Saturday 30 August 2008

In a quandry

Yesterday a friend of mine picked me and Ebi-kun up to go and have a look around her kids old kindergarten (yochien). It is not a Montessori yochien and there is no way Ebi-kun can attend one since the closest is a 40 minute (2 train) ride away and that doesn't include the commute to and from the station, so if I decide on the yochien route we will have to settle for something else.

I was asked a while back, by Amber I think, if I was planning to home school Ebi-kun, I have thought long and hard about this and my decisions are based  on living in Japan, a country which is not my own and a culture which is still alien to me most of the time even though I have been here almost 10 years.

Initially I thought Ebi-kun would go to yochien for the last 2 years before school, so starting when he was 4 which would give me another year at home with him but I have noticed some changes this year. Firstly, in April (start of the school year) all his little friends he would play with at the park disappeared, no, they hadn't been abducted by aliens, they had all started yochien, the kids that are left are all too small and haven't got to that 'playing together' stage. This has also happened with our playgroup friends, so the kids that are Ebi-kuns age or old we just tend to see at weekend gatherings now. With the disappearance of playmates I have also noticed that he really wants to play with other kids, this time last year he wasn't so bothered but now he is asking to go and play with X, Y and Z.

So, now I feel that for the social side of things and learning the Japanese way of doing things in school that he really needs to go to yochien next year. Also, his English level is great but his Japanese is not so good, although he chats with his English speaking friends with no problem he struggles when he is with other Japanese kids.
I think a good balance would be for him to go 3 days a week and stay home the other two but the place we went to look at is for full timers only, although Wednesday is a half day so if he goes I may keep him home Wednesdays.

The guy who runs this yochien is a Shinto priest and the yochien is in the shrines grounds. It has been going for years and is a bit tatty around the ages but looked to be in a good state of repair. The classrooms were all a good size, there are 20 kids to a class, less for the little kids and each class has their own pet or two. There is a large yard with slides and climbing equipment and up by the little kids rooms there is some smaller climbing equipment and sand pit. There is also a pottery room, a room filled with wooden tables when the kids work with clay, it is all tiled so it doesn't matter if they make a mess, it can be hosed down. A gym which was as big as my elementary school gym, comes with a stage too and upstairs seating! Another large room known as the rhythm room where they have instruments and giant wooden building blocks. A massive outdoor sandpit where they get out wheelbarrows and shovels for the kids to work with, a library - kids have to check out 3 books a week and are also required to buy 2 books a month. They also have a collection of birds and animals, peacocks, swans, tortoises, chicken... and the kids have to help feed and clean them out. They also have a good sized veg patch and grow rice for the older children to harvest. All the meals are prepared on site so there is no need to send a bento, just rice or bread.
The priest believes that poncy uniforms are not needed so the kids just wear shorts, t-shirt and smock then have different coloured caps depending on which class they are in. They also have a strong emphasis on art, they put on an art show at the end of each year, all three of my friends kids are arty and she attributes the yochien as part of that reason because it gave them confidence with their art work.

If I knew nothing of Montessori I would be jumping up and down thinking this place was great but now, a part of me is disappointed that his kindy experience won't be a Montessori one. He will be there 9-2pm ish except Wednesdays so I suppose I could work with him in the afternoons, hmm. I know he needs to go but still....

I know my decisions would be completely different if we were living back in the UK or even another English speaking country. We all want to make the best choices for our kids but why is it all so difficult? 


  1. The yochien does sound nice! I know it will be hard for you to let him go but as you know, I am sure, it would be hard for you to see him go to school anywhere (in Japan, in the UK or even to a Montessori school) because it would mean letting go of your baby!

    I am sure he will love yochien! But he will love spending time with you too!!!

    On another note, I am glad to hear the yochien doesn`t like poncy uniforms- I think kids at yochien need to be in just shirts and t-shirts!

    Best of luck with making your decision! What does Mr Ebi think?

  2. Jo,
    Those decisions are so hard, aren't they? However, from your description, the yochien sounds really wonderful. And I'm saying that as a total lover of all things Montessori. sounds awesome! Bless you as you make your decision. You will know what it right for Ebikun and your family.

  3. Hi Jo,
    I've been reading your awesome blog for quite a while, but this is the first time I respond. I truly understand your hesitations! I've been wondering when I am able to entrust my son (he just turned one) to other adult, who will effect by default the gentle creation of his self during these first crucial years. Add to this that here as well there is a serious lack of MOntessori schools, and this decision becomes even harder. I don't yet know what would be right for us, when the social interaction be essential, and our son's little friends will disappear to kindergarten. But I do know that what is the most important thing, after all, is what you have back at home. And from what I've learned from reading your adventures, thanks to you, Ebi-kun has been having a wonderful kindy experience. This won't change. For me, this is indeed the most important thing, whatever your decision might be. Good luck! Miri

  4. I can understand your quandry, but I think he needs the socialization, you can give him the Montessori at home! Sometimes we just need to go with what feels right and trust that it will be!

  5. If I lived in Japan or any other country temporarily, I would send my son to preschool so he can fully learn the language and culture. If I were in my Spanish speaking country, I would find a nice preschool (there are no Montessori schools in ES) and send him there for the same reasons. I only visit there now and it is hard for my children to keep up with the Spanish when they only use it at home basically. I would find something part time only if I could.

    Best of luck with making a decision.

  6. Jo,
    Great review of the yochien Slight correction though. They check out two books a week and are asked to buy one a month, not two.
    I understand your concerns. Personally I thought three was too young and I selfishly wanted to keep my home and so they went to kindy just for two years. Also with having three to send, we didn't have the funds!! At the place I showed you, about 1/3 go for three years and the other 2/3 go for just two years. There are often a few who attend just for the last year. Also, when my kids atttended the place had a rep. of not turning anyone away, so each class usually had a speacial needs kid in the class. It was cool as the children learned about empathy and differences. Take your time decideing. The application "deadline" is Nov. 1st, but they will take students anytime. Mr. Imai, the guy who runs it would be glad to answer any questions you have etc.

  7. This may not be what you are interested in, but have a quick read of

    I hope that link works. If it doesn't I'm trying to get you to the post written on 26th December 2006.

    Good luck with whatever you choose :) How is the Square Foot gardening coming? ;)


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