What happened to kindergarten?


I was talking to my friend this morning who wanted another baby. She has one who just turned five years old so at this point in her life, everything is fine and dandy. Most of the time, at least. The thing is, though she really wants to have another baby, there’s this pressing thought at the back of her mind how tough it must be to start from zero again. (I started from zero again after 8 years so yes, I can validate her concerns.)

The things you have to go through again: pregnancy, possible morning sickness, the destruction of a million body tissues during child birth, the recovery afterwards (and if her luck is fucked like mine ending in emergency c-section…sorry)…those sleepless nights, the crying without reason spells (possibly colic so look it up), breastfeeding, weaning, toilet training, yada, yada, yada.

The list is long and to be honest, could be an effective birth control.

But in spite of it all, that newborn smell and that total baby MAGIC. That small being empowering you, making you think you’re a superwoman and can do it all. Can do it all over again.

I am writing this in tears.

My five year old son started kindergarten this month. Gone are the days at preschool when they would just sing Five Little Ducks and If you’re happy and you know it day in and day out. He is five years old –  far from being an infant so we have gone through the colicky stage, the fight to win my breasts back, the toilet training madness but the wonder of this thing called “parenting” is that it’s like you’re visiting an unknown town without a proper map.

Somehow you’re confident you’re going to be ok but the moment you think you’re going in the right direction, there is a surprise at a random corner. ALWAYS.

I’ve been through this once a little long time ago and boy, I can’t remember if it was this dramatic. Most probably it was but it’s just too long ago to remember. You know how they say anesthesia f*cks with your brain.

I just spent almost an hour helping Benjamin with his homework. RIGHT. Homework for kindergarten. Is that even a thing nowadays? Well, it seems so! Today his carer said Benjamin refused to do his homework: lower case letters a-z. If I am five years old, I would be ballistic too. Can you introduce me to a five year old who is maniacal obsessive about doing homework every night? If that’s your child, I would hate you. Sigh. No, I am joking. You tell me how it is done before I lose my mind. And you have to tell me real quick because I am on the verge of losing it.

And how many times was I on the verge of “losing it” in this 13 year parenting journey? Probably too much and too pathetic to count but that doesn’t mean I am immune to the feeling of failure, of being not good parent enough.

Benjamin is picked up by the school bus at 10:30 for his 11:30 class and then comes home at 4:30 in the afternoon. After what seems to be already a long day in the world of five year olds, there is a homework that needs to be done. When we’re supposed to read books or learn a new song or do silly stuffs that are fun stuffs, we sit down and do the darn homework..while he is already tired and surely running out of batteries.

My five year old son is struggling to write the alphabet.

“Benjamin needs to practice more. He cannot do it at school without the teacher’s help.” resonates inside my head over and over at work earlier this morning but I shrugged it off, telling myself,

He’s gonna be ok. He can’t go on like this – unable to write simple small letters! One fine day, he will get it. He will be able to write! I will not stress about it!

Well, boo hoo. I stressed about it. Heavily. I look at Benjamin’s older sister, my 13 year old daughter and I think: how did she survive this stage? What did I do before? Are girls really easier and more advanced than boys?

Now Benjamin is sleeping. He showed full force of resilience towards my nagging, didn’t say anything and just continued to do what he’s supposed to do, to complete his work so he could sleep but then when we finished, he had a very emotional outburst like his pet cat died or something. I bet he’s putting me in the list of his top most hated person in the world because as his mother, I wasn’t nice. I wasn’t patient. And he is not used to seeing me get angry.

I feel bad that I can’t help him help himself. I feel bad that I can’t help myself. When you’re a working mom, the last thing you would want your day to end is your kids resenting you.

(This is why from early on, I already know deep in my heart I could never become a teacher or I’ll probably end up in jail.)


While alone in the living room contemplating on what just happened (me losing it, forcing my son to write, and to be brutally honest – screaming…what a shame) I am recognizing there’s a problem with me and then there could be a problem with my son. And then most importantly, THERE COULD BE A PROBLEM WITH THE CURRENT EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM.

HEAR ME OUT – don’t you feel that the kindergarten now is what 1st grade used to be? Therefore, if your child comes to school not knowing his letters he or she will be behind and not do well in school. The expectations for a child in kindergarten and every other grade has dramatically increased. Teachers have no choice on what to teach – they are told the expectations the children in their classes must meet whether we agree they are developmentally appropriate or not!!

