Meghan Gibbons: Volunteering at Kenryu Kindergarten

I worked as a Kindergarten “teacher” at the nearby kindergarten. I would come in the afternoons, and play with the kids, until either I went home, or their parents came and picked them up. Whatever came first. Usually I’d try and incorporate some English into the play- weather that was doing bad renditions of the hokey pokey- or reading books in English and doing my best on the fly translation from the English book into Japanese.

For a country that’s struggling to meet the demand for child care it was interesting to see how the kindergarten was set up. The one I volunteered at was different from what I had seen in America, where school typically starts with preschool, and classes are arranged by age.

This kindergarten wasn’t just five-year old’s, but children ranging from ages 3-6.  More like a combination of American preschool and kindergarten, rather than just a kindergarten. The kids would typically be in “classes” for the morning, these were divided by age. For the afternoon all the kids whose parents couldn’t come and grab them quite yet, would pile into the play room, where there were a plentiful crafts and toys awaiting. They hung out there until one of their parents came to get them, and they would either go home- or play on the outside playground with parent supervision.  I remember being struck with how independent and cleanly they were. Maybe my elementary school was full of degenerates, but coat racks, and craft supplies were always an utter mess, and were prone to housing ants.  However, for this kindergarten, children were trusted with tape and scissors. One of the more popular crafts was to wrap string around a plastic device, then cut along the edge of it to make small yarn pom-poms. Kids had tons of these little pom poms tied to their bags, which were orderly put away in small cubbies, along with their coats and yellow hats. They were also trusted with puzzles, which miraculously had all of their pieces. A rare find in my preschool days.

It was also interesting how kids would play differently than how I remembered playing as a kid. The biggest one was how play didn’t seem particularly gendered. Meaning the boys would gladly take the big blocks and build towering structures, but then would all sit down and play teacher, or house together. Girls would either play and build along with them, or would wander off to color, or use the blocks to build small police station, and play cops. There were several times I would come in and be labeled a criminal, and a small girl tied string around my ankles as makeshift handcuffs.

It was also interesting how kids would intermingle despite the age difference. Both of my parents worked when I was a kid, so I would routinely go to after school care, where we had kids ages 5-12, and kids would always clump by age group. However, at this kindergarten, kids age 6 would be playing store, or cops, or princess with kids who were 3 or 4.

It was also interesting to see, not only how things had changes since I was young, but also to remind me of how children think. Ultimately. I understand, regardless of how different the age gap is or how different the cultural context is, children will ultimately be children. I think ultimately regardless of where children are raised there’s something fundamental to how the world is viewed. Seeing as I’m no longer a child, I don’t understand that as well as I once did, but I think I might’ve been able to understand that better, after this experience.

I’m hesitant to draw any sweeping conclusions about Japan or Japanese culture, based on this one kindergarten, or by the experiences I had there, but overall it was fun experience, and I wouldn’t change it.

6 thoughts on “Meghan Gibbons: Volunteering at Kenryu Kindergarten

  1. Sounds like it was a really interesting experience! Was it ever difficult to understand the children’s speech?

    • A couple of times, but I attribute that more to my lack of Japanese ability than child speech

  2. This sounds like such a fun CIP! Your observations on the differences here from how kindergartens are run in the US are really interesting to read about, and your anecdotes about playing with the kids are so cute. I bet they appreciated having you around to play with them and teach them some English. How hard was understanding the Japanese the kids would speak to you as opposed to speaking to adults?

    • Not too awful, sometimes it was easier than speaking to adults because they by nature spoke very simply, so there weren’t too many complicated words, but when in doubt, I could always smile and nod.

  3. It is always fun to work with children from different cultures. I wish I could have the opportunity to teach them about the importance of embracing diversity.

    • I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say I taught them about embracing diversity, but it definitely was allot of fun!