My life in Fukushima involves a lot of children. Joel and I actually teach about the same number of kids each week--which is pretty amazing, considering that he has his spread out over hours and days. I teach English to about 70 kids in between 1-5 years old, all within 2 hours total class time.
This Friday morning, I arrived to teach at a nursery school with 8 students, aged 1-5. I was immediately surrounded by excited little Japanese bodies. "Kamera Sensei!" (my name almost always comes out of little Japanese mouths this way) I had wondered before walking into the room if they would remember their "homework". I write newsletters to their parents every month, and I'd asked them to bring family pictures for class today. The kids are jumping up and down, and one boy shouts over their shouting that he's going to "introduce" his parents to me today. Their teacher has wisely tucked the pictures away until the appropriate time.
We go through our everyday routines. I show weather flashcards and ask, "Is it RAINY today??"
They vigorously shake their hands, nearly falling off their chairs, "NOOOO!!!!"
"Is it SNOWY??"
"Is it COLD??"
This one is usually cause for great debate. The girls and I are usually firmly of the belief that it is cold, while the boys, lead by a boy I'll call "Carl"'s bravery, insist that it is not.
We go through a few more weather cards, and then move on. These kids continue to stun me, and convince me that all children should start learning a second language in preschool. I've been teaching them half an hour once a week since October. In those five months, the kids have mastered colors, weather, body parts, fruits, articles of clothing, and family members. Considering we have two hours a month, this means they have learned all of this in 10 hours of English lessons.
Because their brains are such amazing language sponges, I've started trying out simple grammar. We're learning plurals by putting paper fruit all over the ground and then whacking the correct fruit when I call out "apple" or pile of fruit for "apples". By using simple sign language along with the words, the kids also easily remember phrases like, "I have a ____" or "I like ____". In this way, the kids were able to proudly "show and tell" pictures of their families yesterday. The older ones speaking along with my sign language to say, "I have a____" and then shouting out DAD! The younger kids seem to know the words "dad, mom, etc." with flashcards, but revert to Japanese when looking at their own parents and siblings. :)
My favorite part of class is the end, when I have each kid come and sit, answer a question, and receive a sticker. Because we know colors and body parts, some of the most motivated students can carry out whole conversations in English.
A three year old I'll call "Daisy" came up to get her sticker yesterday. I was amazed at how persistent she was at using English.
"What sticker do you want? There are blue ones, red ones, yellow ones..." Most of the kids will grab the stickers, but Daisy always uses English. Yesterday, she chose a blue one, and then she changed her mind.
"Where should I put it? On your hand? On your nose???"
"Orange." We repeated the whole conversation again, because I didn't get where "orange" was supposed to be. Finally I realized she wanted an orange sticker. And, lacking the English to say anything more than "orange" she was resiliently holding to what she knew. As soon as I switched to the orange sticker, she grinned and answered my second question, "Cheek!".
In this way, laughing and relating over preschool lives, we learn English.
Carl insists on putting his sticker under his hair on his forehead and races off to show his teacher, stumbling back to shout "thank you" as I'm going through the same routine with a new student.
Class ends, and I get the joy of being an English teacher in Japan vs. in America: hugs and physical contact are totally allowed at this age. The kids rush into line to say goodbye...sort of. Four of the students high five me and then race to the back of the line so that a perpetual high five train keeps coming, while the little ones crawl under my legs until I reach down and toss them up in the air, all giggles and grins. Some of the kids take running leaps into my arms, nearly knocking me over, and I somehow pack up a bag of teaching materials in the middle of all this action and affection. This continues all the way to the door, and little hands are often still high fiving through the crack as I cautiously shut it to go home.
I'm so thankful for these kids. I often think they give me much more than I give them. :)