April Homeschool Update

If you are interested in what’s happening in our homeschool… keep reading to check out our April Homeschooling update!

So as you may or may not know we homeschool year round. For us it is just easier and I will probably make another blog post on how we schedule our year round school calendar and how we plan for our days off. It is easy to accomplish and we actually feel that it is better for us to school year round while living in Japan as the summer in Tokyo is not actually the best season for spending your time outside. We have an extensive list as to why we start our “school year” in the spring but that is for another time!

First of all, we can not believe that it is April already! It seems like March just started and it is already finished! We enjoyed a lot of great activities, books, and science experiences in March and even finished our Apologia science curriculum that we had been working through since last October. We really enjoyed many of the curriculum choices and add ins that we used but to be honest it has been a bit of a challenge. We were ending our scheduled school year and preparing for the next season to start.

We have been gearing up to start our next curriculum which will be based around My Father’s World: Exploring Countries and Cultures (aka MFW:ECC). We did end up buying almost all of the supplies used and this saved me a decent amount. I started shopping for the products one by one on Amazon a few months prior to our April start date. We are actually still waiting on a couple of items that we need for the school year but we are going to get started even thought they are not here yet. A couple of the books will not be used until later in the year so we can get by without them for now.

We also had a special couple of boxes that arrived form family in the United States that were loaded down with books. There were many good books that will help fill our book baskets and followed along with our countries and cultures themes and we plan to add those in as we see fit with the plan. There were also a few books that kind of tied in with our previous curriculum and my son was really interested in reading them before we started our new school year.

Soooo we have been finishing up :

(these are our just for fun books this month, not what we have been using for curriculum / planned study)

Daniel Boone

Who is Issac Newton

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

The Magic Tree House: Dragon of the Red Dawn

Various Pokemon Books

The Secret Garden

My son really got into Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. I think he learned so much about history and could relate it to certain subject that currently come up on the news today. He has a broader understand and why people from different generations have different feelings and ideas about things than our family currently does. It really gave a great glimpse into history and no matter your age or where you come from you could really get lost in the main characters feelings like you were standing there with her. I won’t ruin the book for anyone who has not read it… but I think it is a book that all children should read. I do suggest it as a read aloud with a parent – especially if your child is young so that you can explain some of the language used and why it is inappropriate and some history to go along with the book. If I would not have been reading this book aloud with my 8 year old he would have bene very confused about some of the scenes because he would not understand about the state of the country after slavery and the changes in the south at that time. I never read this book as a student but I wish that my public school would have read this. Skim through the book before purchasing and make sure your child is at an appropriate age to really “get it” though. Some context would be too much for young readers. (FYI there is references to graphic things but the book does not always describe them… you will have to interpret them on your Childs level. This would make some parents uncomfortable. I think it needs to be told though. But maybe for children a little older)

We have also been working with fractions. We have finished Singapore Math 4A&B. We are kind of disappointed with this book. We used the US version and I did not think that there were enough practice problems for how quickly the book moved through each concept of fractions. So instead of moving right into the next level we are spending a few days just prating and reviewing with fractions. We are using the Ikea chalkboard and roller paper and just doing a quick quiz with different types of review problems. It is a fun change of pace from the regular book. I mix in some easier review multiplication with different types of fraction problems. Then we also add in some multistep word problems and try to make it enjoyable. We will be trying out teaching textbooks for the start of our next school year.

We have never used teaching textbooks before and I am not sure how it will go. It does take up a bit more space than our Singapore workbook and text book so that is unfortunate when we are traveling but it is still portable when needed. Most days we do complete our work at home so, I think this will still work out just fine! I also like the idea of a “teacher” on the computer to explain the lessons. this way, if my son is feeling confidant and really catching on he can keep on moving without my help. Then later I can log in and see his lessons results. It auto grades the answers and I can look for any problem areas very quickly. Then we can spend more time on difficult areas rather than wasting time.

We have finished Apologia: swimming creatures. If you have a child that is into seas life they will really enjoy it. I know a lot of people shy away from this as they feel it is a year long program. It was not an entire year long for us. We went through the entire book, did some note booking, and projects and still finished in 5 months. I think the thing to remember is that we did this in 5 months with holiday breaks and other breaks off. We didn’t rush but I did make it a priority. Science and Math are a big priority. We do them bother EVERY school day. However Science does not have to take too long. We do not have to do an activity or a project along with it everyday but we will AT MINIMUM read  a couple sections from the science book.

It has been really fun when my son sees something here in Tokyo that we have learned about in our science book. He loves being our “tour guide” and telling us all about nay sea life that we are seeing!

He has been asking for Apologia: Flying creatures and we have ordered it but have not received it just yet. We bought it used from Amazon. An important note is that any Military families can get 40% off all Apologia curriculum. That is a great deal and I just wanted to pass that along to anyone who might come across this site. (which is not many people! ha!)

We are still making our way through the book shark and Sonlight book lists. We just add in the books that fit in with what we are currently studying. We love them. We love to read. We might be banned from our library soon since we always have about 30 books or more at a time!

We wil be posting updates throughout our time with My Fathers world. We will try to include info on any projects we make or extras we add in. We like the curriculum but we do have to increase it for challenge and I don’t think that is a big issue though. My son loves the activities and hands on projects. It really reinforces what he has learned and he likes to show off his art! If you kid is not into crafty things they would not like this program. As a mom I find it so helpful because the projects are simple, fun, and the materials do not cost much.

We Will be posting our first week asap! Happy Spring Break!

 

 

 

Homeschool – Why We Are Using My Father’s World

my fathers worldSo this Spring I have been preparing for our next year of homeschool. We typically homeschool all year round. Our schedule is always changing and my husbands work schedule is sometimes unpredictable so I found through trial and error that schooling year round is great for us. (I will add a separate post about how we form a schedule to school year round) We usually order our materials by March and then start fresh with the spring time on our next official homeschooling year. Japan starts their school year end of March beginning of April as well. So that helps us adjust while being in Tokyo.