And what choice do we really have, as parents, presented with a child’s homework that needs to be done no matter what the cost?

When I was 5, I played, had fun, and learned age-appropriate things. Heck, I did not even attend kindergarten! Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. Now, the kindergartners in most schools  are mastering things that I did not even learn until higher grades.

By the end of kindergarten, they are expected to learn how to read, to analyze shapes, to compose writing prompts and much, much more. The expectations of kindergartners are getting much too high that it’s become stressful and unrealistic.

When I look at my son now, with excessive amount of homework every night, I am terribly envious of the joyful, illiterate kindergartners of Finland.

And I bet there are no mothers there going mad and crying while writing blogs like this, you know?

Update on Benjamin’s school 2

March 3 wm

This is a follow up post about our challenge in searching for a school to enroll Benjamin. We are facing difficulties with how the schools are assessing the student’s kindergarten readiness.

We cancelled our admission to one school which he passed a strict assessment that included a session with the school’s resident speech and behavior therapist. The school fees were too expensive for us. I know, I should have known before applying right? Yes, but the website didn’t mention all the “miscellaneous fees” that added 35% to the base tuition.

I continued to look for another school. There must be one out there for my son!

Benjamin is turning five years old in October this year (2016) and will be in Kindergarten 2 class (FS2). This poses a challenge due to the fact that the slots are few, especially in schools with fairly affordable fees. If the school has existing Kindergarten 1 students, slots for Kindergarten 2 depends on whether there will be kids who won’t enroll for the next school year. Or if the school decides to expand the number of classes for KG2 (which is less likely).

Long story short, I found another school that opened admissions for KG2. I visited the school and liked what I saw and I also asked around some parents who I know has children there. I paid the assessment fee of AED500 and waited for the schedule of assessment. We went this morning, with high hopes.

After a few assessments on his belt, I am proud to say that Benjamin has gotten the feel of the whole procedure. He was very relaxed amidst the crying children at the reception/waiting area. I am so happy for my boy! He was taken to a room with a teacher and we wait outside. I saw him walking confidently through the corridor, with a stranger holding his hand and he did not mind. I crossed my fingers.

After 30 minutes or so, I was called to see the foundation stage head teacher. Benjamin was seated in front of her desk, just waiting. He was still, with eyes fixed at the globe on top of the cabinet. Benjamin LOVES maps. (I have delayed buying a globe for him. I suddenly felt guilty.)

“Hi, thank you so much. I have to tell you Benjamin is really shy at first…” I started to explain ahead. The head teacher interrupted my nervous banter and answered,

“Oh no, Benjamin was really chatty. He wasn’t shy at all! He was very social!”

I swear I saw rainbows and unicorns when I heard that. I felt my cheeks burning. I envisioned him walking through the colorful school corridors with his favorite Thomas bag. My boy finally found his place!

But my joy was short lived.

“However mama, we have a problem. We have given him a WRITTEN TEST and I’m afraid to tell you he did not do well at all.”

My heart sank. Benjamin was looking around and talking to himself, pointing at the colorful murals this time, counting 1, 2, 3 loudly at the objects on the walls.

The teacher showed me the test paper. He was supposed to write all the letters of the alphabet and the numbers 1-10. There was even a section where they blanked out the letters to test if the child knows what letter comes after a certain letter. He was EXPECTED to have mastered gripping the pencil and writing the letters and numbers perfectly. At four. From the nursery, from home. What were they doing at the nursery?! I was asked.

March 1 wm

Although he brings home his worksheets from the nursery with completed tasks, I am very aware that Benjamin still lacks writing skills. His pencil grip is weak and when I ask him to practice at home (which I honestly will admit, I dread having him do “homework” at this age!), he says he is already tired.

Moms with kids at the nursery, tell me: Do kids at your nursery school WRITE a lot? Is that how nurseries should work? I feel so LOST.

“We only have 1 year before he goes to Year 1. There’s not much time. The children in Year 1 will be writing sentences and essays (seriously she said THAT). He will be left out at his rate right now if we accept him as is.”

Seriously, since when did Year 1 students write long sentences. And essays?!

March 2 wm

“But we will give you another chance. Practice his writing at home and you can come back in a month. We will give the written test again.”

