Monday, July 14, 2014

Why I Teach My Young Children About Sex

I'm a little late to the "Friday Night Lights" bandwagon, but since the show has gone off the air, and is now on Netflix, I've been binge-watching with my husband. In one of the recent episodes, Coach Taylor found his 17-year-old daughter in bed with her boyfriend. He told his wife, of course, and his wife immediately went to tell their daughter that they would need to have a big conversation about it. The daughter avoided it for a day or so, but when she finally sat down to talk with her mom, I couldn't help but think about the similar conversation I had with my own parents.

Photo credit: Catholic Lane.
I was 15 when I had sex for the first time. My boyfriend was 18, and it happened without ever being talked about beforehand. I was not prepared for it, but I thought he loved me. I was in shock that I'd had sex, but also a little flabbergasted that that was the thing I'd been told was so special - and a sin to do before marriage. It certainly wasn't as grand I'd imagined it to be. We continued having sex, and I told a friend about it. Well, she told her mom, and unbeknownst to me, her mom took my mother out to lunch to break the news to her. The next thing I knew, I was being checked out of school (I thought my youngest sister had had a serious seizure again or something) and my parents drove me to a church parking lot where they proceeded to lecture me about what a terrible thing I'd done.

It was some of the worst months of my life. My boyfriend quickly forgot about me. My parents had my youth minister come over to talk to me. I was banned from going out with friends or leaving the house - except for school. And I was made to feel like a huge disappointment, not only by my parents, but by all my church friends who were shocked at how I had "fallen." I don't blame my parents - they were doing the best they could - and I don't blame my friends. It was just the culture I grew up in. Sex was very, very, very bad. Unless, of course, you were married.

Now, back to the episode. Tami (mom) sits down to talk with her daughter (Julie), and starts asking her about whether or not they are using some form of protection. She asks if she knows how to use condoms correctly, asks if she knows they aren't 100% effective, and if she feels like she could tell her boyfriend "no" if she didn't want to have sex with him anymore. And after all of that, Julie says she just didn't want her mom to be disappointed in her, and her mom assures her that she's not.

I immediately turned to my husband and said that the sex conversation was going to be different with our girls. If we find out our daughters are having sex, that won't be the first time we'll talk to them about birth control options. We're not going to be mad at them. And it won't be the first time we've told them that they should know they can always say "no" and that they don't have to have sex with someone they're dating.

All of these conversations should happen years before sex is a possibility, and should be ongoing. 

Regardless of your views about sex outside of marriage, the fact is, many, many, many teenagers have sex. Sex can be wonderful, and I want it to be wonderful for my kids. I don't want them to feel like a disappointment, or like they are now flawed, should they have sex. I did. And it haunted me for years.

I want my children to know their bodies, to feel comfortable in their skin, to be confident in their ability to set limits and boundaries, to know it is their right to say "no," to know their limits, to know about birth control, pregnancy, STD's, and different ways to have sex. And most importantly, I want them to know that they can come to me when they're thinking about having sex, or when they've already had it, because I am in their corner. I will always see them as the whole, beautiful, valuable girls that they are.

Sex education should start when your kids are as young as 5- and 6-years old. We have a couple of books laying around the house that teach kids about bodies, reproduction, and healthy relationships.

It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends (The Family Library) 
by Robie H. Harris et al. 

This is the first in this series, and was the first book that we bought for our girls. It has great pictures of bodies of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and is a great introduction to some of the subjects that parents dread bringing up with their children. It is appropriate for ages 4 and up.
It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (The Family Library) 
by Robie H. Harris et al. 

This is the second book in this series, and it has always been my 6yo's favorite. It goes into a bit more detail, and introduces things like menstruation, in the same age-appropriate and clear way as the first book. It is appropriate for ages 7 and up, though my daughter showed a preference for this one when she was 4 and 5.
It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (The Family Library) 
by Robie H. Harris et al. 

This is the last book in the series, and we're going to be purchasing it in a couple of years. This book dives into the topics of internet safety, conception, AIDS, and making decisions about relationships and physical intimacy. It is appropriate for ages 10 and up.









I found out about these books when I went to training to become a facilitator for Our Whole Lives (OWL) - a sex education curriculum used by the United Churches of Christ and Unitarian Universalist Association. If you think your kids are too young for these books, they're not. We had 10-year-olds asking us what anal sex was because they'd heard it talked about at school. YOU need to be the one giving this information out first. If your kids hear it at school before they hear it from you, chances are they're going to be getting incorrect information. And, they won't tell you about it. 

