Making Kanji Fun — Part 2: Low Tech and High Tech Ideas

I am continuing my quest to make kanji learning fun and enjoyable for my kids.  I stumbled upon a super simple idea that Austin and Ethan seem to really like.  When given the choice of how to practice kanji at home, this is currently the method they always choose.  They have a kanji workbook from UICS (their Japanese school) that they are going through.  After they complete a page in their workbook, I use a memo pad and magic marker to write the kanji on one piece of paper and the readings for that kanji on another.  Instead of playing concentration with those kanji “cards” (which would take too long), I have the kids separate the kanjis from the readings and then lay the cards all out on the floor face up so that they can see both the kanji and the readings.  The boys then go through and match the readings with the kanjis.  Once they have paired them all, I go through and check to make sure the pairings were correct.  If they were, they are done.  If there were several wrong or if I noticed that they seemed like there were several that they were unsure of when pairing the cards, then I will have them separate them again and play the kanji matching game one more time to really solidify the kanji and their readings in their minds.  So far, this has been an enjoyable, relatively painless way for them to begin instantly recognizing the kanji they are studying and I have been impressed at how they are able to rattle off all the readings of the kanjis in each set I have made for them.  The standard way to study kanji in Japan is just to write it a million times.  But this gets old fast for Austin and Ethan and I have noticed that they can copy the kanji ten times on “auto-pilot mode” but then not be able to remember the reading or how to write it if I take the book away and quiz them on it.  So, this game seems to be an effective way to help them keep the kanji in their long-term memory after they have done the traditional writing of the kanji in their workbooks.

Another fun way the boys sometimes practice kanji is through iPad apps.  There’s a series in the App Store now called Kanji Yubi Doriru (which means drills for writing kanji on the screen with your finger) that covers the kanji learned in elementary school from first through sixth grade.  I got the free version of the second grade kanji app for Ethan last year and he liked it, so I upgraded that one and purchased the rest in the series so that Austin and Ethan (and later Katie) could  use them to practice kanji when they didn’t feel like writing in a workbook.  I also have a free app called Kanji Ninja that quizzes kids on all 1006 of the elementary school kanji, though we haven’t used this one as much so far.  There’s just something about getting to use a screen for homeschool that ignites a spark of interest in the subject, especially when it’s a subject they aren’t naturally all that excited about to begin with.  The Yubi Doriru apps have a place for practicing the kanji on the iPad screen and also quizzes for how to write and read the kanji.  To see part one of this post, go here.

Whenever we can add even a little bit of “fun factor” to the learning of kanji (or any other subject) the boys are very responsive and are much more whole-hearted in their studies.  But, isn’t that true for everyone? Don’t we all prefer to do something or learn something when it’s fun instead of boring?   I recently came across this YouTube video by the Volkswagon company that illustrates this truth in an interesting way.   The company showed how they could get more commuters in a Swedish subway station to take the stairs instead of the escalator by turning the stairs into a giant piano.  Volkswagon calls this “Fun Theory.”   I first saw this Volkswagon video and read an inspiring post about incorporating Fun Theory into our homeschooling over at this blog by a lady named Laura Grace Weldon.  I really like her blog and plan to follow her posts for more inspiration in my own homeschooling.

Here are a few photos of the boys playing their kanji matching game a few days ago.  Notice the third buddy who was included in the study session. 🙂

Making Kanji Fun!

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about needing to learn between 150 to 200 new Japanese-style Chinese characters (called kanji) every year when you are an elementary school-aged boy who is also learning to read and write well in English and (frankly) would much rather be out playing sports or building with Legos than writing the kanji characters over and over again to memorize them.  So, I’ve recently been trying to think of ways to put a little more excitement and variety into the kanji learning experience.

One idea I have tried is to print out a blank board game and use kanji cards and a dice to practice kanji with the boys in a fun way.  They roll the dice and the number that comes up is the number they can move on the board, but only if they can correctly read that number of kanji.  If they can’t, then they can only move the number of spaces they were able to read.  We’ve also included some chocolate chip rewards for getting past certain spots on the game board — chocolate is always a big motivator in this house. 🙂

Another thing I’ve done is to purchase a kanji bingo game from Amazon Japan.  When I bought the game, I thought it would include cards for all the second and third grade kanji, but unfortunately it only included a few of each level.  So, I used the boys’ textbooks to make many more cards for the game and then divided them into sets.  Playing kanji bingo helps the kids (and the mom!) to think about the parts that make up each character since you must match either the top half of the kanji with the bottom half or the right side with the left side to play the game.  We can also use the cards to play a rousing game of “Old Maid”.

An educational consultant told me that taking a multi-sensory approach to learning the characters can be really effective.  Instead of simply writing them on paper with pencil, she suggested having the kids use their fingers to “write” the kanji on a rough surface like sandpaper to help it stick in their brains.  I liked her sandpaper idea, but decided to choose more interesting surfaces like a square of fake grass, colorful corrogated cardboard, and a wide scrubbing sponge.  We’ve also tried making the kanji with playdoh, pipe cleaners, and glitter glue, and by forming them on a cork board with push pins.  But the most delicious study method we’ve done so far is to have the boys write them on sugar cookies using a chocolate pen — yum!!

My hope is that these non-traditional ways of practicing the characters will help make the kanji easier for the kids to remember and also help them develop the feeling that memorizing kanji can actually be fun.  So far, my students have given these activities rave reviews!