To be continued.

(Photos posted here are taken at his nursery school and posted at the nursery’s Facebook page.)

Update on Benjamin’s school

So we went for the 2nd assessment for Benjamin. We were greeted at the school entrance by a lady at the registration office who called him by his name. She knows his name! I was surprised by this. Then they asked us to wait for a few minutes.

A middle aged man came holding a folder and showed us the way to his office. He is the school’s resident speech and behavior therapist/guidance counselor. Whoa. Hard core. After a few minutes of explaining to us about the procedure, we left Benjamin in the room with him.

We did not see our son for the next 40 minutes or so.

I was pacing back and forth outside the room. I can hear my son interacting with the school personnel and I’m glad he’s not crying. But my God, 40 minutes was so long.

The session ended and when they came out, he ushered us to go down to the Infant and foundation stage room, he spoke to someone there and said, “Congratulations! We think your child is ready!”

I felt so relieved. Benjamin will be able to attend kindergarten this September. My school hunt is now done. Or so I thought?

“Ma’am, you can now proceed to the Accounts Department to pay the fees.”

Fees…what? It is only February now and Benjamin won’t be starting school till more than half a year later! We went to the Accounts Department anyway to get the “payment schedule”.

There we faced another challenge.

The base tuition in the website shows AED17,000 (US$4,600) as annual fee for KG2 that’s why I chose that school because somehow, we could manage that. But then there were add-ons like uniform for AED850 (!), bus fees and the total school fees ballooned to AED26,000. We need to issue 4 cheques: CURRENT dated, August 2015, January 2017 and April 2017.

I repeat, school doesn’t start till September 2016, 7 months from now.


Some might say, the fee I mentioned above is actually cheaper than “Dubai standard” (whatever that means) but for us, it’s not cheap at all. And even if we can afford it, I don’t think it’s worth it. Actually, I’ve been having a lot of second thoughts about so many things, some solutions would require very big life changing decisions.

It’s time we rethink about “kindergarten readiness”

Benja and Eli

The boy in red shirt is Benjamin. He is my 4 year old son. Does he look normal to you?

Yes, he looks normal because YES, he is normal. Except for lingering longer during the breastfeeding period, not knowing how to use the bottle and difficulty in potty training, I see nothing wrong with him. He is an active, chatty boy who is curious about everything, very lovable and very bright.

However, we have a slight problem. Maybe just a little bit of a late bloomer.

He is turning 5 years old late this year and it seems that no school (so far) wants to accept him for kindergarten. Why? Because they think that something is wrong with him. They have not made their concerns that clear and vocal but last year one of the schools we applied for told me, “he is not ready”.

We’ve been to a couple of schools for assessments if he is ready for the big school. The first one was last year to enroll him in kindergarten 1 (Foundation Stage 1). Prior to that, he was just staying at home so there were tears during assessment period and the school suggested we put him in a play school first.

So we did.

ben in nursery 1

After a few months at the playschool, his teacher says she thinks Benjamin is ready for the big school, he memorizes things quickly, he loves to play and can communicate his needs to his teacher and his play mates. She suggested we find a school for him so he can transfer.

We opted he spend the whole year in play school just to be sure (plus, it’s difficult to find schools that accept transfer students mid-year).

Now, registrations and assessments have started for the 2016-2017 school year. Benjamin went in for another assessment last week. Today I got a call and was giddy, thinking nothing but positive things.

But then they asked us to take him there again for FURTHER assessment next week. My God, he is not going to Harvard University! Why so rigid?

I already know the reason, the same as before – he is shy, not responding to any interrogation, maybe eyes on the floor, stiff and shy around other kids his age (that he doesn’t know), in an enclosed space of the classroom. Outside in the parks, he doesn’t care about the other kids but if you put him in a room with other kids, he will create his own world…until he warms up to them. It will take TIME and a few minutes of “assessment” won’t be able to see that he is perfectly FINE – if only they’d give him a chance! He also can’t write his name yet. Why? Because to be honest – I was not hard core in teaching him to write letters or color within borders or to memorize the alphabets or numbers (though we read a lot at home and play with maps because he loves it before he turned 2!).