If your kids are asking about it, they're ready to hear the answers. My 6yo asked about eggs that aren't used to make babies, so I sat down with her and her book, and started talking about menstruation and ovulation. After we had talked about it for a few minutes, and she had asked some questions. I told her that I wanted her to know about these things because I didn't want her to be scared when she was older and started having a period - that some girls don't know much about it and it can be scary for them. She laughed at me and looked at me like I was being ridiculous. "Why would I be scared? It's just my body doing what it's supposed to do," she said. 

Make it another normal conversation with your child, and your child will come to you when they have questions. If you start these conversations early on, some of that awkwardness and fear (much of which is on our end) will dissipate before the more important conversations happen down the road. You will have set the stage for open and honest dialog, and your children - and, more importantly, your relationship with them - will benefit. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Little Passports (a review!)

**The links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.**


Do you want your kids to see the world? Do you have an unlimited budget, loads of free time, and no responsibilities? If you're like most of us, the answer is no. The good news is, thanks to Little Passports, you can show your kids the world anyway. 


Little Passports World Edition lets you travel the world with your children, teaching them about a new country every month. With a monthly subscription, two world travelers, "Sam and Sofia," will send your kids a goody bag full of new souvenirs and facts about the latest country they've visited. 



We received our first package last week, and my kids couldn't wait to open it up. Inside the box was a brand new suitcase for all their travels. 



In the suitcase was:
  • a passport 
  • an introductory letter from Sam
  • a colorful world map
  • a boarding pass (with links to online games and activities)
  • stickers for their suitcase
  • and an activity book. 

After pulling out the map, my 6yo dove right into the activity booklet, figuring out the secret codes that showed her how to say "Hello" in several foreign languages. 



A Little Passports subscription would be a great addition to any family, especially those who are homeschooling. These monthly packages could easily be a jumping-off point for more in-depth study of a country. You could look up the country's flag to color, find library books about the country, cook a meal that you'd eat there... the possibilities are endless. There is also a Little Passports USA Edition for older kids who might be interested in learning about our 50 states. 

My girls are excited about seeing what country we're visiting next month, and they can't wait to add some stamps to their passport.

What do you think of Little Passports? Would your kids enjoy it?


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Our Daily & Weekly Rhythm (Or, how we keep our sanity)

If you follow along on this blog, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, we were dying for more routine in our lives. We finished up our homeschooling year at the beginning of April, had friends come visit, went to Kyoto (Japan), had a two-week break before my sister came to visit in May, took lots of day trips with her, and finally settled back down at home - with no visitors - in June. Kids at the base elementary school were just beginning to enjoy their first days of summer vacation, but we were desperate to start our next year of school. Because we’d also be traveling for a month at the end of August, I decided to start our 2014-2015 school year on June 16.


We’re now in our second week of school, and I couldn’t be happier! Our routine and rhythms seem to be exactly what we needed, and today, I thought I’d share what our days and weeks are beginning to look like. We try to have a fairly relaxed schedule that includes time outside, lots of play, and afternoons free for our own special interests. And I am trying to institute a 4-day school week this year so that one day of the week is free for trips to the grocery store and library. Why not do those things on the weekend? Weekends are for family. We still have Saturday free to explore Japan, and Sundays are for being lazy - together. 

Our Weekly Schedule

Monday - Errand Day/No School. 

We’ll go to the grocery and library (it’s convenient to get any books we might need for lessons during the week), and I usually have my Japanese lesson on Monday afternoon. While I wish I could do these errands in the morning, our base library doesn’t open until 11:00am (?! - I know I’m not the only SAHM mom that wishes they would open around 9:00am).

Tuesday - Home Day

Wednesday - Home Day (except for the first Wed. of every month on which we have a tour with Fusako san)

Thursday - Home Day

Friday - Home Day + Japanese class for 6yo

Saturday - Free Family Day

Sunday - Home Day/Rest Day

See? Not too much going on there. And that’s exactly how I like it. 

Our Daily Schedule

Our Daily Schedule has a bit more life in it. I have tried to keep the same routine going day-to-day, and this has been whole-heartedly embraced by my children. They are not bickering as much, and aren’t asking me 5 million times a day what we are doing next. My eldest has also stopped asking to play on the iPad or LeapPad all day long. It’s been a much-needed change.

