Character Matters

When her son, Winston, was a rambunctious two-year-old, Sholeen Lou-Hsiao thought he could use a fun diversion. The Teaneck resident, who grew up in Taiwan, had seen research suggesting that teaching children Chinese as toddlers can boost their IQ. Unsatisfied with flash cards, Lou-Hsiao created her own teaching tool, and has gone from resourceful mom to entrepreneur.

Lou-Hsiao now merchandises her bingo-like game in a colorful box with six game boards, 54 Mandarin characters, and a CD ($29.99;

“This is really my second child,” says Lou-Hsiao, 41, an MBA who used to work in real estate. She has a hit on her hands. Manufactured in New Jersey, Kingka has raked in awards from Parenting and Creative Child magazines, as well as “Dr. Toy,” a childhood development expert affiliated with the San Francisco-based  Institute for Childhood Resources.

The game is being taught in Garden State schools; students at Teaneck High School even used it to prepare for a trip to China. Schools, universities, and daycare centers from Wisconsin to Hawaii also have picked it up.

Lou-Hsiao’s timing was perfect: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages estimates that the number of U.S. public school students learning Chinese today has soared tenfold from 5,000 in 2000. Last spring, the College Board administered its first Chinese language Advanced Placement exam.

“This started out as a fun game with my son,” she says, of Winston, now four. “I’m very happy that it’s been recognized as a learning tool.”

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