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DIY Montessori inspired Chinese tactile cards

It’s been a while since my last DIY so I’m really excited about this!

This series of character cards printables is based on the 红蜻蜓 Odonata 1a 1b writing characters.

Characters include:

1a: 大、小、在、也、有、个、儿、只、上、下、


Creating DIY Chinese tactile cards with Mr5.5

This was the invitation to create I set up for Mr5.5. The first thing he did was to rearrange my Instagram worthy set up into this more practical one and happily exclaim “妈妈,我把材料准备好了!” (Mama, I have the materials ready!) 

Making coloured rice

Mr 5.5 and I made the coloured rice from a bag of expired rice a while back. Yes, get the children involved! It’s fun and they can learn about colours AND math in Mandarin in the process. There are many ways to make coloured rice (just google it) but this is our lazy-mum-but-want-to-involve-child method. We used our plastic containers from our soy pudding for this. Add a few drops of food colouring in a small cup of vinegar.

*When experimenting, it is better to start with the smallest amount of colouring and vinegar. The more vinegar you use, the longer the rice takes to dry. The more food colouring you use, the darker the colour of the rice (you cannot undo this). So start small and you can add more colouring for a darker colour later. 

Then add some rice into the container (about half full at most) and let child pour in the coloured vinegar. Put the lid on the container and let your child shake the mixture. Pour the coloured rice out on a tray to dry. We left it out to dry for a day and poured it back into the container to store. We made 3 colours a day as we only had 3 trays to dry the rice each time.

Making the tactile cards – rainbow character version

Mr 5.5 has already learnt how to write these characters in the correct stroke order so this is like a fun way to revise with him. This is also a subtle way for me to assess if he remembered what I taught him. I asked him to write the numbers beside each stroke. Then I demonstrated how to apply glue to just 1 stroke.

I gave him the choice of making a rainbow character (one stroke one colour) or a single coloured character (faster to make). He chose rainbow so here are the steps we took.

Below is my lazy mum set up for glue. Cut a strip of cardboard from one of my online shopping boxes, pour out an amount of glue I am comfortable with for the child to handle. Put out the glue brush. I use cardboard because then I won’t need to wash and I don’t have to worry about Mr 5.5 squeezing out too much glue. 


Next, I showed Mr5.5 how to pinch a small amount of rice to sprinkle over the area with glue. Do remind the child not to touch the rice on the card. You will get a mess of glue & rice on child’s fingers and have to stop to clean child’s fingers before you can continue. 


Next, I showed Mr5.5 how to gently remove the excess rice from the card. I had him hold up the card and gently tap the card on a tray to collect the excess rice (so we can reuse it.) I also showed him how to move all the excess rice to a corner of the tray, followed by pouring the rice back into the rice container.  You need to do this after every stroke (colour) in order to collect the excess rice to reuse. Mr 5.5 did not mind the repetition of steps and in fact rather enjoyed his improvement (didn’t spill rice, could do it faster).

The result for the first stroke looks like this. I’m not too happy about the rice jutting out of the outline.

This is our end result. Mr 5.5 was very pleased with his creation. I was still mildly annoyed by the rice jutting out of the outlines so…

I dug out my grandmother’s mortar & pestle out to grind the coloured rice! haha. You can use sand or other finer grains but I just wanted to use what I had on hand. No glitter for me since I cannot imagine the clean up. 

I reused the plastic tubs from frozen baby food to store the crushed coloured rice. The random yellow brush is for cleaning out the crushed rice powder in the mortar. I brush it back into the container so that it will not contaminate the next colour.

The effect of crushed coloured rice. I like the effect of this waaaaay better!

Comparison of normal coloured rice versus crushed coloured rice on the DIY Chinese tactile cards. Okay, the normal coloured rice card was made by Mr5.5 and the crushed coloured rice card was made by me so do note the difference in skill level if you are trying to recreate the crushed coloured rice effect with your child.

Making the tactile cards – single colour character, coloured number version

I was curious which style will be more effective for learning (occupational hazard haha) so I went on to make more variations. 

The single coloured character is easier and faster to make as you can apply glue to the entire character all at once. You can also skip the clearing excess rice off tray steps. Do keep this in mind if you are making this with a young child or child with short attention span for such crafting activities. Mr 5.5 was happy to make one character and went off to build Duplo monsters while I indulged in making variations. Making teaching resources spark joy for me, not as much for Mr 5.5 but that’s okay! Every child is his/her own person. 

