Raising youngsters is largely about nurturing personal growth – kindergarten is a German word meaning “garden of children” – but not all flora flourishes under the same conditions. When creating an education plan for your child, there’s no point in planning too far ahead. The process is daunting enough without the burden of trying to predict what your needs will be in 10 years’ time, or how that little person living in your house will best learn when he or she is a teenager. So here are a few points to help you along the puzzling path of early childhood education. 1. Don’t judge a book by its cover A school’s reputation counts for plenty in the Hong Kong community, but just because the “kindergarten for the rich and famous” has Oxbridge and Ivy League alumni, or an amazing new campus, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for your child. Keep yourself grounded and do your research regardless of the school’s name. 2. Don’t marry one curriculum With numerous approaches to early childhood learning, it’s easy to fall into the trap of analysing the differences. However, even the most sought-after curricula are only as good as the teachers and administrators engaged to bring them to life. Theories and philosophies can only go so far. We advise parents to go beyond the specific learning programme offered (the “what”) and consider the “why”, the “how”, and the “so what?”. 3. Understand your child’s proficiency and personality Almost every private school in Hong Kong will insist on meeting your child before admission. This is mostly to ascertain their English and/or Chinese proficiency, gross/fine motor skills, and basic emotional/social competencies. Don’t coach your child for the interview; not only will it come across as forced, but the pressure can be overwhelming. Schools aren’t looking for trained monkeys; coaching can inhibit a child’s natural charm and performance. Spending time in China is the best way for children to learn Mandarin 4. Be clear about preferences It’s very interesting to hear parents trying to articulate exactly what they want from a school for their child: teacher quality; academic results; discipline and effort; pathways to job prospects, a well-rounded extra-curricular programme and a strong community. All schools will more or less profess to provide all of the above, so try to be more open-minded. Often our own school experience shapes what we want – or don’t want – for our own children. Reflect on whether your own missed opportunities or successes are influencing the conversation. 5. Priority needn’t come first Children of alumni, siblings, debenture holders and children of academic staff are usually bumped up the queue. This can be valuable if, and only if, the school feels right for the individual child. But if the old school tie doesn’t fit, don’t force it or someone might choke. 6. Location, location, location The school down the street may not be the best one, but if it’s pretty much on par with the one across the island, then the upside is more time to spend on other activities inside and outside school. A little more family time in the morning can keep stress levels down. So what if the school in the middle of nowhere has a fancy new swimming pool? At least your child doesn’t have to sweat it out for an hour each way on a crowded bus. Consider the effort against the reward. Full marks for Hong Kong’s new Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme 7. Money matters Private school fees are expensive. The return on investment is hard to measure, but it’s certainly not always money well spent. A sensible budget that leaves wiggle room for a few of life’s pleasures will contribute to a happy, balanced household, and an environment conducive to learning. Face the reality of what you can afford; if you are present and engaged (and not sweating about money) then your child will not miss out on a thing.