06 March, 2009

Some peculiarities of Japanese kindergartens. Part 1

I am speaking from my experience of two kindergartens here, but I know from talking to friends that each in kindergarten is different. We probably used ‘high mother involvement’ kindies.

1. Before your child even starts kindergarten mums are busy sewing: bags, place mats, seat cushion cover, towels and bibs. At our second kindergarten, there was a book/general carry bag, a change of clothes bag, a lunch box-type bag and a cup bag. Some of these things can be bought, but some just need to be made. You can see here the efforts of one mother before her child started kindergarten (yochien is the Japanese word for kindergarten).

2. Buying school supplies.

  • Another bag, a uniform ‘school’ bag – was bought. This was only the size of a lunch box and did just that, carry lunch as well as the daily attendance booklet (they put stickers into it each day and the teachers record height and weight every month).
  • Buying indoor shoes. In our first kindy, this was any shoe, as long as it had never been outside. In our second kindy it was a special white slip-on shoe that was easy to find, every shoe store has them.
  • Other small purchases were required, but most of the standard things were supplied (at a cost). The key is that almost everything is standard. Everyone has the same crayons, sketch book, paints.
  • Naming everything, absolutely everything, in the prescribed spot (there were detailed diagrams). This means that even the lids of the paints needed to be named.
  • Naming their play uniforms takes on a new meaning. On the front of each t-shirt a piece of material is sewn with the child’s first name in 20 cm high lettering.
  • Our first kindy had no uniform at all, only a coloured hat (the classes are colour coded). The second kindy had two uniforms. Like a private school, the kids wore a dress uniform to kindy and changed into a play uniform as soon as they got there (reverse on the way home). Except for half days, where they just wore the play uniform.

3. That leads me to the everyday chaos that you have to try to keep a lid on. You have to be aware of what day of the week you are up to, to make sure you send the right stuff and put the kid into the right uniform. This sounds easier than it actually is, especially when you have more than one child in your house. You get into a rhythm as time goes on, but at the start it is like a small nightmare. Lunch on full days, none on half days. Fridays they bring home all sorts of things for washing, like their indoor shoes, towels and even seat cushion cover. So, on Mondays, you have to remember to send them all back again. To add to the chaos, it occasionally changes. Once a month they had a birthday party, which required only dress clothes, not the play clothes.

4. It seems like every second day they bring home vast notices, in Japanese. Often they included must unimportant information, but in the middle you find important notices like: “you need to send a copy of your child’s medical insurance card by this day for the upcoming excursion”. Thankfully I had a friend who, for three years, translated important notices for me. My husband reads Japanese better than me and he also helped out a lot.

5. Medication. I still remember the day that our son’s asthma was bad enough to need medication, but not bad enough to stay home. However I didn’t realise it until my husband had already gone to work. I laboured over a short explanation note to the teacher, which I then asked my friend to fix before I gave it in. This is not that peculiar, I guess, except that it is an added stress for a foreigner who doesn’t write well. Might make you feel sympathetic towards those in your country who don’t speak or write good English.

6. Applying for parking. Our kindergarten has a pretty big car park, but only enough room for about 1/5 of the families (there are about 200 kids at the kindergarten). You have to apply for parking permits. One for general drop/off and pick up for the year. But throughout the year there were other special events which required parking permits. Like the sports day, PTA meetings, art show, graduation, etc. If you don’t apply in time you have to ride or walk.

I have several more paragraphs I could write, but dinner preparation calls. Tune in next time. Maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday...


Simone R. said...

I feel stressed just reading that! Well done for surviving.

venzy said...

What if you can't sew?

Wendy said...

Um, you do the best you can? Some of the stuff can be bought in stores. The kindy has a bazaar where they sell some of the stuff. Actually when we first sent Callum to kindy I didn't realise he needed all this stuff, so the first day I had to go looking! Thankfully I found a set of the basics new, at a second hand store and saved a LOT. Other stuff we were given by someone who took a whole month to prepare her son for kindy, can you believe it!