Spring is in the air as more than 3,000 flowering cherry trees begin to bloom in Washington, D.C. It’s been more than 100 years since Japan gave these trees to the United States as a gift in 1912. Now the Washington, D.C. region celebrates this annual explosion of color with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s a great addition to any educational trip to the nation’s capital, but families anywhere in the country can still participate in learning activities that celebrate the changing of the season. Try out these tips to help kids increase their language skills, their culinary tastes, and their knowledge of Japanese culture.
1. Discover America’s Relationship with Japan
Make this connection for kids by explaining how the District of Columbia’s cherry blossom trees came all the way from Japan to Seattle, Washington, before traveling by freight car across the country to our capital. Twelve varieties of cherry trees arrived here. Although the trees have gone through changes in the past 100 years, the National Park Service took samples in 2011 from the surviving trees to send back to Japan to retain the genetic lineage.
2. Play Japanese Games
To celebrate Japan’s part in bringing the cherry trees to the United States, teach your kids some Japanese children’s games. Try Chopsticks, a counting game that only requires one’s hands. Don’t forget Otedama, which is similar to jacks but uses beanbags. Or check out the many online games that help introduce kids to Japanese culture. To increase the learning, discuss how these games are similar to those you might play at home or how they’re different from the family’s regular activities.
3. Make Japanese Crafts
To get into the full spirit of Otedama, make the beanbags from scratch. This is best for older children; for younger kids, consider origami or kite making. To continue the cherry blossom theme, use spring or floral designs. Carp kites are both traditional and stunning once complete; consider this craft for older or more artistically inclined children.
4. Celebrate with Food
The Cherry Blossom Festival can be an opportunity to introduce your children to Japanese food. Even if kids don’t like sushi, they may enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine. Who doesn’t love noodles? The cherry blossom season is also a great excuse to indulge in dessert. Eat cherries or find some recipes that use cherries and other fruits. Take the opportunity to show kids how their food comes from nature by explaining that sweet cherries come from those beautiful trees now in bloom.
5. Learn about Cherry Blossoms
If you have cherry blossoms in your neighborhood, take the kids for a walk and discuss the flowering trees. Tradition says that the short time that cherry trees are blooming reflects the Buddhist idea that life is fleeting. It’s one reason the cherry blossoms are the symbol of Japanese life. There is even a form of art, called kabazaiku, made from the bark of the cherry tree.
6. Try Cherry Blossom Puzzles and Games
The National Cherry Blossom Festival website has a number of games and educational activities, such as word searches, mazes, and a crossword puzzle that involves American history facts. Kids who are language buffs will love the matching game that lists the word for “spring” in 12 different languages.
Kids are naturally curious, and they will get a kick out of finding new things to explore within Japanese culture or walking among the cherry blossom trees. Support them in their learning quest by providing them with the opportunity to ask questions. Research the answers if you don’t know; spring is a season for everyone to learn something new. For more great ideas to inspire kids to learn, visit K12.com.