Who is Zheng He, and Why Should My Child Learn About Him?

First off – how do you even pronounce “Zheng He”?! It took me a while to get it. At VIPKID I am certified to teach 24 different types of curriculum. TWENTY FOUR. I like the variety and got bored teaching the same lessons on repeat when I first started. But the problem that arises with teaching 24 different curriculums, is that sometimes I will get halfway into a lesson I didn’t prep for when I realize I am relying on the student to explain to me details of whatever person, process, or grammar structure we are talking about. Like, who the heck knows what a schwa sound is?! I do! Now. After five lessons of relying on the answer key without being able to give explanations, I finally figured it out.

Something similar happened the first few times I had lessons discussing the explorations of Zheng He. I found myself pronouncing his name differently every time until I finally had a regular student I get along with really well tell it to me in Chinese. It helps to know that sometimes it is also written as “Cheng Ho” or “Jung Ho”. Zheng He uses a schwa sound! The e’s both sound like “uh”.

Anyway, none of that is probably very interesting. So let’s talk about the real giraffe in the room.

Samples of Expedition Zheng He and the Giraffe.
Scroll to the end of the post or click for purchase.

Zheng He and the Giraffe

Zheng He was born to Muslim parents and inspired to explore the world by his father and grandfather, who both made the Mecca. But, when he was young, his father was killed and Zheng He was captured and enslaved by the Prince of Yan. Under the prince, Zheng He received an education and got the prince’s trust. He even helped coordinate a plan for the Prince to claim the throne, further improving his standing with the royal family.

Eventually, he became the captain of a HUGE fleet. We’re talking over 60 treasure ships and tens of thousands of men in his crew. He finally was able to explore the world for his country. He traded all kinds of goods and on one voyage brought back the first ever…you guessed it.. GIRAFFE that China had ever seen. The people were so confused at the animal that they believed it was actually a mythical creature, called a qilin. Isn’t that a fun piece of history! I love it so much!

But really, think about all the new things we discover all the time and just can’t wrap our heads around, like the Peacock Mantis Shrimp. It’s not a peacock, mantis, or shrimp, but it looks like all three and has capabilities that just blew scientists minds away, so they just called it after what they already knew.

Why Should My Child Learn About Him?

Children do this same thing all the time. They bring giraffes home and call them qilins. They discover something new and describe it to you by comparing it to things they already know. My son, for instance, LOVES alligators. And usually it’s a safe assumption if he tells you that he sees an alligator, it’s actually just a log or something else with an alligator shape.

This is actually my absolute favorite part of his current development, because he really speaks so, so well. But in the instances I don’t understand what he’s saying, he pauses so thoughtfully and comes up with a different way to explain his thoughts. He can change trajectory from “the car honked at you” (where I couldn’t understand his pronunciation of “honked”) to “the car said BEEPBEEP”. And suddenly I knew exactly what he was talking about! It blows my mind every time to think that a little boy can do that, but full grown adults and professors often can’t.

In this activity, children will meet a new penpal named Baobao, who will tell them all about the qilin that Zheng He has brought to China on his ship! Baobao will use some similes to describe the unfamiliar creature, and children will use the activity pages to respond to Baobao’s letter to tell him the animal is actually a giraffe! It’s perfect for littles that love to get mail (who doesn’t?!), and also to work on making big connections.

Expedition of Zheng He and the Giraffe

Learn about the famous world traveler, Zheng He, and the first time a giraffe stepped foot into China!


What’s Included:

  • Detailed Ideas/Instructions for 3 Expeditions worth hours of fun!
  • 2 Letters from a Chinese penpal, named Baobao, who will tell the children about Zheng He and the giraffe! Perfect for children who love mail!
  • Connect the dots and Matching activities to help children test their understanding of the letters and respond to Baobao
  • STEAM ideas for boat building just like Zheng He
  • Coloring Page

How Can I Help My Toddler To Have Healthy Food Habits?

I’ve said it a hundred times lately that I’m so excited, and out of all the projects I’ve been working on, this is the one that just has me PUMPED! Seriously. So excited!

Like any toddler, mine goes through roller coasters where for weeks we fight through 90 minute dinners just to have him take five bites, and then last week, he ate his weight each day of whatever we gave him. But it was in those weeks where he wasn’t eating that I tried desperately to explain to him why he needed to eat dinner before dessert, or why I wouldn’t let him snack before lunch, or why he couldn’t have a spoonful of brown sugar straight out of the packaging. Sometimes those things all happen. Regularly, even. Don’t judge. But in my house they can only happen if he also eats what we have prepared for him to be healthy. Or just if I’m desperate. The odds are usually in his favor. I’m not alone on that, right?

But how the heck do you explain to an irrational small human why they get it sometimes, but not now? After a lot of thought, I think I’ve got some suggestions, aaaand some awesomely applicable resources/games to help! If you’d like to purchase this 40+ page Expedition of Chinese Food, you can keep reading/scroll to the end, or click on any image to go to the China Shop.

