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Japanese Children Experiencing a New World

>I have just completed my bachelor degree of Early Childhood Studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia last March, and then flew back to Japan to start my career. I am now working as a CRN staff. In this archive, I am going to share with you some of my precious experiences during my study of early childhood in Australia. During the course that I studied, there were a total of four practicums all students needed to complete at local kindergartens or childcare centers in Melbourne. This is a story of a Japanese child and her family who were attending a private kindergarten in Melbourne where I did my final year practicum.

In Australia, it is very common to have children who have various cultural and racial backgrounds learning in one classroom. Thus, a main focus of many Australian early childhood educators has been on considering how could possibly create an environment where children from different backgrounds learn happily and effectively together. As one Japanese living in Australia, I was personally interested in observing how Japanese children learn in Australian early childhood settings. I also felt a strong need for observing these children, because there had been an increase in the number of Japanese who had recently migrated to Australia. According to Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were a total of 38,427 Japanese who had either stayed in Australia for more than three months or had got an Australian citizenship in 2000. This number increased to 45,128 in 2003. It was also said that this recent increase was partially due to a growing number of Japanese leading companies that had set up operations oversea.

Haruka, a three-year-old Japanese girl, came to Australia with her family also due to her father's oversea assignment. Although, her parents knew that it would not be easy starting a new life oversea for their young children when considering their non-previous English speaking background or experiences of living oversea, they felt that it was for their best that the whole family moved together to Australia. Haruka when she first started the kindergarten had only known the word 'Hello' which she learnt from her favorite Japanese cartoon. However, Haruka was one very cheerful and outgoing child who was totally fine without her mum on her first day at the kindergarten. On the first day, she started talking in Japanese to other children and teachers who could only understand English. Haruka seemed not realizing that the language she spoke actually did not make sense to anyone in her class, and that kept her going on speaking in Japanese and not being worried about whether the others understood her. After a few days that was when she began to realize that no one could actually understand her or talk to her in the way that she could understand, then she became silent and refused to say a word to anyone.

The next day, the whole class had an opportunity to talk together about the people in the world, who look, speak and live differently. It was relevant to have it as a group since Haruka was not the only one in the class who speaks other than English. I was amazed with how much the three-year-old children had actually known about the differences that exist among the people in the world, and also where their friends came from. Valuing the children's interests and curiosity in knowing more about their friends, we started having a time everyday when each child could introduce him/herself and their families to the group. Haruka also had her turn when she brought some photos of her families including photos of her grandparents in Japan. She also sang her favorite nursery rhyme in Japanese. She was at first very shy but after experiencing this couples of time she became pretty confident presenting herself to other children and seemed she had found her place in the classroom. I still remember when she said to me one day 'You and I speak Japanese, and my friends speak English. And now I know how to say one, two, three in English! My friend taught me.'

Although there is a lot for her to take in and learn while living Australia, I should say Haruka's experience in Australia in her childhood will help her gain greater understanding and appreciation to people from different cultural, racial and linguistic background for the rest of her life. I am hoping that a child like her will also be able to play an active part in a coming period of globalization in Japan. Lastly, seeing these young children from various cultural backgrounds communicating and learning together did certainly encouraged me to think again what we as an educator could possibly do to give more children in the world opportunities to think about the people in the world and be exposed to a great multicultural experiences.
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