I know so many parents becoming stressed out to get their child ready for kindergarten that sometimes they miss out on the wonderful moments of love, exploration, curiosity, and play.

ben in nursery 2

No matter how I explain to them that he is a normal boy at home and at places where he is familiar with the people around him (like in his nursery school), they will always judge the shy and aloof boy they see for a couple of minutes. I am upset because I don’t know what to do to make him less shy or to talk to strangers when they greet him hello (it’s very rare he answers back if he doesn’t know the person talking to him). But his nursery teacher says she finds no learning/behavioral disability.

I am afraid that at this rate, my son could not go to school because it seems that schools only accept the “easy” kids: immediately social and chatty and probably can already write their names. And Benjamin is not. It’s part of his personality that I cannot change, for now, even how hard I try.

Benjamin talks A LOT at home (up to the point of being noisy sometimes) and he sings the songs he learns at the nursery. He is ready for kindergarten, why would he not be? He even knows a lot of countries on the map through memorization since he cannot read yet!

Don’t you just wish all kindergarten teachers tell you, “The only thing I ask of parents is that they give their child all the love and care they can provide. I will teach them once they are in my class.”?

Pristine graduates from Primary School

Pristine grad pic

Just like that another school year ends for us. And our oldest child graduated from primary school.

I have so many friends the same age as I do who has either just given birth, still breastfeeding babies or has toddlers. I, however has a child who just graduated from primary school and about to enter Middle School. Cue feelings of being ancient. I will be 39 this year so it’s not like I married really early but still when Pristine’s school sent me information about the coming graduation ceremony, it got me thinking: how did we get here?

Related read: Primary school in Dubai (what’s it like)

She was only 3 when we moved to Dubai from Japan. I still remember when she could only converse in Nihongo and it was so funny because as a very bubbly toddler straight out from Japan’s daycare center, she thought Nihongo was the universal language and everyone could speak it. Her teacher would tell me, “Pristine seems to have so many interesting things to say (judging from her flailing arms and hands while she talks) but I can’t understand the language she’s using!”

Pristine in 2007

The above photo was Pristine and me in 2007 during her first few days at the new school in Dubai. After a few days and weeks, she began to pick up English (and Arabic and French) and as they say, the rest is history.

best in english

Here is Pristine holding her award, Excellence in English during this year’s awards ceremony. Since the school started giving out awards, we have been called every year to attend and be surprised since they don’t tell us what the award is. We’re proud of her achievements in school.

As much as I am excited about my oldest going to middle school soon, I am a little bit anxious. (Yep, because anxiety is truly my middle name) Pristine is entering into a new phase in her life. Well, not just her but all of us. Probably a new school (we are in the process of applying to other schools), new friends, more challenging lessons in school.

Teenage years.

Puberty. Crushes.


I have a lot to say to my daughter on her graduation from primary school. But I was too lost for words (more like I found myself swimming in nostalgia of the years that’s gone by) and was only able to manage a few: I reminded her how proud we are of her, that there’s a bright future ahead with unlimited possibilities. As long as we live, she will always be safe, will always be protected, and will always be loved.

Now, we have at least of 8 weeks until the new school year starts. Pristine loves school so much that her dislike of summer vacation landed us on the national paper. We’re spending four week outside the UAE soon though so at least it’s half the misery.

Kids, grades and homework


I got an email from Pristine’s teacher a few days ago asking for a preferred date to meet. No, she is not in trouble or something. The school reports have been sent home so the school is setting up dates and times for parents to meet the class teachers so they can voice out their respective concerns. I looked at the dates and times – all are on weekdays and of course, on hours where my butt needs to be: at my chair at work.

I’ve attended the previous parent’s meeting by asking permission to go home earlier than my 6pm time off. I got the permission but not after hearing some words I didn’t want to hear. Not really harsh but also not too considerate. What can a working mom do?

This was the general comment of the class teacher of my daughter:

“Pristine is a pleasure to teach. She has a kind, caring and bubbly personality. She enjoys riddles, jokes and puzzles as well as reading and playing with her friends. She has a very good relationship with her peers and adults in school which is based on respect. Her mature approach to her learning and the high expectations she sets herself means she takes ownership over her own education and making very good progress.”

Those words. Suddenly, the steep school fees were worth it.

Additional comment from the teacher in his email to me this morning when I said I couldn’t meet him for the parent’s meeting:

“No worries at all. Pristine is progressing well. She is a talented mathematician and is beginning to show some flair in her fictional writing which I am quite happy with. She continually contributes to lessons and shows pride in the work completed in class.”

