Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creativity Reigns

Zilla is 7 years old 
Mega is 5 years old
Lesson: Creativity Reigns!

 For many reasons we have very few electronic toys. The kids get nearly no iPad time and they don't have videos games. They know these things exist but are very happy with boxes, yarn and legos. 

In a recent cleaning spree I came across one of our old laptops that no longer works. Since the kids don't get computer time I thought they may enjoy the old laptop.

Their creativity is stronger than the power cord. Even without the laptop turning they still enjoy "playing" computer games. Listening to them play you'd never know the thing no longer turns on! 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Enjoying the Fireworks

Zilla is 7 years old
Mega is 4 years old 
Lesson: Preparation is key!

Tokyo summers are hot. There is no way around that. However every year millions of people try to to make the most of the summer by getting out to enjoy some of the fireworks shows. We are not fans of big crowds so we usually only go to a less well known show. One thing we've learned is that preparation is key to enjoying a show with kids. 

For a spring show everyone seems more concerned about staying warm than being stylish but for the summer shows it is common to dress up in yukata (cotton summer kimono) or jinbei (summer top/bottom). Mega and Zilla love to dress up for these events but we do ask for them to wear comfortable walking shoes instead of the traditional geta. Be sure to bring a fan for the hot nights and an extra coat or wrap on the cool nights. Something I try to remember, and often forget, is to get glow stick jewelry for the kids to wear. For them it is a toy, for us it is a way to easily spot them in the dark, in a crowd.
Trying to find a place to sit can be tricky, depending on the location of the fireworks. It is good to look at the map before going to figure out what spaces will have seating and how to get there. It traveling by train it can easily be a 30 minute walk from a station to a good seating area. On the way home going to the closest station also can mean being squeezed in on super crowded trains. 
Having a snack or special drink to give the kids an energy boost on the way home helps to temper the past bedtime whininess.

Here is a list of things to bring:
 - blanket or leisure sheet to sit on
 - drinks
 - snacks
 - glow sticks or glowing jewelry
 - small umbrella (even if no rain is predicted there can be unexpected showers)
 - deck of cards (something to do while waiting
 - wear comfortable walking shoes
 - bug repellent and after bite
 - map or guide to the fireworks area
 - camera
 - fan

Things to consider:
Stroller vs. carrier
How will the kids handle being up late?
How hot/cold will it be?
Will there be a place to sit?
How early do you need to go to get a place?
How will you manage the potential long lines for the bathrooms?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Potato Harvest

Mega is 4 years old 
Lesson: Things you grow are yummy!

Both Mega and Zilla have the oppertunity to grow a variety of foods. Some we grow at home, some they grow at school. One of the things that attracted us to Mega's school was their fields and little orchard. We live in an urban area where even container gardening can be tricky due to the lack of space and the weather. We want to kids to have the chance to get dirty, plant something and watch it grow, taste food that is freshly picked. 
This time of year the potatoes are ripe. However, it is also the end of rainy season so getting into the field to harvest them without having a class full of muddy children can be a bit tricky. The harvest day had to be moved a couple of times due to the weather but the kids finally got the chance to dig out their potatoes. 
Each child brought home 6-7 good sized spuds. Mega wanted to eat them right away so Zilla helped her scrub them and I helped cook them. They requested baked potatoes with butter, homemade french fries (baked, not fried) and potato chips (also baked, not fried). 
One thing that I've found interesting is that the kids are more likely to eat something they grow at school even if it is something they don't generally care for. Mega is not a huge fan of potatoes but she declared the school ones to be delicious. Zilla likes fries and chips but this time was the first time he finished a baked potato on his own. In the past the same thing has happened with sweet potato and daikon. Perhaps the work you put into caring for a food makes you want to eat it?

Some of the other foods that they grow at school are corn, cherries, mikan, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. In fact, Zilla has a mini tomato plant to care for over the summer. He and Mega enjoy watering it and checking for a ripe snack each day!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Timer for Timely Completion

Zilla is 7 years old 
Lesson: Timers can help save time 

 Some days Zilla struggles to stay on task. This morning we set a reachable homework goal that he came nowhere close to reaching his mind kept wandering, little disruptions really broke his focus... It just wasn't working. When the lollygagging goes on too long one thing we do is use the timer on the iPad. With a countdown and alarm at the end Zilla is more likely of focus than when he is left to take his time. A page of 20 math equations suddenly gets done in 10 minutes instead of 40+ minutes.

Another thing that helps is working side-by-side. There is something comforting about having another person working near by!

Friday, July 17, 2015

An Acute Bout of Summer Homework

Zilla is 7 years old
Mega is 4 years old

Lesson: Sometimes homework is handled best like an illness. 

It is that time of year again! Summer break!!!
Before you get too excited though count how many pages of homework need to be completed and figure out when you can squeeze it in between trips to the beach, camps and visiting relatives. 

As you may already know, summer vacation in Japan falls during the school year.  For whatever reason elementary schools seem to think kids need to study 30-60 minutes a day or more and assign homework accordingly. This doesn't sound so bad, right?  

Let's do the math. 

Most kids are not in the mood to do homework when they could be relaxing or playing with friends so something simple that should only take a few minutes can easily take double or triple the normal time. Let's estimate the homework takes 1 hour a day.

Spend 2 days at camp. That is +2 hours of homework. 
The day after camp is no longer a 1 hour day but it is now a 3 hour day.

Go to Grandma's for the week and play with your cousins every day. That is +7 hours of homework.
Get home and your week of fun will be followed with a day of 8 hours of homework.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Here are the rules Mega and Zilla came up with for getting the homework done as painlessly as possible:

1. Don't complain about it. 
Complaining won't make it go away.

2. Tackle the homework right away 
before getting into full-on summer relaxation mode.

3. Treat it like a cold. 
Stay home, keep the place quiet, eat soul food.

4. Set up incentives. 
Make a check list including each bit of homework. Plan rewards like a piece of candy for each section finished, earn an extra chapter in the bedtime story for completing a subject area, an adventure to go on when it is all done.

5. Find the fun. 
Zilla is really good at this part!
Use creativity wherever permissible to make it a bit more interesting.

Mega is still preschool age so her homework is a calendar to fill in. Each day of break gets marked off with a special sticker. There is also a space on each day for a weather sticker, brushed my teeth sticker and an "I pooped" sticker. Why the teachers want a record of the children's pooping over summer break is something I fail to comprehend but it is what it is.
The calendar also has a space to write a sentence or two about what we do each day and a page in the back for summer pics. I don't mind making the calendar as it will go into the Mega's baby box and help her to remember how she spent her summer this year.  We look back at Zilla's from time to time and enjoy reading it.
Her other piece of homework is keeping track of how many flowers bloom on her morning glory plant that she's been growing from a seed. It has yet to bloom so she is anxiously waiting to get started on that!  We still need to find a plant baby sitter for the times we are away during summer who will keep watering and keep track of the flowers for her. 

This year Zilla has a couple workbooks to complete, a pile of worksheets in addition to a daily diary (thankfully it is short like Mega's) and some book reports. He has been very diligent in getting a head start. Some morning he gets up early to work. By the afternoon his interest wanes and it is a struggle to stay focused but he is getting things done! Hopefully the main parts will be completed soon!

Now, I realize that the theory behind the homework is to keep things fresh in the kid's mind. That is all fine and good and does make sense. However, I also believe that kids need a break. It is good for the brains, bodies and souls to take a break from schoolwork. It is this line of thinking that shapes the way we tackle the summer homework.