I ruined my kid’s joy of learning

An image just before I failed my kid and his journey for learning japanese
Moments before the disastrous learning – feeling over confident

Teaching and learning when you’re not qualified. I’ve been scratching my head for the last week or so. I knew I wanted to talk to you all about growth mindset. I want to encourage you all to pick yourselves up again. Thankfully, because parenting is one endless learning experience, it hasn’t taken long for me to live a growth moment. As you may remember, in my inaugural blog post I talked about how successful my first teaching Japanese session with my 6er went. If you didn’t catch it, its here. I think I maybe even detect a hint of gloating in the post – I jest of course, but I finished our first lesson on a complete high.

And then …

The wind was knocked out of my sails. The rains rolled in. So I had this amazing idea that we would learn lots of Japanese through the medium of Pokemon … and so we started with a session all about Pokemon. Second session, I decided learning some words for clothes would be useful, and also easy to reinforce during the course of an average day.

Rain batters down on a rainbow coloured umbrella. The words read “What to do when the fail rolls in”

“I know!” said my quarantined brain. “Why don’t we design a Pokemon trainer who can represent us as we continue our language learning journey?”

So, we sit down. I have a paper doll template that I have created for the session (which you can receive amongst all my other paper blanks if you sign up for my email list). Now, the Japanese colours rap was a big hit and so I thought, “Easy! We’ll just roughly follow the format of the last session, bob’s your uncle”…. Can you see where I’m going with this?

I could NOT find a blooming Japanese clothing song anywhere. But I did find a compelling young woman talking through some of the clothes, and it was late the night before I knew we would be doing some Japanese and I thought – what the hey!?

My Big Mistake

When I played the video, 6er immediately panicked. They could’t understand anything she was saying, and in their panic, their higher brain function switched off so even with guidance they weren’t able to glean meaning from the video. From that point on, the lesson was doomed. Although we continued with a few activities and built our paper dolls, every time I tried to say any Japanese words about what we were doing they would whine.

Sh*$%@!!!!!!!!

We instantly went from them begging me for more Japanese every hour of the day, to putting away all of their Pokemon things, and them walking away from me if I tried to broach the subject.

Double SH!$%£!!!!!!!!!!

Image of a mum having failed. I like to think it's because she wasn't helping her child learn Japanese

How do I fix this hole I’ve made for myself?

So what’s a homeschooling during quarantine Momma to do? I regrouped. I put on the breaks and took the pressure off. We went back to Spanish, and were able to video chat abuelo and show off our new skills to him. For me, it is more important to encourage my children to find joy in learning and acquiring new skills.

And so, I began to think about the games we used to play when we went to Lingotots. I tried to remember which ones really engaged him. I wondered whether I could utilise one of those games, to reengage 6er in the Japanese learning journey. Enter the parachute (like this one but 6ft). I figured, family of four? Easy we can play together…. Except I didn’t factor in that two legged parent having an off day and not being able to help. I didn’t think about 4er being “too tired” to jiggle a parachute for more than three seconds at a time.

Palm hits face.

But, 3 minutes of jiggling a pair of trousers on a parachute while chanting “zubon, zubon, zubon” did engage sixer.

Huuuuuuuzah!!!!!

So, I’ve got him back onboard with Team Japanese Learning, but how do I teach the new vocabulary? Luckily for me, something, I’m not quite sure what, triggered a memory of my high school maths classes (I know, weird, right?). Bear with me. So, at my first secondary school, we had a maths teacher who was nerdy but excellent. So each lesson we would have a powerpoint presentation on contemporary pop culture – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter etc. And the presentation was basically an extended maths game. It was so fun because you just answer and click. Then there’s has enough immersion to make you feel like an active participant in an adventure.

An example of a slide from our Learning Japanese session
A slide from our Pokemon Catching Presentation Game

Making a Presentation Software Game For Learning Japanese

So that’s what I made. I gave 6er the opportunity to ‘play’ as a new Pokemon trainer, getting ready for his first catch. I framed the Japanese learning this way in order to reintroduce some of the old vocabulary whilst introducing new vocabulary. And because the vocabulary was integrated into the storytelling, they were forced to engage with the meaning. So, hopefully, the words are retained better. Wahey!

I used to be very tech-literate but in the past few years, I haven’t really had the time for anything more than basic. I mention this because what I’m doing is kind of basic programming. It uses the logic skills of coding to make it work. And if I can do it, I’m certain anyone can. For those not familiar with presentation software, this process involves using the “link to slide” feature. I used Keynote this time round, but I have done it with Powerpoint in the past. Now, because all you can do is a click feature, not dragging and dropping, you need to keep the adventure to multiple choice questions.

Before I talk us all around in circles I think perhaps an example is necessary here.

So, I want 6er to learn the word for ‘trousers’ and ‘shorts’ (zubon and hanzubon respectively). I create a slide that contains an image of both, labelled with the romaji Japanese word and a question. I wanted to 6er to feel like they were making active decisions that affected the outcome of the game. So on the slide I asked them to pick trousers or shorts, with the guidance that it was ‘cold outside’.

A chart that shows the way that the slides were developed when learning Japanese
A visualisation of where slide links take you in the game

So, you then create two further slides. One congratulates the player on making the right decision, and the other asks them to try again. Then it’s a case of linking each image to the relevant slide, and linking those slides back or onwards. Are you following? I hope you are, but if you aren’t get in touch and we can have a more in depth explanation, or you can even sign up to my email list to hear when my presentation skills are up for purchase.

The Final Verdict on Learning Japanese This Way

I thought I’d finish this blog with a review from the source, 6er. Their response when I asked how they liked their Japanese Learning this week.

“It was good. I really enjoyed being able to go to different places but next time? Can we go to an electric factory, a volcano, and the ocean for my second catch. Coz we’ve already got a grass type, haven’t we?”

6er

It is at this point I am going to stop scribing what they say because it turned into a very long conversation. But, they are, clearly, very impressed.

Have you ever felt you’ve ruined something your child loves? Were you able to take a deep breath, forgive yourself and then carry on? It’s tough and I see you. If you want access to some of the resources I mention in these posts, sign up for my mailing list. You’ll get a free paper games resource, including the paper doll sheet.