Learning English is not just about improving verbal and listening skills. At Hello Kiddo, courses are designed to enhance children’s creativity, observation and critical thinking, which in turn improves their language abilities.
Aimed at children aged five to 12, the English online learning platform allows students to communicate with native English teachers and create a storybook together during each live lesson based on a wordless picture book.
The platform encourages students to develop an English story under the guidance of teachers, who can also proceed according to each child’s aptitude, said Kinney Chan, founder of Hello Kiddo.
Each lesson starts with the child interpreting the action in the pictures, explaining to the teacher what he or she thinks is happening in the best way they can – perhaps with a sound or a single word.
After the teacher guides the child to say the word in English with basic phonics, the teacher will type out the words the child uses so the child becomes familiar with building sentences and using correct punctuation, with a completed book the end result.
Once a child has created a story, he or she will read it from beginning to end with the teacher’s help. The child can use the memory of a word’s sound to remember how to say and write the word when they hear it again.
During the refining stage, minor changes, such as adding or taking away words or using a different verb or adjective, can be made. By the end of the lesson, the child will have created a unique book, a hard copy of which they will receive at the end of the month.
The idea of learning English through creating a storybook was inspired by Chan’s friend, who studied child education in the United States and used wordless storybooks as a teaching tool while giving private lessons to Chan’s three-year-old son by video chat.
The lessons were preparation for an international school interview. Chan’s son improved a lot in spoken English and got a place. It was then that Chan realized the power of story creation.
“Storytelling unleashes children’s creativity and imagination,” he said. “Without words, there is a greater sense of depth and mystery to a story, which allows infinite possibilities for how it can develop.”
By improving students’ observational and critical thinking skills by helping them notice the smaller details, the books also help to balance gaps in the child’s literacy, such as being able to read well but struggling to speak, or speaking competently but having difficulty reading English words.
“We can see progress in classes, especially when the child understands a new word or phrase, or makes a prediction about where the story will go,” Chan said.
“They progress from using logical thinking -there is a cup, there is a dragon, a boy is walking – into forming more creative thinking balanced with logic: the girl is going to take her grandmother’s broom, use magic, and fly above the clouds to the castle.”
Tapping into a library of more than 300 types and levels of wordless picture books for children to choose from, the start-up conducts about 200 lessons a week on average, with more than 50 active users.
Each one-to-one session lasts about 30 minutes, which Chan sees as the best duration for online classes to maintain children’s concentration, as they need to keep speaking to develop a 10- to 13-page book.
During the Covid-19 school suspension, some students prefer to have class every weekday, but all students have one to two sessions per week on average.
While some English learning platforms, like most schools, stress logical English education, Chan believes language learning should never be dull.
“A fun environment and flexible course timetable can help Hong Kong children fall in love with English learning,” he said.
“With the storybooks and guidance from teachers, students take the lead in the entire creative process in a relaxed and self-motivating atmosphere so they are confident and encouraged to pick up the language step by step, without fear of making mistakes.”
(This article was published at The Standard on March 17, 2020: Education: A storybook existence )