Mar 05

A Gift: Chinese Zodiac Placemat!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

The traditional Chinese attach zodiac characters to their yearly cycles, and 2015 is the Year of the Sheep. If you missed our blog series on Chinese New Year, please be sure to read it!

As a thank you for following along in our journey as we learned more about Chinese New Year, please download our Chinese Zodiac Signs placemats for your child. Be sure to get our Printable Spanish Alphabet Placemat too!

For Younger Kids

This one has baby animals and is more preschool-friendly for younger kids. Click the download button at the end of this post and print on legal-sized (8x14) paper for best results.

Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat for Preschoolers

Please be sure to print on legal-sized (8x14) paper
for best results.

Download Printable Placemats

For Older Kids

This one is more traditionally-styled with red & paper cutout images, perfect for older students or even art lovers.

Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat

Please be sure to print on legal-sized (8x14) paper
for best results.

Download Printable Placemats

Be sure to get our Mandarin Chinese Fruits & Veggies Placemat and our Spanish A-Z: Alphabet Placemat too!

Mar 02

Learning Language through Movies

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

It's Friday afternoon, or a weekend day, and what to do with the children? Depending on your parenting philosophy on "screen time," consider a movie in a foreign language.

If your child is on the younger side, you can decide if the goal is to have a more "passive" movie experience, such as playing with toys while having the television on, with either an "original version" of a movie on, or a "dubbed" one. Do you want "Toy Story" in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese?

On the other hand, if your child is older and/or more proficient, then it might be a day to announce, "We are watching Peter Pan in Spanish!" Either something the children have seen (so they can follow along more confidently) or something new. Finding suitable foreign movies for children may seem daunting at times, but the rewards are great: "a-ha moments" when you see your child following along; gaining a real sense of life outside of the U.S., being exposed to different cinematic styles; learning idiosyncratic expressions; continuing on life's language journey. It's fun; it's thought-provoking.

Who is going to help you? YOU!

Look around the Internet. Talk to your librarian. Query your friends and acquaintances if any are language buffs, foreign language speakers or travelers. Any film fanatics out there? Do not be shy asking around; just caveat it with "My child is learning Mandarin Chinese and I am looking for a movie. Can you recommend one?" Aside from your librarian, consider YouTube, Netflix, Apple TV, Roku, etc.

NEXT, if it is a foreign movie, preview for visual content at minimum. THEN, you decide if it is acceptable. Perhaps it is a good idea to have a short talk before the movie starts about how movies are chosen/produced in different countries to cover yourself as All-Knowing Parent.

NYC International Children's Film Festival

If you happen to live in a major cosmopolitan area, a children's foreign film festival is a good option! This is like manna from the sky: serving up to you movies that "should" have children's themes. New York City is having its International Children's Film Festival this year from February 27th – March 22nd. Grab a friend and make it a family play date! At the time of press, it appears the movies are presented in English, however it is an excellent starting point to search for the original versions. For more info see

Sometimes, arguably, you do not have to push the "target language" all the time, but expose your child to other cultures. For example, consider the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who has made many films, such as "Spirited Away," etc. For a discussion thread on French movies, see On the right side, there is a "Best of" series of tabs; scroll down and you will find "French Films That Are Not Freaky."

Any advice on Spanish or Mandarin Chinese films for children? I plan on starting my review with the children's film festival!

Feb 19

Part IV: Chinese New Year Lantern Festival

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

This is Part IV of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. Please be sure to read the Introduction, Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve, Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time, and Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids.

On Day 15 of the Chinese New Year, the final day, there is a Lantern Festival [Yuan Xiao Jie]. In the West, this will fall on Thursday, March 5th this year. In Shanghai, there is a very famous site called City God Temple (Chenghuang Miao).

People love to stroll through the gardens and admire the plethora of lanterns. The city hangs lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colors... mostly red, but not exclusively. Enormous paper lanterns, shaped like the celebratory animal of the zodiac, are created and floated in nearby ponds. They look especially beautiful at night.

There are elements of fire, water and many lanterns have ribbons with riddles attached like a "tail." If you guess the riddle, you get a little prize. Of course, more culture, dance and music accompany the Lantern Festival with lively Dragon Dances. For many, Day 15 is the last day to celebrate the New Year with family and friends. Then, their gaze returns to the schedules of family, work and school. Life continues.


