Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend Origami

Oohhh--yeah, Origami!  I'll teach my daughter(son) how to fold a crane, and sit there radiating smugness while s/he unconsciously gains important fine motor and geometric-spatial skills! (Ick! Quit that!)

And then your 3-year-old...wads the paper into a ball...wants to tear it to bits...throws a tantrum because s/he "can't!"...

Ok--so how about the simple kind?  The kind my kids learned to do in kindergarten.  As in, fold a sqare in half for a mountain.  Really, that's how they start out over here (with 3-year-olds, some of whom are still in diapers, so how hard can they make it?), with really young kids using regular origami paper which is cheap (dollar shop) here, but  possibly not so (or not readily available) in other countries.  No worries--thin catalogue paper works just fine, as does newspaper.  My kids' teachers used both of those at Yochien (kindergarten), too.  Start simple--no need to give yourself a headache trying to fold something out of a book with 47 steps.  How about 3?

My oldest son used to come home at least once a week with an intricately folded "shuriken" ("throwing star"-all the boys want those) made from two pieces of paper torn from a catalogue.  His two-year-old brother, of course, coveted it as soon as he saw it.  And, not knowing what to actually *do* with it, pulled it halfway apart--resulting in much wailing, smiting (of younger brother), and pleas to mommy to "fix it".  No clue.  Major headache.  I had to get a japanese origami book, look up a bunch of words, and learn how to fold the fool thing myself just to achieve a temporary cease-fire.  Maybe I should have started kindergarten myself...
I'll post the shuriken later-- it's fun to fold side-by-side with your kindergartner once they can fold simpler things evenly.  By "kindergartner", I mean third year, like a 5 1/2 or 6-year-old.

So, let's make a house!  Or, heck, a whole street of houses, big ones and little ones, decorated to taste.  Make them stand-alone, or glue them onto a piece of construction paper, as you like.  It's Saturday for me here in Tomorrowland, but for anybody reading this from the Western Hemisphere, why it's still Friday, so you get a little jump on the weekend.  Figure it out *before* the weekend,eh. 

1) fold a thin square in half, and unfold (guide fold made)
2)fold the top corner down, lining up the edge of the paper with the guide fold.
3)fold the other corner down, trying not to have a white space in the middle.
4)et voila!  A house.  Draw a door, some windows, whatever you like.  Glue down the flaps, or not.
    Leave the roof flaps loose and draw surpises underneath.  Have fun!  Photos below:

Next time,  Origami Ice Cream!! Or Tulips...decide later:)  So fold away, and just have fun.  Brush the child psych experts off your shoulder, and tell the early childhood specialists to shove off.  

Mata asobou, ne!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Genkans keep your floor cleaner

Or:  Why My Mom Is Trying to Teach My Dad a New Trick

I was, and am still, endlessly fascinated by the homogeneity of Japan (at least as compared to the United States).  No major income gaps; no major education gaps; even more striking--no major manners gaps. 

Take shoes, for instance.  You will not find a person in Japan who would walk into a house with their shoes on.  This custom is reflected in the architecture-- all houses, apartments, japanese-style inns are built with a genkan (entryway) with closets and shelves right there for your shoes.  There's also usually a step, so first you take off your shoes and then you step up into the house proper.  I have watched my husband ( a grown-up, for pete's sake) when he's too lazy to take his shoes back off, crawl on his hands and knees back into the house--being careful not to let his shoed feet touch the floor-- to get some forgotten item.  Really.

No one in Japan, I mean literally no one--not even thieves--would ever in a million years step on a tatami mat with shoes on.  Children as young as 18 months can be seen sitting on the genkan step struggling to take their own shoes off.

I meant that about thieves, by the way.  A former student of mine once told me (in halting English) about how her parents house had been broken into.  A window opened, things taken.  The police could tell where the thief had come in since there were shoeprints in the mud outside the window.  Oh dear, I said, wasn't the inside a muddy mess?  No, she replied, just some things were taken.  But, why wasn't there any mud inside the house if the thief had to stand in mud to get in the window?  He took his shoes off, came the inevitable reply.  I was flabbergasted--he took his shoes off?!  Why?  She looked puzzled... but--you can't go inside with shoes on!  This, of course, made me laugh--and then I had to explain (no easy task) what on earth I was laughing about.  I'm still not sure she understood why I thought it was hilarious that the housebreaker had taken off his shoes before breaking and entering (apparently the police give thieves extra time to get their shoes on and off before racing to the scene of the crime...).

If you'd like to actually see what I'm talking about, go rent the movie "Adrenaline Drive" from the foreign film section.  A group of Yakuza (Mafia) are chasing the main characters, chase them into an apartment, step into the genkan (entryway) .... and all 5 crooks remove their shoes before continuing the chase inside the house.  I nearly bust a gut laughing.  My husband looked at me like screws were falling out of my ears--he had not the slightest clue why I was laughing.  I explained.  He didn't get it.  I backed up the tape and showed him the scene, and told him why I thought it was funny.  He just looked at me funny and said, "But, you have to take off your shoes before you go inside."


