Is mimamoru, Japan’s hands-off approach in disciplining schoolchildren, worth a try?

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Zero to minimal intervention during conflict among children is a characteristic of the mimamoru approach practiced in Japanese schools to foster the voluntary participation of kids in their learning. (Pexels)

A study examining Japanese schools’ hands-off approach when children fight showed it could create opportunities for autonomy and encourage ownership of solutions, suggesting a new strategy in handling kids squabbles in other countries.

Called mimamoru, the pedagogical strategy is a portmanteau of the Japanese words mi, meaning watch, and mamoru, meaning protect. It’s generally understood as “teaching by watching” — where adults intentionally let kids handle disagreements by themselves to promote learning through voluntary exploration and actions.

“This study aims to understand the reason why Japanese early childhood educators tend not to intervene, and how and in what contexts they do,” said study author and Hiroshima University Associate Professor Fuminori Nakatsubo.

A total of 34 Japanese and 12 US early childhood educators participated in focus groups that used modified video-cued multi-vocal ethnography methods to scrutinize the non-intervention strategy. Their findings are published in the Early Childhood Education Journal.

The study noted that allowing children to experience feelings of physical pain or guilt can be a teachable moment that physical fights do not solve any problem.

The researchers, however, clarified that “watching” doesn’t mean that adults ignore children’s safety. Japanese educators intervene when the risk of physical harm caused by fighting outweighs the benefit for children to learn. This story was first published on the Hiroshima University website.