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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Turning Japanese, I Really Think So

Several months ago, my son began a new obsession: Japan. It all started with news reports of the earthquakes and tsunami. He’s always been interested in geography, but this gave him a specific place – one he previously knew nothing about – to latch on to.

The author 's son labeling places in Japan on an interactive white boardMy son is seven. He’s been playing with Google Earth for a year or two now, and he can make his way around in there pretty confidently. Lately, all searches lead to Sendai. Of course, many place names in Japan in Google Earth are written in Japanese, so this led to another new interest: Asian languages, especially those that use symbols to represent ideas.

I have a number of students where I work who attend our school on I-20 visas. These kids are mostly from Asia: South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, mainland China. More than half of the kids at my school are American-born kids whose parents are from Taiwan, China, Vietnam, and other countries on the other side of the globe from California. It wasn’t until first grade, for some reason, that my son really began to notice all these cultures and their signs and restaurants all around our city.

He really wanted to know more about Japanese language, so I found an iPad app called KanjiPics, which teaches the meaning and pronunciation of a number of Kanji characters, and also allows the user to draw them with a finger on the tablet. I am also very fortunate to be good friends with Rushton Hurley, who teaches Japanese language and is happy to field questions my son sends his way through me. We learned about hiragana and romaji as the ways Japanese words can be displayed, and that Kanji characters come to Japanese from the Chinese language.

Another current preoccupation is watching YouTube videos of earthquakes and tsunamis, especially in Japan.(We make sure he is supervised while using his new iTouch – my husband’s old iPhone 3G that no longer has cellular service – to call up these clips.)It didn’t take long for the boy to become rather proficient at operating this device and navigating to exactly what he wanted. Which means I have a first grader who can spell earthquake, tsunami, and a number of Japanese place names.

My son is a pretty willing child when it comes to food, also. He will always at least try something before he decides not to like it, and among his favorite foods are chicken tikka masala, teriyaki chicken, and chicken chow mein. I grew up eating a lot of chicken, but never in any of those forms. The interest and increased willingness toward Japanese and Chinese offerings accompanied this recent fascination with Japan.

My boy has always been interested in cars. Now he demands to know the country of origin of all the automobile manufacturers whose vehicles we pass day in and day out. As he said to me today during a flight to visit family, “I am very questiony.”

Even though it’s a full-time job responding patiently to his questions, I have to say I’m actually rather grateful. This child’s mind is always wondering, wandering, and seeking to know why. This translates into dreaminess in school, and there’s quite a lot he doesn’t catch or complete during the course of a regular first grade day. But we just finished the school year with a pretty decent report card, and I know that he is going to be a hugely successful person in life. I am so pleased that technology affords us the option to allow our son to grow and explore the things that interest him. No matter what a child’s interest – and I know our son’s interests will morph over time – he or she can dig up a plethora of ways to learn more with just a few apps and clicks. He’s also learning some valuable lessons about compassion and charity, as well as how important it is to know and care about people we’ll never meet.

Image of child labeling map on interactive white board is property of the author, Flickr user Dowbiggin (Diane Main), some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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