Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life


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How much time will be spent on each subject?

After a historical period of relatively strict separation between church and state, religious values are again beginning to receive explicit recognition in some public educational settings. For example, Congress recently voted to allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in public school classrooms. Additionally, many states are debating whether to allocate public funds to charter schools sponsored by religious organizations, another breach in the wall of separation Fuller, in press.

In the research literature on K schooling, there has been a growing scrutiny of religious schools. Research in Catholic schools suggests that children benefit when parents and staff communicate with each other and share such values as commitment to hard work and respectful behavior toward adults e. The literature on home schooling has also begun to track the role of religious values in shaping curriculum and pedagogical practices Huerta, in press.

In contrast to this burgeoning literature in the K area, there has been little attention to the functioning of early childhood programs that operate under religious auspices. A few studies of child care quality have included religious affiliation as a variable, and so far the findings have been rather contradictory. More research, particularly in the form of qualitative investigations, is needed to better understand the ways in which the "rules for living" espoused within various religious organizations are instantiated in preschool organizations.

In the study reported here, a qualitative approach was utilized to understand the goals, values, and expectations of Japanese early childhood education programs affiliated with Christianity and Buddhism.

By talking at length with teachers and directors of these programs, I sought to understand how their values were embodied in the practices and curricula of the schools. These data underscore the importance of understanding how collectively held belief systems inform educational practice. The system of early childhood education in Japan is quite extensive. All preschools and child care centers are subject to oversight by the national government, which develops regulations pertaining to such issues as the dimensions and basic facilities available and the level of required teacher preparation.


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Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity, which have been intertwined with each other for over a century in Japan, create a rich tapestry of spiritual and philosophical thought that has had a profound impact on the nature of preschools Wollons, Note 1. The theoretical basis of this study is located in the literature at the intersection of anthropology and psychology Shweder et al. In this literature, individuals involved in the socialization and education of young children are presumed to hold cultural models that guide their actions e.

Cultural models are "presupposed, taken-for-granted models of the world that are widely shared although not necessarily to the exclusion of other, alternative models by members of a society and that play an enormous role in their understanding of that world and their behavior in it. Cultural models include beliefs or conceptual schemas e. However, cultural models are not necessarily associated with broad social categories like nation or ethnicity Kondo, ; they can be generated within smaller social units as well e.

Furthermore, for important topics like rearing and educating children, a number of cultural models are available in a given community. This cultural "pool" of beliefs and practices may contain elements that are in tension, or even in fundamental conflict, with each other Kojima, , The data are drawn from interviews and observations conducted in and in 32 early childhood settings 27 preschools, 5 child care centers in Tokyo and the Kansai area, which includes the major cities of Osaka and Kobe. Introductions to site directors were provided by officials in the regional association of private preschools and by colleagues in local universities.

Note 2 The sample was selected to ensure variation across type preschool, child care center , location urban, suburban , and auspice private, public. The visit to each setting included an observation of approximately 1 hour in a classroom serving 4-year-olds and an interview with the director and one or more teachers, conducted by the author and a Japanese bilingual associate. Note 3 The open-ended interview, which lasted from 1 to 3 hours, was designed to probe cultural models regarding goals of the preschool experience, theories about the role of the teacher in facilitating learning, views about discipline and control, details of the curriculum and activities, and perceptions about the family and its relationship with early childhood education.

The observations were used as a source of examples to deepen these extended conversations. All interviews were tape recorded; in addition, detailed notes were kept during the interview.

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MEXT : iltocanowheel.gat status and issues of education in Japan

Subsequent to the first round of data collection, a deductive process of preliminary data analysis occurred. Field notes and interview notes were reviewed and analyzed using a preliminary coding framework. In the second round of data collection, 3 schools were selected from the pool of 27 preschools.

The author and a Japanese associate spent at least 5 days in each setting, observing in a classroom of 4-year-olds and conducting further interviews with staff. Field and interview notes were reviewed regularly to develop hypotheses that could be probed in subsequent interviews and observations Strauss, At the end of the data collection period, all interviews were translated and transcribed by a bilingual Japanese doctoral student in education.

The original Japanese terms used for key childrearing and educational concepts were retained along with the translated equivalents. A coding system was developed that permitted sections of narrative to be tagged with global categories e.

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The transcriptions were then coded using a qualitative software package. The final stage of analysis involved a number of activities.

First, all passages associated with each of the key codes were examined to obtain a sense of the variation that existed within each code. Next, the entire corpus of transcripts and field notes was reviewed to learn how the categories fit together at each school. A matrix was generated listing the central findings pertaining to each category for each preschool. These steps resulted in the confirmation of earlier hypotheses about the clusters of cultural models that were shared by subgroups of the preschool staff. Reactions and commentary from these informants as well as field notes and written material provided by the preschools i.

