Study Abroad, Kansas City Style

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Japanese students came to study early childhood education

A very diverse group of young people sang out a spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” complete with upraised hands and fingers counting out the “one, two, three strikes yer out!” refrain. The group included a half-dozen American toddlers and two Japanese college students.

Welcome to study abroad, Kansas City style.

In another corner of the brightly-colored and brightly-lit room at the Edgar L. and Rheta A. Berkley Child and Family Development Center, Japanese college students were teaching basic origami to American children, as the college students’ professor snapped photos. Another group was making and flying “bamboo dragonflies” – winged figures on sticks that fly helicopter-style after being twirled between the palms of the children’s hands.

The Berkley Center is a teaching laboratory for early childhood education students, run by the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The college students who learn there are usually UMKC students, but during this intensive 12-day summer workshop, the students are from Japan’s Kurashiki City College. The group of six undergraduate students, accompanied by Dean and Professor Reito Adachi, Ph.D., are attending the School of Education’s first International Summer Institute in Early Childhood Education.

Maggie Holley, Ph.D., from the School of Education’s division of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies, and Karrie Snider, Ph.D., of the UMKC Institute for Human Development, are the instructors for the institute. Michael Strohschein, Ed. D., Director of the school’s Continuing and Professional Education Program, coordinated the program.

Snider described the intensive short-term program as a “concentrated survey course” combining lectures and classroom work with direct observation and even participation in early childhood instruction at the Berkley Center, Project Eagle at the Children’s Campus of Kansas City, and at the Academy for Integrated Arts, a UMKC-sponsored charter school. (“Early Childhood Education” extends from preschool to Third Grade.)

“We wanted to integrate instruction and experiences that demonstrate the core knowledge and core values of early childhood education,” Snider said. Specific topics included teacher-child interactions, learning environments and family engagement.

The children’s activities, planned by the Japanese students, were an example of learning through play, designed to enhance the children’s physical and cognitive development while getting a taste of another culture.

Officials from Kurashiki, a sister city of Kansas City since 1972, had long been looking for new ways to connect to the higher education institutions in the Kansas City area. Initial conversations with UMKC began in 2013, with a visit by Adachi and Francis Lemery, the Honorary Consul General of Japan, which included a tour of the Berkley Center for Adachi and others by Center director Polly Prendergast.

The students’ schoolwork was intense, but they made the most of their 12 days in Kansas City. Extracurricular activities included visits to Worlds of Fun and a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium, Plaza shopping, dinner at the Lemery family home in Prairie Village, and a lunch and Kansas City tour with the Heart of America Japan-America Society.

School of Education faculty offered lectures over lunch daily, providing overviews of the American approach to topics such as literacy, culturally responsive teaching and special education.

“The students were particularly interested in multicultural education, because the U.S. is so much more diverse than Japan,” Snider said.

Over the course of the institute, the students were exposed to multiple examples of American early childhood education “delivery systems,” including home-based and faith-based pre-schools, Early Start and Head Start programs, and public and charter elementary schools. Each example had UMKC alumni on their teaching staffs, who agreed to work with the Japanese students.

The students visited the Academy for Integrated Arts in traditional Japanese dress, as part of a first-day-of-school ceremony.

“Before we came here, we believed there would be many big differences” in the two nations’ approach to early childhood education,” Adachi said. “But we were surprised to find many things in common.” They included a child-centered approach to learning and a focus on a rich learning environment.

Early childhood educators are currently in high demand in Japan, Adachi said, and his long-term goal is for Kurashiki City College students to eventually take full semesters of classes at UMKC.

He had high praise for Snider and Holley as educators. “They are very good role models for my students,” he said.

Kurashiki City College is a city-run college in Okayama Prefecture founded in 1968. The school is fully accredited and offers degrees at the associate and bachelor levels.

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