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March 2006 - Issue No. #60 (p. 11 - 14)

Bringing the World to Our Children:

The Kids International Program

Brian Byrd (Seigakuin University, Japan)
Machiko Fujiwara (Seigakuin University, Japan)
Chizuko Aiba (Tokyo Denki University, Japan)


Riding on the train in Tokyo, a 4 year old Japanese girl looked at the bindi “beauty spot” on the forehead of the Indian woman sitting next to her and exclaimed, “Bindi, beautiful!” Overjoyed, the woman took out her pack of bindi and offered the girl her choice of the traditional Indian accessories. The girl had just learned of bindi at a Kids International (KI) program, and with that k nowledge and the single English word, “beautiful,” she had touched the heart of the Indian woman.

Children benefit from significant and enjoyable contact with people from other countries and their cultures. When English is part of this experience, children are motivated to learn both English and about other cultures. How, then, can we provide children in Japan with nurturing, lifelong learning which inspires contacts with our world neighbors? Kids International is our answer.

The Kids International (KI) Program

Kids International is an intensive, multicultural English experience for children aged 4 to 12. It is run in sessions of 3 to 5 days, 4 to 5 hours per day, during school holidays. Over 40 countries have been introduced to Japanese children to date in the program we started at the Tokyo YMCA. Children have learned a Maori rhythm song, a Ghanaian song, dance and legend, made authentic Mexican tacos and a Columbian banana dessert from scratch, transformed a classroom into a Costa Rican rain forest, played environmental awareness games, learned about the German school system and way of recycling, and explored an Australian cave.

The program requires the support of many. The presenter introduces his/her culture through various activities: greetings, songs, dance, cooking, crafts, games, stories, geography, nature, and social studies, etc. The presenter and teachers prepare these activities so children can participate in them using easy English. Staff, volunteers and parents also contribute to the program.

To clarify our concept and describe our program, we developed the chart below:

Kid's International Conceptual Framework Image
Understand Culture, Use English, Have Fun

In KI, understanding culture, using English, and having fun are the three mutually supporting and indispensable sides to the triangle which describes the aim of the program: preparing children to be citizens of the global community. Many agree that the teaching of English should help children develop cultural understanding; that children who are given the opportunity to communicate with people of other cultures and to enjoy learning something of those cultures will grow in cultural understanding (Goto, 1995).

Cates (2004) affirms

One of the most important tasks for educators in the world today is to help students learn about the rich variety of people in our multicultural world and the important world problems that face our planet. English language teachers have a special role to play in this important task (p.33).

Teachers of English to children have an extra special, a vital role to play. Encountering other cultures while young can open minds. Yoshida (2003) asserts that intercultural communication starts with interpersonal communication. A personal, interactive and enjoyable encounter with a foreigner and with that person’s culture is the heart of KI. Two such encounters follow.

Bringing the Costa Rican Rainforest to Class

Since I can’t take my class to the Amazon, the next best thing is to bring the Amazon to my classroom (Cates, 2004, p.33).

Our KI guest from Costa Rica wanted to introduce his country’s eco-tourism. Starting at the children’s level, he first introduced the birds and animals in the rainforests preserved by the acclaimed park system of his country. The children were captivated by the sounds and antics of the wildlife and impressed by the vibrant colors they saw in his video and books. Using Total Physical Response (TPR): cut, paste, tape, color, fold, etc, they cut out animals to make a rainforest mural and mobile. They also made banana-like trees from rolled up newspapers. Our simple chant helped students interact with their tropical environment:

I see a monkey, monkey, monkey.
I see a monkey. Where? In the tree.
I see a blue frog, blue frog, blue frog.
I see a blue frog. Where? In the water.
I see a toucan, toucan, toucan.
I see a toucan. Where? In the sky. Etc.

Younger students playfully rearranged their animals and made new verses. Older children asked questions about the rainforest, and discussed what could be done to help preserve the endangered plants and animals. The memories and crafts they took home should help Costa Rica find a place on their mental maps.

Making a Colombian Snack

Our guest from Colombia welcomed the children to her classroom kitchen wearing her native South American dress. She introduced banana calada, a typical snack in the region made by cooking bananas with black sugar, butter, lemon, and cinnamon, then served as is or on bread. The cooking process is simple, and lends itself to TPR. Songs and chants make TPR memorable, so we chose a traditional Spanish song, “La Cucaracha,” and set our TPR lyrics to music (above right). Step by step pictures of the cooking process were used to introduce the activity, and served as prompts for the song. After learning the vocabulary and song, we were ready to cook—using the freshly taught English.

Banana Calada Song

(to the tune of “La Cucaracha”)

Banana calada, banana calada
Yummy, yummy, yummy treat.
Banana calada, banana calada
Yummy, yummy, yummy treat.

Peel a banana, Cut the banana
Yummy, yummy, yummy treat.
Black sugar on, Butter on
Yummy, yummy, yummy treat.

Squeeze a lemon, Shake cinnamon
Yummy, yummy, yummy treat.
In the microwave, Wait 3 minutes
Yummy, yummy, yummy treat.

When the treat was ready, children served their mothers and siblings, and taught them the song. Banana calada did not stay in the classroom. Even at home, children and mothers say they make this dessert, singing the song as they do.

Kids’ Responses to the KI Program

Children leave each KI with increased understanding and respect for newly encountered cultures, and with a desire to learn both English and about the world. They become more sensitive to the news. Some make actual visits to other countries. They experience joy in communicating, lower their affective barrier, and become more aware of their own culture. The quotes that follow are a sample of specific responses to the program from parents.

  • My child said that if she could speak English, she could speak with people from many cultures.
  • My child enjoyed communicating in English, and wants to study English more.
  • My child tries now to greet the foreigners he sees in English.
  • When the presenter’s country appears in the news, my child checks the map and shows interest. She wants to visit that country. She has interest in foreign countries now
  • When my family visited New Zealand, my child was thrilled to join in the traditional Maori dance she had learned at KI.
Presenters’ Responses to the KI Program

Foreign presenters gain tools and inspiration for sharing their culture with others. One student presenter was encouraged to seek a career in teaching children. Lasting friendships develop between presenters and other staff. As parents participate in part of the program and see their children’s enthusiasm, they replace vague stereotypes of unfamiliar cultures with acceptance of and interest in them. A common question is, “When is the next program?” Over half of the students attend repeatedly. Volunteers, presenters, and teachers also ask to continue in the program.

Adapting KI to the Elementary Classroom

We introduced the Costa Rican rainforest and made banana calada in our elementary school 6th grade classes using four 40-minute lessons. When surveyed as to the English portion of our culture studies class, 98% of the students responded positively (Byrd, Fujiwara, & Aiba, 2005). Their comments included, “if I could speak English, I could speak to people from different cultures,” and that “it was interesting to hear the talks of people from various countries.”

Spreading the KI concept

In response to requests of teachers and prospective teachers of English to children, the authors hold seminars where participants experience KI for themselves, and discuss how they might adapt it in various teaching contexts. Responses from participants in a February 2006 teacher training seminar featuring a lesson on the Philippines follow:

  • It was a wonderful chance to communicate with people of the world.
  • I want to know other cultures, but have no opportunity—this was very interesting.
  • It is difficult to make friends from other countries—this was a great chance…I want to share it with my students.
  • I want to experience more and more other cultures.
  • I could realize that English belongs not just to America and England. I am going to include more other countries in my classes.
  • The activity was fun and the simple English learned could be put to immediate use.
  • It made me realize that English is for communication with people of the world.

Such comments suggest the potential of the KI seminar and concept to make both other cultures, and English, more real, in a fun way, in an increasing number of English classrooms.

Tips on Trying KI

How do I start? Who can I invite? Presenters can be foreign language teachers, foreign students, or foreign people in your community. Check with embassies, or the international section of your city office. Use the experience of Japanese who have lived abroad. Use contacts through students and families. If you cannot find a presenter, do it yourself.

Take time in advance to find out what the presenter wants to share. Possibilities include: greetings, writing, counting, map and flag, animals, plants, climate, history, school system, photos, picture books, storybooks, money, traditional clothing, toys, simple cooking, crafts, songs, dances, and popular children’s games.

Work out with your presenter how best to help children connect in English with the culture. Children in our classrooms usually have limited English experience, or none at all. We must be intentional in preparing games, songs, TPR, chants, pictures, etc. The input must be comprehensible (Krashen, 2004) if we wish to make English part of introducing a presenter and culture. Prepare the whole class to participate, and plan your activities with reference to children’s varied learning styles and interests.

Do give your own version of KI a try; it is well worth the effort. Children benefit: opened minds, expanded horizons, and the desire to gain a greater understanding of both English and of other cultures are the fruits of Kids International.


Byrd, B., Fujiwara, M., & Aiba, C. (2005). Preparing for junior high English. Bulletin of Seigakuin University General Research Institute, 33, 75-85.

Cates, K. (2004). Becoming a global teacher: Ten steps to an international classroom. The Language Teacher, 28(7), 31-35.

Goto, T. (1995), Jidou eigo kyouiku ga mezasu mono [Aims of English education for children]. In JASTEC (Eds.), Jidou eigo kyouiku no jyoushiki [Common sense in English education for children], Tokyo: Apurikotto.

Krashen, S. (2004). Why support a delayed-gratification approach to language education? The Language Teacher, 28 (7), 3-7.

Yoshida, K. (2003). Atarashii eigo kiyouiku e no chousen [A new challenge in English education]. Tokyo: Kumon Shuppan.

This article is based largely on a workshop given by the authors
at the JALT 2004 conference in Nara.

Brian Byrd, Seigakuin University, 1-1 Tosaki, Ageo-shi, Saitama, Japan 362-8585 E-mail:


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
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