What will my child learn at school?

This paper is built primarily upon the comments of directors and teachers from four Buddhist preschools and four Christian preschools Catholic and Presbyterian. We begin this discussion with the Christian schools. Although these schools spanned a variety of denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, they shared a number of cultural models that informed their programs. The amount of time devoted specifically to learning about Christianity varied among the schools. Most schools included a daily morning prayer and a prayer before and after meals.

Attending a church service of some kind once a week was common. In the more actively religious schools, there was a designated time for listening to Bible stories. At Christmas, they engaged in a number of activities; for example, literature samples obtained from two Catholic preschools each feature a photograph of the Christmas performance, which was an enactment of the Nativity. Although the schools spanned a variety of denominations, including Catholic and Protestant organizations, the staff held a number of cultural models in common. According to this central cultural model, children are gifts from God, and each one should therefore be highly appreciated hitori hitori o taisetsu ni.

For example, Ms. The love of God means that God loves each individual child.


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Each individual child is precious because he or she is a gift sent by God. Through his or her parents, each individual child is delivered by God. Children at a Christian preschool practice a song for an upcoming performance. This cultural model had two direct implications for the daily routine at Christian preschools.

One way of respecting the individual was to allow the children considerable freedom in deciding what they wanted to do. Accordingly, free play formed the basis of the curriculum in all the Christian schools. For instance, as he came to realize the fundamental importance of individual self-determination in Western religious thought, Mr. In the past, the children went to the chapel once a week to pray. They had to walk with their hands folded. It was teacher centered, and the adults ordered the children around.

The children tried to respond properly. I tried to destroy that atmosphere. A second implication was that the teachers placed a priority on encouraging children to articulate their own ideas and to integrate their views with those of their classmates. I observed Ms.

Nagatomi, a teacher from Arima, handle such a class meeting for the purpose of discussing a "junk art" project in which children used tape and glue to create individual objects from household items like egg cartons and tissue paper boxes. The projects were imaginative and intricate: a peacock whose tail could stand up when pulled with an attached string; a cardboard jewelry box with tissue paper cut into small squares and pasted to resemble stained glass; a serving of assorted sushi, complete with rosette of ginger and a wedge of plastic grass.

Nagatomi picked up each project and asked its creator to say something about it. This carefully conducted discussion is consistent with the Arima philosophy of combining individual attention with developing an awareness of others and skills in interacting with them. But Ms. Nagatomi was careful to balance this focus on the individual with attention to how the children interacted in the group context. But only they themselves know what they are making.


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  • Then they realize that others may see their creations differently. They realize the importance of how the other party sees their productions. Through the creation of a work, they learn to develop a common understanding kyoutsuu rikai. This is my goal. Instead of one child learning a particular subject, we try to involve all the children in the shared learning. Children use tape during a "junk art" activity at a Christian preschool. Teachers in Christian preschools were particularly welcoming of children with disabilities because they felt it was valuable for the nondisabled children to encounter someone who had characteristics that differed quite saliently from their own.

    Through daily interactions with children who were different from them in some ways, the students were thought to gain an appreciation for each individual but also to learn how to form relationships in spite of those differences. As the teacher at Arima said: As you may have noticed, we have a handicapped child in the class. I pay particular attention to that child, but I also ask other children, "Please help him while I am working with these other children. Because of that, he had difficulty in getting along with them.

    Gradually, however, he became involved with other children. Perhaps because of the connection that their religious beliefs provided to Western thoughts and values, the directors of Christian preschools that I visited were more interested in learning about and adapting Western theories of early childhood education than were directors in other preschools. Ishida, the director at Aizawa preschool, had sought wide exposure to Western theories of early childhood education.

    She had attended classes in the Montessori method, although the major emphasis of her training at a local Christian college had been on the methods of Froebel. Activities on the day I visited presented many opportunities to build literacy skills. The 4-year-old children were making vegetable soup with a recipe that featured written directions accompanied by pictures.

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    The 5-year-old children were re-creating their experience at a summer fair. Using large cardboard boxes, they constructed food stalls and activity booths. Their writing skills came into play as they created signs, menus, price lists, and other artifacts. Montessori materials are available at this Catholic preschool.

    Not surprisingly, the Christian preschools were the most similar to American schools of any that I visited. The cultural models inherent in Christian thought have obviously permeated the views of children in the United States to a profound extent.

    Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life
    Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life
    Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life
    Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life
    Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life Learning to Go to School in Japan: The Transition from Home to Preschool Life

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