One of the things I find overwhelming as a school parent in Japan is the sheer amount of paperwork that comes home. In front of me I have an info sheet reminding me that today is the annual "fall into the swimming pool with all your clothes on" so the children can learn how to save themselves if, well, they ever fall into water with all their clothes on. Isn't this interesting, that they do this with the kids every year? My husband says he only practiced doing this when he was training to become a lifeguard.
Here's the list of things the boys need to pack in their swimming bags:
navy blue school swimsuit
swimming card (on swimming days we are supposed to take their temperature and record it and sign it and send it in. No signature, no swimming. This is a challenge for me since I almost never take their temperatures and hate having to add one more task to the morning rush)
an extra set of clothes
Shoes (this will be a tough one, as the boys only have one or two pair of shoes each and only one of those are sneakers. They're not allowed to wear crocs to school – too much running around/recess/gym class)
a two-liter empty water bottle (to use as a float?)
an empty plastic bag with no holes in it, plus one or two more for carrying wet clothes home
Swimming is taught in Japanese school, and during summer vacation the pool is open for swim class during the morning as well. Kids take swim tests to move up through fifteen different levels. I think this is generally a good thing, although the water is freezing apparently. My Japanese friends are surprised to hear that most schools in the US don't have their own pools (I don't know of any at all, in fact). Swimming is a part of the national curriculum here.
Here's a photo from the annual "pool opening day" – every year there is a little ceremony with speeches and skits (including role playing what NOT to do around the pool – some of the older kids pretend to fool around, much to the delight of the little ones), then the kids go into the pool for the first time that school year. The ones in yellow hats are first graders – they're the only ones who don't go into the pool on the first day.
The first graders are wearing their gym uniforms, too – white tops with navy bottoms. Usually they wear a red cap instead of the yellow hats. There's a fondness for hats here!
Notice the lovely urban backdrop? That's what life is like in Tokyo. I am envious of those of you who have a nice view out your windows. Enjoy it.
Here's a photo of some kids walking home on one of the quiet narrow streets that abound here, on their way towards the bigger streets. The first graders (in the yellow hats) also put a yellow cover on their backpacks so that they'll be more visible. The little tiny bags hanging off their backpacks are bags containing their lunch mats (placemats) and a toothbrush. I don't remember carrying either of those to school when I was little.
Our boys learned to swim from us (in fact, I remember teaching B to swim when we went on a vacation in Japan and my husband remarked on how many little toddlers he saw who were able to swim). I once tried to enroll D in a Japanese swimming class that several friends were taking their children to. There were so many children, and so few teachers, and it just wasn't a gentle approach – felt more like a factory. I pulled him out because I felt in my gut that that particular class wouldn't at all suit him. Now he swims like a fish, and I'm wondering how we'll teach our daughter M to swim. She's 3 1/2 and she seems fearful of the water, but water is one of the things I feel really worried about until I know my kids are able to stay afloat on their own.
Tell me about swimming where you live – how do most children learn to swim? How do you talk to your kids about staying safe around water? Any thoughts on helping my daughter learn to become more comfortable as she learns to swim?