Book Review Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window Totto Chan: The Little Girl At The Window is a book which has engaging series of childhood recollections tell about an ideal school, Tomoe that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love and adventure. The school was in the railroad cars for classrooms and run by a good head teacher who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity. This book depicts the childhood activities of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, the author of this book, whose childhood nickname is Totto Chan and translated by Dorothy Britton. Expelled from first grade:
The story starts with by telling of Totto-Chan’s expelling from the previous school when she was in grade one. The little girl ‘Totto-Chan’ was waiting all the morning for street bands to walk by the school and call them over to play their music which was considered as highly disruptive behaviour and aggravated, her teacher decided that the girl would be no more in the school. Finally, her mother found a school after searching and took her to the school- Tomoe Gakuen, where the little girl Totto-Chan impressed the head-master through her talking which stunned to her mother.
The school has only fifty students in total and the classrooms were conducted in disused train cars. In the assembly hall, all students shared their daily lunch consisting of “something from the ocean (fish, seaweed, bonito flakes, etc. ) and something from the hills (vegetables, beef, pork, pickled plum, etc. ). ” So, doubts scaffolding knowledge in Totto-Chan’s mind and she used to ask her mother about it when she returned to home. The headmaster meant to it was balanced food which necessary for children, but the children only concerned about to fulfilled the two requirements.
This relates to the everyday knowledge which children can think on it and learn what is necessary for a good health. Mr. Kobayachi, the headmaster believed in experimental learning, even he asked the parents of the children send their kids with their worst clothes to school. Lessons at Tomoe: In that school, Tomoe, children enjoyed lot of freedom in the sense that they were free to do anything as their wish. The head teacher had trust on students; there they were engaged in such adventurous tasks like climbing trees, play freely or stay in class to finish a science experiment during recess.
Students were getting space for doing or playing as their wish in which teachers guided them and help them how to do it, so their confidence enhanced through it. Here is a description of classes at Tomoe Gakuen: “At the beginning of the first period, the teacher made a list of all the problems and questions in the subjects to be studied that day. Then she would say, “Now, start with any of these you like. ” This is one kind of methods of teaching by which teacher can able to observe that the children’s progress to higher grades by observing their interest in which area as well as their way of thinking.
I think, it is a best way for teachers to know their students in a better way means to understand their interested field and teach accordingly (p. 12). Many activities based learnings were taught by the headmaster that really seemed impossible in practical, but it was. As you know, Children were encouraged to study whatever subjects they liked first, they were taken to ‘field kitchens’ and ‘farming lessons’ to learn the practical aspects of cooking food and farming, first hand- related to real life experience. Adventures on the school grounds
This is very surprising and interesting activity in that school. Totto Chan began her adventurous learning at Tomoe like she had a tree in the ground- which every child understood that tree is their private property, if anyone wanted to climb their tree must seek permission. So, one day she invited her friend Yasuaki-Chan to her tree because she knew that Yasuaki had had polio and could not climb. But Totto-Chan decided that Yasuaki deserved to see the world from the top of a tree, so she used some inventiveness and with full strength she helped Yasuaki to get to the top of the tree.
At last, Yasuaki abled to stand in her tree and look at the surrounding areas and enjoyed which filled happiness and thrilled them both. It creates confidence to face the difficulties and problems and enhances problem solving skills. Except this, she had another most memorable experience when she dropped her purse down the toilet! Undaunted, she started emptying the cesspool by using a wooden ladle. Did you know what the headmaster’s reaction was when he saw Totto-Chan was doing such things? He asked her, “What you were doing” and he replied I dropped my purse. But she kept ladling out the cesspool; and the teacher came once more and asked, “Did you find it? She replied ‘No’. So, then teacher said in a smiling friendly tone, “You will put it all back when you have finished, won’t you? ” (p. 21-22). So, from this, it seems that how she behaved like a matured person and how her ideas develop in cognitive level spontaneously through practicing ladling continuously for the lost purse. Railroad Car Arrives: The school Tomoe runs in the railroad cars you all knew very well.
Miyo-Chan, the third daughter of head master said, there is coming a new railroad car tonight. Already they have sis railroad cars which lined up together as classrooms but one more was coming, so small confusion spread out quickly with terribly excitement also. So, Miyo-Chan was selected as representative to ask to her father about their decision, but her father, the headmaster agreed upon and instruct them to take permission first of their parents and will bring their pajamas and blankets.
After reaching home, Totto-Chan explained her mother about a train was coming and she wanted to go and watch it how it was going there without tracks; and asked for mother permission. Her mother got surprise and finally what the matter was about she was talking and went with her to school and some children accompanied with their parents came too. The children were assured by the headmaster that when the railroad car will arrive, I will wake up you all. All children lay down in the Assembly Hall with their pajamas and blankets.
In the very morning Totto-Chan woke up and others too, watched the big railroad slowly moved and they all danced in joy. The headmaster explained them, “Watch carefully, they are called rollers. Rolling power is being used to move that big car. ” Through this activity, it is clear that students get idea about how the railroad cars moved from one place to another by using roller power. (p. 23-24) The Library Car Class: After winter vacation, children discovered something new and wonderful, and greeted their discovery with joyous shouts.
It is the library car class where everyone wanted to do their first class after the winter break. So, all 50 students piled up into the car with great excitement picked some books and read. But Totto-Chan couldn’t read well, she also picked a picture book that looked most entertaining. The library car class was suddenly full with loud voices like a flock of birds chirping song aloud. Really most entertaining moment for the children the school was ever (p. 61). Similar experience I had when I was in field visit to Vidya Bhawan, Udaipur.
They run a Wheel Library for slum children where they carried a van with many books and games accessories especially for children like ludoo, carom, etc. We accompanied them one day in the afternoon (the Wheel Library runs twice in a week to a particular slum area and covers minimum 3 different slum areas), really children enjoyed the book reading- story books, picture books and learning was happening through many activities which conducted by the Wheel Library Teacher. Things to fear:
When I think on this, many questions struck to my mind- Who permitted the headmaster to experiment the children, fail and learn, teach them to fear? Are the parents known about the school’s teachings- to teach them to fear? Or Is it school’s objectives to teach the children to learn these things? Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, which were said by the headmaster.
War: A Dark Night Cloud A crucial time had come in between happiness and war. At last, the day at the school Tomoe turned to dark night by the war cloud. The World War II reached Japan soon and the school Tomoe Gakuen was destroyed in the war bombings. Through this children were able to learn and understood about cruelties and difficulties of war. As a watcher of the burning his own school in flame, the headmaster said to his son awfully, “After whom the school had been named, “What kind of school shall we build next? ”
Conclusion: This book is too entertaining to read, or seems like full of fairy-tale or fable, where Totto-Chan seems a magnet for trouble. Each part of the book seems to be a fun recollection story or a memoir of the author’s childhood. This book featured about an alternative schooling where children’s overall develop emphasized through activity based learning rather than the old-fashioned classroom teaching. This book is best for me in the sense that full with pleasurable moments, enjoyment and heart touching incidents.
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