Thursday 29 March 2012

looking back...

These last two years have been a steep learning curve for me, putting Ebi-kun into yochien not having much of a clue about anything!

Although this post is about kindy in Japan I think much of the information is transferable.

The lessons I learnt....

Not all yochien are equal! Here we have yochien and hoikuen, hoikuen is for children of working parents and often the only way to get in is to have a squillion bits of official paperwork and it is usually more difficult to get a place at hoikuen. Children can also start hoikuen from a baby whereas yochien is usually a two or three year program. In more built up areas it can be difficult to get a spot at yochien too and I have got friends who camped out the night before application day so that they could get a place for their child.

I don't really have any experience of hoikuen so I will focus on yochien. If you are sending your child to kindy next year then ask around and find out what you can about your local options, if you find another mama with the same ideals as yourself who has a kid in kindy then squeeze as much information out of her as possible. I was lucky, I have a friend whose kids went through the same yochien and she knows what I am like and so she recommended the kindy to us, even though it is not nearby it was definitely the best choice for us. I also had a friend whose kids are at a different yochien and we got to drop by a couple of times and I knew that place was not for us.

If you don't have money to throw around then check out the uniform costs and hidden costs that they throw at you. Ebi-kuns uniform was blue shorts, a jacket (one for summer and one for winter) and a hat. They also have a coloured class cap. They wear the jacket to and from yochien and for official functions the rest of the time they can wear their own tops. They also have a sports T-shirt for big events and wear white pumps inside. I don't remember how much it all came too but it wasn't too bad and he wore the same clothes for the two years. Other yochien have similar set up, one near to our house has the kids in a tracksuit and the posh one has the kids in Burberry jackets and felt Madeleine style hats, the uniform, leather bag and extras for that kindy is over ¥100,000 ($1,200), that is a lot of money to shell out! and the uniform is more than likely dry-clean only. eek!

All the yochiens in our area run a bus service, which is great for us but it can be a pain for me to get to the yochien by myself, making friends with some of the local moms really helped, in fact now, I usually get a message a couple of days before telling me who is going to come and pick me up!

You also need to consider what you feel is important for the child to get out of the yochien, some are purely play based others are very academic, I would say Ebi-kuns falls in-between. I was happy to see that they have a well stocked library, over 7000 books and the children can take out 2 books a week. They also have a book of the month (one of the hidden extras) where they read the book together in class and then they get to bring the book home. The books are carefully chosen and many are award winning, they also have authors come in talk about the books to the parents.
They are also very big on creative arts, although there is a bit of 'cookie cutter' crafting going on but mostly they are also given a free rein and encouraged to come up with their own ideas and designs. For me, this is an important issue, especially when we live in a country where they try and squash everyone into the same mold. They also learn to read and write and to play a harmonica but all of this is intermixed with a lot of free play and running around. The yochien is set in a shrine and they have a lot of space, not just the yard but the areas around it including the gardens.

Discipline was something I didn't really think about, Ebi-kun, in general is not a naughty kid, from the time I have spent at the yochien I could see that the sensei's were firm but kind and the kids were well behaved.

Somethings did drive me crazy, like the amount of times we had to go in and then spend 3 hours to do something that could have been finished in 30 minutes, an insane amount of faffing around! For some of the moms I could see that for them, it was part of their social calendar, time to sit and gossip, not worry about whether the rice was cooked or the futons were out. For me it was just an annoying waste of time. Grumble, Grumble.

Our yochien is old but well maintained, I am not sure how structurally sound it is, as far as I know, non of the buildings were damaged in the earthquake but that might be something you want to consider.

So, all in all, I would say it has been a positive experience, Eni-kun certainly loved it and it has prepared us both for school. Although school will bring a whole new set of challenges, having some idea about the way the system works here is a plus. We had intended to keep Ebi-kun at home until he started school and do Montessori with him but it was the lack of playmates that actually made the decision for us, it turned out to be the right decision.

Next, is school, a whole new ball game and yes, I am still putting labels on things....

How did you choose your kindy or not as the case might be?


  1. Although we're pretty far from Japan, I can certainly take some of that advice to heart. I'm pretty familiar with two countries' educational system, and my husband with another one. But we've recently found out that he's getting transferred to yet another country (Canada), which neither of us knows much about. I've heard from a mom who has family in Canada, that they start at 4 years old. My little girl turns 4 this year, which means I have about 5 months to figure it all out and find a school for her. Oi. Some of your advice may indeed come in handy, if I can find moms around there to talk to.

  2. we have friends that have just come back from a six month stint in Canada and they were raving about how great the system is there! Good luck with it all xx

  3. What a handy post! Wish I had it two years ago!

    That library sounds lovely. Authors coming in to talk to parents? I want to go there!

    I totally agree about the waste of time. I've started pushing people along, I am the great clock watcher. My son's class is usually finished PTA meetings first as I am pushy! I didn't do that the first year but I have 3 years left as my daughter starts next week and I will be doing it in her PTA meetings too.
    We had one requirement, that the bus drop the kids off at my work, and this was the only one that would, so it is more that they chose us. I'm really lucky though, I love the school so much and they have a great soccer programme which settles my very rambunctious son.

    1. I wish I could have been pushy like you! In my own language I would be but in Japanese I am a wallflower!


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