As the snow continues to fall in New Jersey, another excuse for a celebration is calling to me. Perhaps I can make some simple dumplings with ready-made wonton wrappers and some ground chicken & scallion filling. I promise to give my children a little red envelope today, even if it is made with red construction paper and "only" contains a small bill. Why not adopt a new tradition? Makes for a good story.

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! or Happy New Year!

This post is Part IV of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

+ Plus Download our FREE gift:
A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »

Feb 18

Part III: Chinese New Year & Children

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

This is Part III of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. Please be sure to read the Introduction, Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve, and Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time.

New Clothes for Children

Children receive new clothes to wear on Day 1 of the 15-day Chinese New Year Celebration. I do not envy the shopping frenzy, if it is anything like that in the U.S.!

The Red Envelope!

As you may know, the color red is a harbinger of good luck. The "Hong Bao" or "Red Envelope" containing money is given to children during Chinese New Year.

Red Envelope

Who: Now, you may be thinking alongside me, "until what age do I have to subsidize my child/children's unchecked spending?" My source explained that there is no hard and fast rule. The upper limit for children to receive such presents can be high school, or depending on the family, until the child is married!

Variation: Companies in China, even American ones, quickly learn that Employers or Department heads are also expected to give "Hong Bao" to their employees.

Why: I also wondered why money was given, instead of gifts. I was told that money was traditionally viewed as a way for children to "get out of trouble" or "overcome difficulties" with their newly-received coins and bills.

How Much : this all depends on many factors, such as the family finances, the age of the child, the closeness between the relatives, and the occasion. Children can buy what they wish, or they may independently choose to save it to pay for a larger expense, such as school tuition.

Fireworks to Bring Wealth

On Day 5 of the 15-day Chinese New Year Celebration, people light firecrackers because they believe that the sound will bring the God of Wealth [Cai Shen] to their homes. He apparently looks like a very distinguished scholar-warrior with a long beard... not at all like "Rich Uncle Pennybags" from the U.S. Monopoly game or "Daddy Warbucks" from the "Annie" comic strip and movies.

Certain traditions have to evolve, and this explosive one has as well. In the last several years, authorities have been concerned about the possible spread of fire, not to mention bodily harm. Consequently, the firecrackers have been relegated to the outlying areas of the city, where there is more space for this, fun. The same rule applies to fireworks. Luckily, the God of Wealth is apparently all--seeing, as he will find your home. So, some families will judiciously "divide" the fireworks display between Day 1 and Day 5 to "cover their bases" between beasts and budget, so to speak.

This post is Part III of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

+ Plus Download our FREE gift:
A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »

Feb 17

Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

This is Part II of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. Please be sure to read the introduction and Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve.

Spending Time with Family

Remember that on New Year's Eve it is tradition that everyone must come home for dinner. This seems similar to Christmas Day in the U.S. or Christmas Day/Boxing Day in Great Britain and its former colonies... Or like a long Thanksgiving break!

As in any family, there are idiosyncrasies, family histories, hierarchies, allegiances and feelings to consider when scheduling family visits. These visits typically occur during Days 1-7 of the 15-day Chinese New Year Celebration. Naturally, one wants to be equitable and see all the necessary and important folks. Many decades ago, the government only allowed 3 days off. To harmonize with centuries of tradition, the more humble families would reunite for dinners only for the remaining days. Contrast with today, in which many Chinese families can squeeze in 7 days of eating, visiting and general festivities.

How does one accommodate 10, 16, or 20+ people in an apartment in a city like Shanghai where the population is 14+ million! (Contrast with approximately 8+ million in NYC.) You pick up the phone and call your most favorite restaurants, that's how! This modern convenience allows families to have more space, eat, and again, schedule visits, as the visit effectively takes place during the multi-course meal. If the host wishes, s/he can serve "light refreshments" at home and then everyone can head over to the restaurant.

Food & Drink

While regions such as Szechuan are known for their fiery, spicy cuisine, Shanghai dishes are known for their touch of sweetness.

