On the Kai-lan's Great Trip to China, in the title episode, six year old Chinese-American preschooler Kai-lan, Grandpa YeYe, and her main animal friends, all travel to China to visit Kai-lan's favorite Great Aunt Gu Nai Nai and meet a baby panda. Rhintoo is a five year old tiger and her best friend. Tolee's a five year old koala who really likes pandas, and Hoho is the youngest at three years old. He's a energetic monkey who likes to be the center of attention. All three accompany Kai-lan on all her adventures and together they have many new experiences and learn life lessons.
The trip to a foreign country from California where they all live, is a way to highlight Chinese culture more than is normally done in Ni Hao, Kai-lan. I thought this was done in rather stereotypical way, with Chinese lanterns, a dragon kite, blooming cherry blossom trees, etc. I liked it better when the Chinese setting was illustrated through the backdrop like Chinese style architecture of the town, furniture style, a bonsai tree that happened to be sitting on a table, etc. The trip also teaches viewers that it's okay to try new things. "Try it, try it, try it, because you might like it," being the phrase sung by the characters and reinforced throughout.
Some of the new experiences that a few of the friends are nervous about are trying noodles that are different from the ones they eat at home and wearing the special slippers Aunt Gu Nai Nai gives them to wear inside. The last one is especially upsetting for Tolee who is very attached to his special panda slippers. With the help and encouragement of Kai-lan and the other friends each dilemma is overcome and the hesitant character finds out that yes trying new things is fun. This is predictable for the adult, quite suspenseful for my daughter. At three she was really quite worried.
They all eventually visit panda city and meet a special baby panda, who's name ceremony is that night. Kai-lan decides they should buy gifts for the little guy, so everyone heads to town to browse the shops. Eventually a blanket, tiger shoes, and a happy face Chinese mask are purchased for the baby panda. Plus all the friends work together to figure out that baby panda is afraid of getting on the boat because it's something he's never tried before. Each friend relates to him by telling him that they were afraid to try something new while in China but that they did it and ended up liking it.
During each of these tasks and throughout the show, what I liked is how Kai-lan breaks the imaginary fourth wall and speaks directly to the viewer. She asks questions, teaches how to say key words and phrases in Chinese, and solicits viewers help to solve problems. This makes the show seem more interactive. One questions Kai-lan asks is which blanket the panda might like; you're supposed to say the one with a watermelon because the plot has already foreshadowed that he likes watermelons. Upon returning to panda city the baby panda's name is revealed to be Little Watermelon. At the end of the episode Kai-lan summarizes everything that happened, a nice way to conclude the episode.
According to Nick Jr.:
Kai-lan will weave together being bilingual and bicultural. Ni Hao, Kai-lan reinforces the idea that being bicultural and bilingual is being American. The show will familiarize the viewing audience with elements of Chinese and Chinese American cultures to promote multicultural understanding in the next generation and goes beyond featuring "culture" as only ethnic food and festivals. Instead, it celebrates growing up in an intergenerational family, having friends from diverse backgrounds, and "habits of the heart" that are Chinese American. These values include:
Mind-body connection Typically, television portrays excitement as the good emotion to feel. In many Chinese-American communities, the good thing to feel is often calmness and contentment. Feeling excited and feeling calm can both be happy feelings, but they differ in how aroused the body is.
Perspective-taking In many Chinese and other East Asian families, children are encouraged to take the perspective of others to maintain harmony in relationships with other people. Being a good member of the group Ni Hao, Kai-lan also emphasizes the Chinese and Chinese American value of being a good member of a group.
Social & Emotional Goals Highlight cause-and-effect thinking about social and emotional issues germane to preschoolers and to support preschooler's social and emotional development.
Ni Hao, Kai-lan does a very good job teaching children how to identify how they are feeling or interpreting how others are feeling by looking at their body language or facial expressions. It stressed how important it is to care about how others are feeling and how to be a good friend. Simple and repetitive language are used to make things clear and concrete to preschoolers. The values outlined above are addressed at length.