What should I say when my child demands dessert/snacks before meals?

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty proud of the explanation I’ve come up with during quarantine:

Oh, I can’t wait to eat ice cream tonight, if that’s what you want to do! BUT. If we eat too much sugar, it’ll make our bellies hurt. So we need to eat more fruits and vegetables than sugar. Can you eat a lot more fruits and vegetables tonight before we have a little dessert tonight?

I mean, that’s a pretty soundly scientific explanation for a two year old, right? It keeps in line with the food pyramid, and also doesn’t deprive them of a healthy love of sweet food. Win-win, I’d say!

It’s all about Yin and Yang and having that balance, right? So I went a step further and did an activity that illustrates exactly that!

How do I encourage them to CHOOSE a healthy diet?

I’m a full grown woman – old enough to have two babies, at least – and I still am 5000x more likely to get excited and dive in to a pretty plate of totally new food, than one that I have eaten 50 times and know is good, but is just, well, colorless. Afredo, chicken and rice mixes, rice and beans. You can’t go wrong with any of them. But to me, they’re last picks because – apparently – I’m mentally a toddler about food. I want a RAINBOW on my plate. Luckily, that also happens to be a pretty guaranteed way to get a variety of nutrients.

You’ve maybe heard of the rainbow diet – try to eat as many colors of the rainbow as you can at each meal. Really, it’s pretty brilliant. It’s also a ridiculously simplified branch off of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Chinese Food Therapy. If you don’t know anything about TCM, the theories are based on food being used to heal and enable the body. We can all get on board with that, right? I believe that’s exactly what food’s purpose is. But TCM takes it way further and break down foods and people by colors, tastes, target organs and even seasons to help keep people healthy. It’s old, and the details are scientifically outdated, I know. Still, I decided to use it as my model to encourage having a variety of foods on my son’s plate each day, because colors, tastes, body parts and seasons are right up a toddler’s alley. You can see how I approach it with the Food is the Best Medicine Lesson. Try it for yourself!

Expedition of Chinese Food

40+ pages of activities directed toward helping your child better understand their body's relationship with food and encourage them to eat healthy, all based on Chinese food practices.


6 Easy-to-Follow Expeditions of Food and the Body with Discussion Prompts and Activity Instructions/Ideas to lead you through every page
A list of Additional Resources – Books and Videos – with links to purchase and/or access for free
Bonus Activity Ideas
A pretend play Chinese Restaurant setup with all the pieces needed

Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

At the moment my two favorite comedians, and also the main faces of my Facebook newsfeed, are Trevor Noah and Shayne Smith. Shayne Smith tells jokes that have me rolling on the floor laughing because I can either relate, or because they’re just totally absurd. But Trevor Noah, even when he makes a joke, he makes me think. And I love that. His life experiences are so vastly different from anything I could ever imagine, and everyone will have different opinions on this, but to me, his perspective usually feels so…just all-encompassing and well-thought. I feel like he is able to give credit to and kindly acknowledge multiple view points on each issue while giving his own such that I have to be careful to not just accept everything he says as true. I took this picture below from off his daily show website (it had a little “download” button right on it, so hopefully that’s okay! *fingers crossed*

So, when I saw that he had written a book about his childhood, I HAD TO get it from the library and finished reading it in just a few days.

PC: Gavin Bond

Trevor Noah was born in Johannesburg, South Africa (the first image in this post shows the Johannesburg skyline), and “Born A Crime” is the story of how he maneuvered apartheid as a total outcast of the system – not really black, not really white, and not comfortable pretending to be like the other “colored” people that looked like him. Not only that, but in “a woman’s world” where he had no good male role models shares the things he learned from the ladies in his life, and the religion that filled their life.

I can’t say enough good things about this book, the sense of humor amid some deep and disturbing circumstances, the way he thinks about apartheid and people in general, and all the little lessons he squeezes in throughout the book. The book manages to lace abuse, tragedy, humor, love, faith and all the complicated overlap of those things together.

He describes himself as a naughty child, and has the stories to prove it, but I especially appreciated a moment in the book when he took a step back to defend children who’s parents struggle to discipline them, try as they might. He explains that family considered him destructive as a child, but he never intentionally destroyed anything. He just was trying to figure out how things worked. And often broke things in the process. Like in a very minor incident when his mom became upset at him for drawing on the walls, he felt terrible and vowed to never disappoint his mom by doing this thing again. But how would he remember not to do it?? Oh! He could write a note to himself on the wall, of course! And there he was, right back at the wall with a crayon. I found this so insightful into my own son’s little brain, and think that every reader will find themselves at some point in this book caught between realizations of your own misled thoughts/reactions to people, and simultaneously laughing at the presentation of his many schemes and predicaments.

I definitely recommend this book, especially to people who struggle with thoughts of racism, of feelings of being outcasts, who search for miracles, and to those who just love a good read.