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Summer Holiday with Homework – and a Lot of Helping Hands

2018.09.03

Japanese children get six weeks of summer holiday, free from their classrooms.  But it is in the middle of the school year, which starts in April and ends in March.

So, they get Summer Holiday homework.

Homework Called Independent Studies

The assignments that children get are called Independent Studies, or Free Researches.  They can be on local history, geography, or science-related topics and children are free to choose what they want to do, depending on their interests.

During school terms, they are given regular homework of spellings and times-tables practices in controlled ways.  But for a holiday, they can choose what and how they want to do to present to their teachers and friends at the beginning of Autumn Terms.

In 1947 schools commenced requesting children to take away schoolwork from the previous term and to apply the knowledge in their daily lives. For example, they were suggested to pick a song they learned and try to play it with a new musical instrument or to apply math skills in a practical setting.

After a few years, these activities were taken over by summertime club activities.  (Yes, apart from homework, school children attend sports and music clubs at school during the holidays). Independent Studies became free research projects.

Very Busy Summer Holiday

Nowadays, Japanese school children are very busy during the summer holidays.

They have summer camps for school clubs as mentioned above.  They also have summer courses at their usual “JUKU” – out of school tutoring institutions. Many of them hardly have real free time, and as more parents are at work, the children spend a lot of time on their own. Clubs and Juku give the parents security that their children are more supervised than just being left at home.

The nostalgic view of Japan’s summer is that children visit their grandparents, often in the countryside, and get exposed to nature.  With an increasing number of city-dwelling grandparents, ever diminishing natural landscapes, and busy daily lives for both parents and children, this is no longer the standard way of spending summer. Children are stuck in their home in the cities.

Parents Want to Help, and Needs Outside Help…

One research found that 63% of parents advise or help with the summer Independent Studies. It is a part of the process to involve family members to support young people, to establish potential skills that might be missed within the school curriculum. However, the busy lives of adults and children mean that more help is more than welcome. Nowadays they come in the shape of businesses.

In shops, physical or online, there are numerous Independent Studies Kits.  There are so many that customers can browse through by subject or by the amount of time required. They cost mostly around 2000 yen (about USD 20).  One of the major retailers, LOFT, offers over 100 products to suit various demands:  a kit to make your kaleidoscope using PET bottles, to take fingerprints from glasses, or to extract and observe DNA with cell lysate, or a book filled with ideas on what and how.

Travel agencies in collaboration with event companies offer package tours that can then turn into reports and presentations. They are typically nature trails, traditional craft makings or cookery courses for children and family. JUKU which specialises in programming and robotics offer summer courses to create computer games in a day.

There is also a homework support agency.  The summer is a busy time with Independent Studies, over 200 cases every year. These are difficult assignments as students are entirely free to choose subject and format, requiring careful initial consultation.  The typical cost is 15,000 yen (USD 100).  The agency cautiously states that prices vary depending on the depth of the projects, and the commitment needed to finish them.  It also stresses that they work to help get students going, not to complete.  All their submissions are expected to be reviewed and finalised by their clients.

Meaningful and Enjoyable Summer Holidays

The scope of the project is limitless, so there is a certain degree of imagination required.  Time and peer pressures are very high.  This is where these kits, events, tours and courses come in to help children find projects that are fun, yet easy enough to get started.

After all, the intention is to let children learn what they like in the way they want outside of the rigid curriculum, and that is easy to say but hard to do.  In modern times, more help is available in different ways, not just from grandparents or local communities, and they should be used wisely.  But the core of the project is still alive:  to enjoy summer and learn something new, about yourself, and about the people and the world around you.

As children go back to school, they should be proud to tell their teachers and friends about what they did, how they achieved it and what they learned from the process.

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