Where Ni Hao, Kai-lan perhaps falls a little short is that a little bit more emphasis on Chinese language could be incorporated. Throughout the entire video they will switch back and forth between languages, with short phrases being said in Chinese followed by the friends actions which seem to indicate what was being said in Chinese. Most of the time, characters do not stop and translate for viewers. The exception being the key word or phrase that Kai-lan teaches viewers how to say in Chinese in each episode. The remaining two episodes have been previously shown on television and are shorter in length, over all Ni hao Kai-lan: Kai-lan's Great Trip to China is 97 minutes long. At this point, the title show has not yet been premiered on television but will be in August.
In the second episode "Rain or Shine" Kai-lan and her friends have plans to enjoy a sunny day. When it begins to rain her friends are disappointed that they can't do what they planned. Kai-lan shows them that they can find other ways to have fun on a rainy day.
I really liked how Kai-lan thinks aloud and makes observations to find out why her friend are sad. A thought cloud appears in which the part of the story we are remembering is replayed. In a simplistic way, Kai-lan leads the viewer to figure out that her friends are sad by thinking about what they said and the frowns on their faces.
Kai-lan discovers many fun things that can be done when it's raining, like splashing in the puddles with the Hula Ducks. She encourages her friends, "Don't think about what you can't do, think about what you can do!" Tolee can enjoy being pulled by the snails on a sled in the rain, Rintu can slide in the wet grass on a lotus leaf instead of going fast on a bike. Hoho can't fly kite but he can play his favorite game: Where's Hoho? Even Mr. Sun gets into the action, but making a rainbow.
The third and final episode on Kai-lan's Great Trip to China, "The Ant Playground" shifts from focusing on a life skill to learning about the concepts of big and small. The friends have to work together to help the ants who are building a playground for their baby ants. Kai-lan, Rintu, Tolee, and Hoho make a tire swing for the playground. Only it's much too big for the ants to use.
Yeye, Kai-lan's Grandfather and only adult character to appear in all Ni Hao, Kai-lan episodes, has just made a smaller version of Kai-lan's house for Mr. Grasshopper and this helps the gang to see that a smaller tire swing is needed. He helps them figure out for themselves that they have to look at things from a different perspective, "In everything you do, think about what your friends need too," being the phrase that sums up this episode.
A few changes like using a button in place of the tire, and some help from six year old Lulu, a six year old pink rhinoceros, gets the new swing made. Lulu is seen less frequently on the show overall, and this is her only appearance on this video. She has a red balloon tied to her horn that enables her to fly and reach things that high up and appears whenever Kai-lan sings her special song. The show ends like all the others with Kai-lan repeating the lesson with a cute song and saying, "You make my heart super happy."
Overall I find Ni-hao Kai-lan to be a very good children's program. It is interactive, educational, and addresses life skills in a direct and concrete manner. I like how Chinese culture is for the most part not directly taught but implied by how the characters interact and showcase their values. However, I do think Ni-hao Kai-lan could benefit from a little bit more directed Chinese language incorporation and more than one key word or phrase should be focused on per episode.
That detail does not stop our family from really enjoying the program and recommending it to others wholeheartedly. I am glad Kai-lan's Great Trip to China is a part of our DVD library and know we'll be watching it over and over. I really like it's colorful world and the style of animation; it's a happy place to inhabit full of sun fuzzies, adorable hula ducks, and a Yeye who is always patient and kind.
I think it's incorporation of modeling how to think through common upsets and frustrations that preschoolers run into makes it a great show worth watching in and of itself. Many times it has given me opportunities to talk to my daughter about emotions and feelings, two very important topics to this former special education teacher.
Ni-hao Kai-lan can be seen on Nick Jr and Noggin. Episodes are also available on DVD.
Would you like to see Kai-lan's Great Trip to China? Win a copy for your family!
Go over to Nick Jr. and check out the Ni Hao, Kai-lan activities and tell me which one you like the best and why.
There are great activities that coordinate with different episodes, many that teach and reinforce important educational concepts. We've used many of these great resouces in the past, for this program and other ones ER likes to watch. The crafting projects always go over well.
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Disclaimer: I received my copy of the video for free in exchange for reviewing it and hosting a giveaway. This review relates my experiences with it. No effort was made to influence my opinions and they are my own thoughts and views.