While children are well looked after at school, most schools try to collaborate with parents on their children's education, and parents are expected to understand and involve themselves with their child's school.

Here are some important tips for collaborating on your child's education with your children's schools.

Building strong bonds with teachers

Drop-off and pick-up time: Good opportunities to talk with teachers!

First, start by greeting teachers. Simple greetings will lead to chats with teachers. They will tell you about your child’s behavior at school. Maybe you can talk about your child’s behavior at home. Share information!

Drop-off time in the morning and pick-up time in the afternoon are ideal opportunities to talk about small concerns that are not serious enough to arrange meetings with teachers to discuss. You may ask about your child, voice concerns, or ask about school events. These are short and quick conversations, so you don’t need to worry about taking up a busy teacher’s time.

What is the teacher like?

What’s her age? How does he talk? Does she speak politely? Is he friendly? Is she easy to talk to? Does he have a lot of experience? Is there a teacher who is easy to talk to when you have questions? Find a teacher you can talk to easily in times of need.

Building good bonds with other parents

Make friends with other parents who you can talk to easily. You can ask questions and discuss things that are awkward to talk about with teachers. You may also get good advice from the other parents. Is there anyone you meet at the school bus stop everyday? Is there anyone you often run into when you take your child to and from school? If so, say hello and talk about your children.

School events are also great opportunities to meet other parents. You may be able to become friends with parents who are friendly, helpful and have a lot of experience bringing up children. You may also meet parents from other countries, or even your own country, who you feel comfortable talking to and sharing information with.

Having someone you can talk to about anything

Do you have someone you can talk to about anything at all? A family member, a friend from your home country, your Japanese teacher, an international support organization volunteer, or someone else? Even if this person does not know much about your preschool, he or she can help you to work out issues and problems. It is also good to have someone to talk to before you speak with teachers, especially if you are upset about something. This can help you to calm down and sort out your feelings.

Rules: your school's way or your own way?

As someone from a foreign country living in Japan, you have no doubt experienced some cultural differences. You have probably run up against unfamiliar customs and rules, some of which may have been easier to accept, while others may have been more difficult to deal with. You may also have experienced school policies and daily routines that are unfamiliar and make you feel uncomfortable.

Talk to teachers or friends about these unfamiliar customs or rules. If your priority is maintaining a comfortable relationship with teachers, then following the customs and rules of your school is the easiest option. However, if there is something you cannot accept, you should approach the teachers politely and calmly with your feelings.

Reading newsletters and handouts

Your child will come home with newsletters and handouts from school containing information about school events, items that need to be brought, payments due, and so on. If you have difficulty reading Japanese, ask friends or teachers for help. Maybe you can even ask teachers to use furigana in the newsletters.

Writing in the renrakucho notebook

Most schools use renrakucho notebooks to send messages to families. These notebooks can not only be used to talk about how your child is doing at home and at school, but can also serve as a valuable communication tool that can strengthen bonds between school and home.

Does your child's school use renrakucho notebooks?

First, check whether your child's school uses renrakucho notebooks or not. Then ask what is normally written in the school's renrakucho, and find something that you can write about. Writing day-to-day notes to the teachers Conveying information and expressing your impressions of events Impressions and thanks are good topics to start with. When you find something you wish to write about, or something you think you can write about, give it a try!

What if I’m not good at writing in Japanese?

There is no obligation to write in a renrakucho (although many schools may ask you to write in a renrakucho every day about meals and your child’s health if your child is still an infant).

If you are worried about your Japanese or don’t have time to write in a renrakucho, then:

Talk to the teachers at school instead of writing in a renrakucho.
Start with your signature or a short phrase.
First, sign your name or use your inkan stamp as a sign that you have read and acknowledge messages from the school. Useful expressions Next, try writing a short phrase such as arigato gozaimasu ("thank you") for something that the teacher did for your child, or sumimasen ("sorry") if you want to apologize for something such as missing the deadline for a document.
Write day-to-day notes. Conveying information
Write about daily matters. These may include comments about your child’s health, requests that the teachers give your child medicine, or messages letting the school know that you will be arriving late or leaving early. These notes can often be written using several set phrases. Once you get used to such phrases, you should feel comfortable using them in renrakucho messages.
Write about your impressions of school events. Impressions and thanks
Share your thoughts with teachers about events. The teachers will be pleased to hear your comments and thoughts, and will be happy to know whether you and your child enjoyed the events.

Things you should not write about in the renrakucho notebook

In some cases, it is better to telephone the school than to write a message in the renrakucho notebook. For example, if you are unaware that your child will be absent or late to school until the night before or the day of the absence or late arrival, it is generally accepted that you should telephone or otherwise directly contact the school instead of writing in the renrakucho. (Some schools prefer that you inform them of absences by giving your renrakucho to the pick-up bus in the morning. Please confirm these policies with your child's school.)

Schools will often ask you to have your child bring things from home. If you are unsure of what is required, it is always easier to talk to teachers in person, since you can get an immediate answer and the teacher may even show you some actual examples of the item in question. You can also ask many questions!

It is hard enough for Japanese parents to discuss concerns and write about problems in a renrakucho, and it may be difficult and time-consuming to explain things systematically and clearly. In addition, things that are written in a renrakucho remain there permanently and cannot be unwritten, so it is also necessary to consider the feelings of the teachers who read your messages, which may require writing with a certain amount of politeness or delicacy. With all of this in mind, you may find that it is better to speak to a teacher in person about certain matters, rather than attempting to write about them in the renrakucho. However, renrakucho are very useful for making appointments or expressing your thanks after a problem has been resolved.

Please remember that there is no need to have a perfect command of Japanese to write in a renrakucho notebook. Even Japanese native speakers make mistakes and require time to write renrakucho messages. Don’t worry too much, and remember that simple phrases will be fine. Refer to the examples in this website and feel free to use phrases in their entirety (after confirming that they contain what you want to say.)

Just give it a try!