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Surviving Japanese Elementary School (Shogakko)

October marks the beginning of Japanese Elementary School application distribution, setsumeikais (briefing sessions) and open school. If your child is 6 years old now is the time to start applying for Japanese Elementary School for the April 2018 start.

Note Japanese public schools are broken out by zones and availability. Visit as many schools in your area as you can as you may prefer a school further from your home, or in our case, the public school we wanted our son to attend had to close their doors to those living outside in their zone; the school was maxed out and could only accept students living within their zone.

Our eldest son is halfway through his 1st year at Japanese elementary school. This is what we have learned thus far:

*** Surviving Japanese Elementary School (Shogakko) ***

Walking to & from School:

Your school will assign walking groups by area. Meet the parents in these groups and form friendships. If your child is absent, text or call a parent in your walking group and tell them your child will be absent from school. Pass your renrakucho (communication book) to their child to take to school. At the end of the school day meet that child on your walking route as he/she will bring you the renrakucho (communication book) and the homework assignment for that day. Check the renrakucho daily for messages from your child`s homeroom teacher.

Teach your child a safety password. For example, if a stranger approaches your child and says “Your mother/father is hurt. I will take you to the hospital to see them.” Teach your child to ask them what the password is. If the stranger can`t respond pull the emergency buzzer and run away to the nearest 110 location (every child receives an emergency buzzer from the school). Walk around your neighborhood and point out the shops with the 110 sticker on their windows. These are safe havens for kids if they are in trouble.

School Hours & Holidays: 

Children will be released from school early the 1st month. Some will be home by noon the first two weeks then by 14:00 the following week with a different release time each day. If you have a child in Japanese Kindergarten (yochien) and another in Japanese Elementary school partner up with another parent, ask family for help or hire a helper as April will be a juggle sending and receiving kids from school. Also plan to attend school on a random Saturday with Monday a school holiday. ** Take a photo of your child`s schedule and keep it on your phone.

Japanese Elementary School Classroom and Teachers:

Japanese Elementary SchoolEach child is assigned a designated classroom and teacher. Their homeroom teacher provides instruction in almost every subject with exception to English, Phys Ed, Music and Art. Homework is assigned according to each teacher. Reading and math drills are common, but writing homework depends on the teacher. Our homeroom teacher assigns two writing assignments a day. They are required to write each character 50+ times per sheet. His neighboring class teacher does not assign this drill.

If your child is not one who thrives on writing homework this will cause problems. Japanese parents deal with the same issue. Writing the same character or kanji multiple times is not fun for anyone. Find ways to make it fun. In the beginning I sat with my son and made funny noises while he wrote which helped him get through the writing exercise; “schwoop!” for a curved line, “errrrrrrk!” to stop writing a line, etc. (I guess he thought he could get through it as long as we were suffering together); or give breaks for every 10 characters they write. Getting through writing drills without an argument is still work in progress….

tsuchiya randoseruAlso note your child is in a 2nd language environment all day and carries a heavy randoseru home with them. They will be tired. Instead of bombarding them with questions like “what did you learn today?” “what was most fun?” say “I`m happy your home. Do you want some water?” or just give them a hug and let them start speaking first.

*** Surviving Japanese Elementary School (Shogakko) ***

School Forms:

You will receive a ton of paperwork – more than yochien – consisting of after school activities, clubs, PTA meetings & updates, health checks, extra items to take to school, field trips, events, monthly schedule, lunch menu, etc. Japanese mothers complain about it too! Befriend a school parent, take them out for a cup of coffee and go over the paperwork together. Many parents at our elementary school work full time. Try to squeeze in a weekend playdate-coffee meet up to go over the papers together.

After School Clubs: (note names of clubs may be differ depending on the area)

Gakudo Club: For working parents only. Gakudo club is a registered after-school care system run by the wards. Meguro-ku Gakudo Clubs are located at the local community centers. Gakudo staff are hired to look after registered students after school and during holidays until 18:00. Some clubs help kids with homework, provide activities and a safe place for kids to play. They will also call the parent if your child is not at the club. Gakudo clubs run between 4,000 – 8,000 JPY per month depending on your area.

Randoseru Raikan: A free service at the community center. Randoseru raikan allow kids to use the community center facilities after school. Unlike Gakudo club, the staff will not call a parent if a child doesn`t show up. Parents must attend a short seminar and register. Volunteers at the raikan will hold school randoserus for safe keeping until the child is scheduled to leave.

