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よつばと!(Yotsuba&!) Book Review

28 Jun

Do you know what I LOVE? I love to see my children reading books. And I especially love it when they read Japanese books!

My oldest, now 8 years old, is getting a little bit old for our Japanese picture books. But her reading skills are not strong enough for a lot of Japanese chapter books. So I have been on the hunt for books that she can easily read by herself, and ones where the content would be interesting enough to keep her engaged. We tried Doraemon, Yokai Watch, and Chibi-marukochan, but she was like, “meh”. They didn’t hold her interest (she is picky).

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I came across a review by Japan Info about how a comic book series called よつばと!/Yotsubato by Kiyohiko Azuma is great for people learning Japanese. I researched a little bit more and decided to give the series a shot. I got a great deal on  Yotsubato Comic set Vol.1 to 12 (Japanese)through Amazon but they are sometimes available on eBay as well, and you can always get them from amazon.co.jp (but the shipping is expensive). There is an English translation of this series too, so make sure you are getting the right language when ordering.

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ANYWAY… the よつばと!comics were a huge hit with my 8-year old! She read one, sometimes two books per day. Sometimes I found her laughing out loud as she read. As soon as she completed the entire series (books 1-13), she started reading book 1 again. She told me she likes the series because “Yotsubato is like me. A foreign girl who knows Japanese, and she’s silly.” I’m reading the books too (I’ve only read up to book 5 so far) but even I find them very engaging and fun to read.There’s not too many kanji, nothing inappropriate for a child, and you learn about Japanese culture as you read! 2 thumbs way up from my daughter and I!

Official Yotsubato website is HERE.

Preview some pages HERE.

Wikipedia article HERE.
Buy Volume One here: Yotsubato! Vol. 1 (Yotsubato!) (in Japanese) (Japanese Edition)

Buy books 1-12 in a set here: Yotsubato Comic set Vol.1 to 12 (Japanese)

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This is a totally unbiased, unsponsored post about Yotsubato, but I will receive a small portion of any purchases made through Amazon to help fund my website. Thanks!

How to Read a Calendar, in Japanese

23 May

Here are some resources for learning to read a calendar in Japanese.

The trickiest part is learning to read the numbers correctly. Print-kids.net has an excellent printable that shows you how to read dates, with accompanying worksheets, HERE.

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from print-kids.net

Some more printable calendars can be found at Happy Lilac.

After you’ve learned how to read a calendar, I thought this game, by Tatsushi FUKUNAGA, was a wonderful way to review.

 

And here are some YouTube lessons on how to read a calendar in Japanese:

 

And here are some videos about how to say the days of the week in Japanese:

Dino Books Review! Read Bilingual Stories Online

2 May

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You’ve probably heard of Dino Lingo, a company that has made a language-learning program for kids. If not, I have blogged about that program HERE.

Well, they have recently launched a brand-new site called DINO BOOKS (dinolingo.com/books). If you’re teaching your child a second language, you’ll want to learn more about this site!

Dino Books is a site where children can read hundreds of stories (they currently have 5000+ books) in 20 different languages. In addition to stories, there are some nursery rhymes, songs, tongue twisters, and games. There’s also “stories” where the kids can build their vocabulary too (colors, numbers, things in the house, etc.).

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So for example, we can pick a story, and then choose “Japanese” and “English” as our languages of choice. Then as we click through, we can have the story read to us in both languages. This was so nice because if my kids heard a word they didn’t understand in Japanese, they could simply listen or look at the English version right below to figure out the meaning of the unknown word.

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Ideally, I would be sitting right by my kids and reading books to them for hours every day, giving them my undivided attention. But in real life, that doesn’t happen. I’m often trying to multi-task, helping one kid with homework while helping the other fold laundry while keeping another child from climbing onto the countertop while trying to make dinner… LOL. Can you all relate? So sometimes, it is nice to just be able to say “Hey, read some books on Dino Books!”. My kids can easily navigate the site themselves and read several stories in one sitting while I finish making dinner. You can even use a tablet to read the stories.

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Does this sound like something you need in your life? A Dino Books membership is normally $99/year (less than $10 per month…less expensive than buying hundreds of bilingual books for sure). But you can visit the site and read the first few pages of most books for free first before you decide.