For New Year's Day, one Shanghainese family always serves rice balls with sesame paste (a bit sweet) or meat (for those that love savory foods) in the morning [Tang Yuan or Yuan Xiao]. (If you are in Northern China, no rice balls will be served; instead, dumplings.)

Rice Balls

Another dish for certain Shanghai families is an egg dumpling soup [Dan Jiao].

Interesting side note: what happens when you marry someone from another part of China... or the world? How do you please, honor and commemorate each side's cultural/historical/culinary history? Sounds like a minefield to me. Or, what happens if you immigrate somewhere, to Lagos, to Alabama, to Sweden--how do you find the special ingredients for these special dishes? You improvise, no? Most certainly.

How about "Glutinous Sweet Dumplings in Sweet Wine" [Jiu Niang Yuan Zi]? Very traditional. The rice is fermented; there are small rice balls formed that go in the soup/broth (which becomes very glutinous). And, there are small red dried goji berries added for color and taste. These can be found at the health food sections of the market. I must taste some!

For drinks, the shortest toast to say is "Gan Bei!" This is the equivalent of "Cheers," but literally means "Dry Glass." Read more about the importance of an appropriate toast, with a lengthy list of popular examples.

How to Pass the Time

Nothing terribly "different" here--games, television, cards, board games. Starting on Chinese New Year's Eve, there is a marathon of a television special sponsored by the government that starts at 8:00 p.m. and goes to 1:00 a.m. (If you are on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., the show airs at 7:00 a.m. by CCTV.) The name translated into English is: Spring Festival Gala Evening. You can also wait a couple of hours or a day, and watch large excerpts on YouTube. It is a "smorgasbord" of the biggest dance stars, actors, talk show celebrities, magicians, etc. As I am writing just after Super Bowl Sunday in the U.S., I can see some similarities to the Half-Time "Event."

Fancy a game of Mahjong? This is a little bit like dominoes--ivory type chips, but with Chinese characters on them. Some families play for fun, but some will bring out the money and play for higher stakes.

Interesting fact: Did you know that many American Jewish women in the early 1900s took up Mahjong? I caught part of a PBS special on it recently and was fascinated while learning how and why it became so immensely popular for that population. For a slightly longer presentation, CBS Sunday Morning featured a segment on "Mahjong Madness" in 2014.

The younger generation is also taking up Mahjong. Interest is so piqued that there are even national conventions and boat cruises sponsored yearly. And this is not a past-time just for the ladies anymore... men are joining as well.

This post is Part II of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

+ Plus Download our FREE gift:
A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »

Feb 16

Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

This is Part I of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. If you missed the introduction, read it here.

C'mon Home for Dinner!

This is a tradition that is staunchly held in the countryside; it is the biggest moment of the year. City folk still follow these get-togethers, but it is a bit more flexible. No matter how rich or poor you are, you must come home for Chinese New Year's Eve dinner.

With the industrialization of China over several decades, younger family members go seek their fortune in the "big city" but they keenly remember their family obligation to return home by New Year's Eve. I remember seeing photographs of train stations filled to the brim with people, everyone jockeying to get on the right train to get home, no matter if the train ride was 10+ hours long.

Chinese New Year Lantern Festival

The Meal: Certain "Must Haves" on the Table

What are your "must have" dishes for major family/holiday events? Grandma's potato salad? "Abuelo's" or Grandpa's roast pig? For the Chinese, the central, essential dish is to have fish—a whole one—served up that night. It is called "Nian Nian You Yu." The word for fish [yú] has very, very similar pronunciation as the word for abundance [yú] in Chinese, so eating fish during the festival expresses the hope that there will be a general abundance in the coming year. There are so many cultural intricacies--I love it! Learn more here»

Post-Meal: TV, Games, etc. Stay up All Night!

After the multi-course family meal, there are many activities to engage in, to draw out the most important night of the year. Even little ones are encouraged to stay up as late as they want, to bring in the New Year. (I guess parents like me, with "sleep schedules" would be looked at like aliens...just as this happened to me during a New Year's visit to Venezuela many, many years ago.) Sounds like Dick Clark, the famous radio host, would fit right in with Chinese festivities, counting down the New Year...

The Stroke of Midnight, Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!!

Firecrackers & fireworks... ka-bam! Xīn Nián Kuài Lè or Happy New Year!

