Saying goodbye to your “baby” as he or she heads into the classroom for the first time evokes a twinge of anxiety and a touch of melancholy in every parent. So, it’s reassuring when you know that as your child is starting school, they are in the safe hands of experienced educators. We asked representatives from six international schools to each explain one important concept in early learning at their school. And how the implementation of that concept helps to nurture young ones embarking on their education journey.
#1 Successful transition from home to school
“At Singapore American School, our Early Learning Center is a Reggio-Emilia inspired program that sees children as independent, capable and interested learners. Children are invited to engage in a wide range of rich learning experiences, exploring construction, light and shadow, artist materials, mark making and imaginative play. They construct knowledge and understanding in social contexts, and we support our learners as they foster friendships with other children through shared discoveries and inquiries.
“Our physical environment supports each child’s transition into school. Beautiful spaces with natural, recycled and artist materials offer multiple possibilities for children to express their thoughts and ideas, and to explore concepts. Parents are encouraged to write letters to their children which are kept at school, and family photos hold a special place in the learning hubs. During their time in the ELC, children leverage their agency, rights and responsibilities to engage in projects that impact lasting change in their communities.”
#2 Importance of the learning environment
“The GEMS Early Years learning environment is inspired by the world-renowned Reggio Emilia approach to learning. It’s a magical place filled with beauty and wonder! Furthermore, it’s designed with unlimited opportunities for discovery and with an emphasis placed on students’ interests; flexible, open-ended experiences; well organised materials; comfortable places to explore; displays of children’s creations and learning experiences; and with educators who challenge, provoke and respect students’ ideas. These elements build and maintain supportive relationships that lead to genuine, mutually empowering learning that is suited to the individual child.
“Students explore and express themselves through many modes of expression; drawing, sculpting, music, movement, mark making and technology, just to name a few. Learning is enhanced as these spaces, resources and interactions foster curiosity, communication, a strong sense of belonging, knowledge building through collaboration, and inspiration for future learning endeavours, all of which enables students to be active participants in their own learning.”
#3 Encouraging genuine, unstructured play
“On any typical day in our Primary Years Programme (PYP), our teaching staff tries to encourage learning through authentic play – we listen to the children, their many languages and manners of communicating and use their voices in determining the next steps of inquiry. Given our child-centred and teacher-responsive approach, we often witness ‘learner agency’ in the children. For example, one day, one of the children who had recently eaten chicken rice at a hawker centre influenced the whole class to design and construct their own hawker stall replicas and the next day they were deeply engaged in transdisciplinary role-play. All this unfolded so organically and it was a rich experience for the children! We also have a buddy system that reinforces the IB Learner Profile by encouraging the children to be caring and to take principled action. Our younger students eagerly model friendship to new friends starting school, whereas older children can expect numerous ‘How To’ books to help them ease into their new surroundings.”
– Alison Flinchum, Preschool English Language Teacher and IB PYP curriculum coordinator
72 Bukit Tinggi Road (Main Campus)
300 Jalan Jurong Kechil (Junior School Campus)
6461 0881 | info.gess.sg/preschool
#4 Meaningful mealtimes
“Reggio Emilia philosophy has a strong influence on the environment and curriculum at the Australian International School’s Early Learning Village. When they start school, children are encouraged to lead their own learning journey and make new discoveries and friendships along the way. This philosophy extends into lunch time, which is done ‘family-style’, with children sitting together around the table sharing food with their friends and teachers, and chatting with each other.
“Sometimes children sit at one big table, or sometimes they will go ‘Italian-style’ with small tables set for three or four people. After the children have laid the table, the food is provided in big plates in the middle of the table, which children will serve each other from. A range of options is offered, including meat-free and gluten-free foods to cater to children with dietary preferences or allergies. Teachers discuss the food with the children, helping them to understand the importance of nutrition for overall health and wellbeing. Plenty of fresh vegetables, along with balanced proteins and carbs are served to keep energy levels up for the afternoon’s activities.”
– Adam Patterson, Head of Early Years.
Australian International School
1 Lorong Chuan | ais.com.sg
#5 Help the youngest students to settle in, make friends and learn when they are also second language English speakers
“The rich learning environment at UWCSEA’s Infant Schools includes positive, supportive classroom environments that promote dialogue, community building and a sense of emotional security. Combined with our focus on the importance of growth mindset (seeing ability as something that can improve over time with effort and perseverance), our students are encouraged to take safe risks and challenge themselves. Because students feel supported within their classroom communities, they willingly speak, share ideas and engage in meaningful discussion with their peers. Such an environment supports all learners, and is especially useful for English Language learners because they know “mistakes” are viewed as opportunities for learning.
UