This semester I participated in helping out at Fukakusa Kindergarten every Monday for two hours, one hour of that being 「英語遊ぼう」(English Playtime) and the second hour being free play time with the children aged 4-6. It was such a blast, and such a good opportunity and experience that I would not have had at any other time in my life.
I feel like I got to learn from the kids, playing games with them and then individually with them outside of “teaching” English. I got to see how the kindergartens operate, what they value, and how many Japanese people spend their early childhood years — something we don’t get to see in the classroom. In particular, I think that the day is spent differently than in US kindergartens — from what I was able to observe, they have a lot of free play and are able to really hone motor abilities, communication with each other, and also get to be energetic kids without consequences. I felt like I got to see the basis for what I knew before — how societies, and in this case, Japanese society, are built when people are young.
In regards to learning Japanese, being able to hear the children and the staff speak in Kansai-ben was so informative and the kids using it was just so adorable! I feel like the teachers using it was also just a confidence booster and helped me understand it quicker when they didn’t need to use “standard” Japanese. Getting that experience outside of the classroom was so valuable.
I also thought it was interesting that they sit down and eat together after assembling their tables and chairs alongside the teachers, which is abnormal in the US, but again, I think it reinforces community and that idea of collectivism versus individualism. Physically the space is different as well; it it super conducive to the collective/communal environment by being open, connected to the outdoors/playground, and generally having larger rooms.
I am really grateful that not only the children were awesome, but the staff at the kindergarten as well. It was great to interact with them, learn from them, and help them out when they were busy or had their hands full with other responsibilities. I only wish that I could have started earlier and known about this opportunity sooner!