They also have a Mother’s Day special going on right now for 20% off with code MOM20 !

Here is a sample video:

 

 

Dino Lingo has generously offered to give away a FREE YEAR of Dino Books  to one lucky Hiragana Mama reader! To enter this giveaway, simply visit Dino Books, then leave a comment on this blog post with the following information:

  1. Why do you want to win this giveaway?
  2. What languages would you choose to read the stories in?
  3. Your email address (if you don’t want to leave your email address, just make sure you come back to see if you were the winner and then email me. Sometimes people win my giveaways and I have no way to contact them!)

Sometimes it takes me awhile to check and approve the comments so please don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up right away.

A winner will be chosen at random on MONDAY, May 9th, 2016 and will be announced on this blog post. Be sure to check back to see if you were the winner!

The winner of this giveaway is JOANNA WISE! Please send me an email at hiraganamama@gmail.com and I will forward your name on to Dino Lingo so they can award you the prize. Thanks to all who commented. Best wishes to all of you in your language adventures!

P.S. Don’t forget, Children’s Day/ Kodomo no Hi is on May 5th!

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Thank you Dino Lingo for this giveaway. Dino Lingo did ask me to try out Dino Books in exchange for a review, but all my opinions expressed above are honest and my own.

Fun Way to Practice Kanji

1 May

My daughter is now in 3rd grade at Japanese School. The amount of new kanji they have to learn every week is, to be honest, overwhelming. It is very difficult to practice, memorize, and retain hundreds of kanji, especially when you don’t live in Japan and aren’t exposed to Japanese words all the time.

Oftentimes, “kanji-practicing time” is accompanied by lots of whining and feet-dragging. I have been trying to brainstorm ways to practice kanji that isn’t so dreary. Here is one game I thought up that my daughter really enjoyed.

 

  1. First, practice writing the kanji you are trying to learn in chalk. I drew squares and my daughter wrote the kanji within the squares.
  2. Then to play the game, call out the kanji in random order. The other player runs/jumps to that kanji. Take turns if you’d like!

This turned out to be a great way to practice both writing and reading kanji, and we got in a little bit of exercise as well. This game can be used to learn hiragana or katakana too!

I’m hoping to share more kanji-practicing ideas with you in the future. What are some of your tips for learning and retaining kanji?

“Friends” by Aiko Ikegami

15 Apr

 

It is no secret that our family is obsessed with books, both English and Japanese. We go to the local library every week and come home with piles of books. I often do my research online beforehand, looking up the most recent award-winners, reading Amazon reviews, etc so I know what I’m looking for.

A few weeks ago I walked by the “New Books” section at the library and this pretty book caught my eye:

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It is “Friends”, by Aiko Ikegami. I was lured in by the cover illustration, and when I saw that the author was Japanese, the book immediately went into my library bag.

We were pleased to find that not only were the illustrations beautiful, but the story was wonderful as well. Here is the synopsis:

A girl from a faraway place begins her first day at school. She doesn’t speak the language and she looks different. She just doesn’t fit in. But one day, she makes an unexpected friend–a squirrel! Then a rabbit joins them. Soon the girl’s fuzzy woodland friends are followed by human ones and school becomes more fun! When a surprising new student joins the class, the girl and her new friends know just how to make him feel at home.

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I don’t know about you, but I can relate all-too-well to being the new kid at school. I moved around several times as a child, and can tell you that it is nerve-wracking to begin life at a new school, and especially in a new language. My children have never moved, but they got a taste of this feeling when we visited Japan last summer and I enrolled them in school for a few weeks. My kids were shocked at how different everything was. The food–the routines–the discipline–the bathrooms–the language– ! But the wonderful thing about children is, they are great at making friends, even with a cultural or language barrier. This book shows how easy it is to reach out to someone new and help them feel welcome.

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I highly recommend this book for all children. It is simple and short but can help you begin a conversation with your children about what to do if a new kid joins their class- or might help ease their worries if THEY are the new kid. I was thinking it would be nice to have several copies on hand to give out to any new kids in my children’s classes. How thoughtful would it be to gift them a book like this with a hand-written note? Might be wise for teachers to have a copy as well.

One last idea– this would make a sweet farewell gift for a Japanese student returning to Japan, or an exchange student. You could include a message about how you’re glad to have become friends!

