Japan Just Seems to Get What Kids CAN Do

I spoke to an Early Educators Conference two weeks ago. Wish I’d had this video! What a great way to give kids the responsibility they crave: have them do actual tasks that actually contribute to the world they live in! – L
.Here is the URL, if you need it! – L,

It's easy to see how much kids can do...once you expect something of them.

It’s easy to see how much kids can do…once you expect something of them.


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33 Responses to Japan Just Seems to Get What Kids CAN Do

  1. Kate November 6, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    Kids in Montessori school also clean their spaces.

  2. Art November 6, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    during the 90’s in a West Texas elementary school in a low income part of town, some of the more rowdier students would sometimes be sent outside to pick up trash on the playground and around the school. It actually worked quite well, and when those students came back to class, they were much happier, calm, cool and collected and ready to learn. Those students grades actually went up. That is until the parents threw a holy fit because their kids were being treated as a janitor.

  3. James Pollock November 6, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    My elementary school in the late 70’s used kids as flaggers on the crosswalks that led to and from the school.

  4. Coccinelle November 6, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    The important thing this short video don’t say is that if kids have to clean up after themselves, they are less likely to make a mess in the first place. And that, in most Japanese schools, kids eat in their classrooms.

  5. theresa hall November 6, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    maybe that why we’re behind the other countries in schools. because we baby our kids too much

  6. Diane November 6, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Maybe Pearsoncan sell us a standardized test to evaluate this skill, then our schools will take the time to make it a priority. (Just kidding!)

  7. Laura W November 6, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    You sure don’t hear about disrespectful behavior towards teachers in Japan, either! Just think of the lessons our kids would learn and how much money our school systems would save by reducing the janitorial staffs.

  8. Suze November 6, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    I could just hear parents; helicopter or not complaining about this. They would be up in arms with that fact that their snowflake was a ‘common maid’ or as was already stated, a janitor. They are there to learn. The only thing is that this kind of learning is a ‘transferrable skill’ where their life is concerned (not to say traditional reading, writing etc is not) Heaven forbid they be taught this at this early a stage as the kids in the video. Honestly, it would become second nature after a while doing this every day. I would have no issue with this if it were my child … these people are doing it right !!!

  9. Jana November 6, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    I wish American kids at least change their shoes after coming to school! Don’t you think it would create cleaner and healthier environment? Also, it could send a clearer message to their brains: Now I am at school…

  10. Mindi November 6, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    I think most schools have a version of this even if we haven’t made a video of this. This thing is making the rounds and it bores me a bit to be honest. Every classroom, almost, I’ve ever visited or run had a job chart. Ok- now we want them on their knees scrubbing, I guess. One more thing to do. I’d rather send them out to play instead of this. At my kids school they wash the tables and sweep- seems enough for me. It’s great- lets get the, outside though. As always, if parents are doing their job maybe the school doesn’t need to teach them how to do chores as well?

  11. Andy November 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    There is no reason at all why this can’t happen in the USofA. Well, no sane reason, anyway.

    Also, click on the vid to go to the next vid. That’s pretty cool, too.

  12. John November 6, 2015 at 1:02 pm #


    “That is until the parents threw a holy fit because their kids were being treated as a janitor.”

    @Art….the problem is, here in America, instead of telling those parents “Sorry, your kid was misbehaving so this is what we required him to do”, the schools apologize to the parents and then implement a far less stringent form of discipline or none at all for the rowdy kids.

    But ironically when these same schools implement some ridiculous type of discipline, like suspend a kid for make a phantom “bow and arrow” maneuver or for biting a pop-tart into a gun, they completely ignore the parents’ and community’s complaint about the over-the-top implemented consequences and hold their ground instead.

  13. Steve November 6, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    I heard about Japanese kids cleaning their schools over 30 years ago. I was impressed then, and I’m still impressed.

    But yes, if anyone tried to do this in an American school, parents would be protesting unless the idea was presented in a very positive way.

