Japan Lesson for Children
Do you have a child who loves learning about other cultures? Use this fun, hands-on lesson or "play date" activity to explore the Japanese culture! I created this lesson to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 13 elementary-aged children. Use this fun lesson with your class, family, after school club, camp, or homeschool co-op group!
Introduction & Slippers
1) Stretch. Pray. Read & discuss I Peter 2:17. Tell the children that we will be studying about Japan today. Honor is a very important aspect in the Japanese culture.
2) Read The Way We Do It in Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima. (A good option if you have older children would be This Place Is Crowded: Japan by Vicki Cobb.)
3) Ask, "How many of you take off your shoes when you go into your house?" That's what Japanese people always do. We're going to pretend like we're in a Japanese house. Everyone will take off their shoes and put on slippers or socks. That's what we're going to wear today while we're inside. In Japan, to remind people to take off their shoes, they will have a step that's about 6 inches above the ground whenever you first walk into a house. Whenever you see a raised floor, you know you're supposed to take off your shoes.
YOU WILL NEED: slippers or socks for each child (brought from home)
Book to read for activity 3
This is about a young boy who moves with his parents to Japan. It does a nice job of introducing basic aspects of the Japanese way of life including taking off your shoes when entering a house, sleeping on mats on the floor, what children wear to school and what they eat, etc. Everyone is presented as friendly and helpful. If you have upper elementary aged children, another good option would be "This Place Is Crowded: Japan" by Vicki Cobb.
Map of Japan
4) Point out Japan on a map. Pass out a map of Japan to each child and have them write their names on their papers.
-How many main islands make up the nation of Japan? (4). Have them color the 4 islands.
-Tell them that Japan is made up of islands. Islands are surrounded on all sides by water. The Pacific Ocean & Sea of Japan surround Japan. Have them color the water blue.
-Tell them that the capitol of Japan is Tokyo. Have them say, "Tokyo." Point where Tokyo is on their maps and have them put a star there.
- Mount Fuji is Japan's highest mountain. Point out where it is. Have the children draw a triangle to mark where the mountain is.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a blank map of Japan such as this one and crayons or colored pencils
Japanese Screen, Sumi-e Painting, & Cherry Blossoms
5) Make a Byobu (Japanese screen).
-In Japan, many times they will use screens to separate a room or to decorate it. They usually have some form of painting on them. We'll be making our Japanese screen using a poster board.
-Help children to fold their poster board into thirds so it will stand up. Then lay it down flat on the floor.
-In Japan they like to paint using a form of painting called Sumi-e. They use watercolors and rice paper for Sumi-e painting, so we will decorate our screen using watercolors. Right now they are celebrating that their cherry blossom trees are blooming. Many places you go, you will find trees with these beautiful pink blossoms.
-Lead the children in painting cherry blossoms on their poster board screens. They will first use brown or black to paint stems. Then they will use red or pink to create the flowers.
-(You can see a picture at painting.about.com to get an idea of how to do this. Yes, this will be more complex than what the kids can do, but it will give you a general idea of what to aim for.)
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a half sheet (or a full sheet) of white poster board, watercolor paints with a paintbrush, a container for water, and a smock/t-shirt (optional)
6) Make Sticky Rice. In Japan they eat a lot of rice. Lead the children in making sticky rice.
-Have everyone pour something into the pan. As they pour in the cups of rice & of water, have them count in Japanese: 1 = ichi, 2 = ni, 3 = san, 4 = shi, 5 = go
-You, the teacher/parent will put the pan on the stove or hot plate and then bring it to a boil, cover it, & turn it to low. Let it cook for 20 minutes. You can leave it to cook for those 20 minutes.
-Sticky Rice Recipe:
2 cup long-grain rice
5 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons cooking oil
Mix the ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. When it turns milky, cover, turn to low and cook it for 20 minutes.
YOU WILL NEED: 2 cup long-grain rice, 5 cups water, 2 teaspoons salt, 6 tablespoons cooking oil, saucepan with lid, liquid measuring cup, 1 cup measuring cup, measuring spoons, & mixing spoon
Counting in Japanese
7) Read Yoko's Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells.
8) In Japan many children and adults love to fold paper to make it look like something. This is called origami. What did Yoko make as a gift for her grandmother's birthday? (origami cranes) We are going to make origami butterflies. Lead the children in making an origami butterfly by following these steps found at: origami-instructions.com .
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a sheet of 6"x6" paper (We used colorful wrapping paper.)
Book to read for activity 7
This is a short picture book about a young Japanese girl/kitten whose family moves to America. She misses watching the cranes arrive each year with her grandmother and making origami cranes with her grandfather in Japan. For her grandmother's birthday she makes origami cranes and mails them to her grandparents.
This would make another good option for introducing children to origami. It is a Japanese folk tale about an origami woman who embarks on a journey and eventually becomes a real woman. It is set in historic Japan.
Carp Fish Kites
9) Read the page on Children's Day from Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns and Stars! by Betty Reynoldssome. If you are teaching children older than preschool level, read I live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi.
10) Lead the children in making carp fish kites.
-May 5th is Children's Day or "Kodomo-No-Hi" in Japan. On that day parents think about their strong hopes and desires to see their children succeed in life. To celebrate this holiday, families fly carp fish kites/wind socks for each boy they have. Carp are a type of large goldfish.
- Pass out a piece of masking tape to each child and help them to place it at the top of the 13 ½" x 18" sheet of paper along the 13 ½" side. The masking tape will keep the mouth from tearing. Use a gluestick to glue the 18" side of the paper so that it makes a long paper tube. If desired, use scotch tape to tape over the seam. This will be the fish body.