This is our second year using My Fathers World. Previously we used My Fathers World: Adventures in American History and we have tried Sonlight. We are not exclusive with using only one curriculum but, for the second year in a row we will continue with My Father’s World as our main spine.  We will use it as a basis for Social studies/history, Language arts/Bible study, and some of our science. It will give us a list of read alouds and suggested readers, and scheduled activities with lists of the needed materials already planned out. It also will have a complete school year planned in a grid style planner with additional tips and information for the teacher ready to go. This saves so much time. There are open spaces in the weekly schedule for adding in extra subjects.

We are in the middle of an international move and being able to used a partially boxed curriculum with a schedule to follow is really going to help me. While I am busy preparing a major move I will have extra time for things like house hunting instead of spending hours making lessons plans and lists of materials we need.

The first year we used My Father’s World I thought maybe it was a bit too easy and I was not completely satisfied with the level for my 7 year old. But then I realized that both of my kids were enjoying school so much with the added activities that they were both probably getting more out of the curriculum than they would with a rigorous nothing but book work style unit. They would find it dull and tune out much of the information I was giving them. I also realized that we were previously spending so much time trying to increase our difficulty of course work we weren’t doing great at life tasks like learning to measure for cooking, saving time for learning about common sense things like how to prevent or put out fires, what to do in emergencies. So since I course work was not too long we spent a unit or two learning all these important life skills.

As we got comfortable with the program we began to bulk up the rigor which is really easy to do to match your Childs won needs. We just purchased a higher level of the math we were using, and added in some higher level English/ Language arts supplements and our own choice for science plus our usual foreign language, piano, typing and coding and we had a busy and entertained kid.

There are also extra spaces in the daily schedule that you can write in exactly what you would like to add and schedule it out for your week/ month. It is also easy to see the details as your teachers Manuel/schedule book is spiral. So no pages are constantly ripping and you can fold it over. The boxes are big enough that I can add dates, extra notes and extra subjects toward right on the page. this serves as double duty as I have a record right there of what we have done in school should I have to prove that to a district or state in the future. We are floating without homeschool laws due to where we live at this time but, that could change so I want to be ready to present anything needed , should things change.Overall the set up is really user friendly – Easy to get used to if you are new to homeschooling or if you are using the program for the first time. What homeschool mom doesn’t love a spiral bound book of any kind?!

My Father’s World does offer suggestions on individual course curriculums to try if you are feeling kind of lost about all the choices.. For example I believe that when we bought our Adventures unit, “Singapore Math” was suggested to purchase for the math subject. We were already using Singapore Math at the time, so we continued on with our next level and it worked out well. We also used some of the suggested Language arts materials and we enjoyed it. This was a plus as we were using Adventures with a “2nd grader” by public school definition, but we were using a higher level of math and English and this made no issues. We could also add in a higher reading level in the book basket for fun and some below his reader level just because he was interested in the particular book. We did not feel limited for restricted by My Fathers World. We just felt like we had a solid plan to lead us.

If you have no previous experience with My Fathers World one important thing to note is the aspect of the “book basket”. Everyday you child is to have time with the book basket. This is about 20 minutes of free reading. There are different ways to go about doing this and I think many families put their own twist on it. I think the main idea is just to use a designated place to store free reading books that are associated with the subjects you are covering that present week (or month depending on how many books you provide in the basket). The children are fee to browse through, read cover to cover, anything they like just so as long as they are actively engaging in free reading time for 20 mins. (depending on age and ability of course). We use a mix of appropriate reading level and lower reading level just so its a fun time.

The book basket is great. I have read many reviews where homeschoolers overlook My Fathers World simply because they have issues with going to the library so often for books on their weekly topics. I completely get this- but I do not think it is a reason that you should count it out! We live in Tokyo. Our family is completely limited with libraries that have a large selection of books in English. Trust me. There is a library I use regularly but it will never cover our needs. That is ok. There are ways around this.

Some weeks we do not have tons of supplemental books on our topic. I have to deal with it. I provide extra books that look interesting and educational. And sometimes after book basket I have to find some educational DVD or youtube thing to add in so that we are really understanding a concept. It happens. Reading still gets completed though. And we still complete book basket time – even if some of our books might be a little off topic. They are still getting use of independent reading time and my children still learns things….many things!  If we want another book on a subject we can order it used on Amazon.

This brings me to another point. Amazon is our best friend. If you do not have access to a close library or just do not have what you need try locating a reading list guide from your my fathers world teachers Manuel and order used books from amazon ahead of time. Our books ship all the way to Japan for only $4.00. and most of the books cost us less than $1. Then I will keep them for our younger child or swap them for more books. If your budget won’t allow this … resell some of your own used books or book swap online for this. There are many online sites that have the used books you would need for this program. It was not too difficult for me to find the titles. I spent less doing this than ordering other curriculums and ended up with much more material I could keep for later years.

I have bought ENTIRE reading lists on amazon in advance, and sometimes it takes me months to complete it. Is it annoying and time consuming? Yes. But does our book basket get accomplished. Yes. Do we also have all the books to use in the future and to share with others who want to learn about homeschool? yes. And this is why I do not mind doing it without access to a good library.

This year my two year old is really into being in the school mix. If you are homeschooling multi ages My Fathers World will help your sanity. Even though my children are far apart in age there is always something the toddler can help out with. While doing adventures she helped us make butter, light catchers in the window, color bible worksheets to put on our poster board, make bread, memorize verses, sing songs to learn the states and more.