    My wife is a school psychologist who deals with many parents of kids who have behavior problems. Rarely do the parents of these kids ever require anything from their own kids. Responsibility? What’s that?

    What I like about the Japanese teaching of responsibility as we see in this video is that cleaning and doing chores is just part of living a responsible life. It is NOT punishment.

    Whether something is a considered a delight or a punishment is determined by what you think about it.

  14. Havva November 6, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    I’ve done the cleaning and making snacks thing in Montessori. Emphasized a sense of responsibility for my errors and pride in my contributions respectively.

    So I was sad when I noticed in my daughter’s preschool that the kids size cleaning tools are only for play. To my pleasure her former teacher (with a little nudge from me) gave in to the kids wanting to help with actual sweeping, and she stuck with it until the kids could really do it (despite wielding ungainly large adult tools). Truly didn’t take much of a nudge, just a fond smile and the revelation that I had swept up in preschool. The daycare/preschool already had a philosophy emphasizing the value of daily life skills.

    The kids are expected to pick up the classroom at various times through the day, and the the curriculum actually involves the kids serving meals, and setting and clearing tables, and occasional baking. They proudly demonstrate this to families by inviting parents to various holiday lunches and holding bake sales where the kids made everything. Even the babies are encouraged to take up hand fulls of dough and put them on cookie sheets (the cookies are adorably misshapen). The toddlers stir thin mixes and sometimes scoop and pour muffin batter our cut dough to shape with a dull plastic knife. And the older preschool kids mix flour, sugar, etc in proper quantities.

    Not quite on topic. But I came across another cultural comparison today about Dutch parenting.
    The writer seemed mystified by how relaxed Dutch moms are. But I dare say the reasonable conclusion is that Dutch moms are relaxed because the culture lets them be relaxed, and doesn’t blame them for every action their child takes. Nor expect them to make everything magical.

  15. Havva November 6, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    *I should clarify what I meant by saying that cleaning emphasizing a sense of responsibility for my errors.

    This is not in the sense of much guilt. But a clear sense that one should work to immediately correct their mistakes. And further more showed me that I had the capacity to set thing right again (or at least reduce the seriousness of the problem).

    After Montessori I found out other kids covered up their mistakes and were afraid of trying to fix it for fear of being caught in the act of trying to fix the problem. Most memorably a group of middle school girls rapidly moving a couch a few inches over to cover a soda spill. Knowing what I did about set in stains, it was a most frustrating thing to witness. I really felt for the parents. My friends were beyond amazed when I got the soda out of the white carpet. I kept wondering how many stains in that house could have been avoided by prompt cleaning, and thinking what a mistake it was to be angry about spills rather than showing the kids how to clean up.

  16. lollipoplover November 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

    @Havva- my 7th grade daughter has a family economics class and for the past month they’ve studied laundry. YEAH!
    She had to write a paper on her experience doing laundry (Did she sort? Pretreat? temperature? detergent type, etc.). They had to report on dryer use or hang dry, folding, and put the laundry away properly.
    She also did a project on stain removal from clothing and fabrics with types of chemicals are used to remove them. I asked for a copy of that paper because even I need reminding (did you know that hand sanitizer can remove permanent marker stains?).

    We need to teach our children the domestic arts! Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and basic activities of daily living are easily learned by capable kids who enjoy contributing and can sometimes (like laundry) do things better than adults.

    I need all of those kids with rags at my house now!

  17. EricS November 6, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    After WWII, Japan concentrated it’s rebuilding efforts in it’s economy. They still do (probably because until recently, the WWII treaty prevented them from amassing a new army). I’m sure their raising of their children is related to the strengthening of their economy. Literally, as we’ve always mentioned here, raising their children to be successful and productive adults. What better way than to teach them, at young age, the things they will need for their future, and the future of their country. Also, the Japanese have always had a…different mindset about everything. Every see some of their game shows? lol From what I’ve been told by friends living in Japan, it’s mandated that certain types of tv shows have to air a certain number of times during the day. It’s like there really isn’t a lot of censorship involved. And kids have access. In a sense they are far more liberal. But at the same time, disciplined in how they do things in their lives. Sounds like a pretty good balance to me.

