Compulsory education in Japan begins with primary school, in the April following a child's 6th birthday. However, most children go to some kind of pre-school before that, and we are now wondering what would be best for K.
If both parents go out to work then children usually go to hoikuen (daycare). There are publicly run hoikuen all over the city that provide full-time childcare for children from as young as 6 months until they start primary school. Most don't offer a part-time option and you have to demonstrate a need for a place in order to get one. There are also privately-run daycare centres such as the one K goes to for one day a week at the moment.
The other pre-school option is youchien (kindergarten/pre-school). Children usually attend for three years, from the April after their 3rd birthday until they start primary school. Some children don't go until they are 4 though, and recently youchien around here have introduced 2 year-old classes too. The schedule here is closer to primary school, with 'full-time' meaning from around 9 till 2, Monday to Friday, with holidays in the spring, summer and winter like school. Youchien have a more educational base and offer a variety of interesting activities - several around here have English classes for the little ones!
Since K was born in March, he will be one of the youngest in the school year. Because of that, and to give him chance to get a good grounding in English before entering a full-time Japanese environment, I had always thought that he would go to youchien when he was 4, and stay at home with me until then. Now I'm not so sure. I think he would really enjoy youchien life, and find it much more fun than hanging around at home with me. The fact that we'll have a new baby next March comes into the equation too! On the other hand, he's only really now getting going with his speech, and I'm still reluctant to send him off to a Japanese-only environment every day. Sadly, part-time youchien is not an option.
There is one other possibility though. Amazingly, in our small city there is an international pre-school. That sounds rather grand, when actually it's about a dozen kids in one room. It doesn't have the facilities of the youchien, but it is entirely conducted in English, with native-speaker teachers. My friend Jason teaches there and his older daughter attends, with his younger daughter due to start next year. It also has the advantage that it is possible to go part-time. The downside? It costs about double the regular youchien fee....
So that's what's going round my head nowadays. What do you think about it all? For those of you with children in Japan (I know there are a few of you reading!), what did you do and how did it go? I promise I will actually reply to comments this time :-)