Summer Sun and Chinese Dragon Fun

Jennifer DeCristoforo
Dragon Boat & Asian Festival, Hartford

Lucky Bamboo Crafts have been part of the fun over these summer weeks. Life is a little slower, the weather is divine, and what better time to enjoy sharing crafts and Chinese culture with kids.

In July I headed to the Bangor Chinese School with my daughter to lead a workshop during their Chinese Dragon Camp. We made kites and chops in one short session which was pretty ambitious, but the kids ranged up to high schoolers and were great listeners and workers. They enjoyed coming away with authentic projects to bring home and share with their families. We loved walking the hallways beforehand and hearing intensive Mandarin classes going on in room after room. Dancers practiced in every corner. The camp was so alive with culture.

Dragon Camp, Bangor, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

This month I was in Hartford, CT again for the Dragon Boat & Asian Festival along the river. This year was extra special as my good friend Alison came up from Greenwich, CT and joined me. The kids made dragon boats, chopstick cases and other simple crafts. This is always a spectacular event of races, performances, activities and food.

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Now that I’ve shared craft projects with all ages, sizes of group and types of event, I am much calmer, more confident and let each event simply unfold. But just a small “pearl”… the constant in being successful has not changed since I first rolled out Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This would seem obvious, but I’m quite methodical about starting my supply list early, bringing ample quantities of the craft for a big crowd, and always throwing a little something extra in.. coloring sheets and crayons, origami paper, etc.. so there are choices for all ages. A craft session can really crash and burn if there is a whoops like glue sticks forgotten or insufficient pre-prep of a craft that makes the project too time-consuming and frustrating for the kids.

The summer has been glorious on every front for me and the upcoming autumn days will be bittersweet, as my daughter enters high school. At 14 she is a wonderful partner and helper with craft events and in life, but it’s hard not to be aware of the fleeting time that has passed since I first started developing this book. She’s a young woman and I say that with pride and astonishment. As you start corralling school supplies and reviewing team schedules with your kids, I wish you a good transition and will be back soon with education-focused ideas.

Learning Chinese

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Hello, friends! Before you assume this is yet another “think out loud” pledge to myself to learn Chinese (yawn), I promise you I am posting some useful information. There are so many good ways to take on the study of a new language, and you’ve read about my foray into learning Mandarin. I continue to be committed to daily lessons….. on YouTube. I’m so impressed with the huge variety of great teachers and language lists that can be accessed so easily. I have not drilled down much with getting subscriptions because I simply can’t decide on one site I want to follow sequentially. So I’m basically “skipping rocks” on the surface for now, just pulling up all sorts of videos. As I advance, this may get frustrating and if so, I’ll get more structured with one or two complete courses in earnest.

Some considerations for my lesson choices are attention level, daily mood, level of difficulty, cultural context, repetition technique, situational conversations, association with visual Pinyin, and time I have to spare at each sitting. Here are  just a few of my current favorites with a link to a sample of a video lesson from each:

Yuting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX3xCsoTbDs is a charming and funny instructor with an animated personality and cute video production techniques. Her “Top 25” style videos are great for picking up essentials.

Ben from Learn Chinese Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raG_Ysu3b4A usually pairs with a female instructor, and their discussions that support the language learning are always helpful to fully explain the concepts. He has a pleasant, straightforward style.

Fiona from Mandarin Made Easy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bze1eKu5Aac is a lively and upbeat instructor who uses a variety of formats from solo and paired lessons (I especially like Gwilym) to “day in the life” visits and experiences around the world including her Taiwanese culture.

Mike from Learn Chinese with Mike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy8SHpbQ004 took some getting used to, with his “cool dude” laid-back style. But his lessons are done well with thoughtfully organized content, and as he writes on his whiteboard, you feel you are right in his garage(!) with him.

Yangyang with Yoyo Chinese https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxeLo3hVe0w is one of the most polished and comprehensive teachers. She barrels through an impressive series of lessons, but her presentation style doesn’t vary much, so I watch her channel when I’m just in the mood for nuts and bolts.

