Different

A nearby kindergarten held a little bit of an open house today as part of their regular efforts to recruit students for the next school year. Working from home means that instead of relying solely on Reiko's judgement for which school the boy should attend1, I can visit the schools and act as a second set of eyes. More than this, I attended a French-Immersion kindergarten in Ontario. There's no way I can pretend to know what goes on in a Japanese school unless I see for myself.

And see, I did.

The basics of kindergarten are all the same as I remember from 37 years ago. The playground is large and well-trodden. There are toys strewn all over the place until the teachers come along to pick them up. Teachers work in teams of two for classes larger than 25 kids2. The facilities are generally locked down to prevent weirdos from coming in. A rabbit is sitting in a cage outside, generally enjoying not being bothered by children. There's nothing sharp anywhere.

The differences stood out like a sore thumb. There was nudity.

At first I thought this was that sort of "silly nudity" where a young child will take their pants off for a joke or just to get a reaction out of a teacher. But then I saw a second child without pants. Then a third. Then a fourth. In a classroom of at least 25, a good number of kids — both boys and girls — were running around half-clothed. Some kids chanted "がんばれ!" while others went into a small room. Some were watching the group of 10 parents who were walking through the school.

"Before classes go out for a walk, children are encouraged to go to the bathroom. For children who are not completely potty trained, this is a reassuring way for them to learn."
— the lead teacher guiding the group

Maybe this is something I just don't remember but, to the best of my knowledge, there was never a "potty activity" when I was in school. Kids would sometimes have accidents and that would cause a bit of a problem, of course, but this was completely new to me. Reiko was also a little surprised to see it as it wasn't done at her kindergarten, either. My reticence to having teachers encourage my kid to take his pants off in front of a group may be due to a Christian upbringing in Canada, where nudity is "shameful" and must never be done ever, ever … but I'd really much rather the boy not get into a state of undress in front of his classmates or teachers.

A moment later we moved on to the next part of the tour where we went up to the roof of the school3, where another class was putting their hands or feet into shallow buckets of paint before stepping on large sheets of paper. The kids were having a lot of fun on the roof, but I had to question why they weren't in a classroom with air conditioning. The roof was at least 30 degrees in direct sunlight, which was certainly a bit warm for me.

It's different.

All in all, the school looked like a decent place for the students that we saw and most of the parents seemed happy with everything they heard. Would I be comfortable sending the boy there? Not completely. While the rooftop activities would be fine on a cooler day, I'm not at all keen on dealing with heat stroke. I've had that twice before, and it's no picnic4. As for nudity? I'm really not comfortable with this.

There are three other schools that Reiko, the boy, and I will be checking out over the coming months. One of the three will likely not even warrant a visit as the reviews online are all negative, with most mothers complaining about the lack of learning their kids are doing. The other two, however, show some promise.


  1. I would be completely fine with this, as Reiko has been a teacher for her entire professional life. She knows what to look for in educators and institutions. That said, what's the point of working from home if I cannot actively participate in the boy's development?

  2. I can barely manage to stay sane with just one kid. How do kindergarten teachers manage to do what they do?

  3. School roofs are generally evacuation areas for neighbourhoods in times of flood, so there are strong fences and safeties in place to ensure nobody falls off. This is quite different from the schools I attended in Canada, where the roof was pretty much "off limits" and impossible to get to.

  4. Funny story about heat stroke. When I was 17 I was out playing baseball for about 11 hours on a sunny Saturday. That night I went to bed and woke up Monday afternoon. Apparently my sisters couldn't wake me no matter what they tried. Wait … that wasn't funny ….