Friday was the first day I started teaching at the pre-k and kindergarten. I have been looking forward to working with the little ones since I heard that I had a placement there and couldn’t wait to be able to go there. Kindergarten in Kamogata started this week, so finally I got to be around the babies.
It was a bit of a challenge when I arrived- the staff there doesn’t speak much English so I tried to piece together what my reported schedule was upon arrival. As I learned (more through seeing than conversational understanding) I was only teaching one class because someone from the Kurashiki Natural History Museum (thankfully his shirt had that in English on it!) was coming to teach the kids about bugs. Although much to my dismay (I really hate bugs and Japanese bugs are even scarier), I was excited for the opportunity to interact with the students outside of the classroom. After fudging my way through the first kindergarten lesson, the school went out to the yard. The kids were armed with matching bib shirts (the best way to describe them- the girls wore pink and the boys blue), hats with neck coverings in colors according to their class, nets and bug catching cages, and the teachers with their big hats and long gloves (and concern for me and my short sleeves and hatless head in spite of the hot and humid weather. Japanese culture really values pale skin and the women go to great lengths to ensure their skin stays fair and untouched by the sun. It can be 90 degrees out and when it’s time to go outside the jackets, gloves and giant hats come out in full force.) After we listened (not that I understood a word) to the initial presentation the representative lead the kids to the playground to catch bugs. One little boy (who I instantly fell in love with) talked to me prior as we changed into our outdoor shoes (I even was able to teach him the word “shoes” in the exchange) continuously talked to me in Japanese, unable to comprehend the fact that I couldn’t understand him. Unphased, he took my hand as we walked onto the playground. Once the kids were released to catch the bugs, he found me again, taking my hand and going on in Japanese about who knows what. I was instantly enamored with his disregard for our differences. He even said a few English words which only made me adore him even more. Two other younger girls approached me, also going on in Japanese, and got a kick out of extending their nets as I attempted to teach them “big/tall” and “small/short”. They especially loved making the net the same size and me while saying more Japanese and one of few words I understood: “sensei!”
The use of gestures and a big smile went a long way with the kids. At one point in the bug catching journey, one little girl who seemed tired and probably pretty hot, whined as we continued on. I smiled at her, and she proceeded to take my hand, hand me her bug carrier, and continued to follow the group. The whole experience was a great reminder how far a smile and some gestures can get you. (And fortunately none of the kids asked me to take the bugs out of their nets and transfer them into the carriers. Regardless I managed to get at least 4 bug bites before all was said and done.) What was even better, and what I’d been looking forward to in teaching at a kindergarten, was I knew that with kids so young their openness was abundant and although they knew me as “Eigo-sensei” on sight, I didn’t feel like such an outsider and they surely didn’t treat me as one (save for the appropriate level of stranger danger). The goodness and innocence of such young children is truly a thing to marvel at and I’m quite impressed that my city has decided to utilize it’s ALTs to expose even their youngest to foreigners to increase their comfort with them and the English language at an age where they can embrace it in ways that will be challenging when they grow older.
Afterwards the staff kindly gave me iced coffee and snacks, and pleaded for me to stay for lunch. Unfortunately I couldn’t– duty called back at the junior high. All in all it was an absolutely wonderful way to spend a Friday and I can’t wait to go back next week!
(I also realized that this may be the place I get my best Japanese lessons, as the kinders, though far more advanced than my Japanese abilities, probably use the closest Japanese to what I’ll be learning in my own classes!!)