As my toddler approached 2 years of age, she started making leaps in language development, showing interest in not only verbalising English (our primary language), but also Chinese (our mother tongue). Following this interest, I began incorporating play-based Chinese activities in our daily programming to make learning Chinese fun, hands-on and subliminal.
Color learning is one of the first topics I introduced to my toddler as we embarked on a more structured way of Chinese learning. Color terms are useful vocabulary that help her identify and describe objects. As a bilingual parent, I often draw from my toddler's existing vocabulary when introducing a new word in a secondary language, for instance pointing out that the object called 球 is what she knows as ball. With existing knowledge of color terms in English, it wasn't difficult for my toddler to associate colors with a second language and she began using English and Chinese color terms interchangably based on context (usually the language of the person interacts with).
10+ Sensory Ideas for Toddlers to Learn Colors in Chinese
These creative, hands-on activities helped my toddler learn colors in Chinese. Now that she has mastered enunciation of color words, I am working on literacy skills (recognition of Chinese print characters).
Ideas for Teaching Specific Colors:
1) Using Resist Art to Teach the Color White
I first tried crayon resist watercolor art with Miss 22 months when she turned 18 months. Then, she hadn't been aware of how the crayon mark remained white in spite of the layers of watercolor paint applied to it.
4 months down the road, her cognitive awareness has heightened and I found her rubbing paint deliberately over the white crayon drawing trying to make it change color. It's incredible seeing how a few months could bring about so much developmental change.
- Demonstrate to your toddler the white crayon application on the white paper prior to the painting session. This would help your toddler realise the crayon mark 'resists' the paint that goes over it.
- Use a darker color so the white crayon shows up more clearly.
- Using watercolor paints vs. acrylic paints helps reveal the writing more easily.
2) Making Symbolic Red Chinese Lanterns to Teach the Color Red
Chinese New Year was an opportune time of the year for my toddler to organically learn more Chinese! During Chinese New Year this year, making a red classic Chinese lantern together for Chinese New Year helped Miss 22 months pick up the color red in Chinese.
These are other Chinese festivals you can leverage to introduce symbolic Chinese food and items and teach colors at the same time:
In June during 端午节 (Duānwǔ jié / Dragon Boat Festival), you can make classic 粽子 (Zòng zi / glutinous rice dumplings) and teach the color 绿 (Lǜ / green) since the dumplings are typically wrapped in green bamboo or reed leaves.
In October during 中秋节 (Zhōng qiū jié / Mid-Autumn Festival), you can make 烤月饼 (Kǎo yuè bǐng / baked mooncakes) to teach the color 棕 (Zōng / brown) or 冰皮月饼 (Bīng pí yuè bǐng / snowskin mooncakes) to teach any other color!
In December during 冬至 (Dōngzhì / Winter Solstice Festival), you can make classic white and pink 汤圆 (Tāng yuán / glutinous rice balls) and teach the colors white 白 (Bái / white) and 粉 (Fěn / pink).
Ideas to Teach Any Color:
3) Colorful Paper Flower Blossoms
This idea of blossoming paper flowers originated from Teach Beside Me.
I drew and cut out paper flowers of different colors, wrote the Chinese characters for the colors in the middle, then folded up the petals. After filling a tub with water, I invited my toddler to place the paper flowers into the water.
As the paper absorbed the water and the moisture spread to the petals, the petals opened up and flattened out on the water surface, revealing the Chinese characters within. I would point to the Chinese characters as the paper flowers blossomed and enunciate each word. Often my toddler would repeat after me.
- Use thin colored paper (low gsm) so that the paper absorbs the water easily and the blossoming effect (i.e. Chinese character reveal process) is quick
- Use a permanent black marker to write the Chinese characters so the words don't fade when they come into contact with water (I made the mistake of using washable ink marker in my first attempt)
4) Kitchen Towel Color Magic
I cut a piece of kitchen towel into 4 rectangular parts and folded each part into a square. On the 'outer' square folds, I drew the shape outline of a familiar item e.g. apple, leaf and water droplet. On the 'inner' square folds, I wrote the Chinese words "红" (Hóng / Red), "绿" (Lǜ / Green) and "蓝" (Lán / Blue) for the water droplet, approximating the words in the middle of the illustrations.
After filling a tub with water, I invited my toddler to place the folded squares into the water one by one. As the water spread through the kitchen towel, the Chinese characters appeared in the middle of the shape illustrations. During the activity, I would first point to the shape outline then the word. These are the descriptions I used:
- "苹果是红色的" (Píngguǒ shì hóngsè de / The apple is red)
- "叶子是绿色的" (Yèzi shì lǜsè de / The leaf is green)
- "水滴是蓝色的" (Shuǐdī shì lán sè de / The water droplet is blue)
5) Ice Cream Scoops
The setup for this ice cream scoop activity is simple. I cut out 2 shapes from toilet paper (TP) rolls -- circles for ice cream scoops and a triangle for the ice cream cone. Then I wrote the Chinese characters for different colors on the front and back sides of the circle, colored the round borders in the same colors and drew criss-cross lines on the ice cream cone.
