Happy Pokemon Day! Twenty-six years ago Pokemon Red and Pokemon Green were released in Japan. Pokemon celebrates its anniversary every year on February 27th. I was in college when Pokemon came out and by that time I was only playing Madden and NHL from EA sports. I missed everything about Pokemon except for one friend who clued me into how funny Jigglypuff was. With kids, I got a second chance to learn what Pokemon was about. I wrote this article last year, but it still works.
I’m going to give you some of the ways I teach my kids with Pokemon. This bonus Saturday edition of Lazy Man and Money has a lot less personal finance than my usual articles. If you don’t have kids or if Pokemon isn’t your thing, it may be best to come back early next week for the regularly-scheduled personal finance programming.
If you haven’t already left, Pokemon can be a money topic.
- Highest Grossing Media Franchise – Did you know that the highest-grossing media franchise has a mouse as its mascot? Did you know that the mouse’s name is Pikachu? It’s true*. In Walt Disney’s famous words, “I hope we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”
- Teaching Kids about Money with Pokemon
- Pokemon as a Side Hustle – There are numerous Etsy creators and YouTube stars turning Pokemon into a career. One artist makes some great money creating her art with Pokemon cards. There are even Pokemon Scholarships available for the top kid Pokemon card players.
– I’ll cover this in a little detail with much of it focusing on Pokemon Go.
My Brief History of Pokemon
I was 23 years old when Pokemon became popular in 1999. At that time, I was more interested in day-trading tech stocks than a silly kids’ show. As for video games, I only played Madden, NHL, and maybe Mario Cart. Nineteen years later, my 4 and 5-year-olds became obsessed with the adventures of a young boy and his Pikachu. My 5-year-old found it on Netflix after some older kids were talking about it at summer camp.
I thought Pokemon was about the cards and card game, like Magic the Gathering. That led me to ask:
Anyone know of a good complete newbie's guide to Pokemon?
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) July 13, 2018
As you can tell, I didn’t know a thing about the world of Pokemon. Its cards, video games, television shows. I found the anime confusing because it doesn’t always in any particular order like season 1, episode 1. I later found out that it does have an order, but you have to know the names of the seasons. You also have to know where to slot in the movies.
But the kids and I started off watching Indigo League together. I “watched” a lot of television with the kids while writing or doing other work. I am able to keep a little focus and ask some questions at the end about the lessons learned. It soon became obvious that the show was more interesting than most kid shows.
Once it was clear that my kids loved everything about Pokemon, I started to look into how I could use to teach them almost anything. I have to admit that some of it came about by accident.
Before I dig into some of the many things I’ve my kids with Pokemon, I have to get the standard disclaimers out. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a Pokemon expert. I’m a boring parent who mostly asks his kids questions to get them thinking.
Teaching Kids to Read with Pokemon
One tip that I learned early on is to always put on the closed captions with kid shows. I had this set up automatically on Netflix. There are studies that show that closed captioning can help kids read (Source 1, Source 2). My sample size of 2 kids is small, but I feel like it helped and common sense may tell it you can’t hurt. Even as a kid I remember following the bouncing ball in reading cartoons.
Just 10 days after my Tweet (and probably 50 episodes of Indigo League) we had this exchange on the way to camp in the car:
My 5-year old: Grandma took me to Barnes & Noble and they had Pokemon books, but I didn't get any :-(.
Me: I can get you Pokemon books.
Son: At Amazon?!?!
Me: No, the library of course.
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) July 23, 2018
So we went to the library.
There they had the Pokemon Essential Handbook. (Note: This is the newest version, the actual book was older with fewer Pokemon.)
The Pokemon Essential Handbook is the most important Pokemon book. It’s an encyclopedia of 800+ Pokemon. My 5-year-old stayed up all night for a couple of nights reading and memorizing every page. He would start kindergarten in a couple of months with an understanding of how an encyclopedia worked. When I was in kindergarten, I had an understanding of how to scribble with a crayon.
Before I returned it to the library, I bought it. It was the best $10 I’ve ever spent. We’re actually on our second copy, that’s how much use it has gotten.
By the way, if you go to the library to get Pokemon books, go to the non-fiction section:
At the library I couldn't find any Pokemon books, so I asked the librarian for help.
She explained that they were in the non-fiction section.
I'm getting better at just letting things go.
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) July 23, 2018
It turns out that the stories revolving around Pokemon count as fiction, but the fact that a company created the characters of Pokemon is non-fiction. That was news to me. So yes, Pokemon isn’t just about teaching kids.
My 4-year old wasn’t as much of an early reader. Every child is different and math was more his thing. That doesn’t mean that we couldn’t use Pokemon for reading though. In fact, but the time he was 5 and a half like my other son was, he knew how to read many Pokemon. He may have been associating the pictures with a memory of the show, but I still count it.
When I found the Pokemon Fusion website, I knew I struck gold once again. The website combines two Pokemon names and pictures to make up a new Pokemon. It’s very silly. Kids love making new combinations of Pokemon, laughing at the funny pictures and names. Since there are tons of combinations, they have to focus on reading the names, words they never would have seen before. No, a Chartoise isn’t going to be on a future spelling bee, but a kid that can sound out that can tackle most words in the English language.
To round out this section, I’ll add that video games have some limited reading. I haven’t played any of the classic games, just Pokemon Go, so I’m only going off of what little I’ve seen.
Finally, there are Pokemon books for every reading level:
- Pokemon Little Golden Books – I grew up with Little Golden Books and now you can get Pokemon ones. This is good for pre-school and pre-kindergarten.
- Pokemon Phonics Reading Program – These are geared towards kindergarten and first grade level. I haven’t read them, but they seem more for teaching beginning reading rather than telling a story.
- Pokemon Junior Books – This series of books are good for most kids in the 1st to 2nd grade.
- Pokemon Chapter Books – These are good for most kids in the 2nd to 4th grade. Second graders may have more success if they have seen the shows that each book is based off.
There’s a school of thought that this learning isn’t valuable. When are you going to use Pokemon in real life anyway? I don’t believe in that school of thought. If it gets your kid to read, there’s tremendous value in that. I’d much rather have my kid develop the skill so he can apply it in other areas.
When I was a kid, I read about Greek mythology. I haven’t used that much in real life.
Teaching Kids Math with Pokemon
After a couple of months, my wife got Pokemon Go on her phone so the kids can play it. I remember laughing at everyone going crazy about it in 2016 – a bunch of buffoons. Well, now that I knew what Pokemon was, I became one of those buffoons, a couple of years after everyone else:
I know this may be weird, but I'm looking to make some Pokemon Go friends.
It seems I'm two years behind the curve on this (kids just getting old enough now), so I'm still learning how it works.
If interested, PM me and we can share our "codey things."
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) October 1, 2018
(Sadly, no one wanted to be my friend.)
My wife didn’t play Pokemon Go much, but I got hooked. My kids would mostly watch me play. In hindsight it was a poor experience because they could barely see the phone at the height I carry it at. Nonetheless, the kids were young enough that the novelty and interaction of catching actual Pokemon were amazing.
My kids were still in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. At this age, place value is a big thing. Numbers in the hundreds and thousands are still new and unusual. It was a big deal to catch a Nidoking in the wild with a CP over 1000. The kids would also start to learn to place value to the millions to track the experience points I was getting while leveling up.
The kids learn early on how many Charmander candies they need to reach 25 to get a Charmeleon. For a kindergartener and a first grader that’s difficult math, but math that they love to do. They were quickly adding the 100 more candies for Charizard. We were able to work through the math of 125 candies total. You get 3 candies for catching a Charmander and one if you send it back to the professor. So I was able to introduce them to division, using 125 divided by 3 to get ~40 Charmanders to catch.
Because we don’t know if you are going to send back all the Charmanders to the professor or just some, we developed a skill called estimating. It’s helpful to know that it is between 30 or 40 Charmanders, even if it isn’t exact.
We’ve used the game to learn about distance. Specifically, since the game is in kilometers it gives the kids an introduction to the metric system. You can earn a candy (with most Pokemon) by walking for 5km. It keeps track in decimals (tens place only). I had a task (which would give me a special Pokemon) where I had to walk my Eevee 10km to evolve it into an Umbreon. We were soon doing double-digit subtraction of how far we walked to the 10.0km that we needed. Admittedly, they aren’t learning formal regrouping (or borrowing as it was called when I was in school), but they usually get the right answer after as much practice as we’ve had.
My 8-year-old is in the 2nd grade now and hasn’t been formally taught decimals yet. He’ll be “introduced” to the next year. My 7-year-old will have to wait a while for the school to catch up. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Pokemon Go can replace formal teaching, but I think my kids have built a foundation.
We also talk a lot about probability. Pokemon have “Internal Values” (IV) of Attack, Defense, and Hit Points. Each of these can be 0 to 15. A Pokemon’s IV is an average of all these. A Perfect IV Pokemon is 100% (or “hundo” in Pokemon Go slang). These have a 1 in 3375 (15x15x15) chance of happening in the wild (i.e. just anywhere in the real world). If you get a Pokemon from completing a task or winning a raid, the lowest number can be 10. Thus you have a 1 in 216 chance (6x6x6) of a hundo Pokemon. Finally, you can make a lucky trade (something that happens rarely) where a Pokemon’s lowest number is 12. The odds of a lucky pokemon being a hundo is one in 64 (4 x 4 x 4).
I know they don’t get all the probability math at this stage, but I think they get a feel for the concept.
Teaching Kids Science and History with Pokemon
It may not be obvious, but there is a ton of work that goes into the design of each Pokemon. Each one is the work of dozens of people… and many prospective Pokemon never make it past the initial development phase.
Thus it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that each Pokemon has a very specific name origin to match with its type and its history. For example, Charmander is a fire salamander. There is a mythical salamander that is known as a fire spirit capable of surviving in extreme heat or flames.
There’s a great YouTube Channel that gives an overview of every Pokemon’s history. Sometimes they have to make educated guesses as the history isn’t always clear, but I learned so much… and I know my kids did too. Here’s their 30-minute video on just the fire type Pokemon:
There are 16 types of Pokemon, so you could literally spend 8 hours learning about all kinds of animals and the historical context that led to their designs. I recommend spreading it over a month. I also recommend watching it with your kids. Adults will learn a lot too. This list has all the types of Pokemon.
This YouTuber, Gnoggin, also created his own Pokemon region based in the Seattle, WA area. It’s inspired my kids to create some Pokemon for our Rhode Island/New England region. They have a ton of schoolwork and other activities, but hopefully this summer we’ll go over the history of our area and start fleshing out our own region in more detail. I expect there will be a lot of water types that thrive in saltwater, considering that we are the Ocean State.
Teaching the Science of Making Pokemon Real
My 6 year old said he wanted to make Pokemon real. I started to explain that it wasn't possible, but I caught myself.
Who knows what's possible in the future? I gave him a very, very simplified talk about DNA and how it could be possible.#onegoodthing
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) February 11, 2019
It turns out that my oldest kid isn’t the first person who pondered this question. There are many discussions on the internet. There’s even a presentation by a high school student:
Teaching Kids Art with Pokemon
Kids love drawing at an early age and the Pokemon characters are iconically cute.
There are a number of books that teach kids how to draw Pokemon, but this Deluxe Edition from Scholastic is the best. It has all of the most popular, unlike some other books that are missing many of people’s favorites.
Teaching Kids Language and Quick Thinking with Pokemon
The latest season of the Pokemon Anime came out in Japan (as they always do). It looked like it was going to be a while before Netflix bought the rights for the English translation and distribution. I found the Japanese episodes online (with English captions) and the kids loved seeing the original versions.
At the end of the episode, they play a game called Pokemon Shiritori. Shiritori is a game where one person starts with a word in a class, such as animals. The next person takes the last letter and names an animal that starts with that letter and it continues. So one game could go, “pig, giraffe, elephant, turkey, yak.” The game ends when someone says an animal that ends in “n” such as chameleon (the loser) or when someone can start with the letter “m” (the winner). Of course, in Pokemon Shiritori the category is simply Pokemon names.
The reason why the “n” is the loser is that there are no words that start with that character in Japanese. The reason why “m” is the winner is because the next person can say “Mew” a particularly powerful Pokemon. (I didn’t make up the game, it was simply the designer’s choice.)
Kids have to really think quickly and think about the spelling of Pokemon to avoid the trap letters at the end. It’s particularly great because you can play it in a car or on a rainy day. You don’t need anything, except a few people and your memory. We played the animal version at our kid’s birthday party because not all kids know all Pokemon.
Recently, Froakie was introduced in Pokemon Go. He’s iconic in the anime. We spent a day coming up with things like, “What do you call a Froakie with no money?” “Brokie Froakie.” “What do you call a Froakie who makes you laugh?” “Jokey Froakie.” There are many more Froakies than you would think like Karaoke Froakie, Hokey Pokey Froakie, Okey Dokey Froakie. You can try this with other Pokemon, but I haven’t found any as good as Froakie. Let me know in the comments if you can come up with a good Pokemon to work with.
