Growing Up Bilingual In Japan — English/Japanese Resources For Toddlers
We’ve been homeschooling for 2 months and I’ve received many DMs about what materials I’m using with my daughter. This post, Growing Up Bilingual In Japan — English/Japanese Resources For Toddlers, is all about what works (for us, right now). I hope you’ll find it useful on your homeschooling journey or as a supplement to your child’s daycare or kindergarten lessons.
I will be updating this list throughout the year as we continue on our homeschooling journey. So, please bookmark and come back to check on us!
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Growing Up Bilingual In Japan — English/Japanese Resources For Toddlers
I’m very fortunate to have amassed a decent stock of English language workbooks, flashcards, and other teaching materials over the years. Some materials are outdated workbooks from previous schools while others were purchased during trips to the US. The Japanese books are recent additions that I bought on Amazon Japan.
It seems like we do a lot of workbooks… because Miss M LOVES doing workbooks and writing with a pencil. She typically does 2-4 pages per workbook each lesson, and I adjust to her pace/attitude.
Gakken Hiragana Workbook
This workbook introduces the kana in degree of difficulty, starting with く (“ku”). It uses the 4 block writing grid common in Japanese workbooks so that young writers can get used to it. The book comes with reward stickers that kids can give themselves for a job well done.
Gakken Hiragana Write and Erase Tracing Workbook
This workbook introduces hiragana in A-I-U-E-O order, rather than by level of difficulty. So, I prefer to use it as a supplement to the above Gakken hiragana workbook. Each page also has fun drawing activities, and my daughter is now showing preference to this write & erase book over crayons and coloring books. To each her own, I say!
(By the way, if your hiragana writing is self-taught, like me, this book will blow your mind! I’m trying to improve my writing and relearn stroke order before my daughter enters elementary school.)
Whiteboard Marker & Eraser Set
I bought this set of rainbow whiteboard markers just so my girl could have fun doodling in the write and trace hiragana book. So far, I have no regrets! Available on Amazon Japan.
Kumon My First Book Of Uppercase Letters
This is a Kumon workbook, so it uses the Kumon method which encourages kids to develop and master a particular skill set before progressing to the next level. I love that this workbook first introduces “easy” letters like L and T, then diagonals like X and Y, and then curved letters C and O before moving on to complex letters like “R” and “B.”
Kumon My Book Of Numbers 1-30
Unlike Kumon My First Book Of Uppercase Letters, this book introduces 1-10 in numeral order. I think it progresses too fast for my daughter’s level. She’s still at the tracing level and writing something like 8 on her own is very difficult, although she tries.
My Book of Numbers 1-10 would be a better choice for her age/level, but I bought 1-30 as a resource for my kindergarten classroom! At the moment, I use it to supplement the tracing activities in the Pooh workbooks.
School Zone Big Preschool Workbook
We actually have two copies of this book. It covers topics like colors, shapes, numbers 1-10, the alphabet, and phonics. The latest edition is from Miss M’s kindergarten while I picked up an earlier edition in the US a few years ago. The pages are different so I can supplement lessons without being repetitive. While I enjoy the subject matter, I’m not a fan of the order so I have to plan our lessons in advance.
Kumon Hiragana Cards
These large cards introduce Japanese vocabulary and all 46 hiragana with colorful pictures that you’d see in a children’s book. The set comes with a hiragana chart, a picture dictionary, and a set of instructions/lesson ideas.
I use these cards during morning circle and during lesson time when my girl is doing her Japanese workbooks. My only issue is this deck uses “tsuru” (crane) to introduce “ru.” I wish they used something else, like “ahiru” (duck).
Eric Carle Books
One of my favorite children’s book authors is Eric Carle. (Which is why it was worth navigating the Tokyo Metro with a stroller to visit The Very Hungry Caterpillar pop-up cafe in February 2018!) Throughout my years teaching, I’ve collected many of his books in English and Japanese, and now I get to share my love with my girl.
McDonald’s Picture Books
Some of my daughter’s favorite Japanese picture books have come from McDonald’s! Every 2-3 months McDonald’s Japan introduces new hardback picture books (and mini-encyclopedias) as an alternative to Happy Meal toys.
