Chinese Characters For Kids – How to teach simple Chinese characters

Do you want to teach your child how to write Chinese characters? Below you will find Chinese characters for kids and tips from a mother who is raising her children to speak Chinese. Whether your child already speaks Chinese, or is learning Chinese as a second language, these simple Chinese characters will help set down the foundation for learning to write in Chinese. Make sure to print out your free worksheets at the end of the article!

Dr. Betty Choi is a pediatrician, writer, and mother of two children and the creator of CHALK Academy, a website focused on easy-to-DIY, hands-on Chinese activities, printables, book reviews, and learning resources. 

Dr. Choi’s children are learning English, Chinese, and Korean at home through the OPOL.  She taught her daughter how to speak Chinese at age 2 and read Chinese at age 3.  Learn more about CHALK Academy on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest or join the Facebook Group, Montessori-Inspired Kids Learning Chinese!

Background about Chinese language

Chinese is the most common spoken language in the world, with over 1 billion global speakers!  It is the official language in China and Taiwan, and one of the official languages in Singapore.  The spoken language is tonal, and the written characters are pictorial symbols that represent words.

Traditional Chinese characters are used in countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Simplified Chinese characters are used in China, Singapore, and Malaysia.

However, heritage and non-heritage families around the world are interested in giving their children the chance to learn Chinese!  Through language, multilingual kids have a better chance to connect with friends from other cultures, broaden their empathy and perspective of the world, and improve their career opportunities.

Painting Chinese characters

Painting Chinese characters.

What age should children start to learn Chinese?

The best time to start learning Chinese is now!  As with any language, the younger the child, the easier it will be to learn Chinese.  Many language experts agree that language acquisition skills peak during childhood.  In contrast to adults who are hardwired in their native tongue, children have the best chance of acquiring fluency when exposed at a young age.

How can children start to learn Chinese?

Children can learn Chinese from any person who can immerse the child in Chinese language on a regular basis.  Chinese-speaking parents, caregivers, or friends are all potential Chinese teachers for children.  Even before children can talk, they are listening to the rhythm and tones of the language through natural conversation.

If you are not fluent in Chinese, find a native-speaking friend, caregiver (eg, bilingual nanny, au pair), or teacher to engage your child in Chinese.  While playing games, the teacher should speak in Chinese so your child can learn to count to 10 even during hide-and-seek!  Find a teacher who can do fun activities that are relevant to your child’s interests (eg, music, art, sports).

Another option is to enroll in a Chinese immersion school or attend a summer camp abroad so your child has a chance to connect with Chinese-speaking friends.  In addition, Chinese music is a fun way to get children excited about singing and dancing to this beautiful language!

Painting Chinese characters

Salt writing Chinese color names

How to introduce Chinese characters for kids

Children become familiar with Chinese characters through reading Chinese children’s books with their parents, caregivers, or teachers.  During story time, point out Chinese characters so that children associate writing with the spoken language.

In addition, Chinese characters should be part of the home environment.  For example, label items around the house so your child will see the words whenever he or she is using the item.  You can also display books with the front cover showing so that picture is enticing and the title is visible.

Chinese Characters for Kids

Chinese picture books on front-facing bookcase

Which Chinese words should children learn first?

Numbers are a great way to start learning Chinese characters for kids.  From 1-10, the Chinese numbers are:

一 (yī / 1)
二 (èr / 2)
三 (sān / 3)
四 (sì / 4)
五 (wǔ / 5)
六 (liù / 6)
七 (qī / 7)
八 (bā / 8)
九 (jiǔ / 9)
十 (shí/ 10)

Children can practice counting out loud, such as counting stairs while climbing, counting toys, and counting food before a meal or snack.  You can also go on a nature walk and practice counting trees, rocks, and birds!  Hide and seek is also a fun way to practice counting!  Children can practice saying 一, 二, 三 , etc and take turns hiding and counting in Chinese!

