Indiana State University Newsroom

Learning hands on in Taiwan

April 21, 2011

Leann Martinez watched in amazement as the 4-year-old boy worked to saw through a piece of lumber to cut the length he needed to build a miniature house.

"I've never seen anything like that," she said with a shake of her head. "There's no fear with them. They (the Taiwanese) have a fearless attitude with their children. They believe more in a hands-on strategy. They have to measure and do things correctly to build."

Nearby, a 4-year-old girl bent her dark head as she used a needle and thread to create her own puppet.

"I can't even sew," said Martinez, an Indiana State University senior elementary education major and early childhood minor.

The Whiting native's spring break trip to Taiwan not only introduced her to a new culture, but also showed her another side to early childhood education.

"We want to expand the students' horizons," said Karen Liu, professor of early childhood education. "ISU students have to be there in person. It gives them first-hand experience outside the United States. It gives them more of a depth of knowledge to see how children can do things, how teaching and an environment can really shape a child's development."

Jan McCarthy, emeriti professor of early childhood education who founded the ISU early childhood program, said interaction with programs in other countries enriches understanding.

"It can be a way of validating our knowledge of child development as we see the similarities in the way all young children learn and we see the influence of culture on the way programs are structured," said McCarthy, who journeyed with the group to Taiwan. "Similarities and differences should lead to deeper analysis and reflection on what we do as teachers of young children."

In Taiwan teachers work with the children to create and set up rules on everything from using tools like saws to creating a replica of the Taipei 101 tower made of blocks, Liu said. In the classrooms, the young children also help set up the table for lunch and snacks. At the end of the day, the young children helped to clean the classroom and sweep the floor as a part of the character education.

"This study abroad experience enhances our students' content knowledge," Liu said about observing what Taiwanese require from young children. "From a book, they can learn about it, but they don't see the implementation."

Liu coordinated the trip with Shih Chien University in Taipei and National Taichung University in Taichung. The ISU delegation attended seminar sessions at the universities as well as visited kindergartens, which are for children between 2 and 6 years old in Taiwan. Children start public school in grade one.

"They were able to see many things that we talked about in the classroom. This gave them good examples of creative and good ways to set up programs," Liu said.

Indiana State students worked together with the Taiwanese students to explore the early childcare system in Taiwan and also to learn about each other's cultures.

Martinez and McCarthy said those relationships she built with the Taiwanese students proved to be one of their favorite parts of the trip. The students learned together as well as explored the National Palace Museum, the Taipei Martyrs' Shrine, Sun Moon Lake and night markets in Taipei and Taichung.

"It is, my opinion, that many of our citizens do not understand the interdependence among the countries of the world - economic, political - and need for united effort to protect the world's natural resources," McCarthy said. "Actual experiences build deeper understanding and more meaningful appreciation for similarities and differences among cultures other than one's own. Insight that is gained through meaningful interactions alleviates fears and creates a construction atmosphere that will be needed to meet world challenges now and in the future."

In exploring Taiwan, Martinez learned about the country. Before traveling there, she said admitted that she "didn't know much about Taiwan."

"They have an open heart," she said about the Taiwanese. "They seemed open to having other people there and they weren't annoyed because we didn't speak the language."

As much as she learned about Taiwan's people, history and culture, Martinez said she learned even more about herself.

"My heart grew so much more for the nations," said the student who had never traveled outside the U.S. before. "Being outside of my own little bubble drove me to learn. I learned to challenge myself and not to be fearful about what could happen."

Martinez also knows it will impact her teaching in the classroom.

"In a classroom, you're not going to have one nationality. You're going to have several," she said. "Travel can help make connections with children from different backgrounds. The slightest connection with a child can make a difference."

Leann Martinez shares a traditional meal with new Taiwanese friends. ISU/Courtesy Photo
Leann Martinez plays with a child at a Taiwanese early childhood school. ISU/Courtesy photo
A traditional dancer leads Leann Martinez and Karen Liu during a dance in Taiwan. ISU/Courtesy photo

Taiwanese and American faculty and students spent time visiting cultural sites as well as studying early childhood education. ISU/Courtesy Photo

Contact: Karen Liu, Indiana State University, professor of early childhood education, at 812-237-2856 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or