I’ve also been streaming podcasts when driving for long stretches. Although I haven’t explored much in this arena, one I like a lot is Dimsum Mandarin http://www.languagedomus.com/courses/view/2/dimsum-mandarin. Chung has a well-paced and articulate style and you can download free podcasts or subscribe.

Hopefully this will give you a head start on trying some new resources. I don’t think it’s one size fits all so you will find your own favorites as you explore the many great channels. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep at it with the hope that you can teach an old dog (or middle-aged mom?) new tricks. Kuàilè de chūntiān!

Chinese Crafts- Here Comes the Monkey

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As we approach 2016, I’ve done a lot of contemplation on balance. I have a job I enjoy in project management, I’m raising a wonderful thirteen-year-old (yes, I even like her when she refuses to look up from her iPhone), and I have a cherished circle of friends that are anchors in my life. It all gets nicely rounded out by my Chinese craft and culture pursuits. Each area of my life makes the other areas richer… a yin and yang of sorts. So, on to the crafty stuff…..

The Maine Chinese Conference was such a worthwhile event, spearheaded by a lovely dynamo of a lady named Jing Zhang. I gave both a keynote speech and demo (without fainting) and even was on the local news https://wabi.tv/2015/10/31/maine-chinese-conference-at-husson-university/. The conference area was packed with educators, language specialists and business leaders that had a common commitment to offering more language opportunities and cultural partnerships in Maine. An event like this really helps me see where I belong- with these likeminded people sharing ideas, educational tools… and food! It also motivated me to finally, finally(!) start to learn Mandarin. My baby-step approach; 365 days of study (which has been any form of media, flash cards, etc..) which was started on my birthday last month. Then I’ll see where I am, and consider a tutor in the future. Loving it!

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I’m thrilled to be invited back to Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA for their Year of the Monkey, Lunar New Year festival on 2/13/16. I’ll be doing what I enjoy most; leading the craft activities and sharing Chinese culture through projects from ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’. I’m currently updating my website with a ‘Year of the Monkey’ free printable to get you started with your own projects. Check out my Pinterest pages too… lots of food, craft and culture pins to help you plan your projects and events.

So here come the holidays, for what ever calendar you follow. Some have already passed. It’s the perfect time to get together with friends and family for crafts (which make great gifts), and to also make some goals to learn something new or explore a long-held passion more deeply. May you find a peaceful balance in your life in the new year!

Chinese Adventure from Coast to Coast

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The foliage is still splendid in Maine, and the apple trees are weighted down with the last weeks of their bounty. This time of year never gets routine for me, as I drive along and see the doorways dotted with bright orange pumpkins and the frosty mornings give way to golden, glowing afternoons.

But just a few weeks ago I was far from New England, in the San Francisco Bay Area taking a long overdue trip to visit several close friends. A leisurely day in Chinatown was at the top of my list and my wonderful friends Andrea and Dan were ready to rally. We wandered for hours, and each shop, business and historical building was rich with culture and tradition and fueled my curiosity. I never tire of learning about the artifacts, artwork, symbols and products that are quintessentially Chinese. After a sumptuous dim sum lunch I gathered up my Chinatown purchases (research, right?) and headed back over the Bay Bridge with my friends. Oh my, what a day!

This week I am attending the Maine Chinese Conference in Bangor http://www.bangorchinese.com/CONFERENCE15.HTML, where I’ve been invited to be a keynote speaker about ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’, as well as a workshop leader. I look forward to being part of the synergy of foreign language educators, professionals from China, exchange program directors, and Chinese culture experts from around the globe. I’ll be walking the crafty side of the aisle, and will contribute my experiences of bringing crafts into the Chinese language classroom. There will also be exhibitors offering everything from Mandarin tools to educational opportunities both here and in China. All this in Bangor, Maine you ask? Why yes! I’m sure I’ll come away with new friends and many fresh ideas and opportunities to continue on my path of Chinese crafts and culture.

