31 March, 2009
30 March, 2009
28 March, 2009
25 March, 2009
24 March, 2009
23 March, 2009
20 March, 2009
17 March, 2009
16 March, 2009
14 March, 2009
13 March, 2009
12 March, 2009
13. Sports Day, which is more like a combined outdoor concert and family picnic event. It is huge and a real community event. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, past students and teachers all rock up. The kids have prepared dances and other presentations, like gymnastics displays and practised them for about three months. They also have races! Mostly fairly non competitive stuff, though. Each mum (and grandma sometimes) puts a massive effort into preparing their family's picnic lunch. Many mums get up earlier than 6am to prepare.
14. Apologies. I don't understand this fully, however, if your child hurts someone significantly, then you are required to apologise to their mother. This often happens by phone and I did have to do it a couple of times. I have a Japanese friend who is a Christian. Her son was so badly behaved that she ended up having an apology party at the end of the year for the whole class! Amazingly several women became Christians as a result! They all wanted to know how she managed to cope when her child was such a challenge.
15. Socialising. This really underlies all my previous 14 points. Everything I've written about involves language, written or spoken. I've had people ask me, "Aside from the language, what is the hardest thing about living in Japan?" It really is very left brained to try and separate language from all other aspects of Japanese life. It is integral to life. If you don't have it, it is like living your life in black and white. All the interactions at kindergarten, from the greeting as you walk in in the morning, to the little chats with the teacher at the end of the day, to the complicated social interactions that you are dragged into by the nature of the youchien beast...It is all harder as a foreigner who speaks way less than perfect Japanese. It is all tiring and challenging.
Another day I'll tell you some stories about when I got it wrong and the chaos that can result! I am thankful that God gave me some very good friends who were bilingual and the kindergarten was kind enough to put us in the same class as them for three years. Well now, I am exhausted. Good night!
09 March, 2009
7. Class meetings. These are meetings between all the mums of one class and the teacher. They happen about two or three times a year. No children are present and everyone sits around on kindy-sized chairs. Announcements are made. At the first meeting of the year everyone introduces themselves. At the last meeting of the year everyone offers some kind of thanks and memory of the year.
8. “Volunteering” takes on a new meaning in Japan. At our kindergarten it was compulsory to volunteer for one task in the year. It was a big deal to figure it all out too. At the first class meeting of the year each class had a list of jobs required by that class to do during the year (matched to the number of mums in the class). They ranged from set-up at the sports day to childcare during graduation or announcer at the sports day.
9. Class representatives. Each class had two representatives to the PTA (or Mothers Association, as it is called). These class reps met regularly together and were responsible for organising various class events for the mums during the year. This included a variety of ‘friendship’ meals and pub outings. They also coordinated things like end-of-year gifts for the teacher from the families, end-of-year parties and class contributions to the PTA fete. A big job. This class representative system also continues through into primary school.
10. Lunches. Japanese school lunches have become an art form. Some mums get very anxious about them. No basic sandwiches. This has become an artistic event, in some cases. You can see some examples at this website. I personally didn’t enter into this and just gave our son basic lunches. Sandwiches and salad during the summer. In our son’s second winter, he suddenly decided he wanted Japanese-style lunches. Especially because they got them warmed up during winter. I had to learn a little bit about Japanese-style lunches at this point, but didn’t get carried away. Some kindergartens provide lunch and this is a big deal in deciding what kindergarten to send your child to.
11. Times. Our kindergarten (and most, it seems) runs on a 4 ½ day system. All days except Wednesday are 9 till 2.20. Wednesday finishes at 11.50. This is another thing which varied. For the first month all days are half days (April is a long month). Also for a couple of days before any holiday break, the days are half days (no one has been able to tell my why). During two weeks in February they had parent-teacher interviews in the afternoons. This whole fortnight was half-days.
I have four more points still to come! However I don't like reading long posts myself so I'll keep them back until tomorrow. You might be wondering why we bothered to do all this. We could have found a less 'involved' kindy. There IS a reason behind sticking with it, though. I'll tell ya later alligator.
06 March, 2009
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...