Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tumbleweed Ninjas

Ninja group was something I always wanted to introduce in our classroom. The kids often talk about ninjas and are surrounded by ninja imagery in various forms of pop culture. I wanted to discuss authentic ninjas with them- what they do, where they are from, why they exist... It's also true that I was somewhat hesitant about initiating a ninja group. There is some potential for chaos among such intense excitement. However, the words of Teacher Tom from a workshop I attended in Portland a few years ago spoke to me as I readied myself for ninja group:Try participating in it. 

If you’re a part of their play, you observe the dialog between the kids doing sword fights with sticks or chasing "bad guys". Children often are very effective communicators and when we are inside their play we can see just how effective they are. They communicate verbally and physically so that they don't actually hurt each other. From the outside looking in, a situation may seem tense or as though it needs your guidance. When you are in it, though, you are able to better watch what's happening and see when they need your help versus when you want to give your help.

Once I started looking into ninjas, I myself was so fascinated by them.  Their weapons, their strategies, their movements...everything seemed amazingly sophisticated.  As I researched and prepared for the group, I realized I was learning too! My passion and excitement for authentic ninjas was more powerful to share with the children than the information I found!


Here is how our Ninja Group went.


Step 1: Talk about Ninjas


They actually know a lot about ninjas,  including what kind of weapons they used, such as shuriken.  But there was something new for them, too.


  • Ninja means “quiet person.”  We cannot make a kung fu sounding shout if you want to be a good ninja.  In fact, you cannot make any sound.


This fact actually fascinated them a lot.  They loved being super quiet as long as they were ninjas!


  • There were female ninjas who were active.


When I said this to the kids, the girls’ faces literally brightened up.  They seemed more confident about their physical strength and capability.  Next time they come across anyone who would say things like “there were no such thing as girl ninjas” they will argue that it’s clearly wrong and historical fact shows the existence of female ninjas.


Step 2: Make a weapon and use it.


What we did was making a blow dart out of paper (http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Paper-Blowgun).  It’s important to make sure they don’t blow at people because the dart comes out pretty fast!  I let them draw their target on a big piece of paper on the wall.  Most of them drew “a bad guy” and they loved darting them.


Step 3: Practicing movements


This would be somewhat similar to a yoga class but it’s way more tricky.  They practiced walking while their knees are bent without making sound.  They also practiced hiding and taking advantage of “blind spot.”


Optional: Planning maneuvers


For older kids (4-5 year old), talking about how we actually undertake our mission was the most exciting part.  They had an imaginary bad guy that they’re supposed to eliminate.  Based on what they learned, they decided to collect some information: 1) where does he live (so that they can “build a secret tunnel for ninjas to escape quickly”); 2) what’s his favorite food (so that they can “poison him”); 3) what color is the wall in his house (so that they can “buy the same colored fabric as the wall to hide behind it”), and what time does he take a bath and go to bed (so that they know “when is the easiest time” to accomplish their mission).


As you can see, they were serious.  For at least several weeks after they successfully “graduated” from the “ninja intensive camp,” ninja talk was everywhere at Tumblweeed.  When I did a Tanabata art project one morning, I told them kids in Japan often write down what they want to be in the future on a piece of paper and hang it on a bamboo tree along with other origami decorations.



I hope you enjoy your ninja experience with your kids as well.


Note : A ninja book I recommend  to read with your kids is “Fierce Fighters: Ninja” written by Charlotte Guillain.  It even talks about movements kids can practice to be a ninja.


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