Crowdtivate Craft Kits

I’m jumping in here with a brief post to announce the launch of my (first ever) crowdfunding campaign for craft kits with the Crowdtivate platform. I was very lucky to have support from my Singapore friends with putting it together and getting it live. Marketing has never been a strong point for me but it was time to stretch a bit. Only 56 days left to get on board! Also I would love to hear from you with any feedback about this Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts “kit” concept. Yes, I’m ready to make it grow! Here is the link to my campaign page: https://www.crowdtivate.com/projects/view/4261. Many thanks!

Chinese Culture Craft Kits

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Happy Spring! In Maine I should add a few more exclamation points this year… whew we have had a long wait. But I can now divert attention away from frigid weather and vitamin D deficiency and think crafts again.

I am putting up a crowdfunding campaign soon for my newest little brainstorm- craft “kits” that will be a nice companion to the book. I’m starting small, selecting a few specific craft designs and offering some materials and partial assembly so crafters can dive right in.

This is a new stretch for me… working out my goals and logistics. But my good friend and favorite business guru in Singapore is helping me get involved with Crowdtivate https://www.crowdtivate.com, a wonderful Asia-based campaign platform. The video intro seems to be my biggest stumbling block. Maybe if I hang around with my thirteen-year-old more I can pick up some camera and editing skills. I’ll keep you “posted”.

The Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival is coming up on June 20th. This is a great teaching point for educators and many projects and activities can tie into the celebration. I’ve signed on for crafting at the Riverfront Dragon Boat & Asian Festival in Hartford CT on 8/15-8/16 which will surely be a highlight of my summer. Here is the link: http://www.riverfront.org/events/riverfront-dragon-boat-asian-festival

Now is a good time to think about summer camps, teacher gifts, grandparent activities, end of school gifts, and all the ways Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts; Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture can be a part of the fun!

Learning Mandarin…. Maybe

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Now that my daughter is settled back into school and learning is a focus around here, I’m thinking about one of my own goals- I want to learn Mandarin. This is not new, just deferred over and over again with many fits and starts. Life has gotten in the way for me, with several months of unexpected “down time” as far as starting new pursuits in earnest and having the time and energy for them. But I’m hoping to move beyond the day-to-day of my job, mum commitments, and essential tasks and try to stretch again.

Why? Admittedly, I have a very “what’s the point?” nature and am proprietary with my time. I know Mandarin will not be essential for any of my upcoming plans. But who knows what new plans may emerge as a result of getting my feet wet? I certainly will travel back to China eventually… and with some language under my belt perhaps I can be a cultural participant vs. a confused tourist. As with Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, knowing some Mandarin will reinforce to my daughter the importance of our multicultural world view, attitude and life.

I would also love to reach out to my local Chinese community more, and in their native tongue. There are lots of events and “practice Mandarin” roundtables and also our local Confucius Institute that can bolster this effort. Our high schools and colleges host many Chinese exchange students and teachers that would always embrace another Chinese speaker.

What will be the plan… online tools and videos? (Including Fluentlee.com, a great online real time language instruction site). Classes or immersion with a private local teacher? Pinterest is a good source to get started and I’ve already rounded up some helpful pins on my ‘Learn Mandarin’ board. I’ve put a couple of apps on my iPad too…. now the commitment! Yes I hear the collective sigh… don’t we all have those many goals as we turn the page, or the season, or the life change, or the birthday or the year? But that’s what makes us feel alive, and reminds us that the future can be full of wonder and growth (at any age!).

And how about my Chinese twelve-year-old? Well the reality is she has embraced learning French with such ease and determination, I don’t want to break her stride and insist on a “come with” on this language journey. Maybe she will catch the fever later on. She definitely embraces the idea of being a world citizen, but that seems to be spread across several continents, not exclusively Asia.

Ok I’ve stated my plan. It’s documented in the e-world and for now, I have run out of excuses. Have you or your kids taken on Mandarin and why? How have you learned and what has made it fun and kept you motivated? I’d love to hear from you!

