Here are some quick ideas for play in Mandarin at home for young children. You will need a Mandarin speaker for this, but with the right guidelines any older Chinese student can help you out. You can usually find one at your local college!
Step and count in Chinese. Step, yi, step, er, step, san... Use yi (1) through san (3) for little children, and more numbers for older children. Follow the child's interest.
Drum and count. Tap your right hand, yi, tap your left hand, er, tap your right hand, san, and so forth. You can speed up as children learn the counts.
Make up songs. "Ni hao, mama, ni hao baba, ni hao meimei..." (hello mommy, hello daddy, hello little sister). Focus on having words repeated (ni hao) mixed with important new words (mama, baba, meimei). Add in the "gou" (dog), "mao" (cat), and others.
Make up question and answer songs. "Zhe shi shen me? (what is this?), zhe shi yi zhi mao (this is a cat)" Use nouns with the same counter words -- the "zhi" word before the "mao" (cat) is a counter word for animals. So, do this song with all animal words. Then write the character on a card and write the English on the back. For younger children, use picture and word cards -- picture of a cat, character for a cat. For English-speaking children, pinyin is confusing before they can read well in English. Use characters for this age.
Books on CD. This requires no Chinese speaker, so it's easier. We have some Disney books and our Popping Pandas Mandarin Chinese DVDs and Books site has some free material you can listen to now. I saw a few nice things in the local library the other day, too.
Suggestions? Send them along for us to share!
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