Writing Chinese characters seems like the hardest skills to master, especially for those not attending Chinese school. However, we should not give up on this important skill. What can we do to help children start writing Chinese characters?
Today I would like to share 10 tips for teaching young children to write Chinese characters.
*This post contains affiliate links.
Working on copy books, penmanship homework, and memorizing different passages and paragraphs for dictation was part of my life growing up in Hong Kong. No one likes learning this way, but, sadly, it seems like this is the only way to learn how to write Chinese characters. This problem is always causing headaches for students and their parents.
I know there are no shortcuts for my own kids when it comes to learning Chinese writing. Repeated practice is the key.
However, can I change it to a more pleasant and bearable experience?
Homeschooling allows me to help each child to learn at their own pace. I can reinforce their learning with different methods, games, and materials. Today, I would like to share some tips on how I teach my kids to write Chinese characters. These tips work for both native or non-native parents.
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10 Tips for Teaching Young Children to Write in Chinese Characters
1. Prepare for Success
There are many fun ways for our children preparing to write. To help them strengthen
These activities help young children prepare to begin writing.
- Scissors skills
- Shaping play dough
- Helping with chores
- Coloring & painting
- Tearing paper into shapes
- Using a tweezer to pick up small objects
- Using clothespins to clip things together
* If you want to learn more about pre-writing activities, you won’t want to miss this article from Teaching Mama.
Start Recognizing Chinese Characters
There is no way to learn writing without exposure to Chinese characters, in and out of the home. The best and easiest resources are books.
Pick some Chinese books with clear and easy to read Chinese characters, so your child can easily recognize them. Any type of reading material that you can bring home will work: flashcards, posters, Chinese labels, photos, and decoration.
The more Chinese characters your children get to see daily, the easier it will be for them to learn writing Chinese characters.
Be an Example
Having a role model is essential for children, because they love to do what their parents are doing. Imagine how powerful it will be for your children to watch you practice writing Chinese characters.
Here are some tools for those of you who want to learn Chinese characters with your children:
2. Involve Chinese Characters in Reading
Start with simple Chinese books. First, pick out some common words that often appear, and after a few times, you can cover the words and test your child. You also can tell them a little bit about these characters by explaining its meaning, radicals, and strokes.
When you are learning a new character with the same radicals or meaning, connect them together. So your child will know how characters are related, and the differences between them.
*It’s ok to read bilingual books with both Chinese and English. However, my kids usually end up focus on reading English instead of the Chinese. After that, I decided not to read bilingual books, and their Chinese reading has improved since then. Even if you are not a native speaker, don’t avoid reading Chinese books with your kids. Try to pick up some simple Chinese with them. Adults can learn much faster than children in order to keep up with them.
3. Use Different Media to Practice Writing
Growing up my teachers only allowed us to use pencils to write, because they wanted to make sure we used the correct hand position for writing in order to ensure we had good handwriting in the future.
However, there are many other fun ways to practice writing Chinese characters. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Sand/ Rice Tray
- Painting and Coloring
- Stickers and Stamps
- Lego and Blocks
- Hold Pouch
- Reusable Chinese Calligraphy Mat
*Do you know other ways for kids to practice writing Chinese characters?
4. Correct and Teach the Right Stroke Order
Following the correct stroke orders is important for developing good handwriting and memorizing characters. However, hen you follow the incorrect stroke order, it is very hard to change. If you do not know or remember how to write a Chinese character, it is important to look it up and learn the correct stroke order. Here are some useful tools that I found:
Standard Writing Chinese Guidelines and Stroke Orders
This website provides a clear picture of all the different type of strokes and the standard guidelines of writing in Chinese. Even if you don’t know anything about writing Chinese characters, it will help you to learn the different types of strokes and find the different patterns while learning to write.
Look it up in the Dictionary:
This online Chinese-English Dictionary from Arch Chinese allows you to type or copy and paste any Chinese character into the search bar. Then, it will give you useful information. For example: the definition, radical, animated stroke order, stroke count, antonyms, Pinyin, Jyutping, and more.
As you learn more Chinese characters, it will get easier to learn others. You will start to see how characters with the similar structure, stroke order, and radicals are related to each other. This will help you and your child a lot as you continue to learn more Chinese characters.
5. Find the Similarities and Differences Between Characters
Identifying differences is a basic preschool skill. It is a very important skill for them to learn Chinese characters. As you know, Chinese characters are like building blocks with different parts. Some characters are built and formed with a left and right part, others are formed from the op to the bottom, and some are made from outside to inside. If our children can find the similarities and differences between Chinese characters, it will make more sense to them and help them solidify their knowledge of Chinese language.
