Sitting on a rug in a circle with their teacher, Jackson Walnut Park kindergarteners are counting to 50 – in Mandarin Chinese. Hands in the air, fingers wide-spread they push their little hands against the air until they reach the next decade in order. Then, one finger at a time, with voices loud and clear, they say “forty-one, forty-two” in the foreign language until they reach fifty with a cheer.
Mandarin teacher Mrs. Vicky Ni stops them periodically and with hands to her face corrects their pronunciation showing them how to adjust their mouth, tongue, or teeth. They repeat, and all clap when they reach perfection.
For active kindergarteners, new concepts are best learned with movement. The children jump at the chance to play a game of stop lights. With different leaders taking turns holding large green, yellow, and red circles mounted on rulers, she calls out the color of a light and they march about the room, first at a brisk pace, then a cautionary walk, then abruptly they freeze in place.
Back on the rug in their circle, the five-year old children continue learning the color chart, this time with jelly beans. Mrs. Ni holds up one bean and the children vie to be the first to name the color correctly. When she holds up an aqua bean, one child quickly answers and another corrects him, saying, “No, that’s Spanish for aqua.” These same Newton-based Jackson Elementary School children have weekly classes in both foreign languages throughout the year. Mrs. Ni reminds them that a shade of any color in Chinese is known as the primary color.
It’s time to stand for the head, shoulders, knees, and toes song. In four short months, these energetic and smart JWP kindergarteners master Mandarin lessons with vigor and joy.