Life in Japan Teaching in Japan

From Teaching Kindergarten in Japan to Homeschooling My Tokyo Toddler

Like many parents and guardians across the globe, I’m now tackling the task of homeschooling. Here’s how I’m transitioning from teaching kindergarten in Japan to homeschooling my Tokyo toddler.

In this post I’ll cover my 10 homeschooling goals for Miss M, homeschooling challenges, our schedule, daily lessons, and study materials. Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links, mainly in the “study materials” section.

For reasons that I will not discuss on the blog (at this time), I am not teaching kindergarten this school year. However, Japan is now under a State of Emergency as a means to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. So, I’m doing my part by staying home and by practicing social distancing whenever out in public. I’m also using this time at home as an opportunity for family bonding and to test the waters of homeschooling.

At present, Japan’s nationwide State of Emergency is to last until Wednesday, May 6. Whether it will be extended remains to be seen. However, I’ve decided to jump into homeschooling to fill in the gap until Miss M is able to attend school. For years, I’ve dreamed of opening a neighborhood English school/learning center, so perhaps homeschooling will be a good experience for us both!

My Homeschooling Goals for Miss M:

1. Work on self-expression and managing emotions AKA adjusting from Terrible Twos to Threenager

2. Expand her English vocabulary and improve Japanese language development

3. Recognizing her name in both English and Japanese

4. Pre-writing practice: Tracing, 1-10 connect the dots, drawing a circle/triangle

5. Counting and identifying numbers 1-20 in both English and Japanese

6. Identifying upper and lowercase letters and hiragana*

*Hiragana, by the way, is the basic “alphabet” (writing system) of the Japanese language where each symbol corresponds to one syllable. Once a child masters hiragana, he/she can read and comprehend any children’s book as long as they have a decent word bank.

7. Eating with chopsticks

8. Nurturing independence and improving fine and gross motor skills through independence through helping me with chores, cooking, and baking

9. Pedaling a tricycle and moving around on a “balance bike”


We’re doing well on this point, actually. Miss M only wears a diaper during nap time and bedtime!

Homeschooling Challenges

In many ways, I imagine that my background in teaching kindergarten in Japan will be a great asset as we navigate the uncharted waters of homeschooling in Japan.

I’m already thinking about elementary school, and how I can prepare Miss M.

Ideally, I wanted Miss M to stay at her current daycare/kindergarten and supplement with weekly Japanese and math lessons at Kumon.  But, with the current state of things, I have to rethink my strategy so  she’ll be ready to enter a Japanese elementary school in the near-future.

I thought my teaching experience and lesson planning would come in handy. But, our first week was a mess! I’m used to teaching 4 and 5 year olds, and must now consider the emotional and physical development toddler.

Honestly, being in charge of one free-spirited 3 year old for a few weeks has proven to be more of a challenge than managing a single classroom!

The first week of homeschooling was rough because Miss M just wasn’t used to ME being in the role of a teacher. So, rather than being a “teacher” at home, I now present homeschooling as “lesson time with mommy.” I find that has been a manageable approach for us.

The final challenge, of course, is homeschooling a threenager! This is where it’s really helpful for us to have a flexible schedule.

From Teaching Kindergarten in Japan to Homeschooling My Tokyo Toddler

Our Schedule

The homeschooling schedule that I designed for Miss M is a modified version of what would have been our class schedules. My class was right next to the three year old kindergarten class, so I’m very familiar with their daily routine.

This schedule is very flexible in order to accommodate threenager tantrums, the weather, and other factors like laundry and meal prep/cooking.

However, what remains constant are morning and afternoon snacks and naptime, three wonderful breaks that let us reset and bond.

After our 10:00 morning snack, it’s time for Morning Circle, followed by core lesson time. After I stamp workbook pages, we’re officially done for the day! By this time it’s around 11:30 — time for lunch!

Lunch is followed by a movie or outdoor play, depending on the weather. If indoors, I might use this time for cleaning, folding laundry, or to prep for tomorrow’s lesson. Afternoon play is followed by a nap and afternoon snack, just like at kindergarten.

While everything looks organized written down, I don’t stick to this schedule, nor do I try to.  There are just too many variables to account for, so it’s just easier to adapt to each day.

Sometimes we’ll do morning circle, go for an extended neighborhood walk, eat lunch, and then have a lesson. On rainy days, we might binge-watch Paw Patrol and have lesson time in the afternoon. What matters most to me, is spending time with each other and cherishing each day.

Daily Lessons

Each lesson begins with a 10-15 minute “morning circle,” and is based on a felt wall calendar that I picked up from Target. We do the days of the week, the date, weather, seasons, and feelings.

Our morning circle is followed up with the ABC song and a phonics chant. I use Jolly Phonics movements.

After ABC and phonics time, we do vocabulary card games related to the day’s lesson.

Altogether, core lesson time is around 35-40 minutes.

*Monday: Colors and Shapes

*Tuesday: Letter Recognition & Writing Skills

*Wednesday: Numbers and Spot the Difference

*Thursday: Letter Recognition & Writing Skills

*Friday: Japanese (Hiragana, Vocabulary, Storytime) & Monthly-themed craft

Study Materials

I’m very fortunate that I’ve amassed a pretty decent stock of English language workbooks, flashcards, and other teaching materials over the years. Some materials are outdated workbooks from previous schools while others were purchased during trips to the US. I also use Miss M’s Japanese language workbooks from school for Friday’s Japanese lesson.

Gakken Japanese Workbooks Amazon | Amazon Japan

Miss M LOVES doing workbooks and writing with a pencil, so she typically does 2-4 pages per workbook each lesson. Plus, we begin each lesson with pre-writing practice like tracing, connect-the-dots, and/or coloring worksheets.

Here are some of the materials that we use:

Kumon My First Book Of Uppercase Letters | Amazon | Amazon Japan

This is a Kumon workbook, so it uses the Kumon method which encourages kids to develop and master a particular skillset before progressing to the next level. I love that this workbook first introduces “easy” letters like L and T, then diagonals like X and Y, and then curved letters C and O before moving on to complex letters like “R” and “B.”

School Zone Big Preschool Workbook Ages 3 to 5 | Amazon | Amazon Japan

We actually have two copies of this book. It covers topics like colors, shapes, numbers 1-10, the alphabet, and phonics. The latest edition is from Miss M’s kindergarten while I picked up an earlier edition in the US a few years ago. The pages are different so I can supplement lessons without being repetitive.

I Can Learn With Pooh – Early Skills: Numbers & Counting, Colors, Shapes & Sizes, and Letters of the Alphabet | Amazon

I picked these up last summer in the US. It doesn’t take Miss M long to complete each page, so I pair 1-2 pages with similar pages in the School Zone Preschool workbook.

The Learning Journey: Match It! Memory – Alphabet – Capital and Lowercase Letter Matching Game with 26 Matching Pairs | Amazon | Amazon Japan

In my kindergarten classes, we’d use these cards for “Go Fish” and “Memory.” With Miss M, I first lay out all the lowercase letters, then divide the uppercase letters between us. Then, we take turns looking for the “mommy-baby” pairs.

For more learning materials, check out my picks here on my Amazon Storefront.

From Teaching Kindergarten in Japan to Homeschooling My Tokyo Toddler

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