On the Fly: Kyoto, Japan | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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On the Fly: Kyoto, Japan 

Published September 20, 2014 at 1:30 p.m.

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But I didn't. Instead, we went for an exploratory walk. Then, to transition into school time, I lead the girls in a series of yoga poses and stretches and a five-minute meditation. This has become our morning ritual.

We kicked off our place-based, interdisciplinary curriculum by asking the girls to write out what they already knew about Japan as well as questions they had about it. Lola, 8, wrote, “There are earthquakes, there is bamboo and there are tatami mats.” She wanted to know what the tatami mats were all about and why all the doors here were sliding.

We let the kids' interests guide our discussions into history, social studies, geography, writing and art. Adam and I alternate morning lessons for the two older girls and teaching the youngest, Kaya, 5, to read.

As for math, we use workbooks and online programs to drill the basics, but we have daily opportunities for real-world application. It's been fun to explore money and exchange rates, converting prices at shops and grocery stores. 

click to enlarge Washing hands at the Shinto shrine. - JESSICA LARA TICKTIN
  • Jessica Lara Ticktin
  • Washing hands at the Shinto shrine.
We've found that the girls are so curious and excited about Japan that just walking around gives us many subjects to explore. We often wander through the 1,000-year-old Shinto shrine up the street from us. A series of small temples and walking paths, the shrine is dedicated to learning — apropos of our adventure.

At the entrance, we discovered a fountain with wooden ladles. After watching other visitors use the ladles to pour water onto their hands, the girls followed suit. A series of posted pictorials showed what to do: Walk up the steps, bow, bow again then clap twice, bow again.

Later, this prompted a family argument.  Adam felt it was disrespectful to participate in the hand-washing and bowing since we didn’t fully understand what we were doing or why we were doing it. Lola made a comparison to art: It's OK to copy an image in order to learn how to draw, so isn't it OK to copy Japanese customs to learn about the culture? 

Since we left Vermont, these kinds of impromptu discussions have been plentiful. What does it meant to be foreign? How do you begin to learn a culture? How do you learn foreign ways if you don’t speak the language?

Teachable moments are everywhere. In Hawaii last week (the first stop on our trip), we went snorkeling with a pod of wild spinner dolphins. By chance, we saw mother dolphins nursing their babies. That experience prompted Dahlia, 10, to write a reflective piece.

Of course, the learning opportunities aren't always so picture-perfect. At the end of our Hawaii stay, Dahlia accidentally dropped our rental car keys down the sewer — with all our bags locked in the car. It was stressful, but we got to revisit the concepts of resourcefulness and patience.

As my belly grows, so does my appetite. This means we've been eating with great frequency all over Kyoto. As it turns out, this works just perfectly when traveling with children: I am always the first to complain that I'm hungry!

Kids VT contributor Jessica Lara Ticktin is traveling the world with her family, homeschooling three daughters along the way — while pregnant. She’s documenting her family’s adventures until they return to Vermont in December. 

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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