Now is the time of year when I start seeing my friends on Facebook post about Japan trips (and Hokkaido in particular). I like the idea of continent boxes (explanation and my own Asia box here), bringing the continent to the child- but having visited the country in question and then working a unit around it has added significance and authenticity, such as this Singapore-themed unit . Here are some Montessori-inspired activities that you can do to introduce Japan or consolidate your children’s trip memories, using souvenirs or even Daiso materials (it is after all a Japanese dollar store!).
We saw this 3-dimensional map in our Tokyo hotel’s 25th floor lobby, mirroring the attractions on the skyline and current events.
So we brought home a tourist map, because while it’s not to scale, the attractions are clearly marked. The first thing the littles had to do was unfold the map, which required lightness of touch and precision.
The little suitcase symbolised where they were on the map. They even had a go at “taking the subway”. Heh.
[Comment from Andrew: Dylan finds maps absolutely fascinating and for almost all attractions that we go to, he always wants to bring maps back. We did that for our trip to the Singapore zoo, Heathsville Sanctuary in Melbourne and our latest visit to Willows Farm. The maps are very useful for recapping what happened during the visit through visuals.]
2. Three types of Asian-inspired practical life
Teabag sorting and water pouring, using stuff in the hotel room itself.
And some fine motor skills practice using chopsticks and sushi erasers from Daiso. The yellow rubber girl is a chopstick helper from Daiso, just clip it onto regular chopsticks to make it easier for children.
It was quite challenging transferring the sushi erasers using the chopsticks. But I do love the bento container holding the activity, it is a Shinkansen (bullet train) that my mum actually bought on a Shinkansen journey.
[Comment from Andrew: The kids are extending this chopstick activity to their food now and they’ve been keen to practise using it on their cereal and granola. Good training for fine motor skills!]
And an open and close activity with a wooden toothpick holder, made with an art technique using geometric wood inlays but the name sadly escapes me now.
3. Cherry blossom art
This was done many moons back, and you know what, I’m not even sure I would do this now as I believe in artmaking for children being about process not product, so the adult would not have a predetermined image nor help to shape the art- which was what I did here. The children did scrunch tissue paper to represent the sakura and cut squares to represent the leaves- but I wouldn’t repeat this 😂
4. Decorative arts: kokeshi (dolls) and origami (paper folding)
I was quite mesmerised by the many handmade puppets at the Children’s Puppet Theatre in Sapporo, Hokkaido, where we took in a puppet show in Japanese.
So when we got back home, using some kokeshi dolls as inspiration (rectangular tray), I invited the children to make their own using origami papers and toilet rolls (circular tray). (Uhm, I scrutinised the small red kokeshi doll beforehand to find out that all it took was two pieces of paper glued on a cylinder to make its kimono).
The origami papers themselves were quite lovely, covered with traditional Japanese motifs like sakura (cherry blossom) and cranes (longevity). I could not resist sending some to Montessorians overseas.
While we are on the subject of Japanese decorative arts, I just wanted to share another Japanese art form that I chanced upon selling in a store: Suzugami, a malleable tin plate that can be folded and unfolded just like origami. I think this would be a unique tactile material to expose children to, made even more perfect because it marries form with function.
5. Matching activity
While Japan is rich in history, I did not want the unit to be a retrograde look at its past. To highlight its modernity (and stylistic overtones of kawaii, or cutesy), I saved some Japanese packaging for a matching and one to one correspondence activity, putting the soft cone eraser into the Baskin Robbins box and the melon into the Hello Panda (flavoured chocolate biscuit) box.
6. Grace and courtesy
The Japanese are an unfailingly polite people. For many weeks after Dylan was saying “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) and “shaimase” (welcome/ come into my shop) even when we were back in Singapore! Not sure why I didn’t think of adding Japanese pleasantries to our bilingual busy bag (scroll down to no 16, I made like 21 busy bags).
7. Japanese-inspired book basket
Especially when a translated poem on Koinoburi (carp streamers, or wind socks in the shape of carp fish) is coupled with an actual carp streamer from Japan.
I’ve seen small standing carp streamers from Daiso, and I imagine it would be very easy to DIY. However, Koinoburi only make their appearance during special festivals; fortunately we were in Japan during the Children’s Day period, so we got to visit the carp streamer festival at Tokyo TV Tower.
Displaying carp streamers signifies that the children will grow up full of vitality like the carp- what a wonderful wish for our children!
We are now in London, so visit our Facebook page for more cultural activities as we update there much more regularly.