I never expected that my working life so far would turn out to be so kid-oriented. I don’t have a super high tolerance for tantrums about socks, I’m not especially interested in answering a gabillion senseless questions regarding ants and I don’t really understand why kids have to make huge amounts of noise all the time. Don’t get me wrong, like most people I think kids are darn cute but I just don’t think I was born with a disproportionate interest in them.
However, fate has handed me a series of part time jobs, all of which have involved me spending large amounts of time with small humans. This year in Japan is no exception.
One of my (many) current roles involves teaching preschool to Japanese and Western kids in English two days a week. It’s exhausting and frustrating and very rewarding all at the same time. I’d like to share some discoveries I’ve made with you.
1. You don’t need to speak the same language to communicate. By pointing ominously to the naughty chair and giving the teacher eye you can convey dire things.
2. Kids are, for the most part, pretty similar. Sorry Mums and Dads, I know your child is your precious little snowflake and that’s how it should be. I think every child is unique…but I also know that when it’s windy outside they are all equally feral and when they zonk out in your arms they are all equally cute. Oh and sharing Thomas the Tank Engine toys doesn’t come naturally to anyone.
3. Maybe it’s just the kids I get to see in this job (kids who get dressed in Ralph Lauren to attend preschool) but there seems to be a difference in how dirty Japanese and Western kids are willing to get.
Back home, most children I hung out with actively sought out the way in which they could get the most dirty in the shortest amount of time: literally rolling around in a pile of dirt (true story), painting their entire arm or deliberately squeezing globs of glue onto their hands to peel off later. Actually that is pretty fun.
Most of the Japanese kids I work with are VERY reluctant to get dirty. If they get a tiny spot of paint on their hands there is a mini panic and soap and water has to be administered immediately. Making any kind of mess seems to be a bit scary. We did water balloons the other day and surprise, surprise the one American kid in the class was running around like a lunatic throwing every water balloon in sight and the Japanese kids were staring at him like he was an alien whilst cupping their own water balloons reverently.
Needless to say it’s my secret mission to encourage as much mess as possible.
4. In a similar vein, Japanese people seem to love structure for their kids. Playtime at the park is from 11.30 until 12. And no, you cannot take the kids to the park at 11.20 so don’t even ask. However, if you want to be a really sneaky gaijin teacher you can take the kids to the park at 11.30 and conveniently forget to come back on time…you will get the gentlest of fairy scoldings from your boss. But hey, you’re a foreigner, you’re expected to do nutty things like that.
5. Nothing compares to the high you get when you actually TEACH a tiny person something even if it’s just that A is for Apple or how to play What’s the Time Mr Wolf. It’s pretty amazing.