Thursday, July 21, 2011

Report Cards, Homework, & a Typhoon

Summer Break
Yesterday was the last day of school before summer break here in Japan. However, due to a typhoon bearing in on us, it was cancelled. We still had to go to the school to pick up ayumi report cards and shukudai summer homework assignments. There is much homework for the summer break even though the break is fairly short by American standards- six weeks off instead of twelve. As a mother, I resent the homework probably more than they do- they are unaware that in my childhood, I had no homework in the summer and my summer was infinitely longer. Forcing them to get their homework done requires staying on task by both me and them every morning. Frankly, we could all use a break from the demands of others whether it be school, homework, or daily routines. Yes, it is to make them smarter, but play and free time are essential too. There is little enough free time for play in daily life in Japan.


Shukkudai Homework
This year I scheduled our annual trip home for a shorter time period in part due to homework. The Mule, a more diligent soul than her brother, struggled last year; it was barely completed an hour before school- too much stress on all of us! The Moose does not work well under pressure so the longer time at home is to insure he has time to complete all of his assignments before we go. The worksheet pages are long, the assignments are difficult, and the Japanese is not something I can help with. They have math problems to include adding and subtracting numbers from one to ten for first grade and double and triple digit numbers for second grade. Sustained attention is at a premium around here and so it requires the assistance of a mama to insure a quiet environment, a non-distracting work space, a continuous presence at the table, and occasional nudges to return to the work at hand. Perhaps the Japanese way accepts this amount of work more graciously because of their own childhood experiences. It certainly strikes me that this is why the Japanese place in the top ten in international comparisons of educational outcomes for math.

All of this focus tests the Moose's temper- sixty-six challenging math problems are enough to drive this particular six year old a bit crazy so I try not to hold it against him. Half way through I let him take a "Playmobil break." Forcing him against his will to sit infinitely at table takes forever as well and in the end the break is the shorter route.

I can only hope this investment of time in math and Japanese will result in some ease when the children finally attend school in their native language on the fronts of math and on sustained focus in doing homework. I really don't remember having such complex homework. The Mule has graciously offered to help the Moose with his Japanese reading. The translator will have to help with her difficult bits.




Ayumi Report Cards
The ayumi report cards caused a bit of consternation for the Mule. The notes in the report cards are in Japanese, however, she was able to read them. Her report card noted that she has room to improve in "writing sentences in Japanese" and "in using her measuring stick." Her awareness of praise and interest in earning good marks is a sign of her growing maturity, but I cautioned her to consider that she, unlike any other child in her school of over eight hundred children, is the only one with both an English only speaking mother and father. This cheered her up as she could ascertain the veracity of it herself.

The Japanese ruler and I had already had a round or two of confusion- it is a bamboo measuring stick without numbers, merely hash marks for the metric system. Again, poor kid is asking for help from a disadvantaged mother. I have ever more respect for immigrant mothers as I confront yet another challenge due to culture and language. It is all good, but it is not easy. She agreed, she does have room to improve, and it is not the end of the world. She happily told the Moose that he needs to improve in "listening to his teacher." He was momentarily dejected, but soon agreed that he could practice at home by trying to listen to his parents- that would be nice and it was of course no surprise to us.

The typhoon at first consisted of warm, sticky weather, but today it has brought cooler weather as the rain continues. The parking lot garden is perking up with the rain and so the sunflowers smile at us. I hope the cool weather stays a day or two as it feels lovely.