    Their parenting mentality hasn’t changed…well ever. Other countries like the U.S., UK, and Australia have. For whatever paranoid reasons. We should get back to the way kids used to be reared. The way most of us were reared (born before 1985).

  18. Peter November 6, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    My elementary school in the late 70’s used kids as flaggers on the crosswalks that led to and from the school.

    Back in 5th/6th Grade (mid-70s), I was a crossing guard. The gymnasium that the school used was actually across a side-street, so I had to duck out of certain classes when the younger children were going to have to cross the street for gym class.

    Of course, many years after I left, someone decided that this was way too dangerous and the town spent huge money to build a new gymnasium on the school grounds (losing some playground space along the way).

  19. elizabeth November 6, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    In school, i was always expected to clean up after myself in art. Wash the paint brushes. Wipe the table. Throw away trash. At home, i started doing dishes at eleven and laundry and basic cooking at twelve. In eighth grade, i couldnt go on the end of year field trip due to grades (which i found dumb, since its the end of the year) but i did get a good lunch, and i helped clean one of the classrooms to keep busy. Not once did i complain that i had to clean classrooms instead of ride roller coasters. My dad took me to the same amusment park later on that summer, anyway, so it didnt matter. And you know what? It was a good experience for me.

  20. SKL November 6, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    I think part of this, though, is that in countries where kids’ school comes first, they are often not given any “real work” to do at home. The home revolves around their school. Traditionally, American families have had their kids do self-care and chores, and even get real jobs, so the school didn’t have any reason to fill that gap.

    Nowadays, I don’t know how true that is about the USA. I know some kids still have chores, but what % I don’t know. My own kids don’t do a lot of chores yet. In fact, part of why I take them to horse camp is so they will have some real, meaningful work to do. But they did start doing simple cleanup jobs at age 2. By school age, they didn’t need to be taught how to wipe surfaces or serve food onto a plate.

  21. SKL November 6, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    And as someone mentioned, kids do have “jobs” / “responsibilities” in school, some of which are rotated. Granted, they don’t wipe the classroom floor (or the bathrooms). I don’t think that’s a national tragedy.

  22. BL November 6, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

    I wouldn’t get too excited about Japan. Bullying is beyond serious – usually involving a whole class against one kid, not just a few bullies. And the suicide rate for children is quite high, often because of school pressure (including bullying).

  23. sexhysteria November 7, 2015 at 2:57 am #

    Kids should also learn personal hygiene in school, e.g. by bathing together, brushing teeth together after snacks, etc.

  24. andy November 7, 2015 at 4:44 am #

    I am not a huge fan of works like picking up trash being assigned as punishment (as someone suggested in comments). If we want kids to learn that work and chores are simply something that we do because it is something needs to be done, then we can not simultaneously treat it as something bad we make you do because you was not misbehaving. I do not think kids will be more willing to do chores if they associate them with being punished or humiliated for misbehavior (when they have to do the work somewhere everybody see them and know they are being punished it is essentially it).

    The other note is that low paid manual work has different connotation in America then in Japan. If you do low paid job (e.g. janitor), many people see you as a looser. I noted a lot of derision targeted at people who work in McDonald for example. I may be wrong about it, but it seem to me that Japan society overall does not look down so much at such positions. Even entertainment coming from Japan does not treat low level jobs as signal for looser while American entertainment often does (as in character ends up in such position to show he is looser or as sort of karma punishment for being bad – it is rarely someone good and capable who simply works there). Similarly, a kid sweeping floors in american teenage movie is guaranteed target while manga I read simply does not cast things the same way – a kid sweeping floors is treated as normal by other kids. I think it shows different societal expectation of what will happen to you if you do such work in public.

