Parents in Hong Kong are raising their expectations of kindergartens, with a growing number seeking bilingual classes and preschools that can help their child pass interview assessments, as competition to secure a place at international primary schools becomes more challenging. Primary schools can afford to be more selective than ever with the number of applicants soaring, as parents of both Western and Chinese backgrounds are increasingly keen for their children to receive an international English-language education. 'The requirements have always been roughly the same, but with perhaps a little more flexibility if a child was weak in a particular area,' explains Ginny Humpage, senior curriculum co-ordinator at Woodland Pokfulam Pre-School. 'Schools can now afford to be selective since many more applications are received than there are spots. 'The stronger a child is in all areas the better chances of them being offered a spot. Most international primary schools do an assessment on English and match skills, as well as reasoning, speaking, listening and writing. The schools are more selective with who they take based on this criteria.' Kindergartens are responding to tougher primary school admission requirements in a number of ways, including the offer of dual-language programmes, starting at a younger age, adapting their curriculum to the latest international early learning research, development and recommendations, and staying abreast of the entrance requirements of every international primary school in Hong Kong. Sunshine House International Pre-Schools, which runs eight kindergartens in the city, is, for example, boosting its bilingual offer by extending its Putonghua and English-language speaking sessions to infants as young as nine months in mother groups. 'Bilingual classes are the way of the future with demand from parents intensifying in the last three years. Parents are no longer satisfied with just a 40-minute Putonghua class in a three-hour school day, as they increasingly understand children's ability to learn language at a young age and want to give their children that exposure and opportunity,' says Karen Cole, director of Sunshine House International Pre-Schools. Parents are also taking a closer look at the physical premises of the school, opting for state-of-the-art facilities with large, bright indoor and outdoor play areas. 'I tell parents it isn't just about passing interviews. Kindergarten is two years of your child's life in which they develop social and emotional skills. Parents need to look beyond the primary school interview process and think about what is best for their child,' says Linda Heaney Lau, principal and supervisor of the David Exodus Kindergarten in Sha Tin. What parents often fail to realise, kindergartens say, is that a well-balanced, happy and confident child will naturally stand a good chance of passing primary school interviews on their own. To achieve this, the learning through play approach is thought to be effective, as the focus tends to be on the development of life-long skills, and not solely on preparing for primary school interviews. This approach typically revolves around a structured environment in which children can explore their surroundings, make independent choices and be given the opportunity to develop themselves holistically. The David Exodus Kindergarten structures its sessions around free play, daily discussions, project-based arts and crafts activities, singing, outdoor play, and more taxing projects. 'This type of learning allows children to gain independence, build self-confidence, co-operate with each other, as well as learn important social and emotional aspects that cannot be overlooked,' Lau says.