Making the tactile cards – single colour character, coloured dots version

I also tried a version with coloured dots for stroke order, like these ready made ones that we have in the store. 

Can’t wait to let Mr5.5 try them out to see which design I should make for the rest of the characters. 

If DIY is not your cup of tea or you simply do not have the time, check out our Montessori sand character cards and Mandarin sensory cards

More Chinese character writing resources here.

More Montessori friendly resources here

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Learning Chinese at Imaginarium 2017

We visited on the first day after seeing the article by Singapore Motherhood. We were very lucky to chance upon a workshop shortly after arrival. Q and I had a blast at all of the exhibits, especially the short films (which he was scared of going in to watch the year before). I was very inspired and decided to follow up with some home activities.

谁的尾巴? Whose tail?

This activity was inspired by the Lizard Tail exhibit. I printed pictures of a few animals for QR to match their tails based on the verses I made up, and we had a simple question-and-answer session. This was good for his learning to answer in complete sentences, and about simple sentence structures. I wrote these by hand in a spare notebook, to start a compilation of QR’s work for him to revisit freely.

自制小书 DIY Photo Journal

This little DIY book was made from a single sheet of drawing block paper. A few folds, one cut and that’s it!I printed out the photos we took at the Imaginarium, cut them out and let QR choose which ones he wanted to include in his book. He glued on the photos with a glue stick. He then thought about what he wanted to write for each photo, and I verbally edited it, then wrote it down as he repeated the sentence.I love books, and I want QR to love books. For now, he loves being read to. When we go along with his requests to read the same book for the millionth time, he can read it from memory after a while! I am hoping that he will re-read these little books that we write together.

漂浮彩虹山: Making our own floating mountain

The floating mountain exhibit at Imaginarium had its own little activity corner for children to make 3D floating mountains out of egg cartons and string. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the Chinese character, 山 shān, which is a pictorial character—象形字。

The video above shows how the character came to become what it is today. You can search for 山字的演变 on YouTube to find similar videos.

First, I drew an outline of a mountain, then I had QR tear up one of his old process art pieces. He is finally getting the hang of tearing—it’s very good finger exercise! Next, I showed him how to paste the coloured pieces inside the outline, so we could form a mountain collage. For this, I found it was better to use a brush in a bowl of glue, rather than a glue stick. We waited for the glue to dry completely before I wrote the character 山 for QR to trace with a thick marker. Finally, we punched 3 holes at each of the mountain peaks, and tied strings for hanging—and there you go, your very own 2D floating mountain, 漂浮山。

We hung it up and after I demonstrated how to make it wobble, it turned into a mega bash-the-mountain-till-it-flips-upside-down game. Well, it’s good that QR can enjoy his art 😄

兔子尾巴造“尾”字 Forming a character with pom poms

We used pom poms as rabbit tails to form the character 尾。I used chalk to write the character on black paper—I originally wanted to use white pom poms but realized that I don’t have enough. So rainbow tails it was!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this. Do tag us on Facebook or Instagram if you do try out these activities! Please feel free to let me know what type of activities you’ll like to see too. Have a great weekend!

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Introduction to the Orchestra

I brought QR for a children’s concert so we did a matching activity with our @toobs instruments as pre concert preparation (I needed to learn too!). Here they are, with the book we read before the concert: Usborne Musical Books’ First Book About the Orchestra, featuring “press to play” instruments! 

DIY Musical Instruments: We also picked up these DIY instruments, as recommended by the conductor of a children’s concert we attended recently. Both QR and my cat had lot of fun with them!

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Home Activities for Learning About Nature

IF ROCKS COULD SING, by Leslie McGuirk: 

We had fun balancing the pebbles on our foam letters & practicing the letter sounds. The rocks featured in this book are REAL rocks the author took years to collect. How awesome is that? Our rock stash is store-bought though. I wonder if Singapore beaches have nice rocks like those in the book “if rocks could sing”.

THROUGH THE FOREST by Steffens Brocoli & Catherine Bidet

A choose your path to create your own story. We had fun reading this book even though QR has been running a fever with bad viral cough (super cranky). E.g to follow the squirrels, go to page 3, to follow the fox go to page 5. QR was mostly just having fun finding the numbers on the side tabs and end papers.


This is a gorgeous book with the prettiest illustrations. The tiny details are clues to what’s about to come in the following pages it’s like a Easter egg hunt! We used a magnifying glass to check out the tiny details & talked about living in harmony with the plants and animals like Chirri and Chirra. Love that this magnifying glass can be propped up so I don’t have to keep holding it for QR.