I invited my toddler to customise ice cream treats by placing the TP rolls into the kitchen towel stand and stacking them.
My toddler enjoyed creating 'made to order' ice cream treats for me (her favourite customer) -- I would specify colors of ice cream scoops and she would line the scoops up on the kitchen towel stand.
6) Ice Cream Magna-tiles
I adapted the idea to teach colors in Chinese. Using dry erase markers, I wrote the Chinese characters for different colors on corresponding Magna-tiles and circled the characters to look like ice cream scoops. I drew triangles for the ice cream cones.
Then I placed the Magna-tiles on the window sill and invited my toddler to stack and create ice cream treats of various colors.
7) Pinball Game
This idea originated from Donna, a fellow mom friend who also practises Montessori parenting.
Steps to creating this pinball game:
- Tape colorful wooden blocks onto inclined Pikler Triangle ramp (or long cardboard piece) in a way that directs balls to slide down into awaiting colored holders
- Label the colored holders
- You might like to switch up the arrangement of wooden blocks for balls to take different routes and drop into different colored holders
Older children can learn about basic science -- laws of gravity and motion -- through this activity as well.
These are some of the Chinese vocabulary and descriptions I used during this activity:
- 你可以将球滚动到各自的彩色容器中吗？(Nǐ kě yǐ jiāng qiú gǔn dòng dào gèzì de cǎi sè róng qì zhōng ma? / Can you roll the balls to go into their respective colored container?)
- 弹球游戏 (Dàn qiú yóuxì / Pinball game)
- 颜色 (Yánsè / Colors)
- 颜色配对 (Yánsè pèi Duì / Color matching)
- 球滚下坡道 (Qiú gǔn xià pō dào / Balls roll down the ramp)
- 积木 (Jī mù / Wooden blocks)
8) Play Dough Word Tracing
However Miss 22 months has no knowledge of Chinese characters and hasn't acquired the fine motor skills to manipulate play dough to form characters so I tailored the difficulty level of this activity to match her developmental age and current fine motor level.
First, I let Miss 22 months pick a color for the activity (from the food coloring bottles I have; I'm using Watkins Assorted Food Coloring which is derived from vegetable juices and spices) and she chose blue. I drew the Chinese character 蓝 (Lán) on paper for Miss 22 months to fill out with play dough, using a thick stroke and leaving the inner space 'hollow'. Thereafter, we made the blue play dough together. I'm using this homemade play dough recipe (more details here in #6.)
This activity is great for kinesthetic learners (people with excellent 'physical memory') who learn through their sense of touch.
The fantastic thing about this idea is that you can teach pretty much any color so long as you can turn your play dough into that color!
9) Color Themed Scavenger Hunt
I wrote 黄 (Huáng / yellow) on a yellow construction paper, cut it out and taped it to a neutral-colored tray. Then I tasked Miss 22 months to scour the house for any item that's yellow and return it to this yellow-labelled tray.
For older kids, it would be even more fun to include it a time challenge!
What's great about this idea is that it isn't specific to the color yellow and could be used to teach any other color.
10) Rotating Cup Spinner
I made this rotating cup spinner craft with 22 months for Valentine's Day and it taught her colors and feelings at the same time. It's a great activity to teach color associations with feelings and enable little ones to be able to express their emotions through art in the future.
More about how to link colors to feelings here in my earlier post.
Legend for the Chinese labels I used in this rotating cup spinner:
- 今天我的心是 _ 色 (Jīn Tiān Wǒ De Xīn Shì _ Sè / Today the color of my heart is _ )
- 红 (Hóng / Red)
- 黄 (Huáng / Yellow)
- 蓝 (Lán / Blue)
- 绿 (Lǜ / Green)
- 粉 (Fěn / Pink)
Fun Sensory Play Activities to Teach Colors in Chinese
These are the terrific ideas I came across in the blogosphere that leveraged sensory play-based activities to teach young children colors in Chinese!
- Clothespin Color matching in Chinese by CHALK Academy
- Bottle cap color matching in Chinese by CHALK Academy
- Usborne Big Book of Colors activities in Chinese by CHALK Academy
- Popsicle stick word puzzle in Chinese by CHALK Academy
- Dot sticker color matching in Chinese by CHALK Academy
- Chinese color matching cards by Parenting Joy. She provides a free printable on her website!
For teaching Chinese characters not specific to colors, here are 10 interesting sensory activity ideas by Monkeys & Mooncakes.
I wish your little ones a fun time learning colors in Chinese!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.