Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Japan

Welcome to Japan, week 2 of our imaginary trip around the world. If you're new here, this is my attempt to do something to keep us from getting bored over summer vacation that doesn't involve spending $4,596,930 on summer camps for the kids.

Keep reading, and I'll include links for those of you who want to try it with your own kids, and funny stories to entertain those of you who don't.

(This post contains my affiliate link, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I'll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Nothing sneaky.)


We started the week by looking at the ginormous map on our wall and filling out a page of our passports.

You can download the passport pages here:

Download the Passport Pages

Then we looked up the flag of Japan to recreate it on paper. We had an impromptu fractions lesson as they figured out how to divide the circle into 3 equal parts so no one started hyperventilating.

From the standpoint of someone who has 3 kids who all want to color, we'd really appreciate a tri-color flag next time, Japan.

We read Count Your Way Through Japan by Jim Haskins as a good intro book to Japan and Japanese culture.

Then we practiced learning some Japanese words. I'm ashamed to say that although I took 4 semesters of Japanese in college (I don't even want to think about how much that cost,) I had to look up how to say "please."

We practiced counting one to ten, and the basic hello/goodbye, yes/no, and please/ thank you. I'm not sure if the kids were ever able to remember 'please' and 'thank you,' but they did remember 'you're welcome' because it sounds like 'Don't you touch my mustache.'

(That afternoon, I overheard my 3-year-old telling the neighbor kid "I know how to say 'no' in Spanish: 'iie.'" So close, little girl, so close!)

At the end of the day we watched the movie Little Travelers: Japan. It was a 1-hour documentary narrated by two little girls as they picked up and went to stay in Japan for fun with their parents for 3 months. Apparently it's a series and those stinking lucky girls get to travel all over the world. Umm... where do I sign up for that? Of course, the videos would have to be re-titled "The Circus Comes to Japan."


Did you know there are 3 alphabets in written Japanese? Using the tables here, I showed the kids the basic hiragana and katakana (although it doesn't have all of them.)

I took out my Japanese language Book of Mormon to show them how it's bound "backwards" from English books, and that you read left to right, top to bottom. I also showed them how the kanji characters are "spelled out" with hiragana/katakana beside them so everyone can read it regardless of how much education they have.

We made a dictionary of words by making a mini 8-page "squish" book (watch the tutorial below if you have no idea what that means).

They copied their names in katakana on the covers and researched whatever words they wanted to fill up the inside (with its English translation.) I meant this to be a quick activity but they spent FOREVER on it and really had fun.

Just in case you were wondering how to write "Harry Potter" and "awesome" in Japanese.

For dinner we had beef roll ups (which is not very much like a Fruit Roll-Up and also doesn't sound very Japanese, but the Internetz told me it was) and drank hiyashiame.

My beef roll ups turned out so amazing:

Just kidding, here are all the ones that totally fell apart while I was cooking them:

We had what my 3-year-old calls "those mosh-things," or mochi balls, for dessert. I normally think mochi is disgusting, but everything's better when you add a little ice cream.

Nom nom nom.


My 3-year-old liked Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells a lot, so much that I had to politely redirect her attention when she requested that I read it a third time. It was a perfect review for all the things we talked about yesterday (reading right to left and up to down, etc) and also taught my kids how not to be a jerk who picks on people who are different. Win-win!

While they were eating lunch, I cleaned the kitchen and the kids watched a video called Families of Japan that followed two families (one rural, one urban) in their daily life. It sounded pretty decent from the kitchen.

My son was bored out of his mind as we discussed the intricacies of Japanese religions, so he played on the floor making Minecraft noises as I went over Shintoism and Buddhism with the girls.

Shinto is the native religion of Japan and we looked at these pictures of shinto shrines and talked about their function. My daughter saw one and said, "Hey, I've painted that!" She went down to her art studio (which sounds way fancier than saying "card table set up in the unfinished basement") and brought it up to show us. What do you think?

Left: real thing courtesy of James Long
Right: artist's reproduction courtesy of 11-year-old

I didn't have a lot on Buddhism because I thought the girls would remember talking about it when we visited China (for pretend, guys, don't get excited.) Alas, they said they forgot so I guess I shouldn't assume they take every word I say and engrave it into the tablets of their minds.

If your kids are learning about Buddhism, an excellent picture book to use is Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha by Stewart Whitney.