-Pass out 2 white circles to each child. These will be the fish eyes. Have them use a crayon to color a smaller circle in the middle of the white circle. Paste these eyes to toward the top of the fish on the side where you have the masking tape.
-Press the bottom half of the paper tube flat. Let the child cut 2 sideways V-shapes at the bottom to make a fishtail.
-Punch 2 holes near the mouth where the masking tape is. Help the children to tie the string to those 2 holes.
-Allow the children to walk around the room to fly their carp fish kite.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a 13 ½" x 18" sheet of paper (We used colorful wrapping paper), 2 half-dollar sized circles cut from white paper, glue, scissors, crayons or colored pencils, a 14" strip of masking tape, a 3 ½' piece of string or yarn, an 18" piece of scotch tape, & a hole punch (only 1 needed for a small group)
Book to read for activity 9 if teaching children ages 6+
This introduces various customs and holidays of modern day Japan and includes brief notes about how holidays are celebrated.
Book to read for activity 9 if teaching preschoolers
This also discusses Japanese celebrations. It is a bit longer than the above book, but even my 3 and 5 year old girls enjoyed me reading through this book. It goes through at least one Japanese holiday per month and includes a short description of how the holiday is celebrated, the history of the holiday, and the special foods that are eaten during the celebration. If you are reading this to young children, do be aware that many Japanese holidays are related to temples, praying to gods/idols, and warding off evil spirits.
The Art of Floral Arrangements
11) Many Japanese people love art. They even think of making flower bouquets as an art. They call it ikebana. Usually they'll have just a only one or three flowers and then they'll have tall twigs and branches sticking up as well. They try to keep it very simple. One part that is very important is that they stay very quite when they arrange their flowers. Allow children to arrange an ikebana flower arrangement using the flowers, twigs, and vase they brought from home.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1-3 flowers on their stems (wildflowers will be fine), at least 1 thin twig, at least 1 small branch with leaves, & a vase or tall cup (all brought from home)
12) Make and eat "sushi."
-Many Japanese people don't sit in chairs when they eat. They sit on the floor and eat off a short table. Have children sit around a table that has been collapsed.
-A favorite Japanese food is sushi. Ask, "Has anyone ever tried it?" Usually it has rice and fish and sometimes some vegetables, and it's wrapped in seaweed. We're going to make something like sushi.
-Have children pair up so that each pair has an ice cube tray.
-Divide up the cooked sticky rice among the children. Spoon it over their ice cube trays. Have the children use their fingers to push the rice into the individual cube spaces.
-Then tell them to push a finger through the middle of the rice. Have them put a small piece of tuna and few small pieces of broccoli slaw in the middle.
-Help children to pull the pieces of sushi out and place them on a plate.
-Instead of using forks to eat, the Japanese use chopsticks. Pass out chopsticks and have the children attempt to pick up and eat their "sushi" using the chopsticks. Let them take the chopsticks home.
YOU WILL NEED: ice cube trays, a can or pouch of tuna, a bag of broccoli slaw OR matchstick carrots, small disposable plates, & a pair of chopsticks per child
Japanese Tea Ceremony
13) Lead the children in a semi-Japanese Tea Ceremony:
-Ahead of time set up the children's Japanese screens around the room to decorate it and to designate it as the tearoom.
- After a meal many Japanese people will drink green tea. On special occasions they will have a special tea ceremony and will prepare and serve a special green tea in a tearoom or teahouse.
-The special tearoom or teahouse is supposed to be calm and formal, so everyone will need to be very quite. Before you enter the "tearoom," instead of shaking hands with the hostess, you will bow. Have everyone enter the "tea room" one at a time and bow to the hostess (the teacher/parent).
-They will then sit in a circle "seiza" style (on their knees with their bottoms touching their heels).
-The hostess will prepare the tea. (Put the tea bags in a bowl of hot water.) Explain that normally they have loose green tea powder (not in tea bags). Usually the hostess will pour the tea powder into a bowl and then use a special whisk to mic it up. (Use a whisk to swirl around the water.) The guest of honor and the hostess bow to each other, and then the hostess will serve the bowl of tea to her/him. The guest of honor bows to the next person, takes a couple sips of tea from the bowl, wipes off where she/he drank from, turns the bowl, and then passes the bowl to the next guest as she/he bows. The bowl gets passed around the entire circle, with each person sipping a couple sips, wiping off the bowl, turning it, bowing, and passing it. Finally the hostess cleans off the bowl and teapot and then passes them around so that everyone can see them before she/he puts them away. As everyone leaves the "tea room," they bow again to symbolize the end of the ceremony. We're not going to do all that, though because of germs.
-After explaining all of this, the "hostess" will pour the green tea into small cups, which should each have an ice cube in it. She will pass them out to each person. As each person gets their cup, they will bow to each other.
-The children can sip their green tea and throw away what they do not finish.
-Everyone will line up to leave. As each person leaves, they will bow to the hostess who will be waiting at the "door."
YOU WILL NEED: green tea, a bowl, a whisk, ice, & a disposable cup for each child
14) Review what we learned about Japan.
Looking for Free Lapbooks on Japan?
Click on the below links for find free lapbooks based on Japan:
Also look for their other free lapbooks based on Japan. Copy and paste these links:
Taro and the Tofu by Masako Matsuno Literature-Based Lapbook: http://www.homeschoolshare.com/taro_and_the_tofu.php
Crowboy by Taro Yashima Literature-Based Lapbook: http://www.homeschoolshare.com/crowboy.php
Basho & Haiku Lapbook: http://www.homeschoolshare.com/blog/2013/04/tea-time-with-basho/
Turtle Bay by Saviour Pirotta Literature-Based Lapbook : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/unit_turtle_bay.php
Great YouTube Clip on Japan
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If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!