Take Daddy to hoikuen day
I got a rare inside look at the Bunny’s life at hoikuen (nursery school).
I am calling it “Take Daddy to Hoikuen Day”, though I’m sure that is not what it is supposed to be called. Parents had an opportunity to sign up for a time slot to join their kid(s) at hoikuen for a morning – so I took advantage of the opportunity even though I still can barely communicate with any of the Bunny’s senseis. That communication barrier means that for the most part we have no idea what the Bunny does every day. We don’t know what she plays with, who her friends are, what songs she sings, what she eats…we know nothing.
OR, at lease we knew nothing. Now I can say that I have seen all those things for myself…
First and foremost, the very idea of a parent being able to freely participate in a child care facility is a foreign concept to me. Kids are locked down by many restrictive policies in Canada. Some come from government, others from parents, still others from facilities themselves, but most seem to come from insurance companies who would sacrifice any freedom to mitigate risk – or at least that’s how I see it. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. What it means is that kids are signed over, coded, and fenced in when they go to daycares, nurseries, kindergartens and schools of all kinds in Canada. I had total freedom in Fukui, and I appreciate that privilege.
We arrived a little later than usual at 9:00am. From 8:30ish to 9:00 every morning all of the kids and staff (from every class) join together in a big room called the “hall” to sing and dance together. We caught the tail end of that. The Bunny loves her singing and dancing times. She often tries to replicate what she does at hoikuen at home for us, so we get a little taste of it.
After the big group time in the hall, the kids went to their classrooms. In the bunny class (which is the Bunny’s class – awesome, isn’t it?) the kids played with toy foods with some senseis while other senseis set up some tables and food for the morning snacktime. I joined in on the food play by sampling whatever the kids brought me. By “sampling” I mean saying the name of the plastic foods followed by a hearty OM NOM NOM.
The snack & mealtime process with highly efficient. Every day I’m supposed to bring 3 washcloths for the Bunny. I knew they were for mealtimes, but I didn’t understand how they were distributed. I watched the kids eat, then get up from their tables whenever they were done. When they got up, they put their dishes away, then they went to a little stool that had been set up with all of the (pre-soaked!) washcloths in the little boxes pictured above. Each box is labelled with kids’ names and a unique symbol so that they can recognize their cloths. The Bunny’s symbol is a pink cherry blossom. The kids wipe their own hands and faces, then they put their washcloths away in their own “hoikuen bags”.
I bring the Bunny’s fresh washcloths and other supplies in a bag similar to these ones every morning, and when I pick her up the bag has the day’s used items. What I learned about this process during Take Daddy to Hoikuen Day was that the Bunny puts things in her bag all by herself. This also accounts for the rare days when some other kid’s washcloth ends up in our bag.
The kids played with toys when they finished their snacks until most of them were done – then they went to watch what was going on in the hall. I was surprised to see that all the toddlers had enough freedom to just leave their classroom when they felt like it – but it all made more sense when I saw where they were going.
There’s one hall, but there are several classes, broken down by age. When the older kids use the hall, they seem to do things that are exciting for the little kids to watch. On two separate occasions throughout the morning, the bunny class left their room to watch older kids doing things. The first time they danced with little noisemaker instruments, mostly in unison of course. The second time, another class put on taiko drumming performance. It sounded AMAZING. Then I realized that the kids I was listening to couldn’t have been older then 5. No wonder the bunny class was captivated! Watching older kids do cool things seems to be part of the daily schedule. When the bunny class watches older kids, the senseis bring a big mat for them to sit on and they stay on their mat without causing trouble, running away or making lots of noise.
After the noisemaker-dance-class (3 year olds?) was finished, it was the bunny class’ turn to use the hall. The senseis led some songs with fun actions, but the most fun was the one where the kids are supposed to run around the hall in circles as fast as they can. Toddlers LOVE running. The Bunny was overjoyed. The class that had just finished stayed to watch the bunny class run around, and they even put their hands out for high fives when the toddlers ran past them. I wanted to take pictures and video footage of the cuteness, so I did…but the running part seemed to go on for a while. I had enough time to join in.
In a moment of pure fatherly joy, I held the Bunny’s hand and I ran with her around the room with the other toddlers. She yelled for joy and she laughed for a long time, all while wearing a look of pride on her face because her Dad was cool enough to run around with her and her friends. At least that’s how I interpreted what she was thinking.
Next (around 10:30), we went outside. The kids got their hats from a sensei, then they put on their shoes and went to what the senseis call the “garden”. I call it a yard.
The senseis directed the bunny class to a spot in the shade where they played together. They did not make use of the slide, and they only went near the jungle gym toward the end of the outside playtime. I learned about a cool thing that Japanese toddlers are into, and it’s a daily activity for the bunny class: Bug hunting. Who needs playground equipment when searching through dirt for bugs keeps these kids engaged for almost 30 minutes straight!? There’s a specific kind of bug that they look for that they call “dango mushi”. Through the power of the internet, I think I can safely declare that these things are woodlice. The Bunny, in her cuteness, lets other kids find them and puts out her hand to hold some. When they move, she screams, laughs, and drops them. I watched her do this over and over again. One of her senseis really likes to get that reaction out of her, it’s super cute.
We went inside for lunch at 11:00, and I watched the same mealtime routine. The only difference was more food.
Before we went outside and after mealtime there were opportunities for the bunny class to go to the bathroom. They are all in diapers and they are all learning the hoikuen’s method of potty training. When she’s there, the Bunny asks to go to the bathroom, takes off her own pants and diaper, uses the toilet, washes her hands, dries them, puts paper towel in the garbage, then puts her diaper and pants back on. With the exception of a little bit of help arranging her diaper and pants when she’s on the toilet and pulling them over her bum when she’s done, she does all of those things without any assistance.
When the kids were done with their after-lunch bathroom break they played with some blocks close to the bathroom until everyone was finished. A sensei read them some stories, and it was clear that everyone was getting tired. Naptime is after lunch, and that is when I left.
I was very impressed with the way everything ran so smoothly all day long. The kids knew their routine, and the routine was SO FUN that there was not much of a chance for disobedience. The Bunny caused very little trouble. She did like to hide behind curtains, but other than that she just ran around, played with things and had fun with everything she did. Her day is quite enjoyable – I had fun doing all of the activities with the bunny class. We have always known that the Bunny likes going to hoikuen and that she has a good time there, but the language barrier prevented us from understanding just how much fun she has at hoikuen.
Am I describing a normal child care facility? I’m sure that many of the things that I experienced at the Bunny’s hoikuen are pretty normal for nursery schools. The senseis were very enthusiastic all day long. They seemed to genuinely enjoy what they were doing, and they ran the routine & activities like clockwork. They have created an atmosphere that I am VERY comfortable with letting the Bunny be a part of.
As for me, I had so much fun with my Bunny that I could go for a Take Daddy to Hoikuen Day every week. Today when I went to pick her up, the Bunny’s friends greeted me and wanted high fives. One of them even went to get her hoikuen bag for me. I’m no longer a strange foreigner parent to them. As far as father-daughter activities go, this experience was better than any theme park or vacation spot could ever be.