This month, many DBers are leaving babyhood behind and heading to kindergarten. To find out what they can expect, Suveera Sharma zooms in on three local schools.
If there is one thing that is most frequently repeated by parents of small children, it is ‘they grow up too fast.’ In a blink of an eye, they grow from endearing babies to delightful toddlers, and before we know it, it’s time for them to go to ‘big school’ or kindergarten.
Educators tell us that the Early Years are the most critical in terms of a child’s brain development and learning, which makes choosing a kindergarten a huge and often stressful challenge for parents. Fortunately, Discovery Bay boasts a wide range of kindergartens, with diverse curriculums and approaches.
Let’s take a look at just three of the options: Discovery Mind Kindergarten (DMK) by DB Marina, Discovery Montessori School (DMS) in DB North Plaza and Discovery Bay International School (DBIS), which has an Early Years campus near DB Plaza.
A global perspective
A priority for parents globally, and perhaps particularly in a multicultural enclave like DB, is that their kids receive an internationally grounded education. And certainly, this is a priority at all three schools under consideration.
Eleanor Loran, head of Early Years at DBIS opens by saying, “Our mission is to provide an outstanding, holistic international education to students in an inclusive and nurturing learning environment. We seek to inspire and empower students to succeed in fulfilling their individual potential as global citizens in a rapidly changing world.”
Michele Fernandes, head of school at DMK, is of a similar mind, saying, “Our vision at DMK is very simple – to inspire every child to discover the world with a global mind.”
And again, at DMS, principal Gloria Law explains, “Our mission is to create and sustain a multicultural Montessori education experience. One that embraces diversity and allows each child to reach full potential by becoming an independent and self-motivated global citizen.”
While there’s no doubt that parents want their children to develop independence at kindergarten, this doesn’t mean they want to take a backseat. Most want to be directly involved in their children’s education, and in the school community. Again, enabling this seems to be a priority at DBIS, DMK and DMS.
“We pride ourselves on being a community school with strong links with the family. Parent involvement is encouraged and much appreciated,” DBIS reception year group leader Katie McGarey says.
Says Michele, “DMK involves parents at every step of the way in their child’s educational journey and has a weekly newsletter, drop-in sessions and monthly parent workshops.”
Over at DMS, vice principal Marsida Gostivari explains, “Parents play an active role in our school with conferences and regular meetings held throughout the year. We have presentations by parents from different professions, which are very impactful for the children.”
Learning through play
What most parents are looking for from a kindergarten is a unique learning experience for their child with just the right mix of play and work. For this reason, when choosing a school, it’s important to consider the learning style and curriculum, plus the extracurricular activities on offer.
“At DBIS, we follow the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, along with a very outdoors Scandinavian approach,” Eleanor explains. “Our teaching methods incorporate Beach Schools’ and Forest Schools’ learning techniques, where we take learning outdoors into nature. The students are exposed to dynamic and engaging experiences both inside and outside the classrooms.”
At DBIS, extracurricular activities include music and dance, Zumba and creative arts. Child-initiated opportunities are balanced with adult-led activities.
Equally at DMK, where international stream students follow an adapted version of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, the aim is to strike a balance between academics and play. “In our studies, we focus on language and communication, and maths and phonics amongst other things,” says Michele. “On the other hand, the children can also enjoy an indoor play area in their free break time.
“There are various extracurricular activities on offer at DMK like cooking, science, technology, engineering, music and dance. In addition, regular field trips are organised to enhance the children’s learning,” adds Michele.
DMS, meanwhile, follows the Montessori philosophy, which is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. The idea is that children ‘learn by doing,’ work is more sensorial, and there is no homework.
Gloria explains, “Music and dance is incorporated within the learning in the classroom. There are many extracurricular activities. We have yoga, physical education, arts and crafts to name a few. The children also get regular breaks and playtime in both our indoor and outdoor play areas.”
It is believed that children who are introduced to multiple languages at a young age have a much easier time processing and remembering the information they receive, and early exposure to language learning is something many parents prioritise. Not surprisingly, Mandarin is a core subject at these three DB kindergartens.
As part of the DBIS curriculum and play-based learning, children learn Mandarin twice weekly, in addition to communication and language, literacy and maths. Specialist teachers are provided in Mandarin, physical education, music and information communication technology.
DMK offers two streams of study – bilingual and international. In the bilingual stream, students get increased exposure to Mandarin. Equal weight is given to both English and Mandarin, with a Mandarin-speaking teacher in the class at all times. Students in the international stream have twiceweekly Mandarin lessons.
DMS offers a strong bilingual learning environment, where the children are constantly exposed to both Mandarin and English as a medium of communication. In every class there’s both an English-speaking Montessori teacher and a Mandarin teacher.
The question of tech
When choosing a kindergarten, something many parents struggle with is whether technology is important in Early Years education. Should children be exposed to it, and if so how much?
From DBIS, the message comes back loud and clear – technology is used to assist with learning. “We use innovative pedagogy and technology to enrich our learning,” says Laura Clarke, acting year group leader. “Educational apps and green screens are used to make learning fun. Each child gets a lesson a week with a specialist information and communication technology teacher.”
And at DMK? “We try and provide the best of facilities with smart boards in classes and laptops for the older children,” says Michele. DMS, on the other hand, is vehemently low-tech. School supervisor Dr Christie Leung says, “Technology is so attractive to children, it totally consumes them. Children with too much exposure to technology at a young age have less concentration spans and are used to overstimulation. We only introduce screens gradually after the age of five – we rely on sensory work to develop the brain.”
Ultimately, which type of school fits the bill for your child and what choice you make will depend on your family dynamics and beliefs. Every child is different and what might be great for one child might not suit another. In the end, what really matters is that your child is happy and thriving, and experiences the joy of learning.
Leaning towards ESF?
ESF Tung Chung International Kindergarten is the newest kindergarten in the English Schools Foundation. Opened in August 2016, it is now an IB candidate school.
“Our mission is to inspire creative, resilient and independent learners who connect with the world,” says Sandra Hite, head of school. “Our personalised programme is led by exceptional teachers working in partnership with parents.”
Following the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, early literacy and numeracy are integral at ESF Tung Chung. “The learning environment is rich and engaging, and children are encouraged to learn through inquiry and hands-on experiences,” says Sandra. “Extracurricular activities include physical education, music and art.”
The programme is conducted in English, with Mandarin taught by a native Chinese teacher who undertakes specialist sessions and reinforces the class teacher’s planning and activities in Chinese.
“Many parents ask about our attitude to tech in the classroom,” Sandra says. “In ESF schools, children start their information technology learning journey in kindergarten. It’s important because it helps students learn key concepts in maths.”
• ESF Tung Chung International Kindergarten, www.tck.edu.hk
Photos by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com, and courtesy of DMK and DMSTags: kindergarten, montessori, esf tung chung, discovery bay internatioanl school, discovery mind kindergarten, discovery montessori school