0500 - I’m up with my husband so that I can have sit in zazen (I’m not great about this), have coffee, read, and check email/FB/Twitter, or blog. 

0600-0730 - My kids usually wake between 6:00-6:30am, and they are allowed to turn on the tv at 0630. They have time to watch one show each before I watch the “nightly” news (we’re on the opposite side of the world, remember) at 0730. Somewhere in this time frame, we’ll also fix some breakfast.

0730 - 0830 - While I’m watching the news, the girls are doing their morning chores (potty, brush teeth, get dressed, make beds). Around 0830, we’ll head outside to the playground if the weather is nice. I like to go out first thing in the morning before it’s had a chance to get uncomfortably hot.

0930-1000 - We’ll come back inside, have a snack, and get started on our school work. Usually, the girls will come inside, wash up, and head straight to our “office.” 

Remember how I was going to institute workboxes? They have been GREAT! The girls each have about 5 paper-tray-sized drawers which are labeled with subjects. Only 3-4 trays will be filled each day, and they contain worksheets/activities that take no longer than 5-10 minutes each. Both girls complained a bit when I first introduced them to the idea of workboxes, but after only a couple of days using the system, they eagerly go in to check their boxes each morning. My 6yo now knows what she is expected to do, and there has been little-to-no complaining about her schoolwork since we started using the boxes. 

They usually do “daily work” first. This is a review or mash-up of subjects.

Next comes handwriting, math, and our special subject of the day. 

Two days a week we read “Story of the World” together and do activities from the activity guide. One day a week we study science together, and one day a week we’ll do an art lesson together.

We are usually finished with school at lunchtime (yay!).

1130-1200 - Lunchtime! While the girls are eating, I usually go over a short grammar lesson (we’re talking 5-10 minutes thanks to First Language Lessons).

1230-1330 - This is usually free time for the girls. They might play, read, or work on a project of their own choosing. I might work on my own project or do some household chores.

1400 - By this time, they are usually asking for some downtime by way of the television or computer. And that is fine with me! I’ll set them up with something to do while I read, blog, or continue my own project work.

1530-1600 - We’ll ease back into playtime and I’ll start straightening up the house before my husband gets home. I want him to think it’s looked clean all day…..

1700 - It’s time to start preparing dinner. We have made it priority that we all sit down together for a meal in the evening. We’ll eat around 1800.

1830-1900 - After dinner, the girls will do their evening chores (sometimes they’ll help clean up after dinner, then potty, brush their teeth, pajamas). They’ll spend their remaining time before bed either reading or playing, or maybe snuggling up with us on the couch.

1930-2000 - Bedtime. One of us will read a book to the girls before bed, sing a song and tuck them in. However, for the last couple of months, our 6yo - since she started reading on her own - will spend another half an hour reading to herself in bed. 

Every morning, our school work is done by lunch, leaving us with plenty of time in the afternoons to play, read, work on projects, or watch something that relates to what we’ve been learning during the week. I firmly believe that children thrive when there is a consistent reliable routine in place. And, notice that I use the word “routine.” I do not have our day scheduled down to the minute. I do, however, how a predictable flow that the girls are learning, and they know what is coming next in the day. They know when they have some work to do, and they know when they’ll have free time to do whatever they like. IT. HAS. BEEN. WONDERFUL. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep this going all year.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Plant Party (A small win for Project-Based-Homeschooling)

My kids throw out thousands of "good ideas," every week. Sometimes it seems like there are thousands in one day. I know we can't do every single thing our kids ask, but since I've been trying to integrate more PBH time into our days, I have found myself looking for more opportunities to say "yes."


One of these opportunities popped up the other day when my 6yo said she felt like celebrating something. It's rainy season here in Japan, so she said it was a perfect opportunity to celebrate the rain and how it helps the plants grow. "A plant party! We should have a plant party!" she said enthusiastically. For most of her life, I've probably shot down ideas like this without a second thought about them. But this time, I said, "Sure. You can have a plant party if you make all the plans and preparations." She looked completely shocked that I'd said yes, and immediately got to work.

She decided when she'd have her party (two weeks from that day), and what time of day would be best.

