Japanese Cultural Day gives students global perspective

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 14, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Students donned obis and kimonos, learned to use chopsticks and make origami, received a crash course in hiragana, and more during Japanese Cultural Day March 3 at Four Corners Montessori Academy in Madison Heights.

Around 140 first-, second- and third-graders moved between five different exhibits that morning, alternating every 25 minutes.

Representatives from Toyoda Gosei North America (TGNA), an auto supplier headquartered in Troy, gave them a glimpse into the Land of the Rising Sun. 

The TGNA employees educated the students on a variety of topics. In one class, the students used brightly colored construction paper to make origami butterflies that flap their wings when squeezed. Teacher Brandi Nichols said the school would introduce books with instructions for additional origami as another option during the students’ two-hour independent work period each day, where they can work on whatever they want. This way, they can keep using the skills they learned. 

In another room, students watched a presentation on food in Japan, learning about things such as sushi rolling down a conveyor belt at a sushi bar. They also learned how to use chopsticks by plucking up marshmallows. The presenter from TGNA was very enthusiastic, showing how to use chopsticks one moment and then making shadow puppets the next, the kids squealing with laughter.

Students tried to wrap their heads around the complex alphabets of the Japanese language in another classroom, with a basic introduction to the symbols and sounds of hiragana, katakana and kanji. In yet another classroom, students studied the geography of Japan, checking out pictures of the myriad castles that dot the landscape and trying out traditional wear in the form of kimonos and obis.

Finally, in the loudest and most kinetic room of all, the students got to play traditional games enjoyed by children in Japan. These include kendama, similar to the classic cup-and-ball game where you try to catch one object with another, both joined by a string; koma, a spinning top; otedama, where small bean bags are juggled in a game similar to jacks, often accompanied by singing; and hanetsuki, similar to badminton without a net.    

Sallie Justice, TGNA’s senior specialist in corporate planning, said their visit that day was typical of their outreach efforts in education, health and wellness, and the environment. 

“Our employees just love to get out into the community and get involved,” Justice said.

Nichols, a teacher of first, second and third grades, said the mixed grades in her class allow the older students to role-model for the younger students. And the Japanese Cultural Day is a way to give all of the students a more global perspective — an integral part of the Montessori learning experience at Four Corners.

“We started studying Asia a month ago. We brought out the globe and a puzzle map of Asia and talked about all of the countries located within Asia itself. Then the students were able to work on that independently during work time,” Nichols said. “We study the world, where everything is relative to us, and then we move onto the continents.”

Studying other countries is a way to talk about different cultures and ways of life. The idea is to prepare students for an increasingly globalized world and to foster a deeper understanding of others.

Another part of the Montessori approach is understanding the students themselves. The staff use individualized testing to see where each student stands in each subject area. The curriculum is then tailored to the unique needs of the individual. For example, one student may be a half-year ahead in spelling but a half-year behind in math. The Montessori approach takes this into account.

Stacy Byrd wears many hats at Four Corners, including early childhood director. She said word of mouth has led to ever-increasing interest in the school.

“It feels like a private setting here, but we’re a public charter school,” Byrd said. “The majority of Montessori schools are private, but now we’re starting to have more public schools, which is great since sometimes it’s kind of expensive to attend a private Montessori school. The fact we can offer that environment for free is wonderful. And we keep growing, with a waiting list right now, especially for our kindergarten program. So we must be doing something right.”

Four Corners Montessori Academy is located at 1075 E. Gardenia Ave. in Madison Heights and can be reached by calling (248) 542-7001.

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