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South China Morning Post Kindergartens Festival reveals Hong Kong’s best preschools

Over 40 of city’s preschools engaged parents and discussed key early learning issues at the South China Morning Post Kindergartens Festival, at the JW Marriot Hotel on April 21

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 1:04pm

Children are playful by nature, but the potential benefits of play in early childhood go far beyond creating imaginary worlds or kicking a ball around. Experienced educators speaking at a recent South China Morning Post Kindergartens Festival pointed out that a lack of play in early childhood could lead to anxiety and problems relating to attention and self-control later in life.

Taking part in a “Let Them Play” discussion, panellists Joanna Hotung, founder, Mills International preschool; Ben Keeling, principal, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong; Adam McGuigan, deputy principal, International College Hong Kong Hong Lok Yuen; and Betty Yau, principal, Fairchild Kindergarten; explained how play is necessary for learning.

Hotung said parents should not underestimate the importance of play, whether at kindergarten or at home.

“Play is fundamental to all types of learning, from developing fine motor skills to problem-solving and creativity,” she said. However, McGuigan noted that some parents feel the need to be reassured that they have chosen the “right” kindergarten with progress-report cards and exam results that may not reflect the benefits of learning through play.

Keeling acknowledged that it was important for teachers to listen to parents’ thoughts about learning through play, but he added that it is equally vital for educators to explain to parents the blurred lines between what they might perceive as learning and play.

“In fact, play provides the vital platform that enables children to learn the things their parents expect them to learn,” Keeling said.

Co-organised by the SCMP and strategic partner education consultant Top Schools Hong Kong, the Kindergartens Festival was held at the JW Marriott Hotel on April 21, and was designed to help parents to explore and make informed decisions about choosing a kindergarten from the many in Hong Kong that match their families’ values and children’s needs.

In addition to group panel discussions and Q&A sessions, parents also gained insights about specific education topics during a series of information sessions delivered by high-profile education experts. With more than 40 kindergartens at the event, there were also plenty of opportunities for parents to talk to principals and teachers and ask questions at their respective booths.

As a new mum, I want to find out as much as possible about the various options available, so that when my son is ready for kindergarten, I can avoid the anxiety of worrying if I am doing the best for him
Alice Wu, mother and festival attendee

As a mother of a six-month-old son, Alice Wu said she attended the Kindergartens Festival to get a better idea about the different types of early-learning schools, with a focus on identifying kindergartens capable of encouraging her son’s love of learning from an early age.

“As a new mum, I want to find out as much as possible about the various options available, so that when my son is ready for kindergarten, I can avoid the anxiety of worrying if I am doing the best for him,” said Wu who found the panel discussions about the importance of play and learning Chinese helpful.

In an increasingly globalised world, parents understand the advantage of their children’s ability to speak multiple languages, and this is especially true for Mandarin, as Chinese companies and projects related to China expand around the world. Moderated by Rachel Wang, co-founder of Hong Kong Parenting Education and Kindergarten Festival media partner, and conducted in Mandarin, panellists such as Nancy Du, vice-principal, Dalton School Hong Kong; Maggie Mai, research assistant professor, Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Shirley Su, principal, Han Academy; Joanne Tsang, head of department, Preparatory Years, Singapore International School (Hong Kong); and Fan Yang, vice-principal, Vanke Bilingual School, explained that in addition to learning a language skill that can benefit their future, children immersed in a multilingual learning environment often perform better on tasks that require cognitive skills, decision-making and problem-solving.

While developing leadership skills may seem a premature topic for children of kindergarten age, a panel discussion moderated by Ruth Benny, founder of Top Schools Hong Kong; Karin Ann, co-founder and principal, International Montessori School; Dr Wil Chan, founder and director, Kendall International preschool; Ann Haydon, head, Harrow International School Hong Kong; and Bally Wong, founder, ABC Pathways International Kindergarten, explained that like many things in life, developing leadership skills should begin at an early age.

The panellists suggested parents should allow their children to develop reliance by supporting them, but also letting them fail and learn from their own mistakes. “Parents should be aware of moulding their children into what they want them to be, instead of allowing them to develop their own personality and character,” Chan said.