Children experience unique view of ‘Year of the Monkey’

POULSBO — Shelby Sundquist, 6, and Johna Fowler, 5, are learning the basics of reading and writing at Children’s Garden Montessori School.

But when Johna shouts “Chun Jie Kuai Le!” and the pair begin to recite Chinese numbers up to 100, it becomes clear that the reading and writing they’re learning is not limited to English.

Thanks to parent volunteer YiTong Hu, whose son Frank is enrolled at Children’s Garden, the children at the school, as well as the teachers, have been given a very unique lesson for the past two years.

“We teach the children some Chinese characters and they learn the numbers,” Hu said. “They’re very difficult to pronounce but when children learn it, it’s not that difficult.”

Last Thursday, in what has become tradition since Hu started helping out at the school, the class celebrated Chinese New Year with the children participating in many traditions, including a parade in which each student wore a mask representing monkey, the celebratory animal of the Chinese year.

Learning a second language at a young age is important at the school, which plans to begin a unit on French in the next year. The key is the willingness and capacity of each student, head teacher Pam Minga explained.

“They associate learning a language as pleasurable and easy,” Minga said. “And they don’t have the natural block adolescents have.”

Hu, who is from Beijing, China, has added much to the educational experience of the youngsters, one they don’t often get, Minga noted.

“These children are capable of so much more than people give them credit,” she said. “It also gives them a chance to have a more diverse perspective, one they won’t necessarily get in the public schools later.”

In addition to counting, the students have learned Chinese characters, from “take off your shoes,” to “stand up.”

For the celebration, the children sang a new year’s song, marched in a parade and exchanged gifts. For Minga and the other teachers, the experience is — as it has been for the last two years — gratifying.

“Chinese is a very difficult language to learn,” Minga commented. “But they’re open to learning anything.”

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