Kindergarten is a mixed bag because the kids are like sponges. They have no preconceived notions about what they can or can't do. That makes it really fun because the kids are really outgoing and want to try everything. On the other hand some of my students are as young as 3 years old. So you can't teach them something in a second language if they don't know how to say it in their native language. So you have to balance both of these ideas in order to make the class fun but somewhat challenging.
Before I had moved to Hokkaido the youngest students I had ever taught were first graders. They of course had a better comprehension the world around them so they understood why they had to study English. On the other hand kindergarten students have no idea why they are studying a foreign language and I believe some of them don't even understand what a foreign country is. Most of them have never even been to the main island of Japan and so having a concept of other places in the world is just beyond them.
I was really worried about teaching kids this young. I had no idea what they would be able to comprehend and what they wouldn't. As a teacher you have to limit what you are going to teach a lot. It made it so that I was only teaching stuff like animals, fruits and colors for the first few months here but after you do that so many times you realize that you can only teach that type of material so many times. Then I decided to go on YouTube and just look at examples of other people teaching that kind of class. Most of the classes that I could find were not in Japan but in China and Korea. One thing that I noticed right away was the fact that the English level of the students was much higher than mine and I was seriously wondering why.
One of the things that was very different from my classes was the fact that the teacher was speaking English the entire class. I have no idea if that was because he couldn't speak Chinese or that was just what he wanted to do in his class. However I was surprised when I noticed that all of these really young kids, about 4 to 6 years old were following everything that he was saying. It wasn't like he was saying anything very difficult but they understood the flow of his class. I think that has to do with the fact that this teacher most likely has a very thought-out way of running his class and most likely teaches that way every time.
That made me realize a few things. I should try to have a format for how I teach my classes and should stick to it. Children thrive on concrete structure in their education and do well when things are set up in a routine. One of the things that I started doing recently was making the kids greet me and introduce themselves before class begins. I teach at many schools so remembering every child's name is pretty hard but I noticed that having actual interactions with these kids and hearing them saying their own name to me made me remember. That routine has become an important part of my class and I enjoy because I get to briefly talk to each of the students individually and they get a chance to practice what they already know, which I am starting to understand is incredibly important.
When you are an assistant language teacher in rural Japan you are going to different schools all of the time so younger kids hear you speak English about once a month. So they get a lesson and most students forget the content and you have to move on to the next thing. Lately I am trying to make sure that I review the last lesson before moving onto anything new now. It all goes back to the idea that quality is better than quantity. I would rather have my students only know a few things really well than many things not very well at all.
The other thing that I have began to realize thanks to watching videos of other teachers was that young children can learn anything if you teach it to them the right way. I saw a video of teacher and he had a group of flashcards with animals on them. He would call out one of the flashcards and the student would not only have to grab the flashcard but say "I have the goldfish" in order to win the activity. After a few times of doing this all of his students were able to say what they had without any difficulty at all. That really inspired me to be more creative in how I teach in order to facilitate my students to naturally use language and not just repeat what I am saying.
One thing I have struggled a lot with is that a lot of the Japanese teachers always think whatever you try to teach is too hard if it is one step off the beaten path. You just have to ignore them. If you think that your students can probably do it then most likely they can. If their is no structure around you in terms of what you should be teaching, it is up to you to come up with that structure. Think logically about what you have taught and what that could lead into. Of course there are limits. These are young kids who can't read or write Japanese let a lone English. However don't let that control your classes too much. Remember that most people a few hundred years ago were illiterate in their native language their entire lives. Does this mean those people were unable to communicate on a daily basis? Of course not. Reading and writing is a bonus when you are teaching in Japan. Of course the end goal is to get students to that level but most of the time that doesn't start happening until middle school here.
I mentioned it before but I really was nervous about teaching kids that young because I had no idea what to expect but now it has become extremely interesting to me. There is almost no structure and that gives you a chance to be experimental in your teaching methods. Of course there are plenty of proven teaching methods but just keep in mind just because something is a standard doesn't mean it is going to work for you. One time when I first started teaching I had a regional trainer come out and help me in terms of doing my lesson plans and for the first week or so I was using lesson plans that he typed up for me. I didn't understand his goal at all. Doing activities that you thought up yourself are going to be the best. You understand what you want out of the activity because you thought it from start to finish.
Use these kid's openness and positive attitude to your advantage. They are a blank canvas in terms of their language and the only two things that confine how much they improve is the time you have with them and your imagination. Don't listen to Japanese teachers who can't speak English. They think they know what is best but don't speak English and guess what that means, they have no idea how a language should be taught or learned. As much as possible take full control of your classes. If you don't you are going to just be sitting in the backseat in a car that is going no where. The end destination is speaking English and if the driver has never been there before why would you let them take the wheel?