She asked me to help her make invitations and we made one on Facebook (to save trees, right?).

For two weeks, she made lists:

-- lists of what foods we should have
-- lists of games we could play
-- lists of activities we could have for guests (coloring pages, anyone?)
-- lists of decorations
-- lists of supplies/groceries she would need from the store

I rarely offered help or suggestions, only giving my input when she asked for it or I knew something would not go over well with parent (like conflicts with siblings' nap schedules).

A couple of days before her party, she insisted on going to the grocery with me and she made sure we bought some extra fruit, snacks, and cake mix. She also spent time working on a game for her party. She loves "pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey," so she made up her own version for the plant party: "pin-the-pollen-on-the-flower."



The day before, she made a list of things that still needed to be done, and shortly after lunch, she asked if she could make her cake. She's started reading more and more on her own now, so she got all the ingredients together, read the directions, and directed the baking of the cake. She iced it (with a little help from me) and offered her little sister the important job of putting sprinkles on the cake. She was so proud of herself.



Later that afternoon, she asked if she could start decorating. I pulled out a bag of streamers and balloons that I keep on-hand, and I told her to think about what she wanted and that I'd be available to help her in a few minutes. I went to finish up on something I'd been working on, and when I came out, she'd already started hanging up string across the room, and using the streamers as vines.


The morning of the party, she donned her fanciest dress. "Isn't that the same dress you wore for your birthday party?" I asked. To which she responded, "Well, I looked for something else, but this was the only suitable thing I had." Ha! What 6yo says "suitable?"


After getting ready, I showed her how to look for flower coloring pages online, and then showed her how to go to "File," then "Print," and how to change the number of copies printed. She was excited to learn a bit more about the computer, and picked out 3 different coloring pages for her friends.

The plant party went well, but wasn't without a few hiccups for the 4-6yo age group. There were some tears because not everyone wanted to do activities (they just wanted to play), and some party guests were upset about not winning the pollen game, but overall, there were a lot of giggles and hugs.

I could have said "no" to the plant party. I could have dismissed it like I have done with so many other ideas. But instead, I said, "yes," and my 6yo learned a little bit about planning something, baking, and getting creative. She also might be saying that she wants to be an event planner and plan our anniversary party next month.... (Oh boy...) So who knows what will be next. I'm very happy to count this as a small win for PBH in our home, and I hope that these kinds of opportunities will help my daughters learn that they are capable of so much! They are creative, resourceful, determined, intelligent and passionate, and I don't want them to forget it as they grow older (like so many adults do...). That's what project-based-homeschooling is about. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

We're Going Back to School! (First Grade & PreK curriculum choices for 2014-2015)

Starting on Monday, we're launching into our school year for 2014-2015. Yes, it's only June, but we have been on "break" for the last two months (friends and family visits, and traveling, took up our time) and we're going to be taking a month-long vacation to the States at the end of August (our first trip back in two years!). We are itching to have some routine back in our lives, and want to get started well before we spend another month traveling.


This will be our second year homeschooling. I have a Preschooler (she'll be five in November) and a First Grader. I'm going to try to homeschool on a 4-day schedule, taking off one morning for myself (if I can find a daytime babysitter, which is the HARDEST job position to fill). 

Needless to say, I feel like I've been working non-stop to get things ready before next week. I've been ordering materials, browsing Pinterest, printing worksheets, and trying to figure out our daily/weekly schedule. Even with all the planning I've done, I've not done nearly as much as I did last year. The past year was our first year officially homeschooling, and I learned a few things - one of which was to calm the heck down. I don't have to plan out every single lesson for every. single. subject. (See: my science curriculum last year. Oy.) And my kids learn an amazing amount by just soaking up the things around them: nature, library books, educational shows and computer games, and play.

So this year is hopefully going to be a bit more laid back as far as curriculum goes. We are eclectic homeschoolers... we mix a little bit of unschooling, interest-led learning, and classical philosophy and do what works well for each of us as individual learners. We're not doing a science curriculum. We're not doing spelling. Or a formal reading program. We are going to concentrate on reading/language arts/writing and math as our core, with lots of room to study everything else we find interesting: history, art, science, geography, religious, and special project work.

