The Transition from Kindergarten to Elementary School in Tokyo: What to Expect

Nov 21, 2023
Learning, School

Moving from the happy-go-lucky world of kindergarten to the formal structured environment of elementary school - it’s the most important milestone for any student. 

Especially in Tokyo, where the education system is rigour and highly valued; the transition can be both exciting and overwhelming for parents. Understanding the in-depth details of the education system is crucial for ensuring a smooth and successful journey for your child.

Over 95% of Japanese children take Nursery school admission before entering elementary school. This demand is because parents know the benefits of early exposure to education which helps in laying a strong foundation for their academic and social development. 

But most of the parents have many questions such as: 

● How the transition will affect children?

● What new things to expect?

● How does the transition is different in Tokyo compared to other parts of the world? 

● What are the unique challenges children face? 

In this article on Kindergarten to elementary school transition, we have covered all these queries and you will gain some valuable insights from the transformative phase in your child's educational journey.

The Japanese Educational System: An Overview

The education system in Japan is widely recognized for its emphasis on academic rigour, and discipline aiming to cultivate well-rounded individuals who are not only intellectually proficient but also morally sound and socially responsible.


Early Childhood Education: Preschool also known as KG or Kindergarten is optional in the Tokyo school system. The program is for children aged 3 to 5 years focusing on developing basic skills, socialization, and fostering a love of learning.

Elementary Education: It spans 6 years and the curriculum includes core subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Social studies, Arts, Music, and Physical education.

Secondary Education: It is divided into junior & senior high school. Junior is compulsory and lasts 3 years and senior high school is optional, and also lasts 3 years. The Tokyo school curriculum expands and focuses on more specialized courses on core subjects introduced in elementary school.

Higher Education: Higher education, while not compulsory, is highly valued in Japan focusing on specialization courses on specific subjects (career-oriented).

Preparing Your Child for the Transition: Keep Important Things in Mind 

1. Talk about the transition openly and positively: Tell your child about the upcoming change, and let them know what it will be, how things will be and what they should expect such as new teachers, new friends, learning new things, and experiencing new activities.

2. Visit the school together: Take them along with you while visiting the International School helping them to get familiarised with the campus, classrooms, playground, and other facilities or even other children if possible. This will help reduce their anxiety and foster a sense of familiarity.

3. Establish a consistent routine: Start in advance the routine to be followed for school such as early bedtimes and wakeup, regular mealtimes, and structured playtime. This will put them in habit and they will adjust easily. Also, you won't have to worry later when the actual school starts.

4. Practice independent routines: Encourage your child to practice activities independently or self-care tasks such as dressing, packing their bag or lunch, and organising their belongings. This will help them in school to do tasks independently and confidently.

5. Develop social skills: Encourage them to interact with other children, and give them the opportunity to mix with other students or children by taking them to parks or play zone areas. This will build confidence in them in social settings and prepare them for the new social life of elementary school.

6. Enhance academic readiness: Engaging them in activities of an elementary school in advance so that they do not get irritated or feel overwhelmed later. Introduce literacy and numeracy skills through play, read stories for them, and play literacy games. This will provide a solid foundation for academic learning in elementary school.

7. Encourage healthy habits: Teach them early on to follow healthy lifestyles such as eating nutritious meals, doing regular simple exercise, less screen time, being more active and adequate sleep. A healthy lifestyle will support their overall well-being and the ability to learn and adapt.

8. Address any concerns or anxieties: Encourage them to express so that they can freely share their concerns or anxieties regarding the transition. Listen attentively, be their support, tell them it's normal and offer reassurance.

9. Collaborate with the school: Communicating with your child's teacher and school staff will help you to share your concerns or things to be followed such as any allergies, etc. You will also learn more about the school’s expectations, routines, and support systems available. 

10. Celebrate the milestones: Acknowledging and celebrating their achievements and progress throughout the school period is necessary to keep them motivated. Positive reinforcement will boost their confidence and will encourage them to give their best.