Traditionally, firecrackers were used to scare away Nian, a terrible beast that would come down from the mountains into the villages every year to eat people. However, in the modern world, people set off firecrackers to celebrate the New Year.

This post is Part I of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

+ Plus Download our FREE gift:
A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »

Feb 13

An Introduction to Chinese New Year

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Celebrating a New Year... in February??? Yes, indeed!

The Gregorian (or "Western") calendar is not the only calendar used on the planet. The 1 billion+ people in China, among other countries, use the Lunar calendar and that New Year is coming up! Precisely on February 19th.

As the traditional Chinese attach zodiac characters to their yearly cycles, this year is the Year of the Sheep. Very simplified: All people born in a year share the same zodiac sign. (Here’s a link to read more if you are curious about the signs, the variations, etc)

I personally have the fine distinction to be classified as a Rat. I wish the term “mouse” was used instead (better connotations?) but rats are clever and sneaky… Sounds like any mom to me! Which one are you? Find out here. (This will give you a rough idea by year, although the "Lunar New Year" to be more correct does not start on January 1st, so you will need to type in your entire date of birth on other websites to be most accurate).

Chinese New Year: A Four-Part Series

Enough of the background information. Are you still with me? I am writing this entry as an introduction to a special 4-Part Series on the Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. I have not yet had the good fortune to visit the "Middle Kingdom" or Zhongguo (中 国 ), however I want to present cultural traditions, including food, to show our differences and similarities.

As I step off my soap box, I will say that this is one illustration or intended consequence of learning another language: to make connections with others, find the similarities and perhaps, dare I say it, revel in some of the differences. Jump's! founder, Jackie Sanin, strongly believes that with language immersion, we learn that "we are more similar than different," and I must echo that sentiment. I have seen it in my travels. If you distill our wants as human beings, we seek: gainful employment, to provide for ourselves, and provide for our families. We worry about school, safety, and our children. This is the case if you are a sheep herder from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, an electrician in Whippany, NJ, or a private equity trader in Manhattan, NY.

As we can all imagine, just as we cannot classify or distill certain traditions to the entire United States, one cannot use a broad brush stroke to simplify things across all of China. There are regional differences, to be sure, but also city vs. countryside differences. We will highlight some of those as we learn more about Chinese New Year over the next few days.

Please take this journey with me as we count down to celebrate Chinese New Year!

This post is the introduction to 4-part series on Chinese New Year:

Chinese New Year Introduction »
Part I: Chinese New Year's Eve »
Part II: Chinese New Year & Family Time »
Part III: Chinese New Year & Kids »
Part IV: The Lantern Festival »

+ Plus Download our FREE gift:
A Printable Chinese Zodiac Placemat! »

Jan 27

Learning Language Through Cooking

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

One weekend, or during a Snow Day (like today!), how about cooking a dish with your child? Depending on your child's interests, you can borrow or purchase a book specifically geared towards "cooking with children" or you can find a recipe to try and give it a go!

Book: Cocina Sana para Niños Book: Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family!

In our house, on "my" side of the cookbook area, I have "Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family!: Recipes to Get Everybody Cooking" cookbook. Hmmm. I also have a cookbook in Spanish called "Cocina Sana para Niños" of Parragon Books. Both are standard recipes, one in English, one in Spanish. Perhaps you would like to look into "ethnic" cookbooks, for further inspiration.

At Jump Immersion, cooking is another way to practice and round out your child's Spanish or Mandarin. Even if you do not speak the "Target Language" (or "TL") this can be your child's opportunity to school you. It is clear that, more than toys or gadgets, our children want to spend time with us, their parents. Put two or more people together in the kitchen, cast worries or judgments aside, and focus on cooking and on the process or the results--something delicious to delight in.

Cooking with Kids

Do not fret. A one-hour activity such as cooking, in Spanish or Mandarin, is a marvelous way to expand your child's vocabulary (not to mention math skills with fractions or science skills following steps & observing). You will be adding words such as "mix," "add," "combine," "smell," "taste," "savor," etc. This low-key activity is taking place at the kitchen table, the heart of the home. With older children, this can be a neutral ground to listen to them and perhaps even get them talking about their day, their interests, their worries. To this day, I have fond memories of watching my grandmother cook, and later on, helping her with her signature recipes. This added vocabulary helped broaden my Spanish quite a bit.