One other change that I'm going to try and implement this year are workboxes. Some homeschoolers go workbox crazy, but we are doing workbox *lite* (if that's a thing.). We struggled with finding a good routine last year, which in turn led to problems with my eldest knowing what was expected of her. This year, she'll have daily work to be completed before any afternoon activities (read: fun) can be done. I'll also be preparing work for my Preschooler, but this will be very informal and fun. She needs a fun year. Every day, they'll find something in their daily work, handwriting, and math boxes. History will be two days a week, and art, science, and religious education one day a week. 

So here's what we're going to be using this year:

Daily Work

The first thing in our workboxes will be a daily worksheet. I bought the "1st Grade Morning Workbook" from Second Story Window for my First Grader, and she'll just have a one-sided page to do each morning. I thought this would be a great way to cover several things in small increments (reading, writing, math, and spelling) over the course of the year.

For my preschooler, I will use coloring pages, simple worksheets, or activities in her "daily work" drawer. She hates sitting and doing workbooks, so this will have to be something fun to start her school day.



Handwriting


In our handwriting drawer will be one page of handwriting work. For my first grader, this will be a page from her Getty Dubay workbook. She does not enjoy writing things out by hand, and complains about her hand getting tired. She also continues to make mistakes with some letters and numbers. So, this is something that I want to work on despite her predicted protests. I know handwriting will become easier as she grows older, so I'm fine with her doing just one page per day. We'll work on italics for a while, and when that seems to be better, I'll let her start learning cursive (which she is very interested in). 

My preschooler will also have a daily letter- or number-tracing page to complete. And because she is opposed to workbooks, she'll have the option of completing the page with a pencil/crayon, or using her markers/dry-erase board or a gel bag to practice her writing. There are lots of free handwriting pages online, and I might use these from Confessions of a Homeschooler

Math

My eldest is a year or two ahead in math. It seems to come easily to her, and she enjoys it, so we're following her lead. She's finishing up her Math Skills Grade 2 workbook, and will be starting Teaching Textbooks Math 3 in the next week or two. TT3 is a computer-based curriculum that needs little-to-no help from parents (yay!). She is very excited about doing math on the computer and loved the demo lessons that we tried before buying. We'll see how well she does with the third grade curriculum, and will do some first/second grade review if needed.

While my eldest is on the computer, I'm going to be doing some simple, fun math games with my preschooler. She thrives with one-on-one time, and we ordered some manipulatives for our core math work (counting bears, pattern blocks, scale, clock, money, etc.). I also bought her the Math Skills K workbook in case she comes around to workbooks by the end of the year. It is very colorful with minimal work on each page, so I think she might come around to working on one page every day alongside me (and with plenty of manipulatives within reach).

History

I've debated about this a lot, but I think we're going to start over with Story of the World Volume 1. We started this last year, and have made it about half-way through. The girls seem to have enjoyed it and we've taken our time studying about the ancient peoples in the chapters we've read. However, there is so much to do with Story of the World that I think I'd like to start it over again and really dig in this year. I will be using this as the spine of our homeschool. Story of the World can be used for narration, dictation, copy-work, vocabulary, geography, social studies, music, art, read-alouds, and history. Almost all of this is spelled-out in the Activity Guide, and I'd like to make better use of it this year. What can it hurt to study the Ancients again? My preschooler is in love with ancient Egypt, and I'm sure she won't mind.

I'm also going to be ordering the audio cds so that I can upload them onto my phone and computer and play them during snack time, rest time, or travel in the van. I'm hoping this will also help the girls to soak up even more of the information.

Science

We're not using a science curriculum this year, but that doesn't mean we're not going to study science. We're going to be utilizing Brain Pop and Brain Pop Junior (can't say enough good things about these websites! worth every penny!). They have a science section loaded with videos, activities, vocabulary, book suggestions, and games for a whole slew of subjects aligned with Common Core (if you're worried about that sort of thing....). We'll be going through the videos one by one, completing the activities and checking out corresponding books from the library.

We'll also continue to fill our home with all things science - nature study, science toys (Snap Circuits, science experiment kits), books, and educational tv shows like the Magic School Bus and Cosmos (if you haven't watched Cosmos with your children, you should). My kids have learned an amazing amount from these things already (my 6-year-old can tell you about DNA, for instance), so we'll just continue to see where our interest leads.

