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