Embroidering the Kanji


It’s always a challenge to find fun and memorable ways to help my kids (and me!) remember the 1006 elementary school level kanji (Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese language). (See these posts here and here for what we’ve done in the past). One thing we commonly do together during homeschool kanji study time is to look closely at the characters, figure out what their parts are, and then make up silly stories about them. For example, the kanji means “what” and the part on the left means person.  The kids and I decided that it looks like a person wearing a huge backpack with some secret stuff inside of it.  Looking at it makes us wonder, “What is in the backpack??” So that helps us remember that the kanji means “what” and how to read it in Japanese. The kids also write the kanji on paper (or sometimes in the parking lot with sidewalk chalk or on cookies with chocolate pen if we’re feeling creative) and of course they practice reading sentences or stories that have the kanji in them.

Katie is now in second grade so this year she is charged with learning 160 of these characters. To help get the kanji to stick in her brain better, we decided to start a kanji embroidery project.  After Katie practices a kanji in her book and then sticks it to her “kanji tree” on the kitchen wall, she gets to embroider it onto a blue sheet that will later grace her bed.  Not only has this helped Katie remember the kanji she has embroidered so far, but her embroidery stitches have really improved with all the practice.  The project has also inspired her to watch Youtube videos on her own to learn new stitches like the lazy daisy stitch, the french knot, and the chain stitch. (Now all I have to do is find a way to combine kanji memorizing with Lego building and the boys are all set!)

Here are a few more photos of her adventures in kanji embroidery.


After Katie practices the kanji in her textbook, she writes it onto a blank fruit, flower, or leaf shape and then sticks it to her kanji tree. This tree is for kanji that relate to people. Once she learns all the people-related kanji we will add more trees with other themes to make a kanji “forest.”









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!