Our library copy of Japanese Celebrations by Betty Reynolds smelled terrible, but sacrifices needed to be made.

One of the celebrations we read about is Children's Day (May 5th,) and to observe it families hang windsocks shaped like carp outside for each member of their family. So we used this awesome tutorial on making koi hangers.

Again, I had no idea that the kids were going to spend hours making these things.

For dinner I made Japanese curry (wafuu,) which honestly didn't taste that much different than the Indian curry we make all the time. Unfortunately, our chopsticks had gone missing so we had to eat with forks like sad, sad Americans.

My son asked me "Is this Japanese?" I said yes. He asked, dead-serious, "Why do they want their food to look like throw-up?"

(Bonus: when I sent my 9-year-old upstairs to fold her laundry she wanted to bring the iPad with her so she could listen to some Japanese music.)


A light day today.

We read I Live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi, which was basically a more little-kid-friendly review of the Japanese Celebrations book but it smelled better, and watched a 5-minute YouTube video on sumo wrestling.


With our kids being bookworms, the natural thing to do was make some sort of Japanese-themed bookmark, so we made the kimono bookmarks found here.

Sing with me: "One of these things is not like the other..."

For a bedtime story we read Chibi: A True Story from Japan by Barbara Brenner and Julia Takaya. It was sort of like a cute Japanese Make Way for Ducklings.

For dinner we made Japanese kakiage. It was a little time consuming and if I could do it again I would just buy French cut green beans since cutting enough of these for 8 people (my sister-in-law was visiting) was so tedious I wanted to poke my eyes out with chopsticks. Good thing we'd already lost ours.


Japan has a lot of natural disasters. My sister-in-law told the kids about one particular house-shaker earthquake when they lived in Tokyo; their dad ran in demanding to know what they were doing to shake the house!

In the car on the way to the beach, I gave the older girls copies of I Survived the Japanese Tsunami 2011 by Lauren Tarshish and Can You Survive an Earthquake? by Rachel Hanel. (They're interactive books where you choose what you'd do, and one of the scenarios is an earthquake/tsunami in Japan.) It was a long ride so I also tossed them Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Japan by Virginia Haviland, which they liked.

We were exhausted by the time we got home from the ocean, but we did make Japanese gyoza and rice for dinner.

Learning about Japan was fun. I came to love the smell of ginger in my kitchen almost every night; these are going on my regular rotation of recipes for sure. I also had to laugh when I got this spam email from "the Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Inc. Japan." That just about closed out the week perfectly.

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Unremarkable Files

Learning about Japan is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #japan #educational

Building the perfect Japan lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Japan activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #japan #lessonplan

I’m sharing all the free resources I used to teach my kids all about Japan this week, including printables, links, educational activities, videos, recipes, and crafts! This comes from our around-the-world unit study, and I’d be thrilled if you used these ideas for learning in your homeschool or classroom. #japan #homeschool


Jaclyn Kent said...

Jenny, this is an absolutely jaw-dropping idea!!!!! What an amazing way to study other cultures and countries, while having a blast! This is GREAT.

Jenny Evans said...

It's actually fun enough for my kids to be worth the work it takes. I'm doing these Saturday night recaps because, well, I'm already compiling it for myself so I might as well put it on the blog, and hopefully if someone else wants to do the same thing they can steal all my ideas and not have to reinvent the wheel!

Unknown said...

I think that I could actually take my kids on holiday in Japan and it wouldn't be as educational as this! You are totally missing your vocation as a home-schooler. Seriously - so, so awesome (and can I send my kids round? :-) I know, I know, I'll have yours in Exchange and teach them all about pubs and how England slowly but surely lost it's entire identity to America... ;-)

Anonymous said...

How wonderful! You are doing a great job of keeping the kiddos busy, and "accidentally" teaching them at the same time!

Jenny Evans said...

We're doing the UK this week! I always did have a passion for teaching so it was inevitable that it came out somewhere in my career as a mom.

However, I love our public school and think it's been great for my kids. I also like being able to pseudo-homeschool in the summer but not really be responsible for teaching them ALL THE THINGS.

Jenny Evans said...

I was just thinking about that the other day, and how they'd probably all be rolling around on the floor complaining about how bored they are every afternoon if we didn't have our countries to keep us busy!

Jennifer at The Champagne Supernova said...

I love your ideas about have your kids spend the summer learning about different countries! Cheers to not having summer be a complete brain killer!