My son, Tatsu will be in the third grade at his elementary school from this April.(The new grade starts from April in Japan.) Now, he’s supposed to know about 240 kanji at school. I HOPE he knows! Anyway, he’s understood about the radical/bushu/部首 and the spelling order. So, he realizes a kanji as a complex of several radicals now.
On the other hand, my daughter Momo, is about to turn 5 this April, seems that she comes to feel its image of kanji these days. For Momo, kanji is recongnized as one symbol as same as ‘!’ or ‘?’. She doesn’t know its pronunciation nor its accurate meaning, but can imagine its sense vaguely. For instance, she wants me to teach her kanji these days, so, I asked her “Do you know what ‘危’ means? She answered “Yes! It means ‘ a fear!’ ‘ a terrible thing’ !” Actually, ‘危’ means ‘ a danger ‘. Her answer was not correct but very close. I think it’s very interesting.
I always convince her to understand that she never go to the riverside, the beach, traffic junctions or any other dangerous spots by herself, and also I show her some warning signs that including ‘危’ kanji in action or in books. I tell her that she would be drown, kidnapped, or hit by a car, if she had her own way. I guess that’s why she feels scary when she sees ‘危’ ! I think it’s a proof of that the native kanji users, including me, had felt or experienced the meanings of kanji with our five senses in early childhood, and then as we grew up, we have learned them by intellectual way. I’m not an expert of linguistics. This is just my opinion as a mom,though.