I chose to complete my CIP volunteering at a kindergarten nearby Doshisha campus. I would head over after lunch and play various games with the children. On the day I would go, I would arrive after the kindergarten’s planned activities and official classroom time had already ended, so at this time all of the children would be grouped together and allowed to play with whatever they wanted. Depending on the number of kids on that day, we would often move to a bigger room with more toys. This meant that the ages varied from 3 years old to 6, which can be a huge difference when the kids are that young, but they all played together very well.
When starting, I was worried that the kids would be shy or afraid to interact with me, but those fears were unfounded and I was happy that they became excited to see me as the visits went on. The kids assumed I knew Japanese, so they spoke fast and used some local slang to the point where I often had trouble understanding the older kids in the beginning. As time went on and I got used to the way children talk, it became easier for me to understand. One thing that was hard for me when I first started was distinguishing between a statement and a question, since they all used casual speech and I was not able to hear their intonation well. The kids taught me more than I expected to learn, and not only about casual Japanese (such as replacing ない with へん, or young kids referring to themselves by their names instead of using the word “I”), but also about the Japanese method of raising children. For example, the kindergarten staff stressed responsibility in the kids for things such as cleaning up their own lunch area, gathering their items when it was time to go, and also encouraging the kids to look out for each other and holding each other accountable for helping out. It is a different atmosphere from preschools I’ve been to before. That said, kids are kids and I had a fantastic time playing with them every week.
In addition to learning from the kids, I was able to experience a bit of a formal environment with the staff at the kindergarten, where I tried my best to use keigo with my superiors. It was fun to hear お疲れ様です at the end of my shifts and be able to say it back. For any future students, I recommend making sure that they enjoy their CIP and feel comfortable speaking and participating during it, because that active participation is what really makes it worth it. Initiating conversation with people I don’t know well is not something I typically do, but I found that people are generally enthused if you attempt to speak in Japanese, more so if you initiate first, so I encourage everyone to go out there and do their best. Unfortunately we were able to continue our CIPs for only about a month and a half, but it was something that I would regularly not have had the chance to partake in and am glad that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity.