When you say ‘It’s too difficult for my children!’ do you really mean you think it’s too difficult for you?

30 August 2018 by Suyen Hu

Do you always choose books and activities for your children, or do you let them choose?  Do you really know what your children like? We have many years’ experience of making books and designing activities for children and working with children at various events and workshops. Here we’d like to share some ideas with you.

We’ve taken part in many local craft fairs around Oxfordshire and held many events at libraries, primary schools and museums in London and Oxford. We’ve made bilingual picture books for people to enjoy traditional Chinese stories in English and pick up some Chinese words from each page as a bonus.

Parents and teachers advised us children would be confused if we showed them too much about Chinese language and stories when they are supposed to focus on learning English at a very young age. But that is not what we found.

Many white British teachers thought our books would be a great help for Chinese children in the UK.  But the books actually are designed for every English-speaking child! Shall we introduce those books for native white British as well? The answer usually is ‘Erm, we are all right. So, no thanks.’

But this quick assumption about which races should read which stories does not serve the purposes of education when teachers and carers are here to help children learn about the world with passion, not to kill children’s curiosity toward other cultures and languages!  

Surprisingly, nearly all the children we met at our various events, including native white British children, showed great interest in reading Chinese and writing Chinese. They were genuinely excited about something new and different! Children naturally love being challenged, even those who with special educational needs! The word ‘difficult’ comes from parents or carers’ worries, rarely from the children themselves.

When adults decide it’s too difficult for their children to enjoy the story, or to draw a dragon or to write Chinese calligraphy, we see how children sometimes suddenly realise’ the challenge they were about to take on! Then they think, ‘Chinese stories and crafts activities are too difficult for me because I’m not Chinese’. However, when we demonstrate how much fun it can be to write or speak in Chinese, children often change their minds and start to enjoy the stories and crafts activities we’ve carefully prepared for them.

A child once said when they were writing Chinese calligraphy, ‘I want to be Chinese now so I can write like this every day!’ This kind of feedback is not unusual, once the child has a chance to explore the mysterious Old China, they often believe they have the ability to speak the language and write beautiful Chinese calligraphy. They enjoy Chinese New Year with the traditional Dragon Dance as well as the story of the New Year Beast.

‘I think my children will love the animal stories, I will try to get one copy for them first.’ At craft fairs or Christmas fair, where people come to look for special gifts for children, this is the most common thing we heard from people. Yes, our animal zodiac stories are very popular indeed. But from our experience parents, carers or teachers almost all believe their children would find our festival series and animal wisdom series too difficult for their children.

However, every time at school, or if the adults come with children who are allowed to choose books themselves, children as young as 5 to 12 all naturally love those books that adults seem never to pick up. We sometimes felt very worried lest children only chose the books from the covers and would drop the books down once they found them difficult to enjoy.

But those children we met from weekly after-school clubs in Oxfordshire, all came back to use and to share what they learnt from the books when they were at home with their parents! They loved the books and they brought the books with them to read the whole stories in Chinese to show us how much they love their books!

Beyond most people’s expectation and advice, children use our books to learn the language while they enjoy the stories and explore the mysterious Far East naturally with their imagination. When they come to join our workshops or events, they immerse themselves quickly into the Chinese mood without even being in the Far East physically!  The children didn’t want to use only the English text but were determined to explore the Chinese.