Differences Between Kindergarten and Elementary School

Feature Kindergarten Elementary School
Age Range Typically 5-6 years old Typically 6-12 years old
Focus Social and emotional development, play-based learning, essential skills Academic achievement, structured learning, subject-specific instruction
Curriculum Less structured, with an emphasis on exploration, creativity, and social interaction More structured, with a focus on core subjects like language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies
Expectations Less formal, with emphasis on participation and effort More formal, with emphasis on academic performance and meeting grade-level standards
Grading Typically informal, with anecdotal records or basic assessments More formal, with letter grades or standardized tests
Teacher Roles Often seen as caregivers and facilitators of play Seen as instructors and guides for academic learning
Classroom Environment Playful and child-centered, with a variety of learning centers More structured and academic, with desks and traditional classroom arrangements
Learning Activities Hands-on activities, play-based learning, storytelling, music, and art Worksheets, textbooks, group projects, and presentations
Home-School Communication Typically less frequent and formal More frequent and formal, with parent-teacher conferences, progress reports, and online portals
Overall Goal Social, emotional, and cognitive development To provide a strong foundation for academic success and lifelong learning

How Children Adjust to a New School at Different Ages

Every child is unique so Moving to elementary school in Tokyo depends on their developmental stage, personality, and individual experiences. Below are the details of how children typically adapt to Japanese education transition at different age ranges.

Preschoolers (Ages 3-5)

● Focus on Social and Emotional Development: Children are more focused on forming friendships and adjusting to a new environment. They may experience anxiety or separation issues during their Japanese primary education, but they adapt quickly with support from their parents and experienced teachers who are trained to help them.

Early Elementary School (Ages 6-8)

● Transition to Structured Learning: As children enter early elementary school, they understand the concept of structured learning and academic expectations. They may face challenges in the beginning with transitions to new environments, following instructions etc., but they eventually get used to it.

Late Elementary School (Ages 9-11)

● Developing Independence and Self-Confidence: By this age, children are becoming more independent and self-confident learners. They focus more on developing stronger peer relationships and academic achievements. They may experience academic challenges, but with the right guidance, they progress confidently.

Middle School (Ages 12-14)

● Navigating Social Dynamics and Academic Pressure: During their adolescent stage, they undergo social and emotional changes, so they are in their zone to figure out who they are and where they fit in, which can lead to peer pressure, social anxiety, and self-esteem issues. Academic pressure in terms of preparing for high school also adds on.

High School (Ages 15-18)

● Preparing for College and Future Goals: Students face extreme pressure due to increased academic rigour, extracurricular activities, and college applications. Some might get more stress and face anxiety, but with the right guidance, they can overcome it. They are also capable by this time, of making decisions and are self-aware of things.

Tips for Helping Children Adjust to a New School at Different Ages

● Talk to your child regularly about their experiences at school. Listen to their concerns, offer reassurance, and provide emotional support.

● Be updated about your child's academic progress and address it as soon as possible for the challenges or learning difficulties.

● Praise their efforts and motivate them continuously.

● If your child is experiencing persistent anxiety, or any difficulties, or academic struggles, seek professional guidance.

Also Read: Why is time management important in the study?


Remember, every child is unique and will progress at their own pace. So as they navigate this exciting transition, embrace the challenges and cherish the memories. With your guidance, love and support they will blossom into confident, well-equipped learners, ready to embrace the world of elementary school.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Emotional Support Can I Provide To Ease My Child's Transition To A New Educational Level?

Communication is the only key. Talk to your child, know what they feel or do they have any concerns, listen to them, validate their emotions and feelings, and offer reassurance.

Are There Specific Entrance Exams For Elementary Schools in Tokyo?

No, there are no specific entrance exams for elementary schools in Tokyo. Some private schools may have entrance exams or assessments to evaluate students' academic readiness.

How Can I Help My Child Adapt To A New School Or Grade in Japan?

● Familiarize your child with school, introduce them to the teachers and staff, and let them know the rules and routines.

● Encourage your child to practice things independently.

● Foster literacy learning through play at home.

● Help them meet other children from the same class so that they feel good.

What Role Do Teachers And Schools Play in Helping Students Transition Smoothly?

● Teachers provide a supportive and welcoming classroom environment by offering individualized attention to meet the needs of each student.

● Schools organize orientation programs which help parents understand expectations and routines, and they also provide opportunities for students to socialize and build connections with peers.

● They also work closely with parents to understand their child’s unique needs and provide consistent support throughout the transition process.


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