2014 Volume 81 Issue 4 Pages 384-395
Many children experience problems during the process of transiting from nursery schools or kindergartens to elementary schools. One of the reasons is the difference of teaching methods between early childhood education and elementary education. Educational administrators explain this difference as corresponding to the two different developmental stages; early childhood and childhood.
This study describes in detail the teaching methods of early childhood education and elementary education, and examines their historical and social backgrounds. It then analyzes the dominant discourse which connects the difference with developmental stage theory and suggests an alternative approach to integrating the teaching methods by considering kindergartners and elementary school students as children in an integrated way.
Early childhood education in Japan accomplishes its aims through children’s lives and play. The key phrase of its method is “educating children through the environment.” The major role of kindergarten teachers as well as nursery school teachers is to constitute the environment surrounding children from an educational point of view. Children are supposed to engage independently in various activities which interest them.
The aims of elementary education are accomplished by integrating all the outcomes of activities in schools, such as subject teaching, moral education, and extracurricular activities. Teachers make their teaching plans based on the annual teaching schedule and are to teach systematically and progressively.
The difference of teaching methods between early childhood education and elementary education is partly explained by the historical backgrounds of the two education systems. The Japanese early childhood education system was introduced separately from the elementary school system during the Meiji era. The present gap is also caused by different methods of handling the educational reform movement during the 1980s, which emphasized students’ individualization and their independent minds.
However, educational administrators often explain the dissimilarities of these teaching methods as a result of the difference between the two developmental stages. This development theory functions to justify the existing difference. But the theory has been questioned for many years by educational psychologists, and many scholars report that five-year-olds should be treated like elementary school pupils. There are some possibilities of lowering the elementary school entrance age to five if we depend too much on the psychological developmental stage theory.
We need to start to discuss methods of educating children based on the findings of educational theory as well as those of early childhood education theory. In order to start the discussions which will connect teaching methods, we need to examine the three themes below.
1. Composing an overall curriculum which considers children’s cumulative experiences.
2. Capturing young people as children in an integrated way.
3. Connecting the two teaching methods; the method of “educating through the environment” and the theory of class design.