Her highest mark is Mathematics which I could not, for the life of me, get any credit for. Math has always been my weakness and until now, I am not friends with numbers. From all her teacher’s comments, I can only vouch that the “bubbly” part is from my DNA. The others, from her dad.

Pristine and dad

~ don’t look at him too hard, he is not used to being featured on this blog! ~

That said, our young student is not perfect. No one is but there is a flaw that puzzles me and I still don’t know how to approach this: it seems that sometimes, her home work is incomplete.

“…she will need to fully complete her homework for submission on Tuesdays as there are times when some parts are omitted.”

So how does that work? She is excellent in doing everything required during class, but slacking in homework? Don’t I check? Great question and I will not lie.

I don’t check everyday.

When I get home from work, I give the other kid a cuddle, attention, bath and have dinner. I ask Pristine if everything is fine and if she says ok, I leave it at that. I have had too much faith. But now seeing her report card and her teacher’s comment about her homework, I told her this needs to be corrected. And I hope she does because yep, I can’t check every night. I could but sometimes I am a lazy mom. On some nights, I just want to recharge so I can tackle another day. Or else, I feel I’d break.

(Where is the other parent in this equation, you ask. Good question again. His work time doesn’t allow him to be always there before our bed time, and we all have accepted that. The Math DNA is enough contribution.)

But part of me says, “Don’t be too hard since she is doing well at school”…but homework is important too, right? I never miss completing my homework when I was still a student and my parents never had to nag about it. My husband, on the other hand, admitted he slacked with the homework part when he was young (But he excelled in every subject and was a constant honor student.) so Pristine probably got this from him.

Can you see the pattern? We are playing the “from which DNA” game.

* Apart from homework which they are given grades for too, her grades for all other subjects are excellent.

Anyway, are you a parent? What will you tell your child without discrediting about incomplete homework if he/she is doing very well in school (in terms of grades)?

Pristine in 2007

Benjamin’s going to school soon!

Pristine in 2007

It’s inevitable. We just submitted school registration papers for Benjamin. I still can’t believe he’ll be going to school already. Wasn’t it just yesterday when he was still a baby who clings to me like a newborn sheep?

I found an old pic of Pristine, my older daughter when she was the same age as Benjamin now, 3 years and a couple of months. That top pic was taken at her first school in Dubai. We moved here in January 2007 from Japan and we put her to school around end of February/early March primarily because there was no one to take care of her at home (my husband needs to find work that time too as we moved to Dubai because of my work and he had to be a stay at home dad for a while). But mostly, because she was bored staying at home.

She had been attending day care in Japan since she was 16 months old so she’s used to the structure and routine of group activities with other kids. Pristine did not speak any English when we moved here. I used to read her English books while we were living in Japan so I think somehow she understands. Now, if I think about it, it was just pure faith on my part. She would converse with me solely in Japanese language. Even if I speak in English she would respond, although in non-English, so that made me think she understood me.

Anyway, that didn’t stop her from immersing in the new culture and the new language in another world she was suddenly whisked to. I am amazed at how children can easily adapt (and I am not sure how her teachers managed the constant blabber in a foreign language – Pristine talked like Japanese was the universal language!). After a few weeks, she started talking in English and after a month, the frequency of the Japanese words and sentences became less and less.

She was so confident. And mature.

Now, this baby boy of mine. He is my last child so that entitles me to call him ‘baby’ for as long as I want. He’s going to school coming September. I know that’s still months and months away but I can’t help but worry – how will he cope up? He is still a baby in my eyes, unlike his older sister when she was his age.


We are putting him in an international school where English is the main language. Benjamin doesn’t have a problem with the language as English is the main language he uses at home. So that’s the least of my worries.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of children who scream and cry, throwing a fit when parents try and drop their children off at daycare. Pristine was like that at 16 months, for the first few days. At the other end of the spectrum are the kids who walk into the daycare without even a backwards glance – this I think will be Benjamin. He is excited with the outside world and ready to meet and play with children his age.

That said, Benjamin is very independent and would play by himself at home for hours on stretch but after a while, he would seek someone for cuddle time. Pristine wasn’t like this. Is this the difference between boys and girls?