    If I look at it through these lens, it is understandable why American parents would object to assignment society tend to see as humiliation and Japanese would be fine with something that not seen as humiliating at all.

  25. Reader November 7, 2015 at 4:45 am #

    Art, “picking up papers” (papers = rubbish/trash) is a common detention option in Australian schools! Isn’t it a thing in the US?

  26. Art November 7, 2015 at 1:36 pm #


    No. here it’s not. As I mentioned in my OP, the parents thought it was degrading, and immediately swooped down with talons extracted. However, even the principal agreed to it and saw the positive effects, and she was like WTF? She tried explaining it was actually helping.The parents still weren’t having it.

    That year was terrible for that school, lot of disruptions. At one point, they had to call in an actual child psychologist to talk to a 5th grade class that had completely and totally exploded. Neither the teacher nor principal knew what to do with them.

  27. Papilio November 7, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    “In school, i was always expected to clean up after myself in art. Wash the paint brushes. Wipe the table. Throw away trash.”

    Yes, same here. We too had those rotating ‘jobs’ in primary school, when every week two kids would sweep the classroom at the end of the day, some would water the plants, someone cleaned the blackboard, and two kids would hand out all that needed to be handed out during the day. In the last year (6th grade) there was one kid that had to bring the right amount of schoolmilk to all the other classrooms before the break.
    Sweeping was actually the most fun, because you could just dump all your paper snippets and other rubbish on the floor, because you had to clean it up yourself anyway 🙂
    But no, we clean bathrooms and such; there was an actual janitor for that.

    In secondary school we’d clean up after ourselves in art class. In addition to that, there was a rotating cleaning job for the 9th graders, in other words, once that year you and a classmate went to the janitor after school and picked up trash on the terrain outside (at least that’s what I remember doing).
    And like others said, sweeping the halls was also a popular punishment for whoever had been naughty in one way or another.

  28. MichaelF November 7, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    “You sure don’t hear about disrespectful behavior towards teachers in Japan, either!”

    Part of this is the Confucian attitude the Japanese have that respects education and educators, which you won’t find here since many see school as quite a few hours of free babysitting or can’t deal with their children being taught things they disagree with.

    The cleaning aptitude goes through much of Japanese life, with the whole group think. There are positives, and negatives for everything, though it would be nice to see kids learn more of these life skills in US classrooms, the Jobs list that kids get in certain schools is a start, but hardly the end of it.

  29. Tsu Dho Nimh November 8, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    Good heavens, we can’t have THAT going on in our schools!

  30. Vanessa November 8, 2015 at 10:57 pm #

    I remember being assigned cleaning as punishment in junior high – it was called Saturday work detail, and you had to come to school for three or four hours on Saturday morning and do things like wash the lunch tables and chip old chewing gum off the bottoms of desks. I forget what I did to earn it, but I do remember my dad being very annoyed that he had to get up early on a weekend to drive me there (it was a magnet school, so we lived too far away for walking). It must have been effective since I only had it the once.

  31. SKL November 9, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    When I was in Jr/High school, they used to give the special ed students manual labor jobs, to help them develop useful skills for life or careers. Unfortunately that may have been a source of stigma – nobody else exactly aspired to those positions. That might be another reason why parents might not welcome such opportunities for their kids.

  32. Dirk November 10, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    Yeah. This does seem good. Thumbs up!

  33. Lindsay November 16, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    I work in a school, and though this is a slightly different comparison, as the video has cleaning as a routine not punishment, I thought it was interesting to learn the following. In my high school, sometimes kids throw food/have food fights. A parent had asked that the punishment for their child be to clean up the food mess they created. The response from the school was that they could not, because it constituted corporeal punishment, as well as, the cafeteria workers union complaining that it takes work away from the employees. So instead the kid gets something like detention or in school/out of school suspension. Poor cafeteria workers, I doubt they’d actually complain they’re work was being taken away.