We had previously done Sonlight and we loved it and loved all the read alouds….but my toddler would not be able to be part of very much of our school  time if we did that this year. Sonlight worked great when she was an infant taking naps during much of our school day,  but it is a completely different dynamic and she really wants to be part of our group. Even though she is too young for a formal program at this time, she is also getting a lot of coordination, life lessons, and together time with this multi age family program along with her 8 year old sibling. My older child also enjoys showing her what he is making/ doing and he actually LIKES to show her how to make projects too. She is learning so much related to pre-school skills just by mimicking what he is doing with projects and hands on work. We would not have this bonus if we did not switch to My Father’s World.

At this point, it is important to me to have a schedule made. I need the time saver for this year. We have many things coming up and I want the ease of a pre made schedule that I can simply alter if needed vs creating an entire years worth of lesson plans. I also like that I can pick which math, English and Science that we want to add. I can spend more time on household duties, playing with a toddler, and doing hands on activities rather than scheduling every part of our day.

We have added Singapore math but may switch to teaching textbooks. We also are using Wordly Wise 4, Grammar ACE, and Writing Strands for English. For a language we study Korean. He is also learning to play piano and read music. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten to list anything!

I gave my 8 year old the choice. I asked him if he wanted to go back to a different curriculum  or stick with My Fathers World. I asked him which he enjoyed more. He said he loved learning through literature and the living books books. He enjoyed them so much we still talk about them two years after we started… but he really loved the hands on experiences with My Fathers world. He is an artsy kid and he also loves to read. We can not say one is better than the other but his enjoyment of making projects allows him to explore what he is learning hands on and it helps him to engage in the curriculum further. So, we will be sticking with my fathers world. We get to keeps reading lots of good books and have the artsy stuff pre planned. That is the perfect combination of how he wants to learn. He could not do that in public school or with a different pre planned all in one curriculum.

We have ordered all the My Fahter’s World curriculum used this year separately and I will have a different post with those details. I just wanted to share how we make My Fathers World work for anyone who is on the fence about it. We will continue to post as we get into the new year and share how we use it week by week. I like to browse online and see what other families are doing that looks creative and fun also!

Easy Japanese Curry – Great for Freezer Meals, Budget Friendly

This is a quick and easy tutorial on how to make Japanese curry! Before living in Tokyo, I have to admit I did not even realize that curry was a popular dish in Japan. The first time I had Japanese curry was in a popular Casual family restaurant chain called COCO Curry House. It was one of our first stops in Tokyo. We were hot, tired, and starving globe trotters (with a two month old baby and a five year old along for the ride).

I wanted something fast, cheap, and tasty but to be honest I did not have high expectations of curry! My husband assured me that I would really love it. (He is much more adventurous with foods than I am, to say the least! Actually, there are many  foods that I would have never tried if it were not for his suggestions… and now many of them are my favorites!)

My husband had also previously lived in Japan, so he knew many good places to try. We found that this restaurant was not too far from our new house and we were still getting acclimated to driving on the other side of the road. We did not want to take too many chances and go on any difficult driving journeys when we first arrived this was a good starting point for adventure.

On this particular day we had lots of errands to run as were still had no furniture or belongings yet. Everything was still being shipped, but… we did have our new car on this day! Which was great. (It made us feel much more at home to have a car here in Tokyo – even though technically you do not even need a car in this city!)

Since it was so hot outside, I was not really sure about having hot curry…. but I went with the suggestion, because hey… I did not have my Japan license yet. As many of you know basically a passenger has no say in the destination! When you know nothing about 1.where you are  2.where you are going and 3. when you are relying on your husband to order your food anyway (because he speaks Japanese and you don’t!) its best to just go with the flow! ha!

Anyway, I had no idea that curry was a big thing here but it really is. Although it is different than Indian curry of course, It is still typically served over rice and it is spicy. It is a regular staple at most restaurants especially on the kids menus… wherever we go there is always a kids curry with rice option as a “kids seto” and many of them come with a little mini sized hamburger a juice box and a little jello type of dessert.  My son loves the kids meals in Japan especially the curry.

After eating at COCO Curry I was totally obsessed. I thought that it was so tasty. I thought it also looked like something that would be pretty simple to cook, and to customize to our family’s own taste. It also looked like it shouldn’t cost too much to make at home. I searched the internet, books, and you tube of course. I found a few recipes that were helpful and led me in the right direction but they had so many steps. I did not have enough time for a long curry session so I figured out my own specifics to make curry that is just fine for my unrefined simple American pallet! It is also much quicker than the traditional way of making curry but hey, I’m just a SAHM trying to clean the house and cook dinner, and teach a 5 year old math at the same time! 🙂

So here goes, the great thing about this recipe is that it only needs 5 cheap ingredients and it can accommodate  a small or large family with just a couple changes. You defiantly do not need to write this recipe down or do any difficult conversions.

** As always products used linked below**

 

What you need:

-1 box of Japanese curry mix.

(you can find this in some grocery stores, or an asian /Japanese market , or if you click this link and use my favorite kind and it will be shipped right to you through amazon. **Yes, it is an affiliate link but my purpose is not to make money from this site, it is just  to share our experiences with other people and to do that sometimes I need to share where you can easily get a product because sometimes they aren’t easily accessible to everyone.)

-water

-potatoes

-carrots

-onion

-some type of cubed beef for stew cut into small pieces.

(just leave this out if you don’t meat and it will taste fine. I actually prefer it without the meat but my family does not.)

3 Steps to a Finished Meal:

  1. brown your meat in a pan (rinse away any grease after this)
  2. chop your veggies into bite size pieces
  3. add veggies, curry blocks, and water to put and let it cook!

I let it cook for a while to make sure that my carrots get really soft. I give it a stir from time to time. If you find that if gets a bit scummy or greasy at the top due to your meat just simply skim this off the top and discard. I never skip this part as the cuts of meat in Japan seem to contain much higher fat content than in the U.S. – the marbled look in beef  (as in fat throughout) seems to be thought of as tasty and high quality here. It is hard to find beef without a white marbled look in the markets near our home.

