Sankanbi (Parents’ Day) at a Daycare in Japan
In mid-October, I participated in 参観日 (sankanbi) at my daughter’s daycare, which is a chance for parents to find out what a typical day at their child’s daycare is like. As Baby A generally loves going to daycare, I was excited to find out what all the hubbub was about. Due to COVID-19, Baby A also hadn’t socialized with other children outside of daycare since January of this year, so I was also curious to see how she interacted with her classmates.
I was asked to come with Baby A at 9 AM, which was half-an-hour later than Baby A’s usual drop-off time, and bring a picture book to read. I was flip-flopping between The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s CREEPY-CRAWLY HALLOWEEN and Spooky Boo: A Halloween Adventure but despite the familiarity of The Hungry Caterpillar, I decided to go with Spooky Boo because the book is one of Baby A’s favorites, interactive, and fun to read.
When Baby A and I arrived, the children from all three classes (Hiyoko [0-1 year class], Usagi [1-2 years], and Panda [2-3 years]) were playing together in the main room. Baby A usually toddles off without even looking back lately during drop-off but when she noticed that I wasn’t going anywhere, she started crying and demanding that I hold her. She did that as well when my husband and I went to her daycare for a small matsuri (summer festival) a few months back.
The tannin no sensei (who recently changed as the previous one had quit) asked me to take Baby A to the back where they had a large, low sink with three faucets so she could wash her hands. On the way there, the kids were screaming, “Baby Aのママが来た！” (Baby A’s mom is here!) and it felt like I was in the middle of a mini-obstacle course as kids from left and right tried to get me to play with them or read them a book. It was so cute. They also wanted to play with Baby A but she wanted nothing to do with them and clung to me.
After Baby A washed her hands, the tannin no sensei (Ms. S) went over the schedule for the morning with me and gave me an apron/smock to wear. Then with Baby A’s other two Hiyoko classmates in tow, we headed to the Hiyoko room at the back of the daycare. The two other toddlers, Baby R and Baby M, sat down on the large play mat as instructed but Baby A wouldn’t listen, instead wandering off to look at the new handmade Halloween decorations hanging from the ceiling (Baby A gonna do what Baby A gonna do). I grabbed her and brought her over to the others and when everyone was seated, they did their morning 挨拶 (あいさつ) or greeting. I was surprised that all the toddlers, who were between 15-17 months, bowed after Ms. S said “おはようございます” (I had no idea Baby A could do that!) Ms. S then did a roll call — Baby R said, “はい!” and raised his hand, Baby M did nothing, and Baby A raised both hands in a banzai pose, which was super cute.
While Ms. S prepared their morning refreshments, I read Spooky Boo to the toddlers. They surprisingly loved it, listening and looking at the pictures intently the entire time, and wanted to play with the book when I was finished reading. They also played for a short while with the toys in the room. Baby R went for the small wooden cars while Baby A and Baby M played with some handmade toys, specifically plastic containers with a hole in the top so they could put things like short plastic chains and cut-up rubber pipes inside. Although she was playing with the chains, Baby M snatched some of the pipes from Baby A’s hands but my daughter didn’t seem to care.
When their refreshments were ready, Ms. S asked the children to put away the toys and come sit down at the table. They all listened, putting everything back and sitting down properly …. except for Baby A (again). I asked Ms. S if Baby A didn’t listen to instructions often and she said… yes. Oh dear! At home, she’ll only listen depending on her mood so I wasn’t surprised.
I brought Baby A to her chair at the table and she had some trouble sitting down as she kept sticking one of her legs through the back rather than the side (also a common occurrence). I helped her sit down and Ms. S put a plastic bib on all of the kids before handing them small cups of milk. Seeing Baby A struggle to sit properly on the chair made me realize that we didn’t have one at home, so the next day I went out and got her one from Nishimatsuya, and she mastered sitting down in one night! (For those that are curious, this is the kind of chair I got my daughter, except I bought her one with Miffy on it. I feel like I’ve seen something similar for 300 yen at Daiso with a Winnie the Pooh design but don’t quote me on it!)