Daiso Bilingual Board Books
These books have proved to be surprisingly sturdy! I bought them when Miss M was around 1 year old and they’re still holding up very well. I haven’t been able to get to a Daiso since COVID-19, but if you’re near a Daiso, definitely check out their selection of bilingual board books and activity/sticker books!
Games & Puzzles
In my kindergarten classes, we’d use these cards for “Go Fish” and “Memory.” With Miss M, I first lay out all the lowercase letters, then divide the uppercase letters between us. Then, we take turns looking for the “mommy-baby” pairs.
Puzzles are a fantastic learning tool for preschoolers and kindergarteners as they aid in developing cognitive skills and motor skills.
We first started off last summer with puzzles from Daiso that had 10-12 pieces and now we’re at 100+ piece puzzles that she can do all by herself. We do puzzles on the floor so there’s plenty of room for movement.
Currently, we’re doing Stage 4 and Stage 5 Kumon puzzles. They come in a box of 3 double-sided puzzles. Once Miss M is stronger with her numbers I’ll have her do the reverse side which is numbers on a solid background.
Screentime — Apps
Miss M and I have been playing Eduka’s World for the past few weeks and she is hooked. Eduka’s World uses a variety of mini-games on a fantastic adventure that develops English language skills in young learners aged 3-10.
Older kids will have no trouble clearing the games while younger kids will need help, especially as the level of difficulty gradually increases.
Eduka’s World is free until the end of 2020. (After that, it’s 4.99 a month or 29.99 yearly.) The game has NO ads nor does it have in-game purchases. Plus, the parental controls lets you can set time limits and view a list of vocabulary that your child has learned.
What I personally like about Eduka’s World is that the character U (like “you”) is fully customizable, from skin and eye color, to hairstyle, clothing and accessories:
Your child can even change their character’s appearance throughout the game!
Download Eduka’s World here via the App Store.
Screentime — Streaming Services
We ditched cable years ago and get our entertainment from Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. Here are a few of my favorite shows:
Amazon Prime has almost everything related to Shimajiro, a preschooler tiger who goes on adventures with his friends Mimirin, Torippi, and Nyakkii.
If your kids go to a Japanese daycare or kindergarten they will find out about Shimajiro, and I honestly prefer him over Kamen Rider and Precure and Disney Princesses and whatever kids are into these days.
Some of Shimajiro’s adventures involve fantasy/magic and being brave (like the movies); while the TV series focuses more on getting ready for kindergarten (making friends, going to the toilet, personal responsibility, and so on).
Nearly everything has an English and Japanese audio track, so sometimes my daughter will watch Frozen or Tangled in English then watch it immediately again in Japanese.
When it comes to educational programs, my daughter likes Mickey Mouse Club House. It’s for a preschool audience and focuses primarily on problem solving skills and early mathematics skills (big/small, shapes, numbers 1-10).
While my definition of bilingual is English-Japnese, that certainly doesn’t reflect all international families in Japan. That’s why Netflix is great because they offer plenty of forigen language tracks and subtitles in addition to English and Japanese.
Plus, if you turn on Japanese subtitles in a kids’ profile, you’ll get furigana/ruby readings on the kanji!
Netflix is a fantastic resource for kindergarten kids learning hiragana and katakana, and grownups who need a refresher (raises hand).
The educational Netflix shows that my daughter likes are: Word Party and Learn With Hello Kitty (Hello Kittyといっしょにお勉強).
Word Party is from the Jim Henson Company and is about 4 cute baby characters that learn new words from the audience. The show also encourages emotional awareness and how to get along with others.
Learn With Hello Kitty (Hello Kittyといっしょにお勉強) is all about Japanese social rules and manners like friendship & sharing, train etiquette, traffic safety, etc. The episodes are told from the perspective of Kitty and Mimmy who ask questions about everything so that kids watching can learn with them.
Extra — Bathtime Fun
And some crayons for writing practice! These KitPas bath crayons easily rinse off bath walls, but take care if you choose to decorate foam toys! We now have a dolphin, whale, and octopus with permanent frowns! Available on Amazon Japan