Thursday, 7 October 2010

What to do? What to do?

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 :-)


  1. My daughter was born in May and is one of the biggest kids in her class. I hated that all her friends started first grade while she was left in yochien for another year (and she was so mature and so ready for school!), so while K will be the smallest, the other kids will watch out for him and dote on him like a younger brother, so don't worry about that.

    I never expected to put my kid in preschool and thought she'd stay home with me until first grade (no one can raise my child as good as I can, right? Not to mention having to pay high tuition for a couple hours of what is basically babysitting.); then we moved from CA to Tokyo.

    My daughter had a good base in English having lived in CA for four years and being home with me all the time. Her English was actually perfect but her Japanese was obviously not (daddy is never home, you know how these Japanese salarymen are...). She would be attending Japanese grade school and therefore needed to get her Japanese skills up to par before starting school.

    So I had to go against my beliefs and put her in yochien. She stayed home with me until she was 5 and did just a two-year stint at our neighborhood Christian private yochien, all in Japanese. It was a success: she learned Japanese, made lifelong friends, and I made some fantastic Japanese mommy friends to boot. Those yochien days bring back great memories of after-school parties and summer bar-b-que's. Fun times!

    In your case, you might want to wait and just put K in for two years, or even one. The new baby will be napping right at the time you will need to go and pick K up from yochien and I always felt so sorry for those little babies who had to interrupt their naps to go and get an older sibling. But that's just me. Maybe they slept through the whole thing and enjoyed the walk. Who knows. But yes, you have to think about your own lifestyle and see how yochien would work for you.

  2. Tyler goes into kindy next April, in the 4 year olds class even though he will be close to 5 by that point. He's been a bit bored this year but I still stand by my decision to keep him home (same as you, for language).
    Noah also did two year kindy and it was the best for him. He's very clever and speaks and reads both languages excellently. He's in the third grade now.
    Tyler was born just a couple of months after Noah started at kindy and it was a bit hard at times attending the many events with a newborn but it was also nice that Noah was out most of the day vis a vis naps and routine for the new baby. I was lucky that he was a good sleeper and in most cases slept on even when put in the car for pick-up.
    I'm sure you have worked out what you want to do by now. I've just completed all of my enrollment stuff for Tyler.

    Thanks for popping into my blog today. Your shop is looking lovely!

  3. Thank you both for your comments! It's great to hear what other people in similar situations did.

    Janine - thank you for all your comments recently, the 'how to measure a cup of butter?' answer was very useful! On the kindy topic, I hadn't thought about going to and fro interfering with the new baby's routine, only that having K out of the way for some of the time might make things easier!

    Jacqui - great to hear that Noah is speaking and reading both languages so well, that's what I'm aiming for! I do still think that 2 year youchien is the way to go. What are you going to do with all that free time from next April? I predict Mee a Bee world domination!

    We still haven't made any final decisions here, but I definitely won't be enrolling K for full-time youchien. Either he'll stay at home as previously planned, or maybe he'll go the international pre-school a few mornings a week. There's no rush to enroll for that, so we'll keep thinking...