This post was sponsored by Sagebooks. All opinions are mine and mine alone.
If you’re like me and occasionally like leaving your home for extended periods of time in order to cram some culture and life experience into your children, then today’s post is for you. Occasionally, readers ask me how to keep up teaching their kids Chinese while traveling and since I’m always one to oblige (and looking for new topics), here we are.
Hold on to your shorts, friends. There’s going to be some knowledge dropped soon! (Not really. But doesn’t this sound infinitely more exciting?)
Alright, alright. Enough of the throat clearing (which some editors hate but honestly, that’s where all my best work resides).
1) Speak the Language You normally speak
Look. Everyone knows that traveling with children isn’t actually a vacation. It’s just the same shit but without all the stuff you need to do life and now you’re somewhere foreign and your kids are hungry but refuse to eat any food other than the box of granola bars you brought from home.
It’s no good.
With that said, continue on as you normally would with the Chinese stuff. If only because for goodness’s sake, can you stand any more deviations?
So, if you normally speak to your children in Chinese, continue doing so. Who cares if you’re not in the US or a Chinese speaking country? It’s your kids. Do you. (Unless you fear for your safety, then obviously, don’t.)
If you normally don’t speak Chinese to your children except during certain times, do that! And when you’re more settled in (especially if you’re in a Chinese speaking country), you can start phasing in more Chinese if that’s what you want to do.
If you normally don’t speak any Chinese at all to your children, then continue doing that. This seems to be your standard operating mode so why make life harder when you’re already under a lot of stress from traveling? Now – the exception is if you’re in a Chinese speaking country and you CAN speak Chinese but just don’t. As above, wait until you’re more settled in and start phasing in Chinese – IF YOU WANT.
2) bE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR TIME AND SCHEDULE
If your days are going to be chock full of doing touristy things and walking and sweating or freezing and looking at things in long lines, you may have to table doing Chinese reading or homework until your days are less active. You may even want to forego Chinese work entirely until you get back home. If your days are packed and travel schedules tight, you’re just lugging around extra weight.
However, if you have more room in your schedule, you can take advantage of the worst part of traveling: waiting. There can be tons of down time and the occasional threat of having to do Chinese reading or homework usually gets kids to quietly and gratefully return to their screens. Otherwise, if you have the will to follow through on your threats (and room in your backpacks), have them do their Chinese homework, reading, or curriculum. I did successfully force my children to read while on the plane, train, and in our hotel.
Keep in mind, if you’re like me, you may freak out that they’ll lose these expensive books while in inconvenient places so I usually pack them in the checked luggage – but THEN I freak out that they’ll lose our luggage but I suppose if they lose our luggage, Chinese books are a little lower on the list of what to freak out about.
What? I can’t help who I am.
3) Consider Chinese Screentime and Media
You don’t always have to have the kids read or do Chinese homework. Preload your screen devices with Chinese ebooks, audiobooks, videos, movies, etc. This might work better when you’re not on a plane that has access to all the Marvel movies but if your kids are not as feral as mine are, they may be grateful for any sort of screentime – even Chinese screentime.
Since I sent home 99% of the new Chinese books I recently purchased with my grumpy husband (he has NO VISION!), I now enforce the ALL SCREENTIME MUST BE CHINESE SCREENTIME rule. I had allowed them to watch movies in English because my husband doesn’t speak or understand Chinese but now that he has left, I don’t care if it’s the TV or YouTube, it has to be in Chinese. Needless to say, my children are beyond unhappy about it and it reinforces their completely incorrect preference for their father, but someday they will thank me.
Sigh. They probably won’t because such is life.
4) Keep a schedule
I’m a schedule-y type of person. It may SEEM as if I’m not as Type-A as I actually am (thanks, children, for ruining yet another thing about me), but I LOVE schedules. I hate it when every second is planned because then I crumble under perfectionism. (LOOK, IT’S HARD BEING A VIRGO, OK? THE LONG DEAD STARS OF A MILLENNIA PAST DICTATE ALL ASPECTS OF MY PERSONALITY. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES.) But as scaffolding to provide structure to my days and weeks? LOVE IT.
Anyhow. Schedules. Love it. Do it.
If you can manage to keep it to a similar schedule you had at home, even better.
For instance, my children have to play piano and then read Chinese books before they can watch a screen or play video games when they wake up in the morning. They can’t play piano when traveling, but they CAN read. Glow Worm (~6) dutifully brought the Sagebooks to me every morning so that he could get in his screentime. (I ordered new books in Taiwan and my older kids had 2 weeks to read a bunch of new Plants vs Zombies comics before I sent them home with my husband.)
Now that the books are gone with their father, they have to get ready for camp. Hey, we had two weeks of fun and lolling about Taiwan. Now it’s time for Mommy to have fun.
I still have to figure out the time to read Sagebooks with Glow Worm (~6) because of said camps eating up our mornings, but likely it will be after dinner time (or right before). However, that is also a high stress period and it may be delegated to the older children (and before you snark that it’s business as usual – I have been going through Sagebooks with Glow Worm by myself, THANK YOU GIMME ALL AWARDS).
But in general, if you have a set time for things, it will be easier to remember to do them and thus stay on track.
5) Add in Missing Chinese
If you’ve hung around here for sometime, you’ll know that I am not the type of person who tells stories to my kids or enjoys spending time with them in any capacity. (I mean, I guess it’s a SLIGHT exaggeration, but only SLIGHT. I love my children but I’m not a hands-on mom. I hate it. I prefer to think of myself as the sun and they revolve around me like tiny, biting planets.)
However, because my kids seem to miss the only parent who pays them any sort of attention, I have started telling them bedtime stories. The catch, of course, is that it’s in Chinese. HAHA, SUCKERS. Of course, this does stretch my mediocre Chinese, but we do what we needs must in order to bribe children to sleep without their papa and let me breathe.
But since it’s such a rare occurrence (I hope they don’t expect this to continue when we get back home), they’re really happy to hear stories – even if it’s of fairy tales they already know and in bad Chinese.
Are there games you can teach them to play in Chinese? If you have playing cards, you can teach them how to play regular card games – but just in Chinese. Since I’m in Taiwan, this is a little bit easier because any local activity I throw money at and put my children in is bonus Chinese. But even in non-Chinese speaking countries, you can find little ways to sneak in more Chinese. Whether it’s you upping your speaking or you upping their Chinese screentime – it’s possible.
6) Enjoy Your Vacation
Ultimately, Chinese homework and books will be back in your lives soon enough. Enjoy your time traveling because it’s expensive and if you don’t have fun and spend the entire time stressing out about Chinese stuff, what’s the point?
Truthfully, I don’t really go out of my way to do anything special when we travel because Chinese is a way of life. I do as much as I can in terms of Chinese in our daily life (and most of that is me speaking to them) so that when we are flying or driving long distances and living somewhere else, it’s not really any different than how we live normally. Well, except for the aforementioned refusing to eat anything except granola bars. But that’s not Chinese – that’s just Sasquatch (2.5) being a toddler.