Many characters share a radical, and this often means they have a related meaning. For example, words with the mouth radical “口” usually have meanings related with our mouths:
- 吃 Eat
- 唇 Lip
- 唱 Sing
- 呼 Breath out
- 吸 Breath in
- 吐 Spit
- 咬 Bite
- 唉 Sigh
- 叫 Call
From the Formation itself
By recognizing the similarities and difference from the characters’ formation gives better direction to the children when they are recognizing Chinese characters. It is also easier for them to start memorizing the characters because they know where do the characters belonged, then they can remember them and even write them.
Left to Right Top to Bottom Outside to Inside
姑, 燒, 慢 雲, 完, 芷 困, 國
6. Provide Real-life Reasons to Learn and Write Chinese
It’s important to provide real-life reasons for kids to learn Chinese and its
For me, the biggest reason is my kids are able to communicate with my parents who don’t speak English. Of course, I would love my kids to embrace who they are from and open their eyes while they are learning about other cultures and languages.
My Family Reasons
When our oldest child learned she is a half Chinese, she was so confused. We tried to tell her the reasons for learning both Cantonese and English, why her grandparents look and speak differently, and also the reasons to move to Hong Kong. She didn’t completely understand, but this knowledge changed her life. Now she knows who she really is, why she is in Hong Kong, and why she is learning two languages. So she can embrace both languages and cultures in her life.
For my children, their family is a real-life reason to learn Chinese. They can use their Chinese to write birthday cards, love-notes, letters and emails to my parents. If they want to read messages from their grandparents, my kids must know how to read Chinese too. These real-life reasons have helped motivate my children to learn Chinese more seriously.
Everyone has different reasons for their kids to learn Chinese. It is important to have good reasons that will motivate the children.
*What are some of your reasons for your kids to learn Chinese?
7. Practice Often
There is no short cut to learning to write Chinese characters. The amount of practice should be age-appropriate and without forcing them.
The best way to encourage your child to practice is to have consistent practice time each day. Make a progress chart for your child to check off each day and they can earn a reward after.
My two youngest children usually go to bed first, so I can have about an hour of alone time with my oldest child. I add about 10-15 minutes of writing time to that activity. So for example, I might pick a few Chinese characters from the book we read or some important sight words she needs to learn Then, I will teach her how to write those characters.
I also encourage you to practice with your child, because it’s easier to work hard when someone is doing it with you. Your child won’t feel alone or discouraged if you are practicing with them. Plus, this will help you to understand what your child is going through. You may come up with easier or better ways to help your child practice.
8. Give A LOT OF Praise and Encouragement
We all know having positive feedback is one of the most powerful tools to motivate us to do hard things. Since writing Chinese characters is much harder than writing the alphabet, children will struggle when learning to write Chinese characters. We need to encourage them to keep working and praise their efforts. It’s okay if their handwriting isn’t perfect or the stroke order is incorrect. When they finally master one character, let’s celebrate with them. Do a silly Chinese dance or simply give them hugs and kisses. They deserve it!
9. Make it a Family Thing
“Why I am the only one learning Chinese?”
“Why do I have to learn Chinese if there is no one using this weird language here anyway?”
Have you ever heard this complaint from your child? When children are struggling to do something difficult, and they like to know that someone else feels the same way.
If you are alone teaching Chinese and don’t have any Chinese neighbors, friends or family. D
- Writing love notes to each other with some Chinese characters, or even only the child’s name
- Practice writing Chinese characters together
- Have a Chinese characters Show & Tell time and your child can show what characters did he/she learn this week
- Visit and enjoy museum or places with a display of Chinese calligraphy
10. Avoid Comparison and Follow Their Own Pace
It is so easy to worry about our kids’ progress by counting how many books or characters they know, so to keep this from happening, set your own goals and design a plan to accomplish them. You and your child should focus on reaching your goals at your own pace.
If you are interested in meeting and sharing ideas with people who are facing the same difficulties as you, come join our Facebook group. This group is for parents and educators who are already or getting ready to teach Chinese to children. You are welcome to JOIN us.
This freebie contains 6 different styles of practice sheets with different levels, so it can fit your needs when you teach your child/students on different levels. Enjoy!
For the beginners:
- Space to draw a picture and write Chinese characters below
- Large squares divided into quadrants to make writing Chinese characters easier.
- Learn Chinese words: Write a Chinese character, draw a picture, and space for notes
For Intermediate learners:
- Write a simple Chinese sentence, and write the English translation below.
- Write a simple Chinese paragraph, and write the English translation below.
- Normal sized square spaces to write Chinese characters in.
You also Might Be Interested:
1. Teaching Children How to Write Chinese Characters (Parents Joy)
2. Create Your Own Chinese Characters Practice Writing Sheets (Chinese Converter)