The more time you let this simmer the better it will be but if you are in a rush just let it cook until you can pierce through your carrots and potatoes easily. And Voila! you are finished. Now you are an expert at one of the most common dishes in Japan… we just did it the easy way! 😉

FYI – If you are making a small batch use 2 cups of water and just 1/2 of the cubes of curry in the box. (4 little cube pieces.)

If you are making a big batch for a large size family or want a lot of leftovers to freeze just the entire 8 blocks and 5-6 cups of water.

It will seem water while it is cooking but as it cools it will thicken.

This is also a really easy freezer meal. I just cook fresh rice in the rice cooker and thaw a freezer bag of this in the fridge the night before. Heat on stove and its ready in just a few.

Products:

S&B Curry

 

 

 

Easy Eggless Sugar Cookies – Allergy and Vegan Friendly

easter cookies, vegan cookies Today we made easy eggless sugar cookies! Since Early this morning it has been raining in Tokyo and pretty cold outside too. It was one of those days where as soon as you got up you just wanted to go back to bed! Our entire high rise seemed pretty quiet today  and by 10:30 in the morning I was feeling like the kids in my house needed a little treat since they were inside feeling groggy!

I wanted to make something that was easy and kid friendly. Also something that a toddler and an 8 could do together and neither was feeling bored or left out. This recipe is quick enough to hold my toddlers attention and easy enough that my 8 year old can do most of it undirected.

(Side note: It is also great because you do not have to worry about the dangers of uncooked eggs. This is a big plus as at some point my toddler cried for help as she had shoved a big piece of dough in her mouth secretively and it had gotten stuck in the roof of her mouth. We had to use the iPhone flashlight to see what in the world was going on with her mouth and why was she crying. Then we noticed that it was actually a big chunk of dough! Those toddlers they can be quick, even in direct supervision! We took a quick detour from cookie cutters, retrieved dough from the mouth, brushed teeth, and then we were back at it! Thank goodness there were no raw eggs involved!)

So this recipe is really simple. You can alter it easily for a vegan friendly version, or you can use dairy products instead depending on your dietary needs. Either way it is great without eggs and it is good for kids with allergies or jus those with restrictive dietary needs.

I will leave links for the cookie cutter at the bottom. I am really happy with it. It is heavy duty and washes well. The cutter is not intricate so the cookies are easy to cut out, especially for kids.

vegan cookies

What You Need:

2 cups of flour (or coconut flour)

1/2 cup of sugar (you can use white or coconut sugar)

1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup butter (earth balance natural buttery spread for vegan and dairy free)

2 tablespoons almond milk (I used vanilla unsweetened silk brand)

2  1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (you can use less if you like a mild vanilla flavor)

small pinch of salt (sea salt or regular)

easter cookieseaster cookiesDirections:

preheat oven to 375

make sure your butter is soft but not melted

mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl and then stir until it is well mixed and can easily form into a ball. Do not over do it with the mixing. This should be quick and easy.

Do not continue to mix if the dough starts to get mushy. If you feel your dough is starting to get too soft or mushy then stick it in the fridge for a few.

pinch off small sections and roll out dough for cookie cutters.

transfer to cookie sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes (this depends on your oven so be sure to watch the first batch closely.)

easter cookies****These cook up very quickly and the will get pretty thick  looking in the oven. I ruined my first batch thinking that they were not done because they looked so fluffy. I thought possibly there were not cooked all the way through but they were already done.***

After baking let cool and try to regulate how many cookies everyone in your house eats before you get the chance to ice them!

easter cookiesWe decorated our with a simple mix of confectionary sugar and almond milk mixed together. just a couple  tablespoons of each is all you need. This is easy for kids to pour over the cookie and they can add any topping that they like. Its easy and fun and not too much work for mom! They can also mix this on their own depending on their age and feel very accomplished! We just added a few sprinkles from an Easter sprinkles mix on top of the icing.

From set up to clean up it took us less than 30 minutes. (which is an important thing when you are working with a 2 year old chef!)

Leave any advice and changes that worked for you in the comments! Happy eggless cookie baking!

Supplies:

Bunny and carrot cookie cutter

5 Minute Garlic Asparagus Sauté – Kid Friendly for the Busy Family

asparagus

asparagus  Let this 5 minute garlic asparagus saute save your dinner time stress! Sneaking in additional veggies can be a tough task if you have a picky toddler on your hands but this easy meal is so tasty that all of your family will be asking you to double the batch!

This is a super easy and tasty dish that even the busiest of parents can whip up in a pinch! You only need 6 ingredients! You can also adjust this to your specific dietary needs and still have a tasty and healthy outcome.

I will link all ingredients at the bottom of this post just incase you can’t find something specific in your area and want to give it a try.

You Will Need:

  • Asparagus (canned or fresh will work)
  • Coconut oil
  • Earth Balance – whipped buttery spread
  • garlic (minced or crushed)
  • pepper
  • picolos onion (bulb onion)

* some prefer to use olive oil in place of coconut oil and that would work as well but for optimum health benefits we have chosen to use a small amount of coconut oil, omitted salt, and kept with a minimum amount of vegan friendly buttery spread.

Prep Time:

  1. First, wash and prepare the asparagus. I have used canned Delmonte brand asparagus spears in the preparation for this post as currently our local markets near Tokyo do not have the best asparagus in stock at this time. ( I would prefer fresh but the canned will do just fine. I find that the canned asparagus is also a good solution for those with busy schedules and do not necessarily want to meal plan or prep as it keeps your asparagus from going bad.)
  2.  Get your onion prepared. I used Picolos onions. They are easy to peel and quick to cook.
  3. Heat a skillet with oil . This takes about 30 seconds. Medium heat will be fine.
  4. Add asparagus
  5. add 5ml of crushed or minced garlic (we added 10ml but we are garlic crazy, may be too much for most kids!)
  6. if you are adding vegan butter spread you can add 5 ml (depending on your preference of buttery taste)
  7. add ground pepper. a few turns of the pepper grinder will suffice. (we love pepper so we go overboard, but thats not for all children!)

