Video: Why I Allowed My 4-Year-Old Taiwanese Student Twist My African Hair

There’s no better age to be than four or five years old. (At this age a lot of great things can happen for you during your kindergarten years.)

First, you are encouraged to make mistakes (and not feel ashamed about them). You are also encouraged to ask lots of questions to whoever you want, anytime you want to.
At four or five years old, I imagine mom or dad or grandma cooks your food, buys your clothes, and drives you to school.



Photo credit: Google images


My Juniper Tree students range from four to five years of age. They have me and another teacher, who speaks to them in Mandarin Chinese, to guide them through their days of this exploration phase at Oak Tree Language Institute in Zhubei, Hsinchu County, Taiwan.

Their parents help too. Nearly every student is driven to school, however, one or two ride on the back of their parent’s motor scooter or walk hand in hand to school. I am confident that the students of Juniper Tree have role models in every corner, but I am confident in saying that no one other can answer their questions about braiding hair except for me.


Portrait: Ariam Alula

K3 Juniper Tree’s English Teacher Ariam Alula (as students call me, Teacher Alula) in Downtown Hsinchu, Taiwan. Photo credit: Tanya Weekes


The picture above was taken by a photographer friend named Tanya. She moved to Taiwan from England in December of last year. If you look carefully at the details of the picture (and not just the green lipstick) you will notice that I have hair of various textures.

On some days my hair is soft and puffs out in the back of my head. On other days it is curly and also puffs out in the back of my head. I sometimes curl and twist my hair at my desk during break time (i.e. while students’ are eating their snacks) and notice a few watch me while I do this. I don’t see other women with similar hair texture in Chupei, let alone in Taiwan. They must be curious, I say to myself.


  • What do they think it feels like?
  • Do they want to touch it?


Here is the reaction from two Juniper Tree students who were invited to “explore” touching my hair.
Please note: This experiment was recorded in the morning before we started our morning English circle. This was not part of any lesson English lesson.

Click to watch 



Daisy Makes a Pizza…YUM!

A small girl with a BIG personality is featured in Juniper Tree’s first online classroom video.

It’s nine seconds long so be sure to hear what she has to say!

View herehttp://ariamalula.tumblr.com/post/160045023905/i-work-with-the-cutest-children-ever


Kindergarten Math: Another Go Round of Rubber Bands

On a sunny Thursday afternoon we took a few more minutes toying around with black rubber bands from our I Love Math bags. Every Juniper berry has this bag which includes a set of 20 something stretchy bands that help them recreate the designs displayed in their Math workbooks.

During our Math lessons, students are exposed to a range of activities like matching, counting, and following patterns on page maps. On this exact page students’ are expected to repeat the same designs from their page to the grid board. (See pictures above).

Juniper students were free to create ANY design on their blue boards. I did not monitor them. I did not draw up any ideas on the board. I did not tell them how to do it. Everything pictured here is from the student’s imagination.

I see a clock.

I see the letter “Y”.

I see a sunflower.

What do you see on the students’ boards?


The Crush and Crumble: A Stress Relief Method Using Newspaper

During the week of classroom observations at Oak Tree Kindergarten in Zhubei located in Taiwan’s Hsinchu County, I had less control over my students’ behavior than usual. All week parents were invited to visit their child’s classroom to get a glimpse of their daily life in school.
Though all foreign teachers were told this ahead of time I don’t think I had expected nor prepared to deal with changes in my students’ behaviors who were mostly energetic and hyperactive when their parent (or anyone’s parent) came.
 The reason why some children acted differently, was because their parent(s) provided a safety net for them to feel comfortable. Students’ seemed more relaxed about following standard classroom behavior.
  1. Listen
  2. Raise your hand if you want to say or ask me (or others) a question
  3. Pick up any trash you see on the floor
  4. Wash your hands with *soap* and water
  5. Smile 🙂

Unofficial classroom rule: Sit on the yellow line.

