I’ve shared a decent amount of our dabbling into the kindergarten world in Japan. We started with part time hoikuen, to warm Cambria up to Japanese. When that turned out to be a flop, we tried to get her into full-time hoikuen. Three times.
Forcing Allowing an incredibly generous friend to fill out the hordes of paperwork all three times. (They say that bureaucracy was invented in the west and perfected in Japan. I have no doubt of the validity of this.) Three times we were turned down. (Hoikuen are primarily for kids of working parents, and the city bases acceptance on a tiered system. Since our family’s need of a hoikuen was lower than others’, they couldn’t fit Cambria in.) Finally, after the third time, another friend recommended a youchien that was willing to accept Cambria pretty easily.
I’m not really 100% clear on the differences between hoikuen and youchien. Leslie worked at a hoikuen in Okayama, and it basically seemed like daycare with occasional lessons. (Leslie taught English to each class once a week. I think. Maybe some classes were twice a week.) I’ve heard that because the hoikuen kids’ parents work full time, hoikuen helps to teach them age appropriate life lessons, like potty-training. (Bless their teachers’ hearts.) Youchien is maybe more like kindergarten, where you’re not so much learning life lessons, but pre-school lessons. I’ve also heard conflicting things about cost. I’ve always thought that youchien costs more, but a friend recently suggested to me that hoikuen does. We pay ¥24000 (roughly $240) a month, plus any extra fees for that month. Again, because hoikuen kids’ parents work, hoikuen is full day (like, until 5:00 or later), whereas youchien is half day, often even just 2 hours on Wednesdays.
For a year, every friend I talked to about youchien told me it’s too troublesome, and I shouldn’t try to get Cambria in. I assume they were referring to the youchien equivalent of a PTA, where moms are apparently pressured into being insanely involved. One friend actually just became the president of her PTA… by losing a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. (I am not even kidding when I tell you that Rock, Paper, Scissors is used in grown up situations as a decider.)
While I was pretty irritated that no one would help me with youchien, it turned out to be a blessing in the end, as the youchien we finally ended up with turned out to be different than most, more Montessori-style, with pretty much everyone we’ve talked to (teachers, moms, past students) mentioning the freedom the school encourages. I know our family’s educational values are very different from typical Japanese values, and this school seems to break the mold and fit just right with what we desire for our kids. If we’re going to send her to school, I’m pleased with what we’ve found!
In preparation for her first day, I had to make bags for each different aspect of her day. We shopped together for material, and finally settled on a Peter Rabbit pattern. Some friends I spoke to bought their kids’ bags, but a whoooole lotta youchien moms make the bags (kind of as a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses), and I was excited for a new challenge. While it certainly did take a lot of time, I looooooved having something productive to spend my time on during nap/rest times (read: not eating
single double serving cookie dough in front of my computer while browsing Pinterest and watching The Colbert Report). That sewing machine I got for my birthday has definitely proven itself to be a great investment. So! Cambria needed a cup bag, an indoor shoes bag, a book bag, a cloth-covered art supply box, and in a month she’ll need a bag for her gym clothes. (Again, our youchien proved itself more relaxed than others, as they weren’t insanely strict about size and style.) I also nametagged everything in hiragana (one of the many writing systems of Japan), including each individual crayon (big shout out to everyone who has sent us good crayons!). I found hiragana stamps at Yuzawaya that made it way less stressful than the internet had made me believe it would be. She got a new thermos, cup, and shoes. Next week I’ll pull out the bento we bought for her in Okayama (that we’ve never used!!), as she starts eating lunch there on Monday! (Kind of excited to share pictures of that every day!) The friend who has helped us incredibly along this journey wanted to buy something special for Cambria’s first day (she has become the girls’ Japanese grandmother of sorts), so she gifted her a new Disney princess backpack!
Her first day was Thursday, and again, our youchien’s style was different than others’, in that there was no big, formal entrance ceremony. (Thank goodness, ’cause my social anxiety was at a peak when I found out about that.) The only real downside to the youchien is that it takes at least 30 minutes from our door to the front gate (walking, train, walking again). We arrived around 9:20 with no real idea as to what we were doing.
Most hoikuens/youchiens I’ve been to have big glass doors opening up into a courtyard. We entered the courtyard to a handful of moms just standing there, outside the classroom. I just assumed we’d walk Cambria into her room, so I took my shoes off and jumped up onto the boardwalk. I’d not finished the paperwork I had to turn in that day, so I asked the teacher to look at it and let me know what I lacked. As I filled out the rest, Leslie asked her to take a family picture of us. Enter the aforementioned social anxiety. The teacher kind of just stood there for a couple seconds, asked, “Who?”, glanced at the other moms, hesitated some more, then told Leslie she couldn’t because it’s the kids’ first day and she couldn’t be doing something else. Womp. Then she grabbed Cambria and the bag I had in my hands and rushed into the room before Leslie had a chance to hug her.
Whirlwind farewell aside, Cambria seemed to have a great time. In fact, when we came to pick her up, she hid against her teacher for an embarrassingly long time before I scolded her to hurry up and get her shoes on. We followed the example of the other parents and let the kids play around in the courtyard for about 30 minutes after school, during which one mom was brave enough to approach me and say hello… in English even! Guys, if you see someone standing awkwardly by herself, say hi. The awkwardness melted right off and made me feel so much better about being there. Two other moms joined in, and we enjoyed a decent introductory conversation, including a good two minutes of their raving about how Leslie looks like Tom Cruise and is so handsome. Score!
While Cambria was at youchien, Leslie, Madeleine and I were able to enjoy some 2 on 1 time for the first time in pretty much ever. At first Madeleine was sad, saying, “I miss Cambria because God gave her to me, and she’s my best friend.” Sweet girl. We’re really hoping that having alone time with us will help her out… Girlfriend has a huge personality that commands attention, but sometimes I feel like the first year and a half of her life were spent on the back burner while we moved here, there, and everywhere. We grabbed donuts and drinks at Mister Donut, then looked around Seiyu (a store owned by Wal Mart), dangerously discovering that Reese’s actually does exist in Japan. After browsing and exercising self control for a half hour, we went to a nearby playground and let Madeleine loose for a while.
After we picked Cambria up, we went to one of her favorite restaurants, a small tonkatsu place. Cambria’s starting school also coincides with Leslie’s and my slowing down with our own schooling. Up until now our schedules have been all over the place, so we’re really looking forward to having some stability for the first time in four years. The past few weeks have been busy with productivity, and we’re ready for this new chapter!
Note: Pretty much any good picture you see on here was taken by Leslie. Seenks Beeb!