Benjamin trains

Anyhow, I am not worried of the crying or clinging. What I am worried about is…the toilet time actually. Pristine was early into daycare and toilet trained there, mostly. She was off diapers before she was two (would only wear it at night just in case). Benjamin on the other hand, at 3 now is still wearing diapers. All day. We tried to talk him into sitting in the loo but he thinks it’s a dungeon that would swallow him up whole. He sits for a while but then wants to go down without doing his business.

benjamin id photo

The school has the “no diaper” policy – they will not accept children who are still wearing diapers in KG 1 class. We still registered him because he might not have a place later (it gets filled out very fast). Good luck to us, we have about 8 months to completely toilet train this little guy. Other than this issue, look at him, he looks so ready for the grownup kids world already! No matter how many time I psyche myself that he is still a baby, my baby boy is really growing up. Now, I might be the one to suffer from separation anxiety!

School in Japan

Taiken nyuugaku: Experiencing local school in Japan

School in Japan

This has been a long overdue post but I really wanted to share this with you and most especially for families like ours, with mixed-race children.

Pristine was born in Japan and she was only 3 years old when we moved to Dubai in 2007. She only spoke Japanese then but as our stay in the UAE became longer and longer (7 years in a few weeks!) and with Pristine attending British curriculum international school, she has lost her grip not just on the language but also being away from Japan too long, been detached from the Japanese culture and tradition aspect.

When we went for vacation to Japan this summer, we enrolled Pristine in the local Japanese public school – something we’ve always wanted to do for years now. She has spent more of her years here than in Japan and we didn’t want her to forget half of what she is.

More specifically, we want her to experience both worlds.

Taiken nyuugaku: a special program for Japanese kids who lived overseas. They come home for the summer, and experience life in a Japanese school. We knew lots of children who did it. We thought it was a great way to reconnect with her roots, not mention hone her Japanese language skills and most importantly, to be with Japanese children her age, in Japan.

Pristine in Japanese school in Japan


A family or friend in Japan needs to visit the local school where you want your child to attend school and ask about the possibility of taiken nyuugaku. Most local public schools will say yes. Your child can attend the local school for up to a month. The procedures will vary from school to school so be sure to check. You will need to speak to the school principal before you go back to Japan and when you arrive, you might need to visit the school personally to pay the fees (tuition fee is very low as elementary education is compulsory in Japan – we only paid for the meals served in school during lunch and books). And if your child has specific food allergies, like our daughter is allergic to eggs and shell fish, you will need to speak to the health administrator beforehand.

Luckily for us, our former neighbor took all the trouble with the paper works so Pristine was ready when we arrived in Matsumoto.

So, what’s it like going to school in Japan?

First, there are no school buses like in Dubai! Children in Japan walk to school every day, for the whole duration of the school year. Be it in the hot summer or cold winter, in sunny weather and even during rain or snow.

During the first few days when Pristine wasn’t familiar with the other kids walking to school and the route so her father had to take her there – in a bicycle! We were traveling on a budget and had no car nor wanted to rent one for this purpose. Our lovely neighbor friend however, lent us their good, old sturdy bicycle we used.

bike to school in Japan

After a couple of days when Pristine found friends who attend the same school and live nearby, she and her dad would still bike off every morning but only until the meeting place where kids gather and walk in groups.

walking to school in Japan

School starts at 8:00 am and since it is located about 2 kilometers away (no kidding!!), everyone has to wake up early, have a full breakfast (very important – reason later!), meet up with friends and start their journey to school.

walking to school in Japan

A long walk is easier when with a friend…

crossing the road

Here they are crossing the pedestrian. The children are trained to raise their hands when crossing the street so they are more visible to the drivers. Japan, up to this day still remains as one of the safest places in the world. Sure, there are crimes reported but today, children in Japan still walk to and from school everyday.

walking to school in Japan

~ the girls stop by to pose for mommy paparazzi ~

This below photo is taken from the school after school hours. The children go home together in groups too. Outside of the school, I saw a group of elderly people with arm bands that read “safety guardians” or something. They guide the children at checkpoints ensuring they go home safely. And the volunteers (retirees, I presume) do this on volunteer basis, unpaid of course.

going home

This is the school policy that enumerates the school’s objective for the children.