Anyway, I liked the book so much that I looked up the author/illustrator online. She has a website at: aikoikegami.com. I was thrilled to discover that she lives in the same city as my parents and immediately sent her a note telling her how much we enjoyed her book and if we could meet someday.

Aiko was kind enough to send me a signed hardcover copy of her book to give away to a blog reader! If you would like a chance at winning this book, simply leave a comment on this blog post saying who you’d give this book to and why. (Book giveaway only open to U.S. residents). I’ll announce the winner on Monday April 18! (Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear right away… sometimes it takes me awhile to check and approve the comments!)

Giveaway is now CLOSED! I used Random.org, and the winner is commenter #1!!

“G”, please email hiraganamama@gmail.com within a week to claim the book! Thank you everyone else for commenting!

Thank you, Ikegami-san! We look forward to reading your future books!

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“Friends” by Aiko Ikegami can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Hiragana Learning Videos for Kids

2 Mar

I’ve found the best Japanese hiragana-learning videos for you! Use them to introduce, teach, and review hiragana with children. (Looking for FREE printable hiragana worksheets? Click HERE. )

I think YouTube Channel SweetDinos has some of the best videos. Here are two to get you started! Visit their channel for all the hiragana and katakana.

 

You Tube channel Nokkana Animation has many hiragana videos for the youngest leaners. Here’s just two of many:

 

Ikuman is another YouTube channel with great learning videos for children. Here’s an example:

 

Here’s even more, in no particular order.

Click HERE for a good video that I can’t embed on this site, but it’s good! It’s called ひらがな見つけちゃおう!/Let’s Look for Hiragana!

 

A Hiragana song by the Shimajiro Channel:

 

Learn Hiragana Song by ハグクモーション:

 

Myu Sings AIUEO by Myu Papa:

 

Japanese Alphabet Hiragana Song by Hiroto S:

 

あいうえお by jun egusa:

 

Japanese Alphabet Song by LetsLearnJapanese:

 

Do you have a favorite video that I failed to mention? Comment below!

 

 

 

Best Online Japanese Educational Videos for Kids

24 Feb

I know I have videos all over the place on my blog, and many of them need updating (sorry!). So I’ve compiled a list of the best YouTube channels onto one post for you. Please let me know if there are any great ones that I’ve missed! Thank you so much to the people and companies who create these videos so the rest of us can learn Japanese!🙂

Best Japanese YouTube Channels for Babies and Toddlers:

1. ノッカーナアニメーション (nokkana animation):  adorable, short videos that will entertain your little one and teach them a few words in the process. Lot’s of Peek-a-Boo-style videos. There are dozens and dozens of videos and playlists, teaching everything from hiragana, colors, nursery songs, and a lot of more. (They also have a similar channel called Nokkana World).

Best Japanese YouTube Channels for Preschoolers:

1. しまじろうチャンネル(SHIMAJIROCH): I just love everything by Benesse. I credit Shimajiro and his pals for a lot of my children’s Japanese education. This YouTube channel is full of short stories and fun songs. 

2. 東京ハイジ (TOKIOHEIDI) : Lots of cute animations and songs!

3. チブクラ!(Small Crafts): Short videos that will inspire you and your preschooler to craft.

4. oojioo: A YouTube channel just full of cute ekakiuta’s (songs that help you draw).

5. 童謡チャンネルby takanonGB: Lots of Japanese children’s songs with lyrics so you can sing along.

6. 動く絵本、童謡、いないいないばあ の動画「ゆめあるチャンネル」: Lots of Japanese children’s songs, fingerplays, and stories! They’ve added a lot of new content since I last visited a few years ago. Here is their website: www.yumearuehon.com

7. Visit my blog post where I’ve listed all the best hiragana learning videos!

8. YouTube Channel SongsPlace has many children’s songs and fingerplays.

9. SongsLand is another channel with Japanese children’s songs.

10. PinkFong has a lot of Japanese animated short stories (lots of Aesop’s Fables) and songs. There’s English videos mixed in there as well.

11. Takanotetsuya has many great songs for preschoolers. I think this channel is intended to be for prospective preschool teachers in Japan.

