Children in Japan start elementary school when they are 6 years old, and since Youchien isn't part of that, it is voluntary. Typically they attend for two years starting at age 4, but sometimes as young as 3. Therefore, it's kind of one big mashup of what we consider Preschool, Pre-K, and Kindergarten in the States.
I taught Preschool for one year and Pre-K for three years before coming here. However, I feel that American Kindergarten is the new 1st grade, and Pre-K (at least in Georgia) is the new "Kindergarten." For simplicity, I tell people here that I was a Kindergarten teacher in America... turns out I wasn't that far off from their definition after all! :)
|Various adorable uniforms you might see in a Japanese kindergarten.|
Back in March, I decided I couldn't take it any longer and made up my mind that I was going to set foot in a kindergarten classroom before leaving Japan. The ALTs in my area are already spread quite thin, so I think that's why we don't have kindergarten visits on top of our multiple elementary and junior high schools (currently I work at 8). While I enjoy working with older students than what I am used to, my heart and solid teaching methods are still back in my Pre-K classroom. Since "internationalization" is in my job description, I figured I could take the initiative and bring a little foreign culture to the local kindergartens.
Like any other time I propose something big and out of the ordinary, I came up with my plan first and then pitched it to my supervisor at the BOE. This means that I had a detailed list of different topics and activities I could do if the lessons were actually to take place. In the past, I have tried this strategy with Halloween / Christmas lessons, showing educational videos to my students, and starting a points reward system for the Junior High School... and it works! It's so much easier for them to say yes if you already have a plan. They might not say yes to everything you have in mind, and your plan might be far from perfect, but it's definitely a start. After a few days, my supervisor got the OK from a few different schools, who were very interested in my ideas for colors and Easter. I made up a more detailed lesson plan and had my loving parents send me materials that I would need (thanks again!). And waited. And waited some more. And still waited.
The ''fun'' thing about working for the local Japanese government is to wait for the different levels of bureaucracy to trickle down and give you the details. Even though I planned everything out in March and hoped to have it in April, in reality my lessons weren't set in stone until May 25 and June 29. The scheduling wasn't perfect, either -- turns out I'm not even conducting the activities in my own town's kindergartens, but in neighboring towns 40-50 minutes away. The class sizes also turned out to be more than I bargained for, at combining everyone at each school (about 50 students per school) for a one-shot lesson. Even though it wasn't ideal, I decided not to stress about the things I couldn't control.
The main goals I had for all of this were:Both schools I worked at ended up being great! The first group was SUPER energetic, especially by the end of the lesson when they had finally warmed up to my presence. The second group was more laid back, probably because they had a group of 3-year-olds thrown into the mix. I also had my translator from the BOE come with me, which was a HUGE help.
- to bring English to local kindergartners
- to bring American traditions to local kindergartners
- to observe what a real Japanese kindergarten is like
- to have fun with it!
I used my elementary schools' lesson plans as a guide (their template here is a bit different than how I do it in America) when planning activities, and ended up doing the following activities with kids:
- Greetings (Hello)
- Self Introduction (Just me, not the kids)
- Introducing Easter
- Introducing Colors
- "Color" Fruits Basket Game
- Decorating Easter Eggs
- Easter Egg Hunt
- Greetings (Thank you / Good-bye)
It was a little weird celebrating Easter when it's nearly summer, but it's one of those holidays that's very dear to my heart, and I'm glad I got to share some of my childhood traditions with the kindergartners here. I'm really looking forward to the next two groups I teach in June! Most of all, I'm happy I got to experience working in kindergarten classrooms here. No country's school system is perfect, but Japan's is very fascinating to me and I love learning more about how things are done, especially with this age group.
Oh, and if anyone was curious... the kindergartens out here in Inaka Land are very relaxed. No fancy uniforms, but they did wear the little blue smocks and matching gym shorts. Some of the mothers even went the extra mile by adding personalized name / animal patches to their smocks. (●⌒∇⌒●)