I invited QR to create our very own special pebble after reading “On my beach there are many pebbles” by Leo Lionni. Turns out giving a 3 year old paint markers is a beautiful mistake. The way QR used them was so therapeutic to watch but I had to scrub his hands for a good 10 minutes with an old toothbrush to clean off the paint. Can you spot my single creation?

FISH PEBBLES. QR’s finished pieces from our invitation to create. He decided that the finished pieces matched Linda Kranz’s Only one you better so here we are!


Rainbow home made playdough with nature loose parts for open ended play. No instructions, no expectations, no stress! We like a mix of structured and open ended activities. Okay the structured activities are mainly to satisfy my need to craft. It’s part of Mama self care you know. 


This activity was inspired by @deedleandbuggotoschool on Instagram. I tried to make some with a small Daiso hand mixer. Well, it’s a fail! Small mixer = flat foam… But QR didn’t mind and still had fun. We used food colouring for the vibrant colours. Yes they do stain hands, but we don’t mind. For stain free version, try washable paint!

STANLEY’S STICK by John Hegley & Neal Layton 

I love the creative imagination of the boy in this story. And how he is able to let go and embrace something new. A simple extension activity for this book. Just.a.stick. 😄 the rest is up to QR to imagine.


We are adding in number words now that QR knows his numbers and can count 1-10 with objects. 1 step at a time!

Thank you for reading this! Do check out our PlayLeXue Adventures Instagram for our latest play ideas, and the Play乐学 Instagram for Chinese learning activities, as well as shop updates.

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5 Fun DIY Ways to Learn Chinese Characters

Push pin Chinese Characters A great fine motor exercise to strengthen those little fingers AND get some exposure to the stroke order of Chinese characters. I drew dots of different colours according to the 笔画strokes. For example, red dots for the first stroke, orange dots for the second stroke and so forth. QR seems to approve of this activity (we only do a maximum of 2 characters at one sitting) but it might not be practical for characters with many strokes.

Corkboard Push pin Character match QR loved this! It’s really simple to set up too. All you need are a cork board, plain (round) labels, push pins and rubber bands. I got all these from Daiso. The characters are coloured for control of error*. If you are worried about letting a child handle “dangerous” items like push pins, here are some tips on how I introduced them to QR since he was about 2.5 years old. I let QR press his finger on the tip of a pencil and told him “sharp”, then I invite him to gently touch the tip of the push pin or use it to gently touch his arm. He got the idea almost immediately. I do still supervise push pin activities as I am worried about them dropping onto the floor and into my cat’s mouth. We also count the number of push pins at the start and end of each activity (sneaky math) to make sure all are accounted for

*control of error is a way for the child to check his or her own work. It helps with a child’s ability to analyze and solve problems and also helps to develop the child’s independence, self-esteem, and self-discipline.

Forming Chinese characters with loose parts There is something weirdly attractive about loose parts. Here I follow the colour order of the rainbow when writing characters. I also add in numbers at the start of each stroke to help QR learn where to start forming that particular stroke. As you can see from the two photos, the one done by QR does not follow the lines exactly, but that doesn’t matter. We aim for exposure, not mastery. Always believe that children will do their best if they can.

Crocodile clip number match This was an activity I got from a busy bag exchange sometime back. She painstakingly hand painted ALL the crocodile clips! Check out the details (teeth on the sides and all). By the time I dug out this bag, QR had already mastered 1-10 so I added Chinese numerals on round labels for him to practice some Chinese word recognition. The child can work on this independently as the dots on the crocodile’s back and the cards serve as a control of error. You can modify any number cards you have that your child has outgrown. No need to always churn out new resources.

Pancake word flip QR is a big fan of pancakes, so I wanted to use this interest to my advantage in teaching him Chinese. I cut up some cardboard circles and wrote some simple Chinese characters on them for him to cook. I will read out the word, he will identify it. Assistance is rendered if necessary. Again, we are aiming for love of learning, not drill and kill (as far as possible). Once he identifys the correct pancake, he gets to put it in the mini pan to flip and cook. The video below shows our English sight word version. QR uses his hands to flip most of the pancakes. But it doesn’t matter as long as he has fun.

I hope you’ve had fun reading this and got some inspiration for exposing your child to Chinese characters. Stay tuned as I share more fun activities for learning Chinese! Or hop on over to the Play乐学 or PlayLeXue Adventures Instagram accounts for our latest Chinese learning activities!