12. 保育士バンク!チャンネル【公式】This is another channel full of songs of preschoolers, performed by preschool teachers.

13. TEASOBI channel : even more songs and finger rhymes

14. 子ある日和 手遊び歌 Japanese children’s songs performed by teachers, plus origami instructional videos.

 

Best Japanese YouTube Channels for Grade-Schoolers:

1. jun egusa has created a lot of animated videos to teach math, Japanese history, kanji, etc! I’m pretty impressed.

2. The Mr. Men Little Miss videos by Sanrio has many many little episodes that could help with Japanese listening skills.

3. YouTube Channel キッズボンボンhas many videos about animals, science, kanji, hiragana, fairy tales and Japanese folktales, etc.

4. The FujiTV Kids YouTube channel has many educational and just-for-fun videos.

Best Japanese Educational Videos for Grade-Schoolers:

1. NHK for School is hands-down, the best resource I have found. You can search all of their educational videos by grade level or subject matter. Love this website so much! I have sung its praises before in this blog post.

2. The Science Channel website has a lot of great videos for gradeschoolers on up.

 

Best Japanese Educational Videos for High Schoolers and Beyond:

1. Erin’s Challenge! by the Japan Foundation : lots of videos and other resources for the older Japanese student. (blog post)

2. JapanSocietyNYC: has a lot of excellent videos showcasing the Japanese language and culture.

3. PuniPuniJapan: The animation is interesting but you can learn a lot of Japanese vocabulary! Lots of Japanese lessons.

 

Please comment below with your favorite resources and YouTube channels!

More Shimajiro Videos

2 Feb

Shimajiro (Benesse) has some of the best Japanese videos for kids on the internet!

 

 

Here is a video that’s  perfect for Setsubun (which is tomorrow!)

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Once Upon a Time in Japan

24 Oct

IMG_7164My friends at Tuttle Publishing sent me another book to read and review: “Once Upon a Time in Japan” by NHK. The book comes with an audio CD. We recently went on a little road trip and listened to the stories on the CD. My 5-year old and 7-year old listened very attentively and were completely immersed in the stories. I enjoyed the stories as well! I thought I knew most Japanese folktales but there were a few stories I had never heard before. The book is a nice quality hardcover and the illustrations are very nice (there are 60 full-page color illustrations!). The book will be published November 3, 2015.

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Here is the book description from Amazon:

Bringing Japanese folk stories to the English-speaking world, this book presents eight stories from the popular NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation’s popular radio series Once Upon a Time in Japan. Each story is brilliantly illustrated by a talented Japanese artist. The tales recounted here are among Japan’s oldest and most beloved stories. Entertaining and filled with subtle folk wisdom, these retold stories have been shared countless times in Japanese homes and schools for generations. Like good stories from every time and place, they never grow old. Kids (and their parents!) will enjoy hearing these stories read aloud on the accompanying CD.

The fairytales and classic stories in this collection include:

  • The Wife Who Never Eats—the story of a man who learns the hard way the evils of stinginess.
  • The Mill of the Sea—the story of how a greedy man was responsible for the saltiness of sea water.
  • The Monkey and the Crab—the crabs teach a tricky monkey a lesson in fairness and honesty.
  • The Magical Hood—an act of kindness reaps great rewards.
  • Sleepyhead Taro and the Children—a story about what can be accomplished at the right time, and with the right help and the right spirit.
  • The Fox and the Otter—how a fox pays the price of deceit and selfishness.
  • The Gratitude of the Crane—a story about the rewards of kindness and the danger of curiosity.
  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter—a girl who starts life very tiny turns out to be big in many ways.

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Would you like to win a copy of Once Upon a Time in Japan? Then simply comment on this blog post telling me what your favorite Japanese story is. Or if you don’t know any, just comment what your favorite thing about Japan is! One comment per person. One winner will be chosen at random on Friday October 30, 2015 and receive a free copy of this book! This giveaway is open worldwide. If you don’t win the giveaway or just can’t wait to check out this book, you can preorder the book through Amazon (at a great deal) HERE!

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Reclaimedmama is the winner of this giveaway! Congrats! I will be emailing you shortly.

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*Sometimes it may take awhile for your comment to appear.

Benesse Challenge Touch Review!

