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How to choose the right kindergarten

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 9:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 9:41am

We are trying to choose a kindergarten for our son. There are so many different types and styles, I'm confused as to which one would be the best for him. Can you please advise?

Hong Kong has an impressive range of kindergartens including many international ones from around the world. This gives parents a wide choice. But it can feel a little overwhelming and be very time consuming trying to make the right decision.

Thankfully, information is now more accessible than ever and most kindergartens have detailed websites and handbooks for easy reference.

First, you need to decide on the type of early education you would like for your child. This ultimately depends on your personal philosophy and tolerance for flexibility.

Some parents are very focused on getting their child into an academic kindergarten which focuses on teaching reading, writing and numeracy skills at an early age.

Others prefer a more child-centred approach; one which takes into account individual learning styles. The latter tends to focus more on "whole child" development through structured play and building social skills.

A good deal of educational research advocates learning through play in the early years. It suggests that children who learn in this way are essentially happier and more successful, and that they are more likely to develop the skills they need.

Second, you need to decide whether you want an English, Chinese, or bilingual education.

Find out how many hours of English or Putonghua are used in classes during a typical week and precisely which activities are carried out in each language.

Also consider if you are looking for a broad curriculum which includes subjects like the arts. Additionally, physical education is often seen as being important in a crowded environment like Hong Kong, so the level, and quality, of facilities for games and gymnastics can be important.

Student-teacher ratio is crucial at this age so look at the actual size of classrooms and the quality and accessibility of resources within them.

The availability of up-to-date technology should be another consideration. Check on the exposure to this and the types of computers or tablets available.

A personal visit is vital. Try to arrange this during the day so you can see classes in action. As you go round ask yourself if it has an open and welcoming atmosphere.

Are the children happy, and do they treat each other with respect? Are they actively engaged in activities? Do the teachers care for the children and positively interact with them? Are there colourful, interesting displays on the walls?

Find out about parental involvement and what expectations are made of parents. Some kindergartens encourage parent help and frequent visits while others prefer to keep mums and dads at arm's length. Also find out about the admissions criteria and process.

The acquisition of some basic skills is certainly useful before children enter mainstream classes. Ask if the children learn to match letters with the sounds they make, have a correct pencil grip, write their own name and form lower-case letters correctly.

Similarly, early maths skills, such as counting, and matching numbers to groups of objects, can all be practised using authentic contexts. You can help with this at home through role play and games.

Your visit will hopefully give you a good idea as to whether it is the right place for your child. Speaking to other parents could be useful, but remember they may have different expectations to you.

No kindergarten is perfect. But the ethos and approach to learning are paramount to your child's happiness and education. And just a tip; get your son's name down early.

Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school

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