Stir the asparagus around as it cooks. Turn your heat down if it seems to begin to stick. I use long cooking chop sticks. (Sometimes I even add a small bit of water to help the asparagus steam if I have not used an adequate amount of oil. That is always on those days where I am on a health kick! ha!) Once the asparagus turns limp and soft it is done.

Some people decide that the asparagus is done when the green changes colors. I have found that this is not necessarily reliable depending on the brand or type of asparagus.

Sometimes when it is finished I top it off with some cherry tomatoes cut in half. It makes the dish more colorful and adds some extra veggies for kids. My toddler is more willing to scarf this down with the tomatos … because recently she is into the tomato from Veggie Tales.

Happy Dinner Time to you all!

Get the Products used:

Delmonte Asparagus

Spectrum Organic Coconut Oil

Earth Balance Buttery Spread

Jar of Crushed Garlic

Assorted Pearl Onion (picolos only could not be found to be shipped on the web. Should work just fine.)

Guide to Kamakura with Kids – Cheap Day Trip

Great Buddha -Kamakura

As you may already know, we are all about free of cheap travel while in Japan! There are tons of inexpensive and fun things to do with kids near Tokyo; and Kamakura (Great Buddha) Statue has been one of my favorite family day trips while living here.

Technically this is a buddhist temple called Kotoko-in and it is located in the city of Kamakura, but many people will just say “have you seen the great Buddha Kamakura?” or “Kamakura Daibutsu /鎌倉大仏” in Japanese. This is the place they are referring to! The statue has actually been rebuilt a few times as it has previously been damaged by weather and wash away to sea. It is really amazing. Over 43 feet tall, bronze, and surrounded by really amazing temple grounds.

Even if you are traveling with children who aren’t thrilled with checking out shrines, this one can be made into an enjoyable trip as visiting the beach is just a short trek away from the main entrance.

I wanted to share some information about how easy this trip really is so that other families will feel comfortable getting out of Tokyo and day tripping it … in an inexpensive way of course!

There are 65 temples and around 19 shrines in the area. Many people actually hike through all of the shrines and temples and do not go just to visit the great Buddha only. Be prepared for large crowds and many bikers and hikers.

There are also tons of shops, restaurants, and even some street food to enjoy along the way. We drove through the main shopping and tourist street but we did not visit this area. We went straight to the main area that hosts the big Buddha statue and parked as close to this as possible.

When you enter the main area of the Kamakura statue there is a beautiful garden atmosphere and concrete walkways. It is near the ocean so expect lots of wind. There are also lots of gravel areas if you leave the main path. It is crowded most of the time and we went in the late afternoon so we only had about an hour to stay. I would also recommend visiting this in spring or fall as this is much more enjoyable when it is not humid and hot. I think this is why our children really enjoyed this outing and lasted without complaining!

Cost:

You can enter the shrine area for 200 yen (that is around $2 usd) and you can actually enter the Buddha itself for 20 yen more. You must pay and buy a ticket for this part and the line can get rather long but it moves very quickly. You can not do anything other than just look and walk up the buddha. So even if the line is long it is worth waiting as it will move rather fast. In our opinion it was worth doing this and our children really enjoyed it. Even our one year old at the time had no problems being carried through. You can not take a stroller through the Buddha. The path and stairs are cramped and narrow. A baby carrier would work great though. I did not use a carrier at all and it moved so quickly that it worked out fine and was not tiring.

We also paid around 1000 to park at a lot right down the street from the buddha. We had to tell the parking attendants how long we planned to stay in order to figure out the pricing. If you are staying for the day you would want to park farther away or just take a train to avoid this.

 

 

Location/ Info:

Kamakura is located in Kanagawa Prefecture which does not take too long to reach by car or train.

(We drove from the west side of Tokyo and it took about 1 1/2 hours. I do not think that we did this trip toll free.. although that is an easy option. Just set your GPS to the toll free option and you can get there for free! )

 

Address:

4 Chome-2-28 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016

Train:

Hase Station – Enoden railway

The Buddha is about 7 minutes walking from the station exit.

  • This attraction is open even day of the year.
  • you can access the great Buddha from 8-5 (5:30 in the summer months)

Stroller / Wheelchair access:

I suggest baby carriers rather than strollers but if you have a toddler a stroller can be done. I used an umbrella stroller. We had to cross multiple streets and navigate high curbs but it is possible. At the great Buddha itself there is a lot of gravel with a concrete path in the middle. I parked the stroller to the side and left it while we explored. There were large crowds so it would not have been enjoyable to do this with a small baby in a large stroller if you had no baby carrier available.

Wheel chairs can be done on the path as it is level. However some road crossing along the way to the Buddha would be difficult as there were large curbs. If you have a couple of handy friends that can help out this wouldn’t be a problem.

You can not bring a wheelchair or stroller in the great buddha. It is narrow and has stairs. Use a baby carrier or prepare to carry small toddlers. Not for the claustrophobic either!

Infant Feeding / Toddler Melt Down Areas:

Overall for a crowd of people it is pretty quiet. There are many areas that you can sit down and be out of the way if you should need to feed an infant. If you have a toddler melt down situation you should have plenty of space to sit down for an out of the way snack. As eating and drinking at the temple would be frowned upon there are plenty of areas near that you could take a walk and eat snacks away from the crowd. There is also the option of driving/ walking near the coastal road and stopping in the parking lots or entering the walk ways to the beach areas.

We saw ice cream shops, snacks to buy, and even places to rent wind surfing equipment. Our kids had a great time watching the wind surfers just down the road from the great Buddha. This took there mind of of the long day and allowed them some time to regroup after walking through the tourist attractions.