Back to School

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If you are an educator, you are probably already rolling up your sleeves with curriculum, staff development and spiffing up your area at your school site; I remember it well from my art teacher days.

If a parent, the school shopping along with scheduling fall recreation and lessons may be keeping your days busy while you weave in a bit more summer fun. My daughter is entering 7th grade so I am somewhat “hands off” at this point, but I still get that jittery stomach when school starts up, as does she, with all that her “tween” life demands.

Here are a few thoughts to carry with you to tie Chinese culture into a new school year, whether you are a parent, teacher, activity leader or homeschool educator:

  • Anyone that hasn’t discovered TeachersPayTeachers.com needs to check it out. What an amazing resource! One of my goals in the upcoming months is to post some more lessons.
  • My friend in Singapore has just launched unitedteach.com, a great website that pairs virtual volunteers with classrooms to bring in special themes. Schools will be able to register soon and also, volunteers are needed if you have a talent or area of knowledge to share.
  • If your school has exchange students or teachers from China, remember what a valuable resource they are for learning about Chinese culture, and they would also always appreciate invitations, even while their host families are taking good care of them.
  • The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival comes early this year, on September 8th. It’s a great anchor for a celebration or to start a more robust unit on China. You can even extend through to Year of the Goat on February 19th. Now that would be dedication!

Take heart…. we all will make it over the September “hump”, with backpacks filled, schedules hammered out and early mornings conquered. Here in Maine, as in many parts of the country, it is also a most beautiful and mild time of year with gorgeous foliage to enjoy along with a fresh start.

Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts and Gift Giving

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As we all enjoy a busy spring celebrating graduations, events and the end of school, I wanted to remind you of what a perfect gift ‘Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts’ can be for those special people in your life.

Teachers, caregivers, graduates in education and international programs…. all would appreciate this unique and high quality book that they will use for years to come. Will the kids be spending time with grandparents or going on holiday with friends’ families or relatives after school lets out? Send a book along with them to get the activities going for the hopefully few rainy days.

Are your kids going to day or overnight camp this summer? Or do you have a teen that is working at a camp? How about a preemptive gesture (o.k., bribe) to be sure your family will be in good favor with the staff and your kids will get careful and positive attention! Camps are always looking for new craft ideas that don’t require a lot of costly materials.

If you want to pull out the stops, add some small items like a pack of origami paper, some decorative chopsticks, an inexpensive fan, or a simple art supply such as markers. And of course if you know anyone that is bringing home an adopted Chinese child soon, this book is an ideal introduction to Chinese culture for the child, siblings and parents.

You can purchase directly from me, a local retailer, or it is currently nicely discounted on Amazon (and can arrive or be gift shipped in a flash with Amazon Prime) and many other book retail sites. My distributor, IPG has done an amazing job getting the book out and available worldwide!

Happy Spring Gifting and Summer Crafting!

Kids as World Citizens

Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts
Map from Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts

Recently my 6th grade daughter had a World Fair celebration at her school culminating from months of research and hard work. It was a gala evening where every student in her grade had a country represented with a tabletop display, interactive presentation, and oral knowledge to share with the crowds of family members. Did my daughter pick China? No, Ethiopa!

As I wandered from student to student, I was reminded again of the great opportunity parents and educators have to open up the world to kids and how eager and receptive they are to learn more, more, more. My teacher training was in elementary art and in the classroom I had it made. Each culture has such a rich history in handicraft, textiles, painting, sculpture…. the list is endless for curriculum ideas. But the bigger view of what a country symbolizes, reveres, and its unique mark on history is well within the capacity of understanding, even for young kids.

I know sometimes adults feel “art challenged” when working with kids. When you are using Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts, perhaps a good place to start is with the Gateway to China section, exploring Chinese culture and sharing the factoids…. even jumping on to your tablet to dig deeper with specific topics on China or where questions are raised.

Then you may find that selecting and starting an art or craft project will happen more organically, based on the curiosity and interests of the kids and you all will have more confidence to be wonderfully creative.