Teaching Empathy with Pokemon
In the episode, The Joy Of Water Pokémon, Nurse Joy had a great quote. It might be my favorite in all the series:
"There's no Pokémon that's better than any other, there's no Pokémon that's worse than any other, they are all precious creatures…"
— LazyManAndMoney (@LazyManAndMoney) January 22, 2019
In the world of battling Pokemon, it’s easy to get judgmental. Some Pokemon are simply better battlers. Over time, the creators have worked to give many Pokemon other characteristics and talent.
Not to get political, but I noticed more than a few times our new president, Joe Biden, had repeated a version of this on the campaign trail. He’s been saying a quote from Thomas Jefferson for a while now:
“My mom said, ‘Remember, nobody is better than you but you’re better than nobody.’ Everyone’s equal.”
This is something I’ve made a note to repeat my own kids.
Learning Motivation, Grit, and Empowerment with Pokemon
I wasn’t joking when I said that my kids got completely absorbed by the anime. It took a little over a year, but they watched over the 1,000 episodes in about 13 months. (Please don’t do the math… it’s not great.) Each season has around 50 episodes, many more than the 22 that we typically have in American shows. That means you hear the theme songs a lot.
Fortunately, the themes are perhaps the most motivational songs ever created. Each of them brings you through 10-year-old Ash Ketchum’s hero’s journey of just trying to make a friend to often literally save the world. I used to think that Rocky theme and music had no equal, but I was wrong. Have a listen:
Below, I started off summarizing the main theme of each, um, theme. However, the themes are short enough to give you the main lyrics. Note: you probably don’t want to read all this unless you are already familiar with the themes.
- Best the very best (like no one ever was). Our courage will help us defend the world and along the way, I’ll teach you and you’ll teach me.
- Find the courage and the skill to be “Number 1” (the best)
- “each time you try, gonna get just a little better, each step you climb is one more step up the ladder [to become a Pokemon master].”
- “My whole life has led to this Time to test my skills And I know I just can’t miss Gotta show the world!”
- “No time to question my moves, I’ll stick to the path that I choose, Me and my friends are gonna do it right… I’ve got a chance to win I’m on my way to victory I can be a champion if I just believe… ’cause all I got to do is believe in me… And I believe…”
- “A kid from Pallet Town with a brand new world to see, Don’t know what’s ahead, but it won’t get the best of me, There’s so much to learn and battles to be won, I’ve advanced so far and still there’s always more to come… Give me just one chance… And the future will decide… If there’s a hero buried deep inside… I wanna be a hero!”
- “Every Trainer has a choice, To listen to that voice inside, I know the battle may be long, Winners may have come and gone, I will carry on!”… “We will rise to meet the challenge every time!”… “Will be the best this world’s ever seen”
- “I’m unbeatable, Looking down this endless highway, Nothing but my friends beside me, We’ll never give in, We’ll never rest…”
- “It’s a battle win or lose, It’s the friends you make, It’s the road you choose, You got the right stuff, So make your mind up, Find the courage inside of you, If you’re strong, you’ll survive, And you’ll keep your dream alive”… Be the best you can be, And find your destiny, It’s the master plan, The power’s in your hands!”… “You’ve got the strength to win it, So stay in it, If you’re smart you can take it all”
- “It’s all about the challenges, … As you fight for survival, Nothing can stop you,”… “You gotta play smart, you gotta move faster”… “We can change the world”
- “On a road, far from home, you don’t have to feel alone. Brave and strong, together we will be. It’s our destiny! We will be heroes, We can change the world if we try! I go where you go, Forever friends, you and I!
- “Sometimes it’s hard to know, Which way you’re supposed to go. But deep inside, you know you’re strong. If you follow your heart, you can’t be wrong. Stand up! For what is right. Be brave! And if we come, together as one… We will win the battle!”
- “It’s about you, It’s about me, It’s about hope, It’s about dreams. It’s about friends that work together, To claim their destiny. It’s about reaching for the sky, Having the courage, And willing to try. It’s about never giving up, So hold your head up, And we will carry on,”
- “It’s always hard, When the journey begins. Hard to find your way, Hard to make new friends. But there’s nothing you can’t do,’Cause you’ve got the power inside of you! It’s not always black and white, But your heart always knows what’s right. It’s not about win or lose, it’s the path you choose.”
- “A new adventure, another day, One more challenge that comes our way, It’s up to me and you, We know what we’ve got to do, We are together now, friends forever now, Whatever comes our way, we won’t run away, Standing tall, One for all, It’s our destiny.”
- “Ready for battle, brave and bold I know we’re gonna make it We will find a way”… “We belong together It’s always you and me”
- “You’re just a kid on a quest, To be the best of the best, Someday you’re destined for power and glory, You know you’re up to the test, All the power is at your command, Face your fears and show you’re a hero, The future of the world is in your hand
- “I stand tall ’cause I know I’m a winner, Knock me down, I’ll just get up again, You’ve met your match, yeah, I’m no beginner”
- “I can feel every day, I’m a little bit stronger, I only wish each day was longer”
- “We’ve been preparing, Sharing, Training, Studying A to Z, Bonding, Battling, Laughing, Gettin’ crazy, you and me, ‘Cause it’s coming soon, When we all meet our destiny”
- “Rise if you’re prepared for the challenge, Rise if you’re a champion at heart, Take my hand, we’ll train as one, And triumph together, Nothing’s gonna stand in our way, Stronger and stronger we’ll, Rise to the challenge of, Life
- “We’ll be together and we’re gonna do it our way, We’ll discover we believe in each other, On adventures with my friends like every day”
That was a lot of copying and pasting from 20 songs, but you can see that the main themes are courage, friendship, never giving up and overcoming challenges, the journey of self-improvement, and being the best you can be.
The faults of Teaching kids with Pokemon
Pokemon isn’t like Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger, designed from the ground up to be educational. There are real-life problems, the characters have real-life flaws, and the writers in hindsight may want to change up some episodes. Sometimes the Japanese culture doesn’t necessarily align with American culture. Yes, unfortunately, you are going to have to be a parent and exercise some of those parenting skills.
To start, Pokemon didn’t become the top media-grossing franchise giving away its content for free. There’s a lot of consumerism and the whole game started with the concept of “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.” If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up buying cards, video games, DVDs, stuffed animals, etc. This kind of thing can happen with Minecraft, Roblox, or just about anything that kids are into.
The anime itself isn’t without problems. There are a couple of banned episodes. In one Ash went in blackface in an innocent attempt to assimilate and be accepted by a group of monkey-type Pokemon. I like to think that in Japan, it doesn’t have the negative racial and historical context that it has here. (I hope that’s true and it was just innocent.) Earlier in the series another Pokemon, Jynx, had characteristics of a racial stereotype. They changed that character making her purple.
Finally, as in many Japanese anime, the female characters tend to wear provocative clothing – really short skirts and shorts. One of the characters, Brock, goes to extremes in harassing women, especially nurses and police officers. It’s cringe-worthy stuff, but there’s always another character to give him a poison jab or ear-twist to show that the behavior isn’t acceptable. Even this character has some good qualities as he’s a great chef and an aspiring Pokemon doctor. In a lot of ways, he gives big brother or fatherly advice to Ash.
Final Thoughts about Teaching Kids with Pokemon
Believe it or not, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what can be taught with Pokemon. Many shows have a lesson. The card games have real strategies. I didn’t dig into the type advantage of Pokemon (water-type Pokemon are good against fire types but bad against grass types). Pokemon Snap is coming out in a couple of months… a reboot of an old Pokemon game that has the promise of teaching photography to kids.
I didn’t get to the story to explain how my favorite Pokemon, Magikarp was introduced as an MLM scam. I didn’t get to cover how its evolution from the weakest Pokemon into one of the strongest is due to the Chinese mythology of a lesson based on perseverance and hard work.
At nearly 4500 words, this is one of my longest articles. (Though counting the song lyric section would be clearly cheating.) Pokemon has no natural end to the story, so there’s no possible way to tie a bow and end this article. It keeps going, because there are many companies (Gamefreak, Nintendo, The Pokemon Company, Niantic, Pokemon Center), with billions and billions of dollars invested, constantly creating around Pokemon.
Have you used Pokemon to teach your kids anything? Let me know in the comments.
* While Pikachu is officially considered a “Mouse Pokemon” and an electric rodent, the designer actually designed him after a squirrel.