NEWTOWN -- The 4- and 5-year-olds at St. Rose of Lima preschool touched their knees, their toes and their noses, smiling proudly as they sang a clever rhyming song.
Watching them and soon imitating them Thursday was a class of students from China, who, by way of a live Skype video conference call, were projected on a large screen in the Newtown classroom.
It was the start of the day in Newtown at 8 a.m. but the end of the day in China at 8 p.m. Still, the children took found common ground.
The Chinese children quickly mimicked the movements of the Newtown children in song and when one Newtown student held up picture of a red bike, the children in China said in unison "bicycle."
"I like these people who talked to me,'' Newtown 5-year-old Van Heim-Sherwood said. "I think it's awesome I got to speak to different people across the world."
The Chinese children spoke halting English -- with such phrases as "Welcome to China," "What is your name?" "Nice to meet you" -- as the children, one by one, introduced themselves.
But soon that is expected to change.
The Diocese of Bridgeport has a Chinese project under way that includes introducing the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in its 38 schools.
A contingent of principals and diocesan leaders visited China in February, including the school they visited via Skype on Thursday, Yu Niao Kin in Hangzhou, China.
The Chinese 2-year-olds learned "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" in English, diocesan schools Superintendent Margaret Dames said Thursday.
"I was so impressed with the children speaking English," Dames said. "Next year, our children will be speaking Chinese."
The plan is to use the school's computer-connected interactive smart boards with a software program from China to provide the lessons. The diocese will start with some after-school enrichment as they train teachers to use the software.
"We will start with pre-K through fourth grade," Dames said. "We feel the younger they are, the better they can absorb the lessons."
Author Helen Yi Chen, the diocese's consultant on the project and an immigrant from China, brought Dames, St. Rose Principal Mary Maloney, Immaculate High School President Kathleen Casey and St. Gregory the Great Principal Sister Mary John O'Rourke and a couple of other diocesan educators on a seven-day expedition to visit some public and private schools in China.
Chen said it has been a wonderful partnership, because they all share a passion for education.
"The world is getting flat, and from the cultural perspective, starting so young to know a culture different from theirs is so important," Chen said. " Everyone wants to do something, but my strength is being a bridge. I can't emphasize enough that (the diocese) have a great leadership team. It's so important."
The project also includes teachers from China visiting the diocese in the summer to see its math and technology program and to have the diocesan students visit an international camp in China in high school.
"You have to ask the question: What do students need going forward to succeed?" Dames said. "We know it's the global connection. The world is getting smaller and Mandarin Chinese is being stressed as important to learn.''