Sharon Gan knew there was a need when she started Heart Strings Mandarin more than two years ago.
The mom of two had unsuccessfully searched for a Mandarin song and storytime for years - first when her older child was just a baby in Massachusetts and, later, after moving to Chapel Hill in 2011 as a mom with two young children.
Gan, originally from Singapore, wanted to expose her kids to two of her loves - her native language and music. She's a classically trained pianist, who moved to the United States to get her graduate degree in music therapy.
Those skills and that interest to teach children a new language turned into a gig as the Mandarin music teacher at her daughter's Mandarin immersion preschool. And that led to a parent at the school suggesting Gan offer the program in the community.
Heart Strings Mandarin was born in January 2013. The child-caregiver class for kids 6 and under in Chapel Hill is designed to expose kids to common words and phrases in Mandarin, along with all kinds of music. Her goals are many - for the kids to leave with a little Mandarin, improved social skills and an appreciation for music.
Gan had to create the curriculum from scratch as she couldn't find anything like it. She writes much of the music for the program, accompanying the songs with piano, guitar and other instruments.
Heart Strings classes are like many other child-caregiver music and movement class. Gan pulls out drums, shakers and other music makers for the kids. There might be parachute time, games and stories to keep the kids moving and involved. She focuses on useful Mandarin vocabulary and phrases. Mandarin is the most common language spoken around the world. English comes in at No. 3.
"It doesn't matter if a child is a visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile learner, something is bound to appeal to the child," Gan said.
Gan runs her classes in Mandarin, for the most part. Her students are a mix of native Mandarin speakers and others. For parents and caregivers who don't speak Mandarin, she writes out lyrics in English.
"My passion is teaching," Gan said. "And I love that age group - the unadulterated joy you can see in their faces."
Gan's next session starts this week at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. Classes are Mondays and Saturdays. Some slots are left, but they can fill up. Heart Strings Mandarin's website has more information about the program and how to register.
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