Remember Robert Fulghum and his famous book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? As unworldly and innocent as they seem, kids can teach us a lot about life. Here’s a collection of five vital lessons that I learnt while teaching kindergarten in China.
In a Chinese kindergarten, some time after nap time comes snack time. Kids shuffle from their sleeping spots to the table and wait for a snack to wake up their metabolisms. American kids might expect biscuits, string cheese, maybe a granola bar, but Chinese kids are happy with something much more basic. Pumpkin and squash stew, hard boiled eggs or tomatoes. Sometimes we give them tofu or a seaweed porridge!
American children would probably see this kind of food as punishment, but these kids never complain. Sometimes I daydream about feeding this kind of stuff to my nieces in America. I imagine their faces scrunching up in a “What the heck?” expression. Maybe they would dare each other to taste the seaweed. They would touch the porridge with the tips of their tongues and laugh hysterically at the very thought of actually swallowing it.
And then I remember how badly behaved American kids can be. As a generalization, American kids can misbehave in ways that Chinese kids wouldn’t dare. According to some research, there may be a link between bad eating habits and bad behavior.
Whatever the studies say, the fact that Chinese children have learnt to truly appreciate vegetables and tofu has made me realise that everyone, including me, can do the same. Picky foreigners should learn to eat like a Chinese kindergartner and appreciate the healthy food on offer here, even if it looks and smells like something that came off a tree.
When the kids are outside playing at a Chinese kindergarten, it’s not uncommon to see one or two boys rush off to the edge of the playground and turn their backs on their peers. In America you might think they were conspiring to skip school or throw frogs at a group of girls, but in China, they’re just relieving themselves. They finish their business in a few seconds and run back to whatever game they were playing before.
As an American, I was a little appalled by this at first. I told the Chinese teachers about the naughty behavior I’d witnessed and they just laughed. In China it seems it’s okay for little boys to pee outside in the playground, even in the most prestigious of kindergartens. In fact, going to the toilet in public is something you’ll see across all genders and ages and across all of China.
Learning to accept this is a big step in accepting other parts of life in China, especially for germ-phobic foreigners who are used to toilet stalls with doors, hand sanitizers or at least taps in public restrooms and children who use the bathroom inside.
It can get a little chilly in Nanjing in the winter months, and because most buildings have no central heating, workplaces and homes can feel cold. But Chinese kindergarten teachers are usually just fine. They sit in their long coats, drinking hot tea and smiling while the thermometer reads 5 degrees Celsius INSIDE the building.
The kids are fine too because they’re wearing even more layers of clothing than the adults. Sometimes they even have a towel down their backs to absorb the sweat!
Since I’ve moved here, I have conceded that the Chinese are right when it comes to being sparing with heating. It’s unwise for a country with such a large population to use coal generated heat to warm their buildings when all people really need to do is wear long underwear. Foreigners looking to adjust to a China winter, therefore, should do as the children and pile on multiple layers of clothing. If you can move your arms freely, you’re not wearing enough.
It’s no secret that life is competitive for Chinese students. Parents start teaching their children some very challenging things at young ages to prepare them for the even more competitive academic life ahead.
At my kindergarten, we introduce the English alphabet when children are just two years old, as compared to around five for American kids. And although Chinese two-year-olds don’t get their ABCs down in one lesson, they come to understand each letter and its sound more quickly than I ever expected.
The fact that kids can start to learn a second language at such a young age is amazing to me. In fact, my young Chinese students have inspired me to believe that, with persistence, I can also learn their language, although an alphabet would certainly come in handy!
Chinese kids often call each other big brother (gēge), big sister (jiějie), little brother (dìdii) or little sister (mèimèi). And to teach responsibility, teachers often use these terms to emphasize that older kids need to take care of younger kids. They might say, “Help meimei find her shoes” or “Give didi that toy. You are older and you can share.”
I also find this nice because kids who are complete strangers can become instant friends, even without an introduction. They know what to call each other just by looking at them! In this way, kids can have friends, and “family”, wherever they go.
Expats can also rest assured that this same feeling of being part of one big family applies to them. Many Chinese parents will tell their kids to address you as auntie/uncle, even without an introduction. It’s little things like this that can really make you feel welcome when you’re so far away from home.
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Keywords: teaching kindergarten in China
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Great article and you have a positive attitude. Personally, I couldn't handle teaching little kids and I admire those that can do it. It takes a very creative and patient person to do this well. I know the teachers that can do it well can have a lot of fun with them and the kids are active and want to learn but you have to find the right way to teach them. The part about a healthy diet is important and so is treating everyone like family. About the bathroom prudishness, I know that foreigners have to accept bad hygiene habits in China but I wish people would scold kids for peeing outside. It spreads germs and diseases and teaches kids not to value or respect the space of others which becomes a big problem when they get older as we can see from adults that litter and spit freely and proudly. I know as a foreigner, we shouldn't say anything but I would not allow my kid to do that unless it is an emergency or we are in western Europe where toilets are expensive to use. Still, China is a decent place to live in overall and no place is perfect.
Nov 18, 2018 17:02 Report Abuse
Fruits and vegetables are cheap in China and they have the luxury of being able to consume them at the expense of the poor peasants not enjoying the pleasures of city dwellers, in America with the high labor cost, eating meat is cheaper, no comparison, I could never afford the fruits and vegetables I eat in China being lower middle class in America and being in the higher middle class would not help because we don't think food should be so expensive. It's just not an option in America, I have ate many apples in China but at some times six times the price in America, I had never purchased apples in my entire life, only at a buffet restaurant.
Oct 15, 2018 20:40 Report Abuse