Suggestion:

Bring sunglasses or hats for kiddos. It is on the coast and pretty windy here. We had some difficulties with sand blowing in our eyes so it would have been much better for our toddler to have had her sunglasses with her… even on a cloudy day!

official Website in English:

Kamakura Great Buddha

 

Also,If you need a carrier I love the Japanese Combi brand. It is pricey but oh so worth it. especially because it has clips so you can easily take it off and on while switching positions on the trains and subways.

 

(I am not a paid for this suggestion by combi. I just simply see this as a good product that I would suggest if you are coming to Japan and do not have a carrier. I earn a small commission through the amazon affiliate link. and I mean SMALL! The earnings from affiliate links are put back into paying for the cost to run this site so that I can continue to share our tips on Japan with everyone!)

 

 

 

Hello Kitty Japan – DiverCity Tokyo Plaza

Hello Kitty mochi

Hello Kitty JapanIf you are near the Odaiba area a great place to stop with the kiddos is The DiverCity Plaza. It was rainy and a little colder than we realized so while we were checking out some of the attractions in Odabia we decided to stop in the DiverCity Plaza. The favorite spot in this mall for our children was the Hello Kitty Japan store. Although there are many Hello Kitty stores around this one also has a few amenities that are sure to keep your kids entertained.

Hello Kitty, Odaiba,

The store is a decent size and has a section for most of the Sanrio characters. We found pretty much everything here. From Twinkle Star Twin  packs of tissues to Pompomourin makeup bags, this store has it covered. I was tempted to try out some of the face masks which were all around 300 Yen. Kids will really enjoy checking out the merchandise but most of the toys and stuffed animals are a bit pricey. Everything was really cute but so much Hello Kitty character merchandise is available in other stores in Tokyo that I was not willing to shell out money for  Hello Kitty toys today! My two year old was just happy to walk around and check out all the colorful decorations and My eight year old chose a different souvenir from the Gundam Cafe located on the first floor outside (find out more about that here). This store is a great place for a high quality memorabilia  to take back for a friend who loves Hello Kitty though.

Activities for the Kiddos:

For younger kids, and older selfie takers, the entrance to the store has a fun photo op set up. There is a Hello Kitty statue in the form of a Gundam like robot costume. The statue says Odaiba under and there is a basket of photo accessories. There were things like Hello Kitty bows and large glasses with eyelashes. All were pretty cute to make a free and memorable photo op on your phone.

Hello Kitty, My Melody, MochiFood and Beverages:

On the left entrance of the store you can grab a quick bite to eat at the Hello Kitty cafe. There were some small curry and rice meals, green tea ice creams, and a variety of tasty mochi flavors to try. The Mochi were around 210 yen each and they were really good. We tried a chocolate flavored mochi and a chestnut flavor. We thought that they were both tasty but liked the chestnut the best. The chocolate flavor is for the true chocolate lover and can be on the strong side if you are expecting a lighter typical mochi flavor.

Hello Kitty mochi

The green tea and vanilla swirl ice cream in a cup was 300yen. This seemed to be a really reasonable price to us. Generally Ice cream and treats in Tokyo are very pricy and these were all larger than expected for what we paid.

green tea, ice cream

Access for Strollers and Wheelchairs:

This store is easy to access with young children and there is plenty of room for strollers or wheelchairs. There are many elevators to the parking garages so transportation with a stroller is really easy here. The aisles in this mall are wide which makes navigating with kids and a crowd much easier. The tables and Chairs in the Hello Kitty store were fine for toddlers to site and thee would be room for a wheel chair.

If you are in the Odabia area DiverCity Plaza is worth checking out. This mall is one of the more baby and kid friendly places in our opinion due to the large aisles in this mall and easy access food courts and kids eating areas, as well as the abundance of baby changing rooms located near all restrooms. Enjoy!

Location:

Hello Kitty Japan, 〒135-0064 Tokyo, Koto, Aomi, 1 Chome−1−10, ダイバーシティ東京プラザ 2F DiverCity Tokyo Plaza

If you are taking the train the closest station to the DiverCity mall is the “Daiba Station” located on the Yurikamome line.

Station Address:

2 Chome-6 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 135-0091

Ume Hanami at Mt. Fuji / Plum Blossom Viewing at Mt. Fuji

Ume Matsuri at Soga Bairin Orchard:

This weekend we ventured to the Ume Hanami at Mt. Fuji. Ume Hanami is just a fancy way to say Plum blossom viewing in Japanese! Since you can view Plum Blossoms for most of February into just the first couple of days of March our family decided to sneak in one last look before they are gone until next year. We decided to visit the Soga Bairin Orchard for the Odawara Ume Matsuri.

The great thing about the Soga Bairin Orchard located in Odawara was not only the fact that we were going to some more amazing plum blossoms, but that you can actually view around 35,000 plum trees! It is a complete working orchard that opens up during the blossom season to hold a festival but then closes to guests after the first weekend of March. This area is one of the largest in all of Japan for blossom viewing.

We were really excited because this Orchard also has a close up view of Mount Fuji right behind the plum orchard. I was really looking forward to all the great photos I was going to have of my kiddos in the plum orchard with Mt Fuji behind them but- it did not happen. We thought that the day was looking clear and that we were going to have perfect viewing. It was warm (for the first week of March), sunny, and only a few clouds were in the sky. Unfortunately, by the time we reached our destination clouds moved in over Fuji and disguised the entire mountain. So no Mt. Fuji viewing for us that day! If you decide to try out this orchard defiantly double check the weather and try to make it on a clear and sunny day to catch a great view of Fuji. It seems to also help if you go earlier in the day. We can see Fuji from our home and although it is small as we are a pretty far distance away we notice that in the early mornings it is usually most visible.

Getting There:

Getting to the Sago Bairin Orchard was not too problematic. We drove our car from Tokyo and arrived in a little over two hours and drove the toll free route with our GPS. So not only did we not pay for the drive in (a rare occurrence on a road trip in Japan!) but we also parked right in the orchard for free and the entry was free as well. A free day of activities is always a good day in my book!

