Many Japanese elementary and junior high school students are involved in learning activities outside of school, with swimming, English lessons and piano always popular. In the past, it was common for parents to pick activities for their children, but nowadays, it's considered more important for children to actively decide for themselves what they want to do. We're going to take a look at some of the activities kids in Japan get involved in.
The Popularity of Hip-Hop Dance is Rocketing
Ever since "modern rhythm dance" became a compulsory subject in Japanese elementary and junior high schools in 2008, the popularity of hip-hop dance has soared. One particular dance school saw its membership increase by 20% after dance was made part of compulsory education.
In the beginners' class, learners start by practicing fluid movement and keeping to the rhythm. Younger students do things like clapping their hands and bending their knees to get used to keeping in time. Older students learn movements that are fundamental to hip-hop dance, such as moving their bodies up and down, as well as basic dance moves like the running man and happy feet. Dance helps develop learners' sense of rhythm and agility, and dancing with others is also supposed to help improve communication skills.
One dance school offers special opportunities to motivate learners: Children who want to work toward specific dance goals can take a certification exam, and children who want to become professional dancers can join auditions or enter into development contracts. Hip-hop dance has become so popular among children in Japan that some very dedicated kids even travel to Tokyo from much further afield to attend dance school.
Improving Cognitive Ability Through Science Experiments and Programming
Recently there has been a big focus on "STEAM" education. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, and it's the educational philosophy for the next generation.
One extracurricular science school incorporates the principles of STEAM into its educational approach. Its curriculum is designed to equip students to think and solve problems for themselves by applying knowledge acquired from science- and math-based learning experiences. For example, an experiment involving a string telephone uses everyday items to teach students how sound is transmitted. Students deepen their understanding by trying different things and seeing what works and what doesn't: what happens if we try this? And how about that? The students try and predict what will happen and then carry out the experiment — while having fun! This means it’s really exciting when they make a discovery.
Programming became a compulsory subject in Japanese elementary schools in 2020, so an increasing number of children are now learning it. However, the goal is not to learn difficult programming languages or to acquire technical skills. Instead, the aim is for students to learn how information technology works and how it can be used to contribute to society. In one particular correspondence course, children use tablets and computers to learn "programming competence," which equips them to solve problems. These sessions involve games and quizzes that help children to have fun as they learn, while also giving them a sense of achievement.
Learning doesn't have to be confined to the classroom; now, Japanese children are finding fun ways to learn outside of school, through modern learning experiences that offer them plenty of opportunities to develop their independent thinking skills, powers of expression, and creativity.