As I eluded to in an earlier post (Homeschool Chinese: Vocabulary Homework), our Mandarin teacher provides the kids with homework to engage them in language activities on a daily basis. Their homework can involve creating flashcards, copying characters, working on projects, and/or writing and reading assignments. Together, their teacher and I have found that variety is the key to keep them engaged and willing to do the work. Additionally, we are discovering what types of activities they enjoy the most - while Meili enjoys projects, Buddy prefers games.
One of the most time consuming and for some, the most difficult, part of learning an Asian language is learning to recognize the characters. Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese. They can also be called hanzi 汉字 ("Han character"). Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands, though most of these are only encountered in historical texts. Studies in China have shown that functional literacy requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters. It is therefore a necessary evil (my daughter has said) that they must repeatedly practice writing the characters they are learning many, many times.
When new vocabulary is introduced, one of the assignments that the can expect is to practice writing the character repeatedly. This is a tried and true method and while it isn't very exciting - it works! The kids write the characters as many times as is necessary to get it to stick. This may be just 10x .. or it may mean doing it again a few weeks later if the character seems to have escaped them.
Meili likes to use the grid paper notebooks designed specifically for this purpose that we find in the markets of Chinatown. They typically have cute little characters on the cover and she likes to keep these as she fills them up. They are inexpensive so we generally buy a bundle each time we travel to San Francisco. Jiejie doesn't quite have the hand-coordination to write the characters so small and neatly as these little books require. He thereby uses engineering paper and on occasion, just blank paper. This enables him to write his characters much larger and thereby with less anxiety.