One student cried out loud during an English lesson because another student had reached over and wrote her name on a different line than the student had. Another berry did not want to sit on the yellow line legs folded. We have always practiced doing this together since the first day of school in September.
“WAHH!” cried one student.
Others crouched down and spun their small bodies around in a circle instead.
If I had it my way students’ would focus on the lesson. I wanted to help them release their jitters and refocus. On the afternoon of that Friday, we managed to do just that.
image1 (10)

The aftermath of the “Crush and Crumble” exercise displayed on our classroom board. Photo credit: Teacher Alula

Typically, in the small circle fashion, I pass one item to either of the students sitting next to me. The student follows and passes that item to his neighbor. This technique helps every student use some of their senses (touch, sight, and smell) and practice key vocabulary words or phrases.
With a single page pulled out from a Chinese Mandarin newspaper, I folded the long page into the smallest ball that.  Students’ were also encouraged to use muscles in both of their hands to fold the newspaper into a ball.
With every crush and crumble the newspaper began to alter in size and appearance. “Squeeze, SQUEEZEEEEE,” I said. One student, who will remain anonymous on the blog, (even though I love her and would like to give her credit for this brilliant technique) began stomping on the paper ball. She used her feet as much as her hands to crumble the paper. We enjoyed the activity.
It was a great way to release excitement and for me to regain control of the class.
P.S. We thank everyone who visited our classroom and school!
-Tr. Alula

Letter of the Week: Wh, Wh, Wh, W!

Down, up, down, up.

All students’ had been instructed to put one finger in the air and follow this motion: down, up, down, and up. I encourage learners who are new speakers of the English language to use this method to help practice recognition, memorization, and pronunciation of all 26 English alphabet letters.


image1 (9).JPG

A berry traces the letter of the week during our Phonics lesson in the Juniper Tree classroom at Oak Tree Kindergarten. photo credit: Teacher Alula 


In my K3 (Kindergarten, level 3) class, we average around three Phonics lessons per week. Two of the materials I used that are supplied by the school include Big Phonics Book and Finger Phonics Book. One book is big. The other is small. Which means the size is an advantage and dictates how we use them during our lessons. If you have noticed the picture above then you can infer our letter of the week is ”

If you have noticed the picture above then you can infer our letter of the week is “Ww.”

“A W is written like this…”, I say, “down and up and again.”

This exercise works well with learners’ who gain several benefits from revisiting the sound and shape of the letter of the week several times throughout the week.

Our Big Phonics Book (not pictured here) contains two-sentence stories, visuals, and a hand motion exercise for every letter and letter blend (two letters together that make one sound) in the English language. The pages are large enough to be displayed in front of everyone which makes Read Aloud sessions capable for me and all teachers. The Finger Phonics Book is more personal because the students’ are encouraged to trace their finger over the letter in a repetitive motion.

image2 (1)

Another reason why I prefer to implement this component into our lessons is because students’ are able to practice the *sound* of the letter, not just how to write it on paper or with fabric. photo credit: Teacher Alula

Here are the top five common words used by Juniper students’ that start with the letter “W”:
1. water
2. windy
3. watermelon
4. water bottle
5. window 
Can you think of any word that your little one knows or is learning in school?

An Alphabet Poem: J.U.N.I.P.E.R

J stands for Jean and Jasmine who have personalities that are sometimes opposite of each other. Jean is outwardly playful while Jasmine likes to cover her mouth and hide her face every time she laughs. I love them (and every Juniper berry) the same.

U stands for one of our weather-related words “umbrella“. It was one of the first words in English that everyone learned to say in their first semester at Oak Tree!

N stands for ‘no’ which is a magical two-letter word that quiets Juniper down when they’re hyper. I say ‘no’ and put my hand up to signal them to stop talking and (sometimes) it works!

I stands for “I love you” which the students’ learned to say to me in their first semester every time one of them drew or (saw a heart being drawn by someone else) in the classroom during our down time. Nearly every CTP worksheet is filled with houses and hearts on the back. 

P stands for paper and pencil and Phonics [book] — three out of seven classroom items passed out and collected by three different students every week. (They like being called “line leaders” and “little helpers”.)

E stands for English which some of the students’ in Juniper Tree began learning before they entered our classroom last September. I’m proud to say they ALL speak English today 🙂

R stands for reading which is one of my favorite hobbies. Teacher Alula (that’s me!) likes to pull out books from the library corner near our classroom and open up the book to read to everyone patiently waiting for their classmates to finish drinking water while sitting on the yellow line. I encourage you to read to your child every day!