6 Tips For Teaching English to Children in Japan
By Mark Guthrie
There’s nothing cuter than a Japanese child, right? That perpetual smile, those chubby cheeks and eagerness to learn.
When compared to the semi-adults of junior high and high school, upon whom the pressures of the world are beginning to settle, it’s tempting to jack in your public school or eikaiwa job and snuggle up with these little cherubs.
If you do indeed feel this way, then teaching English to children at a Japanese kindergarten may be right up your alley. The following are a few – but by no means all – things that must be taken into consideration when teaching small children.
1. Energy is Key
If you thought it was tiring enough trying to keep the attention of high schoolers, just wait until you are faced with a class of toddlers. They require constant stimulation, and that can sometimes mean changing activities every two or three minutes. Also, class sizes can differ dramatically.
Some classrooms may have just three or four students, but it can go up to as many as eighteen or twenty. Have you ever tried entertaining, keeping tabs on, disciplining and breaking up the fights of fifteen toddlers while a further five are crying inconsolably for their mother? Some schools have nap time. You may need it.
2. Be Prepared
Preparation is of course the key for any teaching job, but this is particularly true of preschool children. As mentioned, attention spans wander more dangerously than Captain Lawrence Oates and as such it is really important that you are always ready with a new activity to hand. This can sometimes be as simple as singing a new song, but there is a lot of preparation that goes into a full day’s work.
There are a lot of three minutes in a working day! It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that something that works once will always work, but children that age may not take repetition well. That song about exploding sausages that had them giggling with glee on Monday may, by Wednesday, bore them to tears. Literally.
3. Your Team Teacher is Your Best Friend
If you have worked in a public school, it is likely that you have already encountered team teaching. This may have taken on various forms: the Japanese teacher may have used you as nothing more than a glorified CD player; or perhaps they sat back and marked papers while you do all the work. At preschool or kindergarten your team teacher is indispensable. They are your extra eyes and ears in the classroom, which can be a lifesaver where small children are concerned.
It is advisable that they are also the classroom’s main disciplinarian. Sometimes your pupils need to be reprimanded, and this can be scary for some children. It is perhaps best that, if they are going to be afraid of someone, it is not the person from whom they will be learning and communicating with. Treat your team teacher well and your classroom will be a happy one.
4. Kiss Your Weekends Goodbye
If you are the type of person who, when five o’clock on Friday rolls around you go running for the hills, all thoughts of work gleefully cleared from your head until that horrible moment first thing Monday morning when the school bell rings again, teaching young children may not be for you. Preschools and kindergartens often have a wide array of events and activities that will eat into your precious weekends: sports days, breakfast sleep overs, class plays.
These can be a whole lot of fun, and there can be nothing more rewarding than seeing your pupils succeed in front of their families, but if you don’t think you can give up your free time then you’ll probably have give up any ideas of teaching young children.
5. All Work and Some Play
When you are finger painting and dancing around like a clown, it can sometimes feel that teaching small children is nothing more than a well-paid playtime. However, it is extremely important to remember that you are in a business environment.
Parents will often spend huge figures to have their children taught in an English speaking pre-school, and as such will expect results. It can be easy to forget this and fill your days doing little more than activities that entertain and distract the children, rather than educate. A good teacher will create activities that do both, thus attaining the results that keep the parents happy, and by extension, your employers.
6. Be Free!
There is perhaps no better place to experiment with your teaching than in a preschool or kindergarten classroom. Children at that age are so full of wonder and so empty of experience. Coupled with the fact that syllabi and curricula are often open to interpretation, you can really take advantage of this and be as creative with your classes as you want to be. You can break free from the shackles of the classroom and find new and inventive activities.
The wilder the classes, the more your children will enjoy it and, when they are happy, most likely, you will be too.