Just as the rainy days of winter are about to lull most of us into a gray mood, something magical happens on Albany Avenue in Davis. An explosion of red and gold awakens the senses, the savory scent of a Chinese feast enlivens the palate, and the sound of children welcoming in a new year, with a traditional Chinese-Mandarin melody, stirs such feelings of hope, it can make even the most pessimistic passerby determine that this will, indeed, be a lucky year.
It is the annual celebration of the Chinese New Year at Dee’s Wonderland, Davis’ only home-based, Chinese/English bilingual preschool and whole-child education center Chinese immersion program, and Dee Chang has plenty to celebrate.
In its eleventh year, Chang’s award-winning program strives to provide the best language learning techniques to teach young children both Mandarin-Chinese and English. With a summer program that accommodates working families and their vacations, an after-school program for children in Grades K-6, and a preschool, that not only prepares students for kindergarten, but also builds Mandarin-Chinese and English skills through daily lessons, monthly themes, activities, and interactive play, Dee’s Wonderland offers enrichment and a strong sense of community for children and their families.
“In addition to the important benefits for children’s brain development, being multilingual opens the door to other ways of thinking in the world—which is one of my primary motivations in raising my own children bilingually.” says Wrye Sententia, Ph.D., and author of the forthcoming book tentatively entitled, Babies without Borders: How to Raise Bilingual Children.
The preschool welcomes children between the ages of 2 to 6, the age range at which many experts believe to be the critical years of language acquirement.
“It is very easy to forget the mother language, if you do not [maintain the right environment],” says Chang. “Many kids can speak a fluent language, like Mandarin, before school. But once they get into school, they don’t like to use it in their school environment. Parents want to use it with them, but only have a few hours at night time.”
With daily instruction tailored to help each student learn at their own individual pace in a fun and stress-free environment, Dee’s Wonderland helps children learn, whether or not their family already speaks Mandarin-Chinese in the home.
“As a kid, the ability to speak in Mandarin was just a minor curiosity for me . . . a trick I could do that other kids might not be able to,” recalls Chon Tang, who moved to Davis from China at the age of nine. “As an adult I now more fully appreciate how significant that bilingual fluency really is.”
With his own children enrolled in the program, Tang can rest assured that they will be exposed to a variety of Chinese traditions such as calligraphy and music. Participating in the Chinese Immersion program also ensures that they will have the same bilingual benefits that come from being a part of two rich cultures.
“I am a Taiwanese and my husband is American,” says Janine Lin, whose daughter attends the school. “Therefore, we communicate by English at home. While I talk to my daughter exclusively in Chinese, I want to make sure she also has practice during school time. “
Lin was interested in finding a program that would help her daughter learn to read and write in Chinese as well.
“My daughter started Dee’s preschool program when she was three and a half years old, then she continues to after-school programs after kindergarten. She is now fluent in Chinese, which is evident when she communicates like a native when she visits my parents in Taiwan every year. She also reads and writes Chinese with ease.”
Chang’s individually-tailored approach to teaching supports each child wherever he or she may be. Her method applies developmentally appropriate practices essential in early childhood education based on research showing how children learn, according to age.
“Each person has a different learning style,” says Chang. “Some are visual. They learn through seeing. Some are auditory. They learn through listening. And some are kinesthetic, they learn through moving, doing, and touching.”
Chang strives to incorporate all three types of learning styles, especially the kinesthetic learning style. Children learn through play. They learn better through hands-on activities since they can relate the concepts and ideas to their own lives.
“Dee’s program is special because she makes each and every one of her pupils feel special,” says Kassandra Perry, the mother of daughter, Ireland. “Dee’s whole-child approach blended with a second-language/culture education fed into our daughter’s natural curiosity and provided the perfect balance of learning and fun.”
Chang, who has over seventeen years of experience with children, and more than ten years specializing in early education and child development, holds two Master’s Degrees in Early childhood Education and Geography.
“I decided if I was going to work in this field, I wanted to be equipped with professional knowledge. Not just the State licensing. I don’t think that’s enough for me,” says Chang. “If I want to provide it, I want to provide the best.”
For more information on Dee’s Wonderland, visit their website at https://sites.google.com/site/deeswonderlandchinesepreschool/