Randoseru Hiroba: Use of the school grounds after school. A volunteers monitor the children on the school grounds but are not responsible if a child is injured.

Japanese soccer clubs – Kids love being a part of sports clubs. It`s a great way to form friendships, keep active, learn about teamwork, problem-solving, self-discipline, etc. however it`s a huge commitment. Practice for first year elementary school students are 3 times a week (Sat, Sun & Wed nights), tournaments are an entire day, obentos (packed lunches) are required for tournaments, parents are required to escort the team to some of the matches, and there is a rotation for cleaning the team soccer bibs and rags. Practice extends to 4 times per week from their 2nd year. Joining a club also makes it difficult for your child to join another sport. See what works best for your child.

Additional clubs with less commitment:

  • Central Sport Club Swimming, Phys Ed, Ballet and More! (Japanese Language)
  • British Football Academy  Fundamental Football for kids aged 3-13 years (English & Japanese Language)
  • Renaissance Sports Club Phys Ed, Karate, Swimming and more! (Japanese Language)
  • Ask parents about various classes offered in your neighborhood; piano, art, robotics, etc.

*** Surviving Japanese Elementary School (Shogakko) ***

Summer Homework: 

Japanese Elementary SchoolSummer homework varies among wards, schools and grade level. 1st graders at our elementary school students were assigned the following:

  • Complete a math activity book
  • Daily math drills (addition & subtraction cards)
  • Daily school textbook reading log (20 entries)
  • Library reading log (10 books)
  • Journal the growth of their morning glory (asagao)
  • Draw and describe in writing two of their favorite events over the summer
  • Write a book review
  • Summer project.

Japanese Elementary SchoolNeedless to say it did not feel like vacation. As painful as it was to drill my son daily on math and reading over the summer, it prevented him from experiencing the “US summer slide”. The costly US summer slide is where performance falls about a month. To avoid it keep the kids active and thinking in both languages. Start an urban garden, explore local museums, zoos & aquariums, etc.; learn a new skill (draw, paint, play an instrument) or sport, play board games – anything to avoid “couch potato” syndrome and the task of relearning everything once back in the classroom.

Japanese Elementary SchoolNote Japanese summer projects are a big deal. One month prior to summer break magazines release “project kits” and offer summer project ideas. We were not prepared for this. We created a photo log of an American Cicada emerging from it`s shell, spreading it`s wings, hardening and becoming an adult cicada. While it still received a pass other students created 3 dimensional projects e.g. a clay aquarium, pirate ship, maze, etc.

Balancing Japanese and English

This is still work in progress for us. While I`m concerned 1st graders in international school are already reading and beginning to write sentences parents educating kids in the Japanese School System should take a step back and remember, our kids are already reading and writing Hiragana & Katakana and communicating in both languages. Japanese Parents with kids in International School are experiencing the reverse stress; teaching hiragana, katakana and kanji at home. Take it a step at a time. If your kids refuse to learn from the parent, hire a tutor, find classes in your mother language, join Parenting Groups, ask questions on Facebook Groups like Parents with Kids in Japanese Schools and Raising J+E Bilinguals in Tokyo, and sign up for the TELL Exceptional Parenting Program (EPP) a program that provides a forum where parents and professionals can broaden their knowledge of issues related to raising and educating children with diverse needs, seek and exchange information in a supportive atmosphere. Also attend bilingual seminars. Here are our take-aways from the Educating Your Child in a Non-Native Language seminar. We also highly recommend attending the TELL Raising Bilingual Children in Japan: Planning for More Than One Language with Marsha Rosenberg, Speech and Language Pathologist this month.

Every child is different. Work out a way to make things work for your child. Good luck!

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Surviving Japanese Elementary School (Shogakko)

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4 comments

  1. Thank you, that was very helpful.

  2. Yes, summer homework is a huge time eater, but the point is to valid – to create things and explore and learn together with your child. We had to research a food with rice as the main ingredient, so naturally, we chose holopchi, a Ukrainian-Canadian dish. We did rice research on the internet, cooked together, and learned about similarities between Ukraine, Canada, and Japan. Now I know where to find Swiss chard in Tokyo.

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