The preschool sector in Hong Kong is diverse, with a range of teaching approaches, languages and tuition fees catering to expatriates and locals. To find the appropriate, affordable kindergarten for their child, parents will have to do their research. There are nearly 1,000, of which about 65 cater to non-locals. All kindergartens in the city are privately operated and most follow a play-based approach to promote a balanced development. But they can still vary widely in terms of class sizes, curriculum and fees. Hong Kong Kindergarten Association chairwoman Mary Tong Lai-chi said parents would need to do hands-on research. 'To start off, parents should study schools' yearbooks, newsletters, class schedules and word of mouth to get general information on pre-schools and teachers' qualifications,' she said. Following that, parents should visit the kindergartens they have shortlisted to check on details such as the school environment, atmosphere and interaction between teachers and children to get a closer look at the reality. 'Parents can tell if a kindergarten is well managed by observing how settings are organised and how facilities are being maintained. These can be important indications, letting you know how reliable a kindergarten is,' Ms Tong said. Parents should not send children to distant schools and they should take note of the religious practice of individual kindergartens, she added. Choices of curriculum and teaching styles were also fundamentally important. 'While most kindergartens are play-based, some differ from each other by offering different teaching methods,' Ms Tong said. 'Children who love to read can take the literacy approach, and the Montessori method emphasises self-directed learning. Others may come with mathematics, music and arts programmes based on children's interests and developmental growth.' The most suitable teaching method depended on a child's interests and characters, she said. 'For example, parents can fortify children's musical and artistic talents or build strengths in their character - such as self-reliance - by opting for different teaching methods,' Ms Tong said. In fact, any general kindergarten would be adequate to address most children's learning needs provided they could learn happily from a range of activities. 'Some specialised teaching methods are just selling points,' Ms Tong said. Regarding what parents could expect from higher fees, she said: 'Generally, you would be paying more for a spacious outdoor environment, a low child-to-teacher ratio and better teachers' qualifications.' Other factors, such as fancy furniture, the latest IT equipment, teaching aids and toys, could also be why some kindergartens were charging more than others, she said. If a less-expensive kindergarten is required, parents can choose a sponsored preschool education by enrolling their children in kindergartens that are covered by the education department's voucher scheme. Under the scheme, which came into effect last September, parents of children aged three to six attending non-profit kindergartens can apply for vouchers worth up to HK$10,000 a year towards fees. Up to HK$3,000 per child will go towards supporting teacher training. The annual subsidy per child will rise to HK$16,000 by 2011-12, and from then on parents will get a subsidy to cover the full fees. The scheme covers children attending kindergartens that charge HK$24,000 or less for half-day classes or HK$48,000 for whole-day classes. About 80 per cent of Hong Kong's kindergartens are non-profit-making, while the rest are allowed to keep 10 per cent of income as profit.