LANGUAGE IN CHILDREN'S HOUSE
In this Montessori preschool program, the entire day is taught in either Japanese or Chinese. Both the Montessori-trained preschool teacher and the assistant teacher speak only in Japanese/Chinese with the children. For children who are younger than four, this means that the entire day is taught in the target language (3-year-olds nap in the afternoon, from about 1 pm to about 3 pm.) Still, these youngest students need to start learning letter sounds before they turn four. That’s why our Chinese and Japanese-speaking teachers give three-period lessons on English letter sounds with the Montessori Sandpaper letters, using Chinese/Japanese as the instructional language, but teaching the English sounds. They may say, using Japanese or Chinese, "This is ‘b’. Trace ‘b’ with two fingers. Put ‘b’ over here. What sound does this letter make?"
JAPANESE LITERACY APPROACH IN CHILDREN’S HOUSE
In our Japanese program, we introduce written language starting at age three, with the phonetic Hiragana characters, which can be used to phonetically write all Japanese words. Once Hiragana is well learned (usually by age 4 – 4 ½), we also introduce Katakana, the phonetic symbols used to transcribe foreign words in Japanese. The process of learning these two sets of Japanese phonetic characters is very similar to that of learning English letter sounds. We have a set of sandpaper characters for both Hiragana and Katakana. Similarly to English, we encourage children to repetitively trace the characters, associate them with words that start with that sound, and then write them first on a large chalkboard, then on a smaller, squared one, and finally on paper. We do introduce Kanji in the Children’s House program as part of three-period nomenclature cards, where the names of animals, plants, and things are listed in Hiragana on one side of a label and Kanji on the other side. The focus during the preschool years, though, is on learning to read and write in Hiragana. Katakana and Kanji are advanced levels of Japanese that are introduced to students, but not emphasized until elementary.
CHINESE LITERACY APPROACH IN CHILDREN’S HOUSE
Around age 3, we introduce Chinese writing via sandpaper stroke materials. Children learn the keystrokes that make up Chinese characters, including their names. At the same time as we introduce the English sandpaper letters, children will progress from tracing to writing in chalk and then writing on paper.After the child has become familiar with some of the strokes, we also introduce traditional Chinese characters, starting with those that are easy to write (have few strokes), those that stand for everyday words (mouth, tree, water), and also many that are radicals, i.e., components of more complex characters. Sandpaper representations of these characters contain symbols for stroke order, to ensure students learn to write correctly from the start. Some of the first characters a child learns are his or her Chinese name. Students also begin reading characters off a three-part card with Chinese characters. As the children learn the vocabulary orally, they also become familiar with the written character for keywords. We have a collection of simple Chinese picture books, and because children enjoy repetition, they often memorize the books, and in the process acquire the skill to recognize those characters that are repeated a lot in the books.By the end of the Children’s House program, students may recognize between 30 and 60 characters, and write a subset of these.