9 Sep

 

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Last year I introduced you to Benesse’s Challenge Touch/Kodomo Challenge program on this post. The program is for elementary aged children and offers a monthly downloadable curriculum. Many of you were just as interested in this program as I was.
This summer when I visited Tokyo, I happened upon their new Aoyama Area Benesse in the Shibuya/Omotesando neighborhood. The one in Aoyama is the flagship store, but there are locations all over Japan. These “Area Benesse” offices can help you answer questions about Benesse programs and products, sign up for services, try out materials, etc.

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When we entered the building, we were immediately greeted by very friendly staff. One staff member helped my 7 and 5-year olds get started on some activities while I asked another staff member questions.

The biggest question I had was, “Can we use the Challenge Touch program in the United States?“.

The answer was yes… and maybe. Yes, as long as you have reliable internet connection, you can use the Challenge Touch tablet and download the monthly curriculum anywhere. The only problems you then face are:

  • Benesse will only ship its products to a Japanese address (at least that’s how it is currently). So you will either need to go to Japan and buy it while you are there (we had them ship the tablet to our hotel) or have it sent to a friend or relative, then have them ship it to you.
  • If your tablet happens to break, you will need to pay the shipping back to Japan, as well as have your friend/relative ship you the new one, which can be costly and a hassle.

We decided to take the risks and sign up to do the Challenge Touch program for one year. I thought the pricing was very reasonable. With the exchange rate the way it is now, it came down to about $25 per month (and the tablet is free as long as you continue the program for at least 6 months!). I also signed up for the insurance program, which was only about $15 per year. If you sign up for insurance, if your tablet breaks, you can get a new one for around $30 (otherwise I think they said a new tablet costs about $300).

A few days after putting in our order, our package arrived. In it was our tablet computer and some paper educational materials like workbooks and a kanji dictionary. (They actually sent us materials for the wrong grade at first. I contacted them and they immediately sent me the correct grade level).

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We charged up the device, entered our login information, and then downloaded our first month’s program. It was pretty easy! (If you don’t know Japanese well, all of this might be difficult to navigate. The program is designed for children grades 1-6 who can speak Japanese already, not for adults learning Japanese for the first time).

The program was very easy for my second-grader to figure out on her own. She had a lot of fun playing with all the features. She completed her first two assignments in Kokugo (Japanese) and Sansu (math) and declared it was awesome. The program does a really great job at keeping kids motivated and having fun while learning. We are currently going on month 3 of using the program and she still loves using the Challenge Touch every day.

Other things we love about the Challenge Touch program:

  • There is an online library where you can borrow 5 electronic books at a time. There are hundreds of titles to choose from! This is included in the monthly fee.
  • You can practice writing kanji and play a game where you learn the multiplication tables, even when you are not connected to the internet.
  • My daughter enjoys sending me emails every day.
  • Just 3 months into the program, I can already tell my daughter is better at reading and writing kanji.

Some cons:

  • I didn’t realize Benesse sends out paper materials every few months, even if you just signed up for the electronic version. This is great, except I feel badly my aunt in Japan has to go through the hassle of forwarding all these materials over for us. I wish I could just pay a little extra to have everything sent to the U.S.
  • I am constantly worried my kids are going to break the tablet, haha. We have a rule in our house where they MUST be sitting at a desk if they are using it (no standing, walking around, laying on the couch, etc). We’ve also lectured them about not pressing too hard with the pen. So far so good.
  • The voltage is different here. Easy problem to fix though, we just use a transformer:

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My kids normally use headphones as well when doing benkyou (study) on the Touch. We highly recommend this one! It is sized perfectly for kids’ heads, had a durable cord, and I don’t have to worry about the volume being turned up too loud. Headphones are a must for us because with 3 kids running around our little house, it can get quite noisy and hard to concentrate.

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Bottom line is that we are so glad we took a chance and decided to try the Benesse Challenge Touch program. I can see us continuing for the next few years, and may even get a second device for our son when he begins first grade. I hope that someday soon they will make the program downloadable for iPads– wouldn’t that be nice?

Read more about the Kodomo Challenge program HERE and feel free to contact them if you have any questions. They are very nice!

 

I am NOT affiliated with Benesse and have NOT received any free products or compensation for writing this review. 

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