School Policy

From right to left (because that’s how you read Japanese – trivia for you!)…the school aims to ‘produce’…

1. Karada wo kitaeru kodomo – Physically strong children

2. Minna wo daiji ni suru kodomo – Children who makes everyone feel important

3.  Yoku kangaeyarinuku kodomo – Children who think and persevere

True enough, as part of their aim to produce physically strong children, they have swimming classes everyday since it was summer and the weather was just perfect for water play. The school also have a rigorous physical education program all throughout the year.

swimming in Japan school

See those mountains? We used to live in Nagano Prefecture in Japan and our city is 800 meters above sea level. It’s beautiful.

swimming in Japan school

Children in Japan learn swimming from when they start going to school which amazed me because in the Philippines, we had no swimming lessons, not until I was in college!

Indoor and outdoors shoes

Removing shoes in school

One of the distinct things about going to a school in Japan is that while children are not required to wear uniforms (in public schools), they need to wear a different shoes when they are inside the building. The pair of shoes is the same for everyone. They change shoes at the school entrance before entering the school halls.

Last walk home

And change to their usual shoes at the end of the day. The indoor shoes will be left at the school.

No school uniform but that bag…

Children in public schools in Japan are not required to wear school uniforms however, there is a prescribed school bag for all. The randoseru is a sturdy, functional backpack that has become a hallmark of Japanese elementary school. The randoseru dates as far back as the end of the 19th century, when Western military structure was first adopted in Japan. Soldiers carried square bags called ransel, a Dutch word, which changed into randoseru in Japanese. Lately, there had been variety of colors sold but it used to come only in two colors: red for girls and black for boys. (Our neighbor lent us Pristine’s red randoseru from one of their daughters who finished elementary school)

The randoseru bags are not cheap ranging from 9,800 yen to 30,000 yen but the intricacies of these backpacks are incredibly well designed with long-lasting sturdiness in mind that they usually last beyond the child’s elementary years in immaculate condition.

Jugyou sankan

Jugyo sankan

We were lucky that during the time Pristine attended the school there, there was a jugyou sankan – Class open day. These are opportunities for parents to view classes so that they can get to know how their children are doing in school and exchange opinions and information with their children’s teacher(s).

Pristine speech

After two weeks, Pristine’s last day of taiken nyuugaku came. She was so sad to have to leave her new found friends. She gave a farewell speech in front of the class. Aimed with her renewed, refreshed Nihongo skills, she faced them with her practiced speech. Not perfect but she powered through it from beginning till end.

farewell gifts

We bought little trinkets from Dubai to give to the kids. I hope they remember Pristine when they see that little camel paper weight.

farewell gift for boy classmates

We prepared a different set of gift for boys and for girls.

After the tearful exchange of goodbyes, we met the school principal to say thanks.

thank you Ms. Principal

Pristine loved the short ten days she spent at the local school in Japan. From new friends to the greener environment to the very enthusiastic teacher, the everyday swimming lessons and most importantly, the kyuushoku – school lunches!



We got this menu list for the whole month of July with detailed information of the dish that varies everyday. From Monday through Friday, schoolchildren attending elementary and middle schools in Japan have lunches prepared for them at school. The students take turns serving portions. The meals are healthy and well-balanced, containing all the nutrients and calories required for the healthy growth of youngsters.

kyuushoku 1

Lunches are planned by dieticians (you can hardly see any obese children in Japan) and are usually made from scratch, using local, unfrozen, seasonal ingredients. Portions are modestly sized, and the menus are carefully planned throughout the week to emphasize variety and nutrition. Every couple of days, kids might get to try Italian style pasta or Korean food or something a bit more exotic.

One more thing about kyuushoku is that you have to eat everything. For my husband who was born and raised in Japan, that is atarimae – just natural. The Japanese hate to waste food.

And the reason why it’s actually EASY to finish all of the food at lunch? There is no snack time! Classes start at 8 am and lunch is four hours later at 12 noon. Teachers expect the children to have that filling breakfast to last them till lunch time!


Also one thing I really want to share about our Japanese school experience is that – there are no cleaners in school. The children tidy up the things around the classroom and are required to bring a 2 pieces of cloth with their names on it. This first piece of cloth is used to wipe the desks and the other one? for the floors. They wash it and hang it to dry in school.


Japanese schools teach children to become independent in an organized, careful way, including explicit instruction on how to walk to school on their own safely, how to pack for themselves for field trips, and how to care for their things.


