Thursday, October 14, 2010

Observation Day

Today is "Observation Day" at Shogakko Japanese Elementary School where my daughter attends first grade. The school day is open so that parents may come during the school day at any time to observe the children learning in class. There will be a half day of school tomorrow (Saturday) so that working parents can also observe the children in class. I asked my daughter which class she wanted me to watch. She asked me to come to the music class. Music class is the first class of the day. She walks to school and then I take her brother to the bus stop.

After the bus stop today, I walked over to Dai Ichi Shogakko, her school. There were no other mothers about so I wasn't sure if I was doing it right, but the security guard noted my ID badge and sent me along with an Ohioguzimas Good Morning. I of course forgot to bring slippers- no shoes in the school. The children all change from their shoes to wabuckee or inside shoes everyday. So I padded barefoot to her classroom. I noted the children were mostly sitting at their desks working on some kind of writing assignment. There was no teacher. The boys seemed very keen on saying hello to me in the hallway.

Then I remembered that in Japanese school the children have a time every morning where they work by themselves without a teacher. The teacher comes at 9:00 a.m. and that is why there were no other mothers. I was early. I looked at the children's art in the hall. See her drawing from Undokai Sport's Day. Her picture included the only girl with the yellow hair so it was easy to spot.

Promptly at 9 am all of the teachers appeared from downstairs and headed into each of the classrooms. There was the ritual of greetings and bowing, and the day with the teacher started. Roll was called. Homework was passed to the teacher. Papers were returned to the students. Finally, a few other mothers appeared. We went into the back of the class room to observe.

As I stood there watching I thought about how these thirty-three children functioned so differently than children in American classrooms. They practice functioning without a teacher present every morning; they get pretty good at it. There were plenty of boys getting out of their seats to do this and that, but really the jist of the class was that they do things we don't think they can do. It amazes me. I don't think either way is better, they are just different. I really appreciate what each culture teaches the children. I am happy to observe and learn another way because I really respect the calm peaceful ways of the Japanese culture, and I do think in general we need more of that in America. I noted how the teacher ignored the kids standing up or getting out of their seats but quietly went over to them and directed them to their seat or how the teacher praised a student for being ready early. All of the quiet positive reinforcement! It would make my husband the child psychiatrist happy.

So the music lesson. I want to share a video clip I took with my pocket camera. It was fun to watch the kids first clap to some songs, then dance to some songs, and then finally get out their pianicas and play them together. Children learn about music along with Japanese, math, art, writing, social studies, and manners. Pianicas are a must in Japanese public schools. You blow air into them and play the key boards and learn songs. I am not sure we start music education this early or at least it was not part of my public elementary school education but it certainly seems a very loud but enjoyable activity for the children. Enjoy!

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