Differences Between Kindergartens (YOUCHIEN) and Nursery Schools (HOIKUEN) in Japan, and the Process of Entering Kindergarten
There are two main options in Japan to have young children under the age of 6 taken care of: kindergartens (Youchien) and nursery schools (Hoikuen). Here, we will introduce the differences between kindergartens and nursery schools in Japan and we will focus on the process of enrolling your child in kindergarten.
If you want to know more about the process of enrolling your child in a nursery school>>Everything You Need to Know When Applying for Nursery School in Japan – From Documents Required to Consultation Services Available for Foreigners
Similarities between kindergartens and nursery schools in Japan
Contents of early childhood education
According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), kindergartens and nursery schools are supposed to be consistent as stated in the guidelines for early childhood education. This means that they have the same educational policy. Specifically, the guidelines include building a relationship of trust between the child and the caregiver, providing an appropriate environment that values the child’s independent activities, and providing guidance that is tailored to the individuality and development of each child.
In particular, from the age of three, it is stipulated that there should be no difference in education between kindergartens and nursery schools.
Free early childhood education and care
Currently (2021), childcare fees for both kindergarten and nursery school are free of charge for up to 25,700 yen per month for three years from the age of three until the start of elementary school. Each month, fees in excess of that amount are paid out of pocket.
- The Cabinet Office has an explanation about the free childcare program that started in 2019.
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Differences between kindergartens and nursery schools in Japan
Purpose and age of admission
Kindergartens are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and are mainly for the purpose of education, while nursery schools are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and are mainly for the purpose of childcare.
The entry age for kindergarten is 3 years old, and for nursery school it is 0 years old.
The only requirement for entering kindergarten is age, in contrast for nursery schools, there must be a reason why the child has to be left in their care, such as parents’ employment or illness.
Kindergarten is a place to prepare children for elementary school, while nursery school is a place where working parents can leave their child while they are at work.
Qualifications of childcare providers
The qualifications required of childcare providers differ between kindergartens and daycare centers. Kindergarten teachers must have a kindergarten teacher’s license in order to provide the education the children need to enter elementary school. On the other hand, nursery school teachers must have a nursery teacher’s license in order to teach essential basic life skills.
Childcare hours and lunch
In kindergarten, the daily educational time is about 4 hours, whereas in nursery schools, children can be left for a longer period of time, about 8 to 11 hours. We can see that there is a big difference in the time spent at the school.
In addition, kindergartens have long vacations in spring, summer, and winter, while nursery schools do not have such long vacations and many are open on weekends and national holidays.
Lunch varies from kindergarten to kindergarten, with some kindergartens offering school lunch and others requiring students to bring their own lunch. The standard for nursery schools is to always provide school lunch and snacks.
How kindergartens work in Japan and the process of entering a kindergarten
How kindergartens work
Just like nursery schools, kindergartens generally start in April.
There are also kindergartens that accept children even after April, depending on their availability.
Research information about kindergartens in your neighborhood a year before you plan to enroll your child and visit the kindergartens to get a better idea of what they are really like. Visit several kindergartens to find the one that best suits your child’s needs.
Many kindergartens have “pre-school” programs that children can attend from the age of two to get used to the school.
Once you have decided which kindergarten you want your child to attend, you should go to an information session (around September to October). At that time, check the date and time for the distribution of application forms, and pick them up at a later date.
Then, submit the application form (around October to November). The documents that you need to bring with you when you submit the application form and the screening method will differ for each kindergarten, so make sure that you have all the information you need.
There are various selection methods done by the kindergartens, such as first-come first-served, interviews, ability tests, and lotteries.
Some kindergartens will announce the results on the same day, while others will announce them at a later date.
What to write in the application form
It is important to visit the kindergarten as much as possible, attend information sessions and learn about the characteristics of each kindergarten, so that you can write a more thought-out reason to why you want to send your child to this kindergarten. Include in your reasoning the philosophy of the kindergarten that match your family’s educational values and the parts of the kindergarten’s teaching methods that you agree with. You want to effectively express your desire for your child to learn, play and grow at this kindergarten.
When the decision is made to enroll your child
If you decide to accept the offer and enroll your child in the kindergarten, submit the necessary documents distributed by the kindergarten and pay the enrollment fee.
After that, there will be a “pre-school” orientation (around January or February) where you will order uniforms, school bags, tools, teaching materials, etc., and pick them up at a later date.
After the orientation, parents are asked to check the items that they need to prepare, such as bags and lunch sets, and to write their names on each item. Some of the items need to be prepared in a specific manner. Such as, it has to be a certain size, or it may require elastic strings to hang the cups and so forth. Hence, be prepared to put in some time and effort.
If you have any problems
If you are having trouble choosing a kindergarten or dealing with paperwork, consult your local government office.
The language and content of consultation services vary depending on the government office, but many ward offices in the 23 wards of Tokyo have set up consultation services for foreign residents.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has also started a Tokyo Multilingual Consultation Navi on April 1, 2021 where you can receive consultation in various languages.
Without a doubt, time at a kindergarten or nursery school is a significant period for the child – discovering the world outside of their family and learning to interact and build relationships with others their age. We hope that this has helped you in finding the best environment for your child to grow.