kids activities · travel

Shanghai 2014: Putonghua Summer Camp at YK Pao and learning Chinese as a Second Language

Boy, that’s a mouthful of a title, isn’t it?

The school is like an oasis amidst all the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.
The school is like an oasis amidst all the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.

After our maiden trip to Shanghai last winter, where we really enjoyed ourselves despite the blistering cold, we knew that we would be back soon. Of course we didn’t really plan to be back within half a year, but after our friends planted the idea of going to a Chinese summer camp, in China, of all the (appropriate) places to go, we were sold! So after some research, and lots of help from our friends who live there, we decided on enrolling Mittens into the 2-week Putong Hua Summer Camp at YK Pao School, an international school in Shanghai.

Although Beijing is considered more cultural than Shanghai, we have a few friends who live in Shanghai, as opposed to none in Beijing, so it was a natural choice for us. Also because it would’ve been difficult to be away for 2 weeks, the hubby was intending on returning to work during the camp, so he could be more assured of our safety than in a city where we didn’t know anyone.

A photo of the boy at one of the PE lessons, pasted onto the classroom window.
A photo of the boy at one of the PE lessons, pasted onto the classroom window.


Our primary intention of joining a camp was to pique our son’s interest in the Chinese language, so that it will be easier for him to pick it up along the way, as he still has many, MANY years to go. We’ve been consciously taking holidays in Taiwan and China so that the kids can be immersed in a totally Chinese environment since in an English-dominated environment like Singapore, it’s easy not to realise the significance of learning the Chinese language.

We chose YK Pao because their programmes are for children from 5 years old, whereas many other camps that I found only catered to older children. Since Mittens is in K2, and the summer camp calendar coincides with the start of the third semester of school in Singapore, Mittens had to miss 2 weeks of school. Obviously he would be able to do this would be in Kindergarten, and not after he had started in Primary School.

I think the Putonghua Camp was an eye opener for both mittens and I. The school’s objective of the camp was not to create a Chinese speaker overnight (or, within a fortnight), but rather to give the students a perspective of China, introduce them to the Chinese culture, and also work on some language skills.  Mittens enjoyed the camp tremendously, and I think he has gained a lot more confidence in speaking the language now. Even I am getting used to speaking more Chinese!

Some of the materials that the children worked on during the camp.

The programme is very well organised and professionally run. They had language classes, where they learnt songs, poems, and more about Chinese festivals. There were also drama and music sessions, which included learning about the traditional Chinese instruments. There was also Chinese Maths, which I think is learning through traditional means? They didn’t mention the abacus, but they were introduced to the tangram 七巧板, and Chinese poker. Every day they would also have an hour of PE, something I’m sure Mittens enjoyed, which included martial arts, gymnastics, games and and twice that included swimming lessons at their indoor pool. They also had two field trips, one to a puppet show, and the other to the China Maritime Museum. The camp ran from 9am to 330pm each day.

The school is a lovely environment that is an oasis in the chaos of Shanghai city. As part of the summer camp programme, the teachers would set parent-child reading homework each night, and I hope to continue the habit as far as possible while juggling the 3 kids sleep times and struggling with my own Chinese incompetences haha! I liked the content that they were taught, ranging from festivals to family and a variety of other topics.

After the 2 week programme, there was a performance by all the students, and even a short recital by one of the teachers who apparently used to be a national guzheng player.

This was 拔萝卜。Guess who played the 萝卜???
This was 拔萝卜。Guess who played the 萝卜??? (Click on the link for the song on YouTube)

We learnt from the introduction in the school that children typically take up to 7 years to master Chinese, which is one of the hardest languages to master. Or in some cases (me, point in case), I would think I’m not anywhere near mastering it. We also learnt that the children need a lot of perseverance and gentle guidance to master the language. A large number of the students in YK Pao are actually local children whose first language was Chinese, and they said that even those children often preferred reading English books as it was just easier!

Singing 小蝌蚪找妈妈
Singing 小蝌蚪找妈妈 (Click on the link for the song on YouTube)


We have not decided if we will send Abacus to the same programme. Now on hindsight, we would have preferred if he had more interaction with local students rather than international students, as the children all end up talking in English to each other. But at the same time, I was glad to give him the opportunity to spend a little time in an international school.

Perhaps given the same time frame, we could also achieve the same objectives of exposure to, as well as creating the interest in the Chinese language and culture, by simply touring together as a family. Maybe that combined with literacy and cultural Chinese holiday programmes for the boys to attend here in Singapore might be more suitable for our kids?

All in all, it was such a wonderful experience for all of us, and coming up soon is my post on exploring Shanghai with kids.


9 thoughts on “Shanghai 2014: Putonghua Summer Camp at YK Pao and learning Chinese as a Second Language

  1. I’m encouraged to travel more out east too for full-on Chinese cultural and language immersion. Only taken him to HK so far…. Was a bit concerned about safety and health in other places


    1. I totally know what you mean. We made extra effort to keep our eyes on the kids and I guess the more touristy areas are safer in a way? My husband also reminded me to dress our youngest in very girly colours so people won’t mistake her for a boy and be tempted to nab her 😜 I think my eldest is at the age where he benefitted the most from the trip though.


  2. Wow. And how much was this camp? Does it have to be parent accompanied ? I need to start thinking about a trip to China too. Looking at the way no one likes to speak mandarin and dragging them all to Berries make me feel like an evil mom.


    1. Hi Cici, it was about 2 years ago so I’m afraid I can’t remember how much it was! They have a lot of information online and are very organized, perhaps you can have a look on their website and contact them? 🙂


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