In the news: Schools that emphasize calligraphy, form and manners in their curriculum

In calligraphy and etiquette, form counts
Hitomi Seki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This part of the series, to be continued next week, focuses on teaching aspects of Japan’s traditional culture.
Thirty-two first-graders formed two lines before leaving their classroom and then headed in an orderly manner to another room, where they seated themselves and greeted their teachers before beginning a calligraphy lesson.
The room at the publicly run Minami Primary School in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, is specifically used to teach the traditional art of writing using brush and ink.
Although the teaching guidelines for primary schools stipulate that calligraphy instruction begin in third grade as part of the Japanese language curriculum, Minami Primary School has required its first- and second-graders to learn the ancient art since 2006. The students are instructed in calligraphy–shodo in Japanese–almost every week.
The school began teaching the subject to younger children after it was designated a pilot school by the Ito municipal government under the central government’s “tokku” special structural reform zone scheme.
The aim of the calligraphy program is not to help students improve their writing, but rather to instill an interest in traditional culture, while at the same time encouraging them to try something that requires concentration and the ability to appreciate work of others.
The program is a collaboration between the primary school and a local studio specializing in the art so as to have the children learn calligraphy in an authentic manner.
Classes are taught using a team-teaching method, with an instructor from the calligraphy studio and the children’s homeroom teachers. The visiting instructors make preparations beforehand and clean up afterward, giving the children as much time as possible to practice their writing.
On the day of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s visit, the first-graders were trying their hand at writing the character for “eight,” which consists of two almost symmetrical strokes extending obliquely downward.
Before picking up their brushes, the students were asked to associate the character with something. This was aimed at piquing their interest in kanji, and also tied into their Japanese classes, as the character is among the most basic kanji children learn during the first year of primary school.
“To me, the second stroke looks like a waterfall,” one student said.
“I think the two strokes together look like somebody’s neck,” said another.
Then, the students learned about the kanji’s origin before actually getting down to practicing it.
The writing practice portion of the class began with having the children use their arms like big brushes to learn how to move the real brush when writing each stroke. Then they meditated for a moment before actually putting brush to paper.
The children successfully avoided ink splatters on their paper by carefully following their teachers’ instructions to tap their brush on the edge of their inkstone to remove excess ink.
When the students completed their work, they commented on the efforts of their classmates, complimenting them on what they had done well. Otherwise, the students remained quiet and focused throughout class.
“Visitors often find our students very calm,” said Principal Yukio Michishita, 54. “Our first-graders are like this in all of their classes.”
News of Minami’s success with teaching calligraphy to its youngest students has spread, prompting other primary schools in Ito and nearby municipalities to follow suit.
Part of the school’s key to success is that it puts control of the classes in the hands of the homeroom teachers–not the visiting instructors–who set the goals and the roles clear beforehand.
===
Manners, polite expressions
In Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture, the Joyo Hokuzei Gakuen school has been focusing its curriculum on manners and the use of polite expressions in Japanese, in an effort to foster caring attitudes and respect for social norms among its students.
The Yame municipal government applied for pilot-school status with the education ministry for the school–an integrated primary and middle school–so that it could begin offering a new subject dedicated to manners and polite language usage from April last year. First- and second-graders take 20 classes a year, while third-graders and up take 40 classes in such subject each year.
In addition to teaching manners and honorifics, the children are introduced to kendo and the tea ceremony–both of which are popular in the local community–to give them hands-on experience. The third- and fourth-graders learn about the tea ceremony, while the fifth- and sixth-graders try kendo. Middle school students are required to do both.
“The students always look forward to learning about the two arts,” said Toshiro Hazeyama, 56, principal at Joyo’s primary school division. “They’ve also become better at communicating to older people with the proper respect.

In calligraphy and etiquette, form countsHitomi Seki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This part of the series, to be continued next week, focuses on teaching aspects of Japan’s traditional culture.
Thirty-two first-graders formed two lines before leaving their classroom and then headed in an orderly manner to another room, where they seated themselves and greeted their teachers before beginning a calligraphy lesson.
The room at the publicly run Minami Primary School in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, is specifically used to teach the traditional art of writing using brush and ink.
Although the teaching guidelines for primary schools stipulate that calligraphy instruction begin in third grade as part of the Japanese language curriculum, Minami Primary School has required its first- and second-graders to learn the ancient art since 2006. The students are instructed in calligraphy–shodo in Japanese–almost every week.
The school began teaching the subject to younger children after it was designated a pilot school by the Ito municipal government under the central government’s “tokku” special structural reform zone scheme.
The aim of the calligraphy program is not to help students improve their writing, but rather to instill an interest in traditional culture, while at the same time encouraging them to try something that requires concentration and the ability to appreciate work of others.
The program is a collaboration between the primary school and a local studio specializing in the art so as to have the children learn calligraphy in an authentic manner.
Classes are taught using a team-teaching method, with an instructor from the calligraphy studio and the children’s homeroom teachers. The visiting instructors make preparations beforehand and clean up afterward, giving the children as much time as possible to practice their writing.
On the day of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s visit, the first-graders were trying their hand at writing the character for “eight,” which consists of two almost symmetrical strokes extending obliquely downward.
Before picking up their brushes, the students were asked to associate the character with something. This was aimed at piquing their interest in kanji, and also tied into their Japanese classes, as the character is among the most basic kanji children learn during the first year of primary school.
“To me, the second stroke looks like a waterfall,” one student said.
“I think the two strokes together look like somebody’s neck,” said another.
Then, the students learned about the kanji’s origin before actually getting down to practicing it.
The writing practice portion of the class began with having the children use their arms like big brushes to learn how to move the real brush when writing each stroke. Then they meditated for a moment before actually putting brush to paper.
The children successfully avoided ink splatters on their paper by carefully following their teachers’ instructions to tap their brush on the edge of their inkstone to remove excess ink.
When the students completed their work, they commented on the efforts of their classmates, complimenting them on what they had done well. Otherwise, the students remained quiet and focused throughout class.
“Visitors often find our students very calm,” said Principal Yukio Michishita, 54. “Our first-graders are like this in all of their classes.”
News of Minami’s success with teaching calligraphy to its youngest students has spread, prompting other primary schools in Ito and nearby municipalities to follow suit.
Part of the school’s key to success is that it puts control of the classes in the hands of the homeroom teachers–not the visiting instructors–who set the goals and the roles clear beforehand.
===
Manners, polite expressions
In Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture, the Joyo Hokuzei Gakuen school has been focusing its curriculum on manners and the use of polite expressions in Japanese, in an effort to foster caring attitudes and respect for social norms among its students.
The Yame municipal government applied for pilot-school status with the education ministry for the school–an integrated primary and middle school–so that it could begin offering a new subject dedicated to manners and polite language usage from April last year. First- and second-graders take 20 classes a year, while third-graders and up take 40 classes in such subject each year.
In addition to teaching manners and honorifics, the children are introduced to kendo and the tea ceremony–both of which are popular in the local community–to give them hands-on experience. The third- and fourth-graders learn about the tea ceremony, while the fifth- and sixth-graders try kendo. Middle school students are required to do both.
“The students always look forward to learning about the two arts,” said Toshiro Hazeyama, 56, principal at Joyo’s primary school division. “They’ve also become better at communicating to older people with the proper respect.

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