Chinese characters for kids

Tracing Chinese number 九(jiǔ / 9) with chalk

Simple Chinese characters for kids

The adjectives 大(dà / big) and 小 (xiǎo / small) are also simple Chinese characters for kids to learn.

These two adjectives are used commonly and consist of only 3 strokes!

Children can practice describing which objects are 大(dà / big) or 小 (xiǎo / small) in the house or outside when playing!

They can also sort toys into piles of 大(dà / big) or 小 (xiǎo / small).

Below is a picture the Chinese character 大(dà / big)  created with colorful yarn.  This is a tactile way to learn how to build a character with each individual stroke.

🖌 Stroke order with yarn 🌈 This was a helpful activity to practice “writing” 大 (dà / big) in the correct sequence: 横 (horizontal),撇 (falling leftward),捺 (falling rightward). – My daughter starting writing English & Korean letters around age 3. However, I have been hesitant to start teaching her how to write Chinese, even though she tries to write some characters on her own. Chinese writing has so many rules, and it's important to establish good habit with stroke order and centering the character in a grid. But I worry about teaching writing too early, even though she is interested, as she has gotten annoyed when I have pointed out the order before – To be honest, once my daughter heard this was a stroke order learning activity, she was not thrilled and the activity didn’t last too long. But since doing this, I have seen her write 大 over and over again in the correct order on her own! I could not get her to follow this consistently before, so a few minutes of trying something outside-the-box made a big difference! – Yarn idea from @thomasalm3ida – check out their beautiful yarn art & alphabet from April! . . #chalkacademy #chalkacademy_journey #montessori #homeschool

A post shared by Betty ☼ CHALK (@chalkacademy) on

The next photo shows 大(dà / big)  and 小 (xiǎo / small) traced with Montessori beads.  The printable was created with the 小 (xiǎo / small) intentionally smaller than 大(dà / big) so that the child can remember the meaning of the character.

Chinese characters for kids

Cutting Chinese number block characters that was previously painted with watercolor paint

How do children remember Chinese characters?

Chinese characters are sight words that are memorized by frequent exposure.  Since children have a short attention span, hands-on experiences can be very effective in helping them remember new words even before learning to write.  Through fun sensory activities, children can engage directly with the Chinese words and are therefore more likely to retain them!

Pre-writing sensory activities can include:

  • Painting or coloring simple Chinese characters
  • Tracing Chinese characters with beads, blocks, rocks, Legos, buttons, etc
  • Molding Chinese characters with play dough
  • Creating Chinese characters with yarn or pipe cleaners
  • Writing Chinese characters in salt or sand
  • Matching games with simple Chinese characters
Chinese characters for kids

Chinese numbers matching game on an easel

When teaching kids Chinese characters it may take trial and error to see which way your child learns best.  Observation and patience are necessary in order to find the optimal teaching method!

Chinese First Words Printable Activity Templates

To get started teaching Chinese characters for kids, download and print these free, open-ended activity templates!

The templates are intentionally simple, black-and-white.  Cartoons and color graphics are excluded so that your child can focus on remembering the new Chinese characters.

  • 大(dà / big) and 小 (xiǎo / small) – Block characters and printed characters. Please refer to the above pictures for an example of how to use the template.
  • Numbers 1-10 – Block characters and printed characters. Please refer to the above pictures for an example of how to use the template.

In summary, Chinese  learning can start now!  The sooner your child starts, the easier it will be for them to learn the tones and rhythms of the language.  Surround your child with Chinese language by reading Chinese books and listening to Chinese music.

Immerse your child with Chinese characters in the environment and have fun with hands-on, educational activities!  Let the Chinese learning adventure begin with Chinese characters for kids, teaching simple Chinese characters. Good luck!

If you are looking for more Chinese resources, take a look at our new Learn Chinese for Kids series on Bilingual Kidspot, browse our Language Resources, and join us in our Raising Bilingual Kids Community Group.

Chinese Characters for Kids