Once you have made your recipe, ask others how they make it. Or better yet, ask your child to ask a friend/acquaintance that speaks the "TL" how they make it and discuss any differences. Easy conversation starters also include where the person finds their ingredients or special spice mixtures.

Enjoy!, ¡Buen Provecho! and Xiang Shou!

Jan 22

Visit Your Local Museum... in Spanish or Mandarin!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

[NOTE: Be sure to also check out "Museums Flex Their Multilingual, Multicultural Muscles" an article by The New York Times 3/16/15 published after this post.]

There is no denying it, we are squarely in Winter. There are times for unbridled outdoor play and there are times to explore the nearest city and its cultural offerings. Consider a visit to the local or the major museum in your Spanish or Mandarin!

For more proficient language learners

Option A: Many museums have pre-recorded audio tours in several languages, such as Spanish, Mandarin, and others.
Option B: Check out podcasts. Our family once used one for the grown-ups during a one-hour tour of The Louvre. (Thank you, Rick Steves!)

Some museums may even have docent-led tours in these languages. One such example is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tours are monthly, but it can be scheduled as a family trip. (Click the image above for free kids' guides from the Met!)

Family Museum Tour Idea

Another interesting option is to find/hire an art teacher to customize or highlight a particular museum's offerings for your family. Look around: any friends with art degrees, or any "target language" teachers with an interest in art? One such company is Art Smart, a NYC-based provider of museum & gallery tours for families and groups. (I did not look into their pricing, but this idea definitively "has legs.")

Further Tips

No matter who the "leader" is, I would humbly advise a "highlights" type tour, perhaps 6-10 pieces, to review and discuss, depending on the age and interest level. (See if you can find any fun worksheets online, in English or another language, ahead of time, to whet the children's artistic appetite.) Talk to the art "leader" to see if a scavenger hunt for clues can be done, to keep up the kids' interest level, in small, quiet groups.

Good luck!

Jan 15

Volunteer in Your Child's Classroom this Year!

Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio

Take a moment to review, in a non-judgmental fashion, how involved you have been this school year at your child's school. If you can swing it, I urge you to consider volunteering for a half hour in your child's classroom.

For Young Children

For youngsters, you can read the class a story. Perhaps a story about friendship near Valentine's Day or a Dr. Seuss story* for National Dr. Seuss Day on March 2nd.

Green Eggs and Ham book in Spanish Green Eggs and Ham book in Chinese

This is a wonderful time to actually get inside the classroom, see the student dynamic, and see how much of the "Target Language" (or "TL") your child is willing to speak... on that day. Don't speak the TL? Read the story in English, and ask another parent to stand with you to serve as “interpreter” if the teacher is having difficulty translating the story on the spot. Or have each of the two parents read a page, in an animated fashion, to keep the children engaged.

Watch out for the quality of some of the translations of the Dr. Seuss books; a few have caught my eye over the years as linguistically...awkward. But Seuss is surely a challenge to translate!

For Older Children

Is your child older? Dust off your talents and areas of expertise and ask the teacher if you can do a simple presentation on your favorite topic (in English or the TL) for ~15 minutes with Q&A afterward. (It would be wise to email the presentation to the teacher ahead of time for time management, etc.)


  1. Law & Order
    I once did a slide show with fun "clip art" on the legal profession for preschoolers, and then had them take a stand on a position ("More Recess Time") and had two teams argue each side. A plastic hammer or a gavel was a resounding close to the "oral arguments." I was the advisor/cheerleader; the teacher played the Judge.
  2. Pick a Country
    Another visit, I spotlighted some key facts about Cuba--music, food, notable animals, etc. Again, I used the "clip art" to signal key words to the Cuban song, "Guantanamera." This really helped the children learn the first two verses.
  3. Culture Cooking
    Or, if you like to cook and the teacher approves it, bring in a typical dish (bought at a deli or home-made) to discuss. From my Latin roots, how about empanadas (pasties or turnovers), arepas (a corn meal savory thick "bread") or black beans and rice? This will definitively score as a conversation topic at the dinner table that night!
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