Grammar

Grammar has become such a regular part of our lunch time that the girls hardly even know they're "learning grammar." I started First Language Lessons: Level 1 towards the end of the year and will definitely keep working through the levels. It is very repetitive, but for my young kids, that's okay. Each lesson takes about 5-10 minutes and I go through one lesson while the girls are finishing up their lunch. My 4-year-old can tell you the definition of a noun and my 6-year-old is learning about proper sentence form, capitalization, proper and common nouns, and narration. And that's good enough for me.



Art

We hardly did any arts and crafts last year, and I want to change that. Not only do I want my girls to get their hands a little dirty, but I want them to learn about some famous artists, and technique. That's where Home Art Studio comes in. I picked up the Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade DVDS at a steal from Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. These videos were made by an art teacher who wanted to bring age-appropriate art classes into the home. My girls are SO excited about these, and we'll be doing one project each week.


Religious Education

We don't have a Unitarian Universalist church here, and have not found much of a religious community for ourselves or our children. I've become involved in a local Zen Buddhist temple, and have made friends with several priests, and am very grateful that my children have become involved as well. They enjoy going to the temple with me and feel very comfortable there. But in one year, we'll be moving back to the US, and our kids are going to need to learn a bit more about Christianity. I also want them to develop more spiritual awareness and their own relationship with God.

I purchased the most progressive, liberal, non-creedal Christian curriculum I could find, from where else but... Progressive Christianity. I'm going to try to do one lesson a week and see how it goes. I'll definitely be writing a review of this after we've jumped into it. If you'd like to see a list of lessons, go here.

Yay for school!

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to begin school on Monday. We have long-awaited dentist appointments that morning, but I'm not letting that stop us. Our appointments are early in the morning, and when we get back home, to school we'll go!

If you are homeschooling, when will you be starting your next school year? Have you used any of these books or curriculum? I'd love to hear what you're doing in your homeschool. 


Friday, June 13, 2014

Hakone Open-Air Museum (with my sister!)

While my sister was visiting last month, I knew that one place she had to visit was Hakone. Up in the mountains, close to Mt. Fuji, with gorgeous views and lush greenery, Hakone was right up her alley. I've been to the Hakone shrine before, but another place in Hakone high on my list was the Hakone Open-Air Museum


Here are the specifics for the museum:
Open 9:00am-5:00pm. 
Parking is only 500 yen ($5 US)/day.
Adults: 1,600 yen
University and high school students: 1,200 yen
Elementary and middle students: 800 yen
There are two restaurants and two cafes, but you're also welcome to bring your own food.

If you have children, you might think they won't be too interested in an art museum... but this is no ordinary art museum. Hakone's Open-Air Museum has plenty of artwork that you can't touch, but it also has several areas dedicated specifically to children and their exploration of art. That's right - this art museum has art that is made to be played upon. Two areas are outdoors, but there is also an indoor area as well (we didn't go in because of time constraints). My girls had a blast, and my sister and I just laid in the grass and enjoyed the mountain air while the girls tired themselves out. It was the best visit we've ever had to an art museum.




The first play area we came upon. Only children were allowed to climb on the art, and I was jealous!


That's my kid tangled up in there.






She's not so sure about climbing up this high.... 

There were lots of tears coming down these stairs. The girls did not like the height.

Me and my sister. :)
There is also a free footpath that we had to try out. It felt great.


Most days, I feel just like this guy.

This was our favorite play area. It was like a big maze of plastic bubbles.
**My girls loved this area, but my 4.5 year old had trouble at times climbing through it. It would be almost impossible for younger children to climb, though they'd probably have a good time anyway. Climbing did become a lot easier when we let them take off their socks and shoes.**






I love this shot!
This museum was GREAT, and the drive to get there was beautiful. It might be too hot for kids in the summer, but it would be a fantastic place to go in the spring and fall. I have a feeling we'll be taking a second trip there before we know it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bathing with strangers - a surprisingly nice Japanese tradition. (A guide to Enospa and onsen etiquette.)

It's been almost a month ago since I bathed with strangers at EnoSpa, but we've had so many visitors and have been so busy that I'm just now getting a chance to write about it.


One of the things everyone says you should do when you visit Japan is to go to a Japanese onsen. An onsen is a spa/inn/bathing facility with a natural hot spring. Onsens in Japan date back to Ancient times, as onsens were believed to have healing powers, and the arrival of Buddhism in 552 AD supported the use of onsens as a way to remain purified.

