I was very excited to volunteer at 保育園(Japanese nursery centers)once a week as I have dreamed a long time of having such opportunity to observe early childhood education in Japan. There are actually two types of care and education for infants and little children and 保育園(could also be called daycare centers)is the one for kids younger than age of 3 before attending 幼稚園(kindergarten). The latter one is considered more educational whereas 保育園mainly functions more to “foster” children as daytime care center for the sake of busy working mothers.
The volunteering went surprisingly smooth from day 1 because sensei tachi are super warm and nice and kids are cheerful and cute as angels. They welcomed me as a “Yuki nene” (sister Yuki) guest and spending several hours every Monday afternoon is an emotional therapy for me especially when stressed out during the day. I usually arrive after the children just finish their afternoon nap and helping them changing clothes is the first major task. I messed up time to time such as forgetting to take off the diapers before putting on pants or getting their clothes inside-out. Though instead of being angry with me or even noticing my mistake, kids always thank me energetically with big smile. Sometimes I feel like my role slightly changed when singing Japanese songs, dancing as rabbits, piling toy blocks or listening to teacher’s storytelling together with the kids — I am not a volunteer, I become one of them. I was happy to pick up many interesting 幼児語 too such as “ブーブ”means cars, “ねんねしよ”means time for bed and “オッチン” means to sit.
According to be observation at 保育園, I realized that Japan indeed has finely tuned educational approach to life and actions of each individual child. The thing that shocked me most is called 連絡帳 (parent-teacher notebook?) I’ve never heard of it before actually saw my host mom and teachers writing it – it is a kind of a note for both parents and teachers to keep track of very detailed activities of the children each day such as sleeping time, body temperature, food content, little stories if happened, what mood the child is in and even when they poop, sometimes including pictures. Children are really provided with considerate care and respected for their very existence. Creating and reading these kind of notes and memories as seeing the process of children growing up into themselves must be a great enjoyment for parents.
Moreover, children get to learn the rules for living in society by adopting basic daily routines of life and proper habits at 保育園. From saying “いただきます” “ごちそうさまでした” “ごめんなさい”and “〜ください” to taking care of own dishes after finishing eating, they are learning to be more independent and well-mannered. In this case the early childhood education is sometimes disappointing as most kids are often treated like the center of the universe. Parents tend to say “leave it there I’ll clean it for you” after meal or “give me your backpack” when picking up their kids after school.
During play times, children are given enough freedom and encouraged to relate with one another through various options of activities. They can decide on their own about what to play and what to use. While there are group activities as well, there is minimal direct instruction from the teacher. This is good for children learning to be independent at decision making. Also have to make sure clean up everything by themselves before leaving, otherwise sensei would have a private talk and watch him/her put things in order.
Overall I learned a lot from the experience and I feel so lucky to be able to get involved in the community as Yuki nene. I hope I can be a better one in the future.