Some of you might be thinking, “What the heck is pre-preschool?” I had the same thought when my Dutch mamatomo Linda told me about it.
Preschool is already the precursor to attending school so… why a pre? Well, in Japan, preschool (yochien / 幼稚園) is usually for kids whose parents want them to be more than ready for elementary school, so it can be competitive to get into. Think of it as a kindergarten but for three years.
A pre-preschool or pre-yochien (プレ幼稚園) is educational and meant to give kids who are going to attend yochien an upper hand when it comes to applying (although in our case, which I’ll talk about in another article, I’m not sure if it really mattered..?). Children don’t attend every day, though, and there are monthly fees.
We found out that there’s a yochien about a five-minute walk from our place (10-15 minutes when with a toddler) and they were accepting pre-yochien applications for a May start. Unlike the pre-yochien that my friend’s 2.5-year-old son was attending, which picked him up by bus and had him attend by himself twice a week, this one was only once a week. I also had to attend with my daughter until October, with a one-month summer break in August, from 9:45 to 11:30 AM. From October until February, my daughter would attend the pre-yochien by herself, with the end time stretching to 1:00 PM from November.
Although I would have loved to have more time to myself, I decided that just the prospect of having time to do freelance work during the day from October (and my daughter getting to interact with other kids on a regular basis, of course) was enough for me to sign her (us?) up.
The cost was also only 4000 yen per month, so it wasn’t too expensive. (And less than half the cost of ichijihoiku. More on that in an upcoming article.) Of course, every pre-yochien has different costs, and I’ve heard that some may cost up to 20,000 yen per month. We paid an admission fee (入学費・にゅうがくひ) of 5000 yen as well.
We also had to pay for the preschool’s bag, which looks something like this but in a different color with their logo on it.
The application process was very easy as all we needed to do was fill out some forms. Some pre-yochien require interviews but thankfully we didn’t have to do one.
In terms of preparation, there wasn’t too much I needed to do other than bring the following to every class:
- a handtowel with a loop
- a drinking cup
- a toothbrush
- a bag with a loop to put the toothbrush and cup inside
- white shoes
All of these items needed to have my daughter’s name on them. I used a waterproof black marker for the plastic items and my trusty stamps for the cloth items. (I also came across this product that seems great for stamping your child’s name on all sorts of materials, so this might be worth trying if you don’t already have a name stamp.)
On the first day and for the following classes, A wore her own pants, a t-shirt, and socks. I also wore comfortable clothes (jeans and a t-shirt), and socks since I would have to wear the school’s slippers. Most of the moms brought their own slippers, which looked like these:
When I reached the second floor of the yochien, where the pre-yochien classes were being held, I was a bit nervous. But all the other moms were friendly right from the get-go. I say “moms” because there were really only moms in the class my daughter attended but I don’t see any reason why dads can’t attend! Anyway, my daughter ended up not being interested in the other kids whatsoever, unfortunately, and she clung to me most of the time. Thankfully she didn’t bawl her eyes out, unlike another kid who continued to cry for all classes for the next three months.
Each kid was designated a sticker of a fruit or animal, which would tell them where to put their things and sit. My daughter’s was a banana, so I had her hang her little towel and bag on the hook with a banana. There was also a table with the same stickers on it, so she placed her cup on the banana.
There are two teachers in every class and one of them always took photos, which we were able to view online. The other one directed the class and I thought it was a bit amusing how the other moms would reply to the teacher as if they were a student by saying, 「はーい!」 after every instruction.
The first 25 minutes of every class was free play where kids could have fun with an assortment of toys, which were clean and in excellent condition. This time also allowed other moms to talk to each other, so I got to know some of them a bit. I was hoping my daughter would try playing with their kids as well but she wasn’t interested.
Once the minute hand reached the pineapple on the clock (10 past 10, not that any of the kids really noticed), it was time to clean up. The kids had to then grab chairs for themselves as well as for us moms and place the chairs on their stickers on the floor. My daughter did a surprisingly good job with this.
After we were all seated, we had to stand up again and say a morning greeting (「先生、おはようございます。みんな、おはようございます。」）. I was impressed that my daughter bowed when everyone else did. I guess she still remembers that from daycare! Following this, we sat down again and gave very brief self-introductions — not for ourselves but for our kids (「[Name]です。よろしくおねがいします！」).
We played a few games with our kids, such as one where we “stick” a body part, like our forehead, to our child’s, which my daughter enjoyed. The kids were also encouraged to use the toilet (which my daughter did, she liked the stalls with different ocean animals on them). Following this, the kids had snack time (senbei with mugicha) and then brushed their teeth afterward. While waiting for all the kids to finish, A was able to look through some books.
The class ended with the teacher reading the kids a story and then a goodbye song. (And I was able to find it on YouTube!)
Although the parents are at pre-yochien with their kids, the children are encouraged to be independent and do things such as hang their own towels and gather all their stuff, such as their cups and bags, at the end of the day.
The other classes were somewhat similar, with playtime at the beginning, a morning greeting, some activities, and a song at the end. My daughter never did sing the goodbye song but she eventually gave in and started dancing with everyone else to a song called EBIKANICS, which is apparently quite well-known? I had never heard it before but my husband knows it.
Here are some of the other activities we did (that I remember):
- a type of relay race where kids jumped in hoops on the floor and then crawl through a tunnel that the teachers move from side to side
- a day at the park where we played tag and at the end, parents carried their kids in different ways according to a card the kid drew
- playing in the sand outside
- playing with tubs of water outside
- fishing using plastic rods with magnets on them and fish with paperclips attached to them
If your child isn’t in daycare (or even if they are and you’re considering yochien) and they’re at least two years old, I recommend seeing if there’s a pre-yochien in your area! It’s a great way to get to know the yochien first-hand if you’re attending with your child and you get to interact with other parents. Pre-yochien helps children get used to the environment before they attend full-time as well. It was also thanks to pre-yochien that I found out my daughter was eligible to apply for attending yochien in September. I always thought that yochien started in April for three-year-olds but a few yochien offer September start dates for kids who would be three by then.
I’ll write about my experience applying to (and getting accepted into) yochien in an upcoming post. Actually, although my daughter has already started yochien, we are having an interview later this week for another yochien near our forever house!