To the average Westerner, the idea of going to an onsen and bathing nude with complete strangers is shocking.
Western, Christian-influenced views of nudity – and its relation with sex – are at odds with the Japanese take on nakedness, which finds nothing intrinsically suggestive, offensive or debauched about public bathing in the buff. When Francis Xavier inaugurated the first Christian mission to Japan in 1549, the missionaries who arrived were horrified to learn of the Japanese custom of almost daily public bathing, often with men and women sharing the same tub. Their disgust was exacerbated, too, by the fact that many sixteenth century Europeans believed daily bathing to be harmful to one’s health. (www.Japanzine.com)
I know several Americans who have tried onsens while here, and all of them said it was a great Japanese experience. I had made up my mind to give it a try, but I had yet to go with my husband because we'd have to go to separate bathing areas. (There are mixed-bathing facilities where you are required to wear a swimsuit, but it's not quite the same experience as the traditional onsen.) The last thing I wanted to do was try to figure out proper onsen etiquette on my own. So, I was thrilled when our friends came to visit in April and said they wanted to try it out.

We decided to go to Enospa on Enoshima Island - about a 20 minute drive from our house. If you'd like to go to an onsen, and would specifically like to visit EnoSpa, here's your guide (with photos taken straight out of the English brochure):

Getting to Enospa:


What to do when you get there:


When you go to the admission counter, you'll get a locker key. This key will be attached to you/your party and will be used for a locker, and to pay for any services. For instance, when you put on a robe before/after your soak and go get a massage or eat in one of the restaurants, the attendant/waitress will charge the service to your key number. Then, when you leave Enospa, you'll take your key back to the front counter and you'll be charged for whatever services you used.

You'll also be given a mesh bag with 2 towels (one large, one small) and a robe.

The baths:


There are co-ed and gender-separated baths. Bring your swimsuit so that after you soak in the women/men-only baths, you can go down to the other indoor/outdoor pools. If you go during the day, you might have a great view of Fuji. We went in the evening and though we didn't see Fuji san, it was wonderful to soak in a hot bath with the ocean waves just beneath us.

Onsen etiquette:

When you walk into the women's/men's area, find a locker and undress. Wrap yourself in the large towel and carry the small one with you to the onsen door. There are two doors leading to the onsen. Inside the first door are cubbies where you take off your large towel and store it until you come back out of the bath. On the wall behind you is a large board with suggested ways to bathe (when to wash yourself off, suggested orders of baths, how long to stay in, etc.). After you have removed your large towel, take your smaller one and walk through the second door into the bathing area. There will be small shower stalls along the inside wall. Sit down at one of these stalls, on the small stool provided. On the shelf in front of you will be shampoo, conditioner, and body wash - all provided by the spa. Wash yourself really well before getting into the bath. When you're ready to get in, place the small towel on your head (or wrap your hair with it) and enjoy your soak.

My favorite bath was the carbonated bath! It felt so good to have tingly little bubbles all over your skin. When you're done with bathing, wash again before leaving the room. If you are concerned about doing things the right way, just pay attention to what all the Japanese are doing and copy them.

Go back out to the cubby area and wrap up in the large towel before exiting. After we left the nude onsen, we put on our swimsuits and robes and met our husbands for dinner upstairs. (Don't do what we did and completely miss the small row of slippers just inside the restaurant door.) After dinner, we all went down to the co-ed pools for another soak. And surprisingly, we opted for a second soak in the nude onsens before leaving for the night. I would not mind a soak in the onsen every weekend!

I have to say, as nervous as I was about bathing in the nude with a bunch of strangers... it turned out to be wonderful. It was amazingly relaxing, and to be honest, it was nice to be around a bunch of normal bodies - bodies not photo-shopped and all exactly alike - with absolutely no cares in the world about the fact that we were all naked. It is so different from American culture and ideas about nudity - and it was refreshing.

Other things to do at Enospa:



Hours and prices of Enospa:

Hours vary slightly depending on the season, but the average hours are 10:00am-10:00pm with last admittance at 9:00pm. Also, if you go after 7:00pm, you'll get a discounted price.

Full-day price is 2,742 yen (about $27 US) and night-spa price is 1,705 yen.


If you have ever considered going to an onsen... YOU NEED TO GO! It's a great experience and you'll be very glad you did. 

Have any questions about a visit to an onsen? Let me know and I'll try to answer them.