Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Winter Break Homework

Winter break homework in Japan is unique in many ways.  Having homework during the winter break is unique enough, but its contents are more than just academic content review.  In fact, an academic workbook is provided to each child and expected to be completed over the break. New Year's Day is the most important holiday throughout the year, because it represents the ancient Japanese tradition and customs that have passed on through many generations. Schools and communities collaborate to make efforts to pass important traditions to the next generation. 

Starting in the last few days in December, children are expected to help clean the whole house. They dust off everything from the household to welcome a good new spirit. It sounds religious, but it's a custom that has naturally blended into people's lives based on ancient beliefs. Families prepare New Year meals like mochi rice cakes. Each New Year's dish has its own meaning, such as the family's longevity and prosperity.  Children learn the country's and their own family's tradition by participating as an important member of the family. Children are encouraged to help with their family's New Year preparation before the winter break.

Many Japanese teachers give out a list of traditional games, such as flying a kite, Japanese badminton, Sugoroku (a board game), and Karuta (a card game that matches words and pictures), so kids have an opportunity to ask their parents or grandparents what they are. Games are a great way to learn the culture and tradition.

Japanese calligraphy is very important in the New Year. The seasonal phrases or the New Year's resolution will be painted on authentic rice paper with fine black ink and a brush. Students learn important techniques in Japanese calligraphy at school. Japanese calligraphy is the important assignment during the winter break; it takes time to complete the one that you really like. 

"Hands on" experiences are powerful learning tools.  Remembering as a student myself, "homework" didn't necessarily attract me, however, live experiences wouldn't disappear from my memory bank.  It is worth investing your time and effort on projects in order to intake and digest. The teacher's role is to provide students with meaningful opportunities, purpose, and consistency.  Let them get involved!