanks to the $200 grant SOE granted me! When we were in Tibet, in one of the street markets, I found 19 cow bells for 80 RMB! One parent who had some of the books I had listed brought those to share. So with all of these, we were off to a very great start!
We have had these play sessions now for five weeks and it has been one FUN ride for me and my four student helpers! Brown Bear, Brown Bear has been a hit. Children and the parents love it. Now I have my own, thanks to Karen for picking up some excellent books and sending them to me! I read Tap the Magic Tree yesterday and it was mesmerizing! Most of the parents do not know English, not even the alphabet or the English number names! They are learning alongside their children, which is really fun to watch. The parents are eager to have information about child development. I have now prepared a handout that is being translated into Chinese.
Lesson 1. Never travel without children’s books!
Lesson 2. The power of parents! They are very resourceful and as a group, they can achieve whatever they wish to!
Lesson 3. Never give up! I never dreamed that I would get to work with children and parents and now I am delighted beyond measure. I hope I will get an opportunity to interact with teachers as well so I can learn from their experiences and explore their challenges together where possible.