[Sponsored article] When it comes to developing a lifelong passion for learning, laying a solid foundation during a child’s early years education is important. In fact, according to experts, a child’s foray into early schooling not only determines the success of their future learning, but it can also go a long way in helping them to develop as a person. “The Nursery year is important because it is often the first time a child enters ‘schooling’, be it at a kindergarten, a childcare centre or school, getting this right is vital,” said Ruth Hanson, Head of Campus at Nord Anglia International Pre-School (NAIS HK). She explained that this is the time when children move from the safety of their family structures to becoming part of another community where other adults play a role in their educational and personal development. “It is in the Nursery Year at NAISHK where we see children learning how to collaborate, become resilient and express themselves more effectively,” she said. And aside from developing skills such as phonics, number sense, or even how to respond to other people’s actions and choices, this is also the time when they begin to “discover their own sense of self and awe and wonder and develop a true love for learning that can last a lifetime”, she added. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has been disruptive for early learners in the past few years. Given that the Nursery year is when children typically begin to socialise with others in a school environment, the disruptions have meant less physical and social interactions, the very essence of early years learning. However, NAIS HK hasn’t allowed this to stop them from fulfilling their mission. The school has found creative ways to ensure that school and home learning can work hand in hand for the benefit of its students. In fact, Hanson said that their experience has shown that there are plenty of opportunities for play and socialisation when physical schools are shut. “The one thing we have learned at NAIS HK over the last two years is that a school is far more than just a building – it is a community of people – children, teachers, and parents all sharing the same educational goals and aspirations and whose actions are intrinsically linked to support the learning and development of each and every child within that community,” she said. It is because of this commitment and the support towards each other that has allowed virtual school at NAIS HK to run successfully. The secret to its success is its commitment to its five key steps that ensure the school creates enough linked interactions and engagement for every child. According to Hanson, the school aims to firstly build emotional connections with their young students. By practising and being “intentional teachers”, teachers are mindful of how they use a child’s name, how to gain eye contact, knowing what calms, excites and makes children laugh in order to create an emotional connection in the absence of a physical one. Secondly, the school uses small group sessions as a way to emphasise relationships and communications, these are vital to help support a young child through their growth and learning. Utilising a blended approach that involves live class calls, pre-recorded videos, 1:1 and small group calls, the school has found an effective way for teachers to have meaningful interactions with each child and be able to understand each child’s needs and respond to those appropriately. Thirdly, the school sticks to a regular routine each week so that students can anticipate and get excited by creating what Hanson calls a “flow” and “rhythm” to their week. Fourthly, the school ensures that learning is at the right pace and challenge for each child. And lastly, the school encourages using simple, physical resources available at home as a great way to help children engage in the virtual classroom and learn. Rather than passively watching a screen, children are encouraged to move and be active. Despite ongoing school suspensions, NAIS HK has been a model for other schools, making it easy for parents to support their young children’s learning by breaking it down into small manageable steps. The school emphasises that while there are many ways to do learning, play continues to be one of the most valuable avenues of learning. “Furthermore, we emphasise five key activities to support your child’s growth and development at home,” she said. 1. Learning through play. This is the best way for your young child to learn. Plan in manageable playful moments and give them your undivided attention. 2. Take time to talk to your children during regular routines. This is simple but so impactful. 3. Read with your child. This is an effective way to develop language and understanding. Share a short story together, talking about characters and asking the question: What would happen if …? 4. Making mistakes is a great way to learn. Encourage your children to “have a go”. 5. Follow your child’s interests to ensure that they are fully engaged. As schools carry on with virtual learning, NAIS HK is confident that it is able to continue to deliver a positive curriculum that facilitates a positive early childhood education. And Hanson credits this to the school’s complete focus on three key elements of learning: Establishing an emotional connection with each student, a personalised approach to each child’s learning and being organised and responsive to the needs of the students and families.