After a lot of deliberation over the matter, I decided that my goal for the kids are to be able to read Traditional Chinese and not necessarily to be able to write all of the characters that they are learning from memory. For now. They will be learning pinyin and possibly zhuyin, so they will be able to generate characters digitally. I must confess that this is what I do too. However, in order to be able to truly commit the characters to memory, they still need the extra writing practice with the proper stroke order to lay a good foundation.
Extra writing practice is like eating kale–it’s good for you, but it’s not always so enjoyable. My kiddos need a lot of positive encouragement. Whenever they write a line of characters, I will take a colored pencil and circle the one where I see that they tried their best to focus on what they wrote correctly rather than what they did wrong. And if a character is just really off, we will sit down and work on it together from stroke one. Sometimes my 6 year old really has a hard time with the characters that have more than 10 strokes; so if I see that he made a good effort from stroke to stroke, then I’ll circle that one and tell him the reason that I circled it is because I liked how he really tried hard on that character. If necessary I’ll make a fun worksheet for him to practice more another day. We practice writing just a little bit each day to keep up the momentum.
Character Practice Sheets
A very helpful printable that we use was created by Guavarama. As she mentioned, there are some characters that are not Traditional Taiwanese in Sagebooks so we had to make a few minor changes to the writing practice sheets as well (such as 什). I recommend printing two pages per sheet of paper so you can staple them and create a portable writing practice workbook. My 4 year old son is not using these yet, but I do have my 6 and 8 year old writing in these almost daily.
田個本 Tiangeben Booklets
In the margins I write the character that should be practiced. I like the Tiengeben booklets that have rows to write the pinyin. For the 8 and 6 year olds, they practice writing the characters and pinyin. The 6 year old tires out after about 10 strokes, so I definitely let some unreadable characters slide as long as he really tried to draw each stroke. I will let my 4 year old practice very simple words in his booklet since he sees the example of his older siblings. I give him words with about 5-6 strokes or less to work on sometimes.
Chinese Writing Journals
To reinforce some key words and phrases that they have learned, I will select a few to serve as drawing and writing prompts–they draw a picture and write a sentence to caption their illustration. The Tiangeben booklets could also work for this purpose, but I wanted a larger journal to give enough space for their artwork. I found some cute 1cm square grid journals that work out perfectly for my elementary aged kids.
Writing Practice via
Online Platforms and Apps
There are many websites that generate practice worksheets for you to either print out or practice writing online. One option is Arch Chinese, simply search “Sagebooks Traditional/Simplified” to get the characters that you want. Other options you may have heard of are the Skritter and Train Chinese apps. I have dabbled in these options only a little because for now we are very low tech. I do really like using our ipad with the Paper app as a fun way sneak in writing practice though. Using the 3×2 storyboard canvas option, I let the kids choose different brush styles and colors to write and draw using the Apple Pencil or just their finger. Other canvas options for writing practice include plain, graph, line grid, and dot grid. The other size storyboards are nice alternatives to the writing journals and you can print them out for fun or to document progress.
Other Creative Mediums
Besides good ol’ paper and pencil, we like to practice writing on ruled dry erase lap boards, our magnetic writing board (this one comes with a large and a travel-sized board), or LED magic writing board. To mix things up, we pull out our reusable Chinese calligraphy brush and cloth paper set (the set in the link has all blank grids). Winning with really no set up or clean up time needed! I haven’t bought this rice paper bundle yet, but I have been eyeing it since there are no import duties into Colombia and free shipping over $35–check it out. I was also thinking to laminate a couple of them so I can make them reusable. But maybe I’ll just print out my own grid paper for this purpose–larger grids for the younger ones and smaller grids for the bigger kids. I have also seen these in a Japanese bookstore and have come close to getting it because it looks so cool and no mess is involved in using it. Are you starting to see a common thread with me here? One may call it laziness but I’d like to consider it pragmatism.
You can incorporate fun games based on your child’s writing level. Since all of my kids are different ages and on different levels, the games that work for us are ones that encourage teamwork or ones where I can have my older one lead the younger ones. I have adapted some of these fun writing ideas to work with my young crew.