To/From Japan With Love

 

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All throughout human history we have had periods when the world feels a mess. I don’t think it’s surprising to acknowledge that this is one of those periods. When we look back and study history we also notice that small acts of kindness by ordinary people are what get us through those dark times. This project was inspired by that simple thought.

For a year many, many of us teachers and the families we serve have watched in fearful awe the direction our country is going. We feel like those who need the most are being left out and worse. They are targeted for the years of repressed fear, hatred, and racism our country continues to deal with. Educators all across the country share stories of the hardships our families endure because of the policies that are put in place. They are also noticing stories of hope. Here is one more story of hope. Hope was our word of the week when a package arrived in my mailbox. It contained the items shown above as well as a few more.

The art and haiku poems were inspired by our school wide Writers’ Day. The entire school writes and posts their writing in the hallways. Our hallways were lined with our students’ writing. Visitors were encouraged to use stickies to write positive comments to stick to each piece of writing. It’s quite nice to see especially once the stickies begin to show up.

A young friend of mine, Myra, moved to a city in Japan to work with school children there. We’ve kept in touch, discussing the differences and similarities of our educational systems. This sharing of work came from that exchange.

When I decided to have the kids write haiku poems for our wall hangings, it was for a rather simple reason. They struggled with syllables. As a student who struggled with spelling, syllables saved me. They were my first check point to self assess if I was on the right track. I thought this strategy might help my kids too. It does. As we were exploring haiku we decided to visit to our school garden with our FoodCorps service member, Emily. She directed the kids to notice the small, often unnoticed parts of our garden. Their talk was all about the bees, the flowers, the colors, the carrots, the tastes. Perfect haiku inspirations. We collected words on stickies and brought them inside. We started playing with words and syllables…5,7,5. We went back outside, clipboards in hand, and started observing again with the 5,7,5 haiku beat guiding us. Back inside they shared their writings and started helping each other with words, beats, and creating feelings or visions. It was much harder than I thought it would be. It was clear many still thought of a word as a syllable. A few more sessions of arm tapping and chin counting (techniques which help isolate syllables) and our haiku poems were complete. It was time to hang them up in the hallway. The problem was they looked so plain. Knowing that presentation is everything, we pulled out watercolors and painted colors to enhance the feelings of our haiku poems. The results were lovely. Lovely words. Lovely art. Lovely, happy, proud children.

Haiku poems originated in Japan. They are usually about nature. Three lines. Five syllables first line; seven syllables second line, five syllables third line. Rhyming is not a must but lyrical flow is a goal. When we began studying the origin of haiku I thought again of my friend, Myra, and reached out to her to see if she’d like to partner up. Her supervising teachers thought it was a good idea and an authentic way for her students to play with the English language, so we proceeded forward. My kids made a Google Drive class slide show of their haiku poems and paintings; one slide per kid. We shared with Myra. Several weeks later I got an envelop with the following contents in the mail:

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My friend had printed out our slide show and shared them with her students who are learning to speak and write English, a task she says is not easy. When her students read our haiku poems they replied in English and Japanese. She photocopied them all and sent them back to us. Tomorrow I am going to give them to my students and hang them with these Japanese comments back up in our hallway. The Japanese/United States connection will be clear. The similarities of our students will be visible. The love and hope will be shared.

Communicating with students from other countries is one simple act we can do to encourage breaking stereotypes and knocking down the doors of ignorance. I know my kids will be filled with warm feelings when they read these comments from the other side of our small world. The kindness of these comments and the kindness that these students and their teacher took to write them will  not go unnoticed. My kids will notice. And they will feel the love that was shared. This small act of kindness was not only educational and fun but it filled our hearts with hope and love. Not so small after all.

May you and your students engage in simple acts of kindness to spread hope, peace, and love.

Mary

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3 thoughts on “To/From Japan With Love

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