This year we are doing some American history and Asian history studies.
This is one of the areas that I decided to not follow a set curriculum, but pretty much have been doing a DIY. I am loving it. It has caused my boys and I to read sometimes for hours and other times to just draw or do some cute crafts. We went to the library sometimes three times a week!
We are finishing up our study on Japan and are transitioning over to China.
Okay, so it is no surprise to people who have known me for a long time to hear that I have always had a fascination for Japanese culture. To those who don’t know me, I don’t think people realize the fascination’s depth because I try to contain it in a subtle way as to not scare people away (like I did as a kid). I also have spent years attempting to learn the language which is so tough, and this year I have picked it up again in a slightly more dedicated manor (needs more though).
Here’s the gist of what we’ve been doing:
1. I read books out loud to the boys about the history of Japan. Some of these are chapter books, some have been picture books, some are folklore, some are historical fiction, some are textbook information, and others are biographies about people who are/were well known in Japan (artists, poets, and more).
2. Almost everything in Japan has an art form that goes with it. We take the time to learn or try out that art form depending on what it is. This helps the boys to appreciate the culture as well as to learn something that is uncommon here in the US.
3. We tie things in with our own beliefs (Anabaptist Mennonite Christians). There are a mixture of religions in Japan from the 1% of Christians to Shintoism, Buddhism, and Taoism. It is important for them to learn about why those religions exist in this place and the reasons why those may be prevalent or not.
4. Watching Prime Japan on Amazon. Each episode is an hour long and teaches a lesson about the history of 12 things in Japan (such as ramen, sushi, cats, tea, and more). Rob and I watch each episode together before the boys watch it. It is great to all learn things together, as we’ll discuss each episode as a family.
5. Learning the language. Japanese is a very difficult language because they teach Kanji to students for years and years little by little (which has 2,136 characters), Katakana (46 characters), and Hiragana (46 characters). We have been learning the 46 Hiragana characters at least and some basic words and phrases over the past few months. They do worksheets from here to help. We also have been using Rosetta Stone online for lessons to learn the language. The boys and I all do it together at once which makes it a lot of fun.
Here’s a list of our favorite chapter books from our study:
Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun
This book teaches the history of when Americans first interacted with the Japanese people and what it was like as they worked towards peaceful relations and set up trade back in the late 1800s. This is a chapter book that has some pictures here and there and it is mainly a book to teach history, not something that is entertaining. My sons really enjoyed this, as it was the first one I read to them and I put drawing projects along with it so that it made them appreciate it better.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
This is a chapter book with some pictures. It is smaller and is based off of a true story of a little girl who received radiation sickness due to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. This brought up discussion about war, WWII, and Leukemia. Afterwards we made an origami crane together. They really enjoyed doing that and still play with the cranes wee made.
The Master Puppeteer
This is the largest of thee books we have read so far. It is a chapter book with maybe 5 drawings in the whole book. It meant a lot of time listening to the details, but they enjoyed it. This is about a boy who is tired of making puppets (large wooden puppets known as Bunraku) with his father for the puppet theater in town. He wants to be a part of the theater because his family is so hungry. This book helped us learn about the hardships Japan endured during the Edo period (1600s-1860s), the importance of friendship and family, samurai life after it was outlawed, and gave us a great time of enjoying watching a few performances of Bunraku on youtube (here’s a short example of one).
The Big Wave
This is a shorter book with no pictures and is just one very long chapter (so we read it in maybe three days) about a family living near a volcano and the sea who watched suffering happening around them because of where thy were located. They learned about tsunami (Japanese people don’t use “s” for plurals like we do), relationships with friends and family, and to have no fear. It also brought on a study of the artist Hokusai Katsushika who created a lot of wood block ocean based art in the late 1700s/early 1800s.
Circus Day in Japan
Under the Cherry Blossom Tree
(might be a little much if you have really young kids, but my kids loved this one and cracked up in laughter)
The Drums of Noto Hanto
Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars
Tea with Milk
(and really all of Allen Say’s books, which we read many of)
Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed
Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks