Colleen Gilmore: Zenryuji Nursery School

For the latter half of the semester, I decided to try volunteering at a local nursery school, since I thought it might be a good opportunity to practice my Japanese speaking and listening skills in a relaxed environment. As might be expected, things were a little awkward at first. For one, I struggled a lot to understand anything the kids said. It’s hard enough for me to understand small children babbling in my native language, let alone in Japanese. On top of that, I was not very experienced in dealing with kids in general, so even without the language barrier, I sometimes had trouble figuring out how to interact with them properly.

The good thing about working with kids, however, is that they’re pretty interested in you regardless. For them, it’s very rare to interact with a foreigner, so everything about you in generally fascinating. Without really trying, I came to be pretty well liked, and often had various kids asking me to play with them. I feel like this is really one of the strong points of volunteering with children; while adults, especially in a business setting, can be difficult to approach, kids are much less intimidating and much more inclusive. I was really surprised to find that the kids were pretty willing to explain words you don’t know, and were never too put out if you don’t completely understand them. Because of that, I feel like I was really able to learn a lot about Japanese language that I wouldn’t get from just a classroom experience.

It can be comforting, too, to realize that Japanese children are not so different from us when we were kids. They entertain themselves in many of the same ways I did when I was little, like playing house. Of course, there are certain cultural differences; for example, it took me a while to learn some of the cartoons they like. Really, though, that’s just another part of the fun. As I got to know them better, I became more easily able to relate with them, and all of the awkwardness I felt originally vanished.

All and all, I found that volunteering at the daycare was a very non-stressful way to interact with the Japanese community, and get an interesting glimpse of modern Japanese life. While I had some minor issues at first, overcoming them became a great learning opportunity. Being able to understand the kids’ speech and getting a sense for how to speak properly with them really provided a boost in the listening and speaking area of Japanese that I had always really struggled with. If you’re looking for a CIP that’s both meaningful and fun, I really recommend it.

4 thoughts on “Colleen Gilmore: Zenryuji Nursery School

  1. I know what you mean about struggling to understand kids even in English! Not much enunciation haha. But it sounds like you had a great time! How old were the kids?

    They sound like good teachers… They’re probably so used to being the students, it was nice to be the teacher for a change! I wonder if kids are used to not being understood, and that’s why they weren’t upset if you didn’t understand.

    Did you notice any differences in child speech v. adult speech (for example, in English, “tummy” instead of “stomach,” etc.)?

    • It was a genuinely pretty nice experience. The kids even sang me a farewell song and gave me a little parting gift they made!

      I’m pretty sure the oldest children were 6, and the youngest were probably around 3 or 4. There were younger kids, but they were in a separate group.

      As for differences in speech, I didn’t notice any particular word usage, but I noticed they tend to say 「ね」or 「さ」 a lot in the middle of their sentences while they’re thinking, haha. It’s really cute.

  2. Your CIP sounds so fun! Working with kids seems like an interesting insight into a side of Japanese culture that I feel like I did not get to know during my time here. I was wondering if the games that they played reflected cultural differences at all. You say that they would play house; did it seem different at all (such as the role of the mother) as children playing house in States? Also, did you ever have to interact with any of the parents? If so, what was that experience like?

    • Most of the differences that I noticed were relatively minor, like pretending to make takoyaki. Also, the girls would always get irritated when I mistook the “Aikatsu” characters for “Pretty Cure” characters, haha. Other than that, there wasn’t too much I picked up on.

      I didn’t really get the chance to interact with the parents much, but one interesting thing I noticed was that a lot of kids were actually picked up by their grandparents. I guess that’s not a huge difference from the US, but I get the impression that grandparents are much more a part of children’s lives they are for the typical American child.