Baby A usually drinks out of a sippy cup at home so now I knew why they always changed her in the morning at daycare (she goes through three sets of clothes a day!). Since I was there, I helped her out a bit so she didn’t spill too much milk on herself and didn’t need a change of clothes in the end. The other two kids finished their milk quickly and then started drinking a small amount of mugicha in a paper cup. Baby A took her time and I felt so bad that the other kids had to wait for her (I’m very slow at eating and drinking so she must get that from me, oops!). Once they were done, Ms. S handed each of them a small piece of paper towel and they wiped their mouths, which Baby A has never done at home. I guess she expects us to do everything! (We’re trying to get her to be even more independent at home now and I’m not gonna lie, it’s a struggle.)
Outdoor Play Time
At 9:45 AM, it was time to get ready to play outside. Ms. S got the kids to grab their own socks from a small box and they all sat down on a small bench near the entrance so that she could help them put on the socks. I helped Baby A and ended up putting on Baby M’s socks as well after she held them up to me and whimpered for help (so cute…). They also got their shoes by themselves from the shoebox but again needed help putting the shoes on.
Ms. S took them all outside and started loading them into a giant red cart or stroller, which is commonly used by daycares in Japan, one-by-one. During this time, Baby A started wandering away and I had to grab her to make sure she didn’t escape. At one point, Ms. S quickly put something inside the daycare without saying anything to me and the cart started rolling away but I caught it. This made me wonder if usually another teacher helped to make sure the kids were okay but since I was there they assumed I would watch over the kids…?
My daughter tends to pass out during morning walks at daycare and the older girls just love to gather around her and stare 😂 pic.twitter.com/PpJgc2Vo9v
— Kay 🌙 (@tinyintokyo) July 3, 2020
The cart used by Baby A’s daycare. This picture was taken all the way back in July.
That day, the Panda class joined Baby A’s Hiyoko class outside. A parent of a child in the Panda class was there as well and I was pleasantly surprised that it was a father. He was very energetic and the kids loved him so I had mistaken him for a new daycare worker!
We went to an open square a 5-minute walk away from the daycare where there was plenty of space for the kids to run around. Baby A was given a ball and she went crazy, zipping back and forth while clinging to it. Several kids from the Panda class seemed like they wanted to play with her but again, she wasn’t interested and just ran away from them. I was told that she liked to roll the ball sometimes and two teachers asked her if she wanted to コロコロ (roll) the ball but she ignored them and just did her own thing. At one point, Baby M decided to take Baby A’s ball (although she had one of her own) but she dropped it and Ms. S gave the ball back to Baby A.
There were two things I noticed during this time that concerned me somewhat. The first was that Ms. S was blowing bubbles at one point, which were falling on the kids. Despite that Ms. S has a nursing license, I wasn’t sure if that was safe given the pandemic. I did some research when I got home and the findings were mixed, which shouldn’t be surprising given how much we still don’t know about COVID-19. The second was that they changed the diapers of the Panda class kids outside. They did it in a corner but I didn’t feel comfortable and wouldn’t want my daughter exposed like that in a public area. Perhaps I’m overreacting but I worry a lot and my anxiety has gone through the roof being a new parent, especially during a pandemic. After consulting with my husband, we decided to voice both concerns to the daycare and ask that our daughter not be changed outside.
After their outdoor time ended, Baby A’s class headed back to the daycare while the Panda class joined the Usagi class playing outside in another area. At one point after Ms. S loaded all the kids into the wagon, Baby M started clawing Baby R’s face while screaming so I quickly and gently removed her hand and decided to distract her by giving her high-fives, which she seemed to enjoy. Baby R wanted to give me high-fives as well so I held up both hands for them to slap. It worked pretty well! But I wondered if this was common. Baby A sometimes has scratches on her face and I can only hope that the daycare staff are telling me the truth when they say that she did it to herself in her sleep (which is possible because she does it at home).
Having returned to the daycare, the kids all washed their hands (and kept turning the faucet back on because they didn’t want it to end, haha). Ms. S then changed their diapers (interestingly, they were all wearing Merries pull-up diapers, which I ranked as the best in my review on pull-up diapers in Japan). Before she changed them, Ms. S asked the kids to take off their own pants after they sat down. Baby R had no trouble, Baby M struggled and whined, and Baby A didn’t even try (my daughter, the go-getter).
