Monday, April 28, 2008

Mifumi Kindergarten

Last week I went in to the kindergarten a little early and wandered around the kindergarten grounds. The kids are still getting used to their new classes and the teachers have a job getting them round up to do indoor activities. A lot of playing in the mud, stringing flower petals (like a lei) and collecting bugs.

Mifumi Kindergarten has a very relaxed attitude towards educating children in academics and I think this is unusual in Japan. As with most of Japan, children enter full day kindergarten when they are three, though some families hold off until the child is four (and then it's hard to find a spot open!) During the day there are walks in the forest, a lot of art and crafts, singing, exercises, story time etc. The children bring their lunches, and kindergarten's daily program lasts until 2:00 and if requested the kindergarten will keep children until 5:00. I know, it seems a long time to be away from mom for these little three year-olds, but it is part of learning to get along in groups and being cooperative and this is very important in Japan.

Many kindergartens, especially in the major cities, have very intense preparation courses for elementary school. The kids are drilled in Chinese characters, use of abacus, even the proper way to take tests. I don't think too much of that type of education but a day of playing in the sun, and being with friends is better than sitting in front of a TV or playing computer games so kindergarten is an important part of life for both the children and the mothers. Since the society is one in which the fathers don't have much time to spend at home and since there is no such thing as baby sitters the only way mothers can have any social life is to make friends with other kindergarten mothers. There are loads of mothers' circles associated with the kindergarten, chorus, patchwork, kimono wearing, tea ceremony, cooking classes etc.

Here is a picture of one of the "skills" taught at the kindergarten. Unicycle riding! There are lots of unicycles on the grounds and the children who have learned to ride them are quite proud of themselves and as I walked around many of them called out to me,

"Tanya-sensei! Look at me!." "No, look at ME!"

I was looking at the teacher and I thought this pretty good that she was pedaling away along with the kids. That's one skill I don't think any teacher in the States would find necessary but I admire her for taking the plunge to learn how. (I wonder how many plunges she took before she got to this level of ability.)

Here's another skill valued at Mifumi. The ability to climb trees! Now, that's important! (And I'm not being sarcastic. I think the back to nature attitude is a great one!)

And lastly, a picture of Takumi when he was in Mifumi. Can you imagine what he's doing so diligently? I know, the picture isn't too great, but just before graduating from kindergarten every year the children are taught how to sharpen a pencil... Their one time holding a pencil while they are in this kindergarten. And those kids are NOT using a pencil sharpener. The 5 year-olds are given some pencils and an Exacto knife and they practice shaving the pencil to a point! I need to join that lesson because I don't think I can sharpen a pencil with an Exacto knife! I've never heard of any lost fingers in all the years that I've taught at Mifumi Kindergarten so I guess the kids know what they are doing!


Lynne in Hawaii said...

The way playgrounds have changed in the states just proves the children in the US are babied. Allow them to climb a tree// Heavens..litigation guaranteed! And a sharp instrument? Never!

Chocolate Cat said...

This kindergarten looks so much fun, especially the tree climbing!

Shelina said...

Wow - all such great skills to learn, but I was thinking lawsuits too! None of those things would happen in the US.

artfilstitch said...

What a wonderful learning experience! Never too young to start learning. I believe that much more emphasis is placed on educating more teachers and less lawyers in Japan, whereas, in the States, we have it backwards.....more lawyers and less teachers. You can't turn on your TV without seeing an ad ref: a law firm waiting to help someone sue another. What is our once wonderful country coming to!
Tanya, I love the education system in Japan.
Thanks for sharing!

Quilt Pixie said...

3 seems so young for formally structured days, but I guess its what you get used to. Sounds like what I remember my son doing at 3, largely, just not in a formal organized way...

Lottrup said...

Unicycling is great for developing your bodyawareness and that helps your learning ability. It is great to see that they are taught already from 3. What was the youngest you was riding?

Marilyn R said...

Thanks for the visit to the Kindergarten! Wow, an exacto knife as a pencil sharpener - I don't think I would even try that!