We spent the past three days in the city of Kagoshima with my wife’s parents, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Located on Japan’s southwestern tip, Kagoshima is home to 600,000 people—as well as Japan’s most active volcano, known as Sakurajima.
Looming up from the sea just a short ferry ride from the city, Sakurajima is continually brewing with volcanic activity. In fact, even during our visit, it was billowing dark smoke and ash.
But that’s the thing about Sakurajima: it’s always rumbling, but it never really erupts. (Okay, it does blow its top occasionally—and no doubt will again one day—but the last major eruption was nearly 100 years ago, in January 1914.)
And that’s why, when it comes to my kids and their bilingual development, I’m a lot like this volcano.
Sustaining a homework routine
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that one of my highest aims for my children is strong literacy in our minority language—in our case, that’s English. This goal, though, is a significant challenge for us because our majority language is Japanese and not only is the Japanese writing system completely different from English, learning it is a demanding task throughout childhood which leaves little time and energy for literacy practice in another language.
Still, we’ve managed to make solid, steady progress, to the point where Lulu and Roy have attained good reading and writing ability for their respective ages. How?
Because we’ve had a reliable homework routine since the kids were small, and because I’ve been strict—both with myself and with them—about maintaining this routine, day in and day out.
In other words, much like Sakurajima, I’m continually rumbling: I hold a firm expectation that this homework will be done each day, and done well. And this rumbling tends to be enough to sustain an effective routine—the few times I’ve erupted about homework were only due to a lack of satisfactory effort.
Still rumbling, six years later
In Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1, I describe how I established a daily homework routine with my kids from the time they could first grip a pencil—from around the age of 3—by making use of gentle activities like dot-to-dot books so our “homework habit” could take root early and then grow over time.
If their majority language had also used the Roman alphabet, like English, I might not have felt the need to begin this process as soon as I did, but with Japanese literacy looming in elementary school, I was determined to give literacy in English a good head start. At the same time, by establishing this routine early in our journey, it could be made second nature to us all—like brushing our teeth—and would then be easier to maintain through the years that followed.
Six years later, our homework routine is still going strong, fueled by my persistent rumbling. In fact, this expectation for completing their daily homework is now so firmly established that my kids will generally get to their work without much prompting or complaining. And on those occasions when things are left undone, or not done well, I simply rumble the consequences (no gum—a favorite treat when their homework is finished—and no TV before dinner) and they always muster the motivation to try once more.
Making discipline easier to swallow
One last, important point: If I was simply strict—a taskmaster—I suspect I would face greater difficulties with sour attitudes or outright rebellion. But being firm when it comes to daily homework doesn’t mean that I’m a disciplinarian throughout the day. Actually, most of the time I’m silly and playful with them, and I think this sweeter side helps make my stricter times a lot easier to swallow. (It’s like that song from the movie “Mary Poppins”—which we watched the other day—where Julie Andrews sings “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”)
So if literacy in the minority language is important to you, too, set a homework routine and stick with it. And as you rumble like Sakurajima to sustain this daily habit, also make sure that your firmness is balanced well with a softer, playful side.