If GOD showed up on a doorstep in Japan, well, He'd just have to take off His shoes,too.  Come to think of it, maybe God is Japanese, since that's what He told Moses to do (was there a tatami mat inside the Burning Bush?).  But I digress.

Seriously, I love my genkan.  I like having all the shoes right by the door.  No muddy, sandy shoes to come stomping through the house.  Even without the special entryway, it's easy enough to make a "genkan" by the back garage door--just put some simple shelving by the door (outside, or just inside), one shelf per family member.  Put a slipper rack back there in the winter if your feet get cold.  It may take a while to get used to it (my Mom is still working on my Dad...), but once you do, it's almost impossible to wear shoes inside again. 

Bonus idea (from Japanese kindergarten):
 How to Help Your Child Get Shoes on the Right Feet Without Saying Anything...
Using a black permanent marker, draw half a smiley face (or heart, or whatever) on the inside of the shoe at the instep and the other half inside the other shoe.   When the shoes are placed the right way, you can see the picture.  If they're backwards, the picture is broken in half and back-to-back.  Works like a charm!

Update:  My daughter brought her uabaki home from kindergarten to be washed, so I took a picture.  Cute, huh!

Mata asobou, ne!

How To Make Clover Necklaces

Does anybody still spend a warm afternoon making clover necklaces and crowns with their kids?  I don't think so--not many people, anyway.  Not because people don't want to, or think it's a frivolous thing to do.  I think the real reason is that hardly anybody remembers how.  Or (like me) never learned in the first place.

When did we forget how to play with kids?
When did we forget how to play?

The first badguy that will come to most peoples' minds is "TV" or "computers".  I agree, but possibly not for the same reason.   Those things are a time drain, to be sure, but the time drain on family time started a lot earlier than the invention of television.

The Industrial Revolution took fathers out of the home.  Fathers who worked 16 hours a day in a factory had precious little time left over for being fathers to their children, let alone playing with them. 

The Compulsory School Movement took children out of the home (and therefore away from mothers, siblings, and extended family) for a large swath of the day.  So children had far less time to spend with parents, whether playing or working productively in the home.

And finally, since nobody else was home and invention after invention of time saving devices gradually took away any meaningful work done in the home by women, women finally left home, too.  Went to work at a job to get their own paychecks instead of living off somebody else's.  Irrational consumerism drove that change much faster.  Heck--people had to go and get two or three jobs just to pay for their lifestyles.

Not much time for making clover necklaces.

Not that these changes in where people spend most of their time has changed peoples' basic instinct to do right by their kids.  No-- I think most parents are as conscientious as parents have ever been.  Today's parents, in fact, have access to a dizzying amount of information about how to raise children well from battalions of experts in child psychology, early childhood education, pediatricians, and ronin grandmas.  Really, we ought to be the best parents the world has ever seen given how much research and advice is available to us.

Or not.

When I was pregnant with my oldest son,  I remember clearly looking at catalogue after catalogue of baby goods and feeling... overwhelmed.  Desperate, even--  I knew we couldn't buy all that stuff.  Living in a rabbit hutch apartment in Tokyo and my husband going back to school to get his master's--well, if I could only get a couple of things, which things?  Every toy, chair, rattle and spoon these days is marketed as having been carefully created and tested according to the latest research in neuroscience...or child development...or early childhood education...or all of them.  So if I don't buy *this* "educational" play mat/mobile/spit-up rag then.... then.... I'm...I'm...[wail!] ...a bad mommy!
I have no idea, really, whether today's toys and baby goods are actually marketed in such Machialvellian fashion, or whether the type of marketing now prevalent is due to more Darwinian market forces.

So why does everybody buy the huge $120 plastic (with highly contrasting colors and textures, because research has shown...  stop that) educational (it was designed specifically for the needs of your 6-month-old, so you'll have to throw it away in three months) play mat/walker/bouncy chair/piano/busy box.... only to watch their child spend hours playing inside the big cardboard box the thing came in.

Our Leappad gathers dust, whereas every decent-sized cardboard box that comes from Nana gets played with till it falls to bits.

Smack!  I knew that.  So what happens to my self-confidence when I walk into a Baby Store, or a Toys-R-Us, or a Wal-Mart, for that matter?

Does anybody else want to remember how to play?

I do.  The biggest shock for me as a new parent (of course, I had read everything--and therefore thought I knew, well, something anyway) was watching Japanese mothers with their kids.  And fathers.  And grandparents.  And strangers on trains.  They all played with their kids in such a...completely natural way.  As though they had never forgotten how.  I watched them play with their fingers, with string, with mud, with flowers and leaves... and I started learning, and sometimes remembering.

Here's how to make a necklace ( bracelet or crown or whatever) of clover.  The little white variety works just fine.

That's it-- lay one clover crosswise over the other one, wrap the stem around and down, repeat (wrapping the next clover around both stems).    As soon as it warms up, and the clovers come out, I hope you take all afternoon to make enough necklaces and crowns for Marie Antoinette *and* Mary Queen of Scots, and still have some left for tomorrow. 

Mata asobou, ne!  (let's play again, 'kay!)