Here in Japan, kindergartens are separate institutions from elementary school. There is a very formal entrance and graduation ceremony. This past Wednesday, she graduated kindergarten. She was the only complete Westerner in her school.
We had a great experience.
A couple of notes about Japanese kindergarten (elementary school follows);
Great cultural study
Very well-planned programs
Allow children to play
Typically large grounds (especially compared to private international institutions)
Many wonderful programs: field trips, music festivals, singing programs, mother groups, charity events
Your child will learn another language by playing
You will need a friend to help you understand all of the school notices
Elementary schoolsFrom April, I have enrolled her in a local public Japanese school. I have been very impressed with the system thus far.
Japanese public school pros:
After-school care is FREE until 5PM.
For the first hour of after school care, teachers will do the homework with your child, so you don't have to worry about it if you don't speak Japanese
Very low cost (I need to get the numbers, but they are only charging small amounts for school lunch, PTA fees, etc.)
School lunch provided
big school grounds
Children obviously get to learn Japanese
There is a guard at the gates all day long to protect and watch over the kids
Specialist nutritionalists pay extreme care in quality of healthy school lunches
Some schools have uniforms (I'm a fan, but some may see this as a con).
Your child will be a minority (some see this as a pro)
English is taught, but for beginner speakers only
You will need to find an after school Japanese tutor (or enroll in free after school care at school) to help child with their homework and Japanese reading (iPhone apps also help)
What we will do to raise a bilingual child
1. Homeschooling for her English education (via Australian national distance education program)
2. Public schooling for her Japanese and social life
3. After school tutoring for both English and Japanese
4. English at home, Japanese at school
5. We keep a mix of friends: international and Japanese, so she is well-balanced
6. We never mix Japanese and English. To us, she is only speaking English. To her teachers, she only speaks Japanese. If she tries to mix a Japanese word into an English sentence, I immediately but gently, correct it. I do not want her to be a lazy speaker
Both her English and Japanese speaking are native. At this point, I believe that she is more comfortable with English because she requests that videos, books and cartoons be shown in English. Japanese people ask us if she can speak English, so I know that her Japanese sounds native.
We did have a couple instances of school children pointing out that Isabella was not Japanese and poking fun at her for this. We did many long discussions with her, talked to the school, as well as the parents of the children involved. This will happen regardless of where she goes here in Japan, as kids will always point out differences (looks, abilities, body shapes, anything...). We use this as a tool to communicate the importance of differences and how to handle being different. If it ever got to a point of bullying, we may consider different schooling options, but this is not the case.
I will keep you updated and would be happy to share any information on getting your child enrolled into a Japanese public school. It is excellent for a child's growth to be raised bilingually. It builds their brain, social skills, confidence and understanding of cultures. It takes cooperation of the parents and community, but it is rewarding.