I’ve always been curious about what it’s like to be in a local Chinese kindergarten. I’ve heard stories, and it’s now been somewhat confirmed by Josh’s story! Of course, his story is based in Xinjiang; it might be a bit better in the cities… or I hope so anyway. I’m a bit uneasy about four-year-olds doing homework, let alone finishing it at around 9PM!
I’m pleased to share this story by Josh Summers, a China-based expat, business owner and online marketer who runs the website Travel China Cheaper:
My son turns 6 in a couple months. It’s crazy how time flies, isn’t it? What’s even crazier is to think that he has spent more than 2/3 of his life in China. He is, by most any definition, a third-culture kid.
Out where we live in China’s remote, western region of Xinjiang, we don’t have the luxury of enrolling my son in an international school. There aren’t any.
So almost two years ago my wife and I decided to enroll him in a Chinese kindergarten in hopes that he would have the opportunity to make some friends and learn Mandarin. Overall, it’s been a mostly positive experience but it has definitely come with a steep learning curve – mostly for us as parents.
I’ll start with actually getting my son enrolled in kindergarten, which was surprisingly hard. Enrolling a foreign kid wasn’t the issue. The issue was finding a kindergarten that had availability!
Even at this young stage of life, there’s fierce competition in the Chinese education system to get your kid into the best school. My wife and I weren’t trying to be picky, but we were hoping to find a kindergarten that wasn’t too far from our home.
After searching and interviewing (yes, interviewing!) for two weeks, we were finally able to settle on a kindergarten that was about a twenty minute walk from our home. Not ideal – particularly during Xinjiang’s bitter-cold winters – but it worked.
The next step was to get connected with the parent-teacher group, something which started as a WeChat group and later migrated to a phone app. It’s expected that parents remain extremely involved in these groups, which I admit has been hard seeing as it’s all done in the Chinese language.
Homework is assigned in these groups, news is shared and events are announced. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve missed a “parents come to school” day or a “kid brings their favorite toy to school” day because I didn’t carefully read through the group messages.
Important messages often get buried beneath the flood of messages from super-involved parents who ask every question they can think of and share mundane details about how their kid finished their homework. I’m often left wondering if I’m expected to do the same.
“My son rocks. He just finished his homework and it’s only 9pm at night. In fact, here’s a video of him using his abacus, just because I feel like everybody needs to see this.”
Because my son has a distinctly foreign face and limited Chinese, it’s not surprising that he gets treated slightly different from the other students. The teachers are great, don’t get me wrong, but they can only do so much.
My boy came home the other day and told me that he couldn’t understand what the teacher was asking him to do. They went back and forth for a few minutes until the teacher eventually gave up, handed him a coloring sheet and set him by himself while the other kids continued with class.
It’s not the teacher’s fault, that’s just what happens sometimes. As a dad, I don’t like seeing my son being singled out like that, but I also understand that he’s the only foreign boy in his class.
Of course, there is one part of kindergarten life that he never has to sit out: military week. For an entire week he gets dressed up in army fatigues, taught how to march and made to salute the Chinese flag.
Did I mention this is kindergarten?
I’m not sure how I feel about my little American boy playing the part of a young Chinese soldier, but it’s the one time he definitely feels like part of the group.
In the end, he’s making friends and learning the Chinese language, which was our original hope. We’re supplementing his education with a bit of homeschool and trying to get him involved in extra-curricular activities.
In spite of the fact that he’s getting some military indoctrination and picking up some odd Chinese dance moves, having him in a Chinese kindergarten has been good not just for us as parents, but for our boy as well.
Author Bio: Josh Summers has been living in western China since 2006 and now has two boys who call this place “home”. Josh is a business owner and online marketer who runs the site TravelChinaCheaper.com.