When Pristine left the school one last time, it wasn’t only her shoe box that became empty, her heart too. She wished she’d stay longer. Maybe next time. Surely, next time.

How does the Japanese school differ from the school in your country?

school bus dubai

Dubai’s RTA says, “let the children take the school bus”

school bus dubai

Driving to work was a breeze today that I wish it’s like this every single day. I usually take the train but today I drove to work because I know the roads are free. My commute was only 15 minutes. On ‘normal’ days, it could reach up to 45 minutes (that’s why I gave up the car and choose the train). With the Eid holidays coming up, schools are closed and so are government offices.

And in the news this morning: Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) asks parents to STOP the school run.

What is a school run?
School run is a term used when parents drive their children to or from school.

And so many parents are doing it here in Dubai.

So naturally, when it’s school time, commuters need to get out of the house earlier than usual as the roads are really busy with bumper to bumper traffic. I see so many cars driven by parents with one child in it so just imagine on a normal school day, these vehicles doing the school run clog Dubai’s roads. I can understand RTA’s request to stop the school run and support collective transport which will ease traffic (it’s more environment friendly, too).

Everyone has their share of reasons for not using the bus, the most common of which is that some parents feel the school buses are not safe enough. But the RTA insists that these school buses are safe and that there have not been any accidents involving school buses over the last three years as they have implemented strict safety specifications.

Next, school bus fees are very expensive and it can get more expensive if you have say like, 2 or more kids. Oh, yes.

Our experience with the school bus
We had been using the school bus for the past seven years without any issue on the safety of our child. The children are with seat belts and there’s one female bus assistant to take care of children’s needs inside the bus.

However, there are two issues we have of using the bus:

  • The fee which is not cheap (for us) at AED5,500/year (US$1,500) but no choice since both of us are working and even if we can drop our daughter off to school in the morning, we can’t pick her up after school.
  • Another issue is the pick up time. Since the bus needs to go around to pick up other children, they need to start early – they are competing with the school run vehicles, remember? We live only 3 kilometers away from the school but Pristine’s pickup time is 6:20 am. Classes start at 7:45.

I’ve read so many horror stories about school runs everywhere, on Twitter, Facebook or direct from moms who do it: from aggressive parents fighting for a spot closest to the school gate, insufficient parking space, parents parking in the non-designated places, rude behavior of some parents, children being dropped off without properly parking the car, mom fashions irritating other moms (true story LOL), etc.

I believe that this school run and traffic problem can be solved only if the RTA takes control of the operation of these buses – implement a fair and affordable bus fee (some buses have overly inflated fees in the ‘new Dubai’ schools just because they know the parents can afford it!), train the drivers and ensure the vehicles adhere to safety standards, more parents will be confident enough to give up the school run so there is less traffic and pollution.

Top photo credit

Are you a parent in Dubai? Do your kids use the school bus or do you do the school run?

hot weather Dubai

Dubai summer is well and truly here

hot weather Dubai

Yesterday’s five word weather should be: “Not advisable to go outside!”

I walked for only 10 minutes outside at midday and I thought I’d die. No exaggeration! Yesterday was the hottest in Dubai since the start of summer with the temperature tipping at more than 40C (104F). Next stop? 50C (122F) as forecasters say (with very high humidity levels that kill). Think you’re inside an oven or a steam cooker plus bonus of hair dryer in your face!

When I got home, my daughter Pristine who goes to school here was not feeling well and telling me:

“Mom, we were made to stay outside during our break, for 40 minutes!”

WTF. What kind of school and teachers in their sane minds would allow children to be outside during this hot summer season in the desert?

To make matters worse, she said older students from Year 6, 7 and 8 were inside the temperature controlled buildings (aircon overload), along with most of the teachers. BTW, most of the teachers seem to don’t mind the sun or the heat – they are from cold countries and they came here seeking the sun!

This is simply unacceptable.

I was forced to write a strong email to the teacher that if they insist on letting the children stay outdoors for the sake of “getting some sun” or “outdoor air”, we will be pulling out our daughter earlier as planned (school will end on the 25th June yet) because we cannot afford for her to get sick before our long flight next week!

But seriously, REALLY, children sweating outside (the school ground where they eat their snacks/lunch is covered but it is still hot!) and then coming into cold air-conditioned classrooms? That is like inviting cough and colds with open arms.