BY GABY SHELDON
The year may have just begun, but already parents of toddlers are looking ahead to September as they decide which preschool or kindergarten their children will attend.
The decision isn’t an easy one, since there are a plethora of preschools in and around Tokyo. When I was looking for a preschool for my son (now three) over two years ago, I was amazed that I lived in walking distance of about ten of them. While the search took a while, it was great to have such a vast choice and I was able to find a lovely preschool that suited my child’s needs perfectly.
If you are planning on visiting preschools or kindergartens, try to take your child with you to see if he/she seems comfortable in the environment and with the staff—although the latter may have changed by September. Aside from that, it is also advisable to have already considered what it is you and your child are looking for in a preschool.
Nikki Sato, a mum of two young girls living in Minato-Ku, said that when she was looking for a preschool, being close by was high on her list of priorities. “I also wanted a bilingual program for my daughter because my husband is half-Japanese. It was also important that the teachers were caring rather than the academic side being the whole focus. At such a young age, children still need to feel loved and get hugs, even in a school environment.”
Take note of whether the teachers express warmth, interest, and respect for the children and are engaged with them most of the time and try to meet the school head who sets the tone of the school.
Bring a list of questions, covering the staff, the syllabus, and the physical environment, given that outdoor space is hard to come by in Tokyo. Here are some suggested questions (www.kidsource.com):
• Does the programme have a clear written statement of its goals and philosophy?
• Does the programme follow a particular country’s syllabus or combine several?
• Do the goals address all areas of children’s development, including social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development?
• Does the programme offer a balance of individual, small group, and large group activities?
• Does it offer a balance of spontaneous play and teacher-guided activities?
• Are children provided regular opportunities for outdoor play?
• Do the activities encourage self-expression; allow for the development of various fine and large motor skills; and expose the children to literature, language experiences, music, art, science, and nature?
• Does the programme encourage and respond to children’s spontaneous interests in the beginnings of reading, writing, and counting?
• Does the staff solicit and follow up children’s interests in the world around them?
• Do the content and materials of the programme reflect cultural diversity and nonsexist attitudes?
• Is there a balance among small group activities, rest and quiet periods, and vigorous outdoor activities?
• How much Japanese is included in the program and is it in a structured format or amore ad hoc way?
• Are the teachers trained in early childhood education?
• Does the director have experience as a teacher?
• What is the adult to child ratio?
• What is the turnover of staff?
• Do all the staff speak English (or whatever is the official language of the school) fluently?
The Physical Environment:
• Is there an attractive, spacious outdoor area for safe and vigorous outdoor play?
• Is there a sufficient supply of equipment for the size of the group?
• Are the children always supervised when outdoors?
• Do the classrooms contain different kinds of spaces so that children can find small quiet places when they need to?
Visiting many schools is the ideal way to find the right one. However, you may prefer to narrow down your list at the start of your hunt by going to the International Preschool and Kindergarten Fair at the Tokyo American Club. Run by the Club’s Women’s Group, the fair will feature over 30 schools and staff will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. Don’t forget that list!
Last year’s event featured preschools in the Tokyo and Yokohama area, with Montessori schools, play groups, Canadian, American, and French programmes, and more. Some schools were part of larger international school programmes, whereas others were smaller and limited to the younger ages. In addition to the schools, organisations, extra-curricular programmes, and resource centres for those with special needs were all present at the fair last year.
The International Preschool and Kindergarten Fair is sure to include just as much valuable information, and will take place on January 26, from 10am–1pm at the Tokyo American Club in Minato-ku. This event is open to the public and entry is free. A regular shuttle bus runs from Shinagawa Station to the club.
See www.tokyoamericanclubwomensgroup.org for more information.