**** If you want to take the train this is about a 10-15 minute walk from Shimosoga Station****

ume, plum blossoms
Ume Hanami, Odawara, Japan

Parking:

The parking was really easy. When you start to get about 5-10 minutes away from the orchard there are large pink banners that say UME MATSURI to encourage you from giving up and Turing around! 🙂 You will drive through a winding road up a mountain and the have an great view of the entire town below including the ocean meeting the mountains to the side. This part of the drive ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip.

After curving down the mountain lookout road we ended up turning right onto a Main Street near the orchard. Then we turned into a small street with just a few houses. We initially thought that we were lost as we were literally squeezing down this small road and invading on the families there. We saw a few trees blooming but it just looked like a very small farm. We happened to see a couple orange cones and made a turn towards them. Then there was an enormous orchard tucked right behind the houses. We drove right up to the start of the trees and parked. There was plenty of parking and it was easy to get in and out.

 

 

 

Bathrooms:

There were bathrooms at the parking area. They were Port-a-potty style buuuuuut without seats. So port-a-john Japan style squatters. If you had to go you could stand on a step, face the back wall (hope you locked the door behind you well) and hold onto a handle on the wall to aid with your squatting balance. Then I advise you pray that you squatted down far enough otherwise you will have some wet Uggs when you leave… and Uggs show all water spots. FYI.

I am not sure if there were bathrooms anywhere else at the festival area as we were too preoccupied with checking out all the trees. However if you walk straight down the path from the parking lot all the way through to the other side of the orchard you will see the train station at the other end. You could find a bathroom there if you were really in need of something other than a porta potty. I would have down that had I know this was an option in the beginning.

Food, Drinks and Entertainment:

When you leave the parking lot you can just walk straight down a path to food vendors, a cafe, and a stage. This is where they have many of the festival performances and tea ceremonies. There is also a mini market type of area where the vendors are selling oranges and other vegetables and fruits. There were tables and chairs in this area to enjoy your snacks.

We also noticed that there was a separate large cafe with its own tables and chairs behind the stage area. I do not have information about what they had available because when we arrived this cafe was already closed (we arrived around 1pm). As our visit was the second to last day of the festival many things were already closed or packing up as we entered.

If you are looking for a more picnic type of atmosphere- which is popular for Hanami, I recommend turning right after walking down the main paling and the food stalls. There are raised picnic benches located in the middle of the trees. There were many families sitting with their picnic mats on the raised platforms and enjoying the blossoms. This area has some room for kids to wander about while you picnic as well in case they get bored of sitting before you get to finish your lunch. Is seems as if most families with younger children were in the Orchard area eating instead of seated at the tables. Mostly elderly patrons were in the main area with tables. This is not to say that you would not be welcome but just advice if you are with a large group or have young children who will not want to be seated for long periods.

Information During Your Visit:

There is a large map with information and trails marked in the main entrance of the trails. It has all information labeled in English as well as Japanese. You can view directions of  multiple shrines located on the orchard grounds, however we did not get to visit these so I can not give any advice. We made it a quicker trip as we wanted to head to the beach after and did not want to run out of time.

Accessibility for Strollers and Wheelchairs:

We did take a stroller. I think taking a stroller is ok as the areas are wide enough. Just be aware that you will probably be leaving the main path and walking through the grass and all through the trees if you like so its a little more difficult to get through there but overall I think it is fine. We took an umbrella stroller so I would not recommend that. Take a full size stroller that is easy to get through rougher terrain. We actually saw several wheelchairs in use at the time we were there and they had no problems getting around the orchard and through the crowds. This is a really useful point as I find many places in Japan are just not very easily accessed in this type of situation.

A wheelchair would work on the path. It is wide and fairly well cared for. No major cracks or rough terrain. Just a few small hills. The path all the way to the parking would be ok for a wheel chair as well. The grassy area within the Orchard could be wheel chair friendly although some spots the ground was soft and probably would need extra assistance in pushing through these areas by a companion if there was a manual wheelchair and nothing motorized. The parking area would be adequate for parking a van with a lift on the back as it is pull in forward and there is single parking and no cars will park behind you. getting in and out of the side doors or a car could be problematic as the sides are tight. However this is nothing worse than normal Japanese spots. I think it is actually better as no one is parked behind you in any spot that we saw.

Infant Feeding:

The orchard is big enough that if you do wish for privacy for feeding infants or need a quiet spot to settle a little one down you can probably find one. Just set out your picnic mat out under the trees and you probably won’t be bothered, as long as you are away from the main path. I did not see any type of private room or bathrooms located here.

Warning for Small Children:

Also I think it is worth mentioning there is an area of the orchard that is dangerous for kids. It is somewhat like a large area for water run off but it is deep and there are cement pillars over it with large gaps in between. This is large enough for a toddler to easily fall in. When we were near this area we had my toddler in the stroller so that we could walk father away from this and not have to worry about her wondering in due to curiosity. We simply redirected to another area of the orchard so she could play freely again. The orchard is huge so this should not deter you from visiting, just advice to steer clear of the drains.

Overall:

I think that this Ume viewing spot is a must on a clear day. I would also advise going in late February. While we saw tons of great blossoms, I think the peak week was probably the previous week. We went the first weekend of March. Realistically we should have been there the previous week. We still saw all colors of blooms and all types, but most of the red blooms were already gone. It was really enjoyable as this was far less crowded than other areas we have visited for Hanami. Let’s not forget this is not only free but special needs accessible as well as family friendly  that makes this a great plum viewing spot!

*Click here to visit the Odawara Ume Matsuri official site. You should visit the site before you go as the details can change yearly. The site is in Japanese but you can still view the dates and times.

 

Review: Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Success Edition

The great thing about homeschooling is that you have the freedom to change and adjust any part of your curriculum at any moment. For my older student who has been working on cursive for sometime…. IT WAS NOT HAPPENING! My Oldest student catches on to new lessons quickly is a very adaptable kid but it easily distracted. I mean the type who will see a bird fly past the window and then you have lost him! 🙂 I know his handwriting ability. He is very artistic and has good overall penmanship – WHEN HE TRIES! However, if he is not in the mood for handwriting lord help you! Our struggle with cursive has been especially frustrating as one of the perks of homeschool is that my child will get to spend time on cursive. Our previous public district was no longer going to teach or require students to write in cursive (or even learn it for that matter). I wanted my student to be able to read original historical documents, old letters, and original family history as it was written. I was worried that we were not going to be successful at this task in this year of schooling and was close to shelving this idea for another school year or two…luckily we didn’t!Read more…

We have previously been using a different work book throughout last summer and fall. I felt like he was still struggling to read others cursive when most of it should have been easily recognizable. In February we made a change to Handwriting Without Tears. We have had an immediate improvement. I think this book is completely a winner. Normally I wouldn’t want to write a review on a product that We haven’t used for a long amount of time but we also had success with another book of handwriting without tears during the kindergarten year of schooling. So even though this is our first year using the cursive edition, it will be our second year of using this program overall.

The cursive success edition is a better fit for students as it has smaller spaced lines than many cursive handwriting books. For an older student who is ready to complete cursive it seems more natural and less daunting to fill a smaller lined space in the work book. With out previous workbook my student was really struggling to form the letters correctly as the space between top and bottom lines to hit was just to large. Handwriting without tears decreases the space and this is a better fit for an older student. The overall amount of space to fill with letter formation is less as well. I noticed that my student felt an accomplishment at filling the requirements on the page instead of feeling that a failure for not filling an entire huge page of blank lines. The book is not set up to break their hand! It is an easy exercise that is definitely more enjoyable than we have experienced with other cursive workbooks.

This book gets students feeling motivated by immediately giving them entire words. They can start off the exercise by practicing the letter and tracing the formation. Then on the same page there are a few easy to write words. Previously we were doing many pages of a single letter and completing the entire alphabet before moving on to connecting some letters and writing entire words. This daunting process left my older student feeling like his lessons were “babyish” now he is able to show off his quickly – and neatly completed page.

As you move into the book farther there are short games to play as you write. There are also some history facts and even some pages that have your copy work relating to capital cities, famous quotes, and even some grammar thrown in. By the end of the book you child will be able to translate from cursive to print and read cursive with confidence. I am really happy that finally we have found a solution to our cursive dilemma!

If you have a student that is ready for cursive or just sick of their current handwriting program give it a try. We bought our copy off of Amazon for a good deal and the shipping to our overseas location was quick. You can also find the book at www.hwtears.com or click the Amazon link here. There is also a version with a teacher’s guide. I do not think that is totally necessary. Just save yourself some money and follow this prompt in the book. It will explain anything your child needs to do. Simple instructions throughout the text so no worries for the homeschool newbie! 😉

If you have experience with this book leave a comment on how it worked out for you below. Maybe it will help out others!

Independent 2 year olds

A lot of parents wonder what exactly should my child be doing at 2 and are they on target compared to their peers? First of all, I think it is important stop comparing everything! Who cares what that youtube family is doing currently, or what the neighbors kids can do ALREADY!

Instead,  measure their skills against new lessons.  Give them some coaching and let them practice over time. Look back and see how they quickly accomplished a new task! Every child learns things at their own pace. My oldest child had an extensive vocabulary and was very articulate at an extremely young age – but I would not say he was beyond his peers in physical abilities.He had to work at coordination for doing the monkey bars and other sports activities.  His sister is the opposite. I feel she was very strong in coordination, balance, and sports abilities far beyond his when he was the same age. However, she was unable to say her ABC’s and be completely potty trained before the age of 2. That’s ok.

They both have had different life experiences and different exposures. They picked up on different things at different times. However I have made some special attention to make a check list of sorts that I can work with to make sure that my youngest is hitting some important independent skills. Working on independent life skills are just as important as those preschool type of skills and once they are mastered it can really take some weight of mom and dad!

here is a short list of some independent life skills that I am working on with my 2-year-old currently:

  • Brushing teeth
  • brushing hair
  • washing hands
  • washing up while in the bath (this still requires some help especially for washing her own hair!)
  • Putting on socks
  • buttoning coat
  • putting away toys
  • only drinking from regular cups at meal times (no sippy)
  • Putting scraps of paper etc from art in the trash can
  • “help” her brother wash the dishes (she stands on the stool and just puts water on small plastic kids plates and cups)
  • entering and exiting escalators with the help of a parent *

*not being carried on or off. this task is actually very important for us and if we were currently in the U.S. I would probably skip this at this young age out of fear. However living in Tokyo means small areas with large crowds and many are not stroller friendly places.

She is getting to be too big for baby wearing in some crowded situations like trains and subways. In situations like this we may have to change trains or subways on different levels (underground to high floor or street level) and we will not have the option for an elevator.

So in this situation being able to hold a parents hand and approach an escalator is necessary, although I wish it wasn’t!

  • Transitioning to the big girl bed without fears or tears! 🙂

Many of these things seem like no brainers but maybe there are some other parents out there, who just like me, don’t always realize they were buttoning the six large buttons on their Childs coat about a million times a day! I realized doing everything for her allllll the time was not doing her or myself any favors! I am making a conscious effort to assist her in becoming more independent. She also is very proud when she assists and even sometimes completes these tasks on her own. That is probably a short list and I am missing many but those are some things that she is getting pretty successful at and it sure does help when we are going through the daily motions!
Another fun tidbit about toddlers being independent is getting the shoes on the correct feet. I should mention that in Japan many of the shoes sold here have a little animal face on the inside. This helps toddlers learn which shoe goes on which foot. She can just make the monkey face with her shoes and then they will be on correctly. if only all shoes had this great little idea!