When they were changed, all three children went back to the Hiyoko classroom and played for a bit. Baby M pushed Baby R off of a chair and Ms. S picked him up and moved him away from her. I noticed that throughout the day, Ms. S never once said anything to Baby M for taking things from other kids or hurting them. It reminded me of a documentary I watched in an undergraduate psychology class looking at the differences between Japanese and American daycares. Teachers at Japanese daycares were shown to be very hands-off when it came to conflicts, having the children try to fix their own problems. To me, children at that age are too young to be able to resolve conflicts on their own as they still need guidance for emotion regulation and how to follow social norms. However, I’m not a child care specialist, I’m just a mom and although I have an MA in psychology, my background in child psychology is limited (although I am trying to read books by developmental experts in whatever little free time I have). The documentary I watched was also old (even more so now) so perhaps things are different nowadays?
Lunch Time and Farewell
At around 10:30, I joined the three toddlers for lunch. There was an attempt made at having the kids put their hands together and say, “いただきます!” but I guess they were too hungry or perhaps distracted by my presence to do it.
My lunch was the same as theirs: bulgogi-style pork, hijiki with vegetables, rice, and miso soup with vegetables. It was surprisingly really good — I finished my entire plate! They used quite a bit of seasoning so it was stronger than the food Baby A eats at home, which made me realize that perhaps I needed to up the seasoning for Baby A’s food (but I also worried that maybe there was too much sodium in her lunch at daycare). In terms of being able to eat on their own, Baby R (who is two months older than Baby A) was very good at using his spoon and was the first to finish his meal with no mess left behind (he is seriously one chilled out kid). Baby M struggled and needed assistance (she held her spoon up to me a few times to get me to feed her) but she finished most of her food. And Baby A… Well, she tried briefly but basically refused to feed herself. The cook and Ms. S think it’s because I was there, and I will admit that at home when she’s being fussy and refusing to eat, my husband and I take turns feeding her. And although I fed her, she only ate half the meal (although she did finish her soup).
Near the end of lunch, Ms. S asked if she could speak to me in another room and another teacher looked after the kids. She asked me if I had any concerns about Baby A, so I shared my worries about her lack of eating and sleeping. She had lost weight in September but grew 2 cm, so Ms. S said that I didn’t need to worry about her weight as she was developing just fine. She didn’t really have an answer for Baby A waking up several times at night, however. Ms. S then shared how Baby A was doing at daycare, letting me know that Baby A is a little chatterbox who enjoys singing and does cute things like gently pat Baby R when he’s taking a nap and hold hands with him (with a laugh, I told her that this is information my husband probably shouldn’t hear!).
When we were finished, we went back to the Hiyoko classroom where Baby A was in the middle of getting changed as her clothes were dirty from lunch. I said I could change her diaper and when that was done, it was time to go. As I walked with Baby A to the front door, we passed through the Usagi/Panda classroom. The kids were in the middle of their lunch but all stopped to say goodbye and wave.
Overall, it was an interesting and informative experience and I’m glad that I took the day off work to participate. I now have a much better idea of Baby A’s life at daycare and was able to see how she interacted with the other children and staff. There were also things that I saw that were worrying but I hope that we’re able to resolve everything without any problems.
Have you attended sankanbi at your child’s daycare? If so, leave a comment and let me know what it was like!
What an adorable day! Hubby and I are expecting our first child and are looking forward to being able to experience things like this. We are also hoping they will be multilingual so hope they can get all of their Japanese at school while speaking English and Samoan at home. Thanks for all of your wonderful baby posts!
Thank you, Siobhan! It’s wonderful that they will grow up exposed to three languages. (Also, how amazing is it that they will be able to speak Samoan! Wow!)
My daughter has definitely picked up 90% of her Japanese from daycare so I think your little one will be able to as well!
I’m sorry It’s out of topics, but did you give something to your daycare teacher and staff when baby A graduate from daycare?
We about to move, so my son will be out from his daycare now, I wonder if I should prepare something as farewell gift.
Thank you for your blog, it’s my go to read since my pregnancy days ^^
Thank you so much for continually reading my blog, it means a lot!
Ah, this is a good question. When we moved our daughter from her first daycare (the one I attended for Sankanbi) to the second, we gave her teacher a big box of individually wrapped chocolates to share with the other teachers and a handmade card. When we left the second daycare due to moving to Osaka, we gave each teacher a small package of bath salts, some sweets, and a thank you card. This daycare was quite small, which made it possible for me to give individual gifts. I think any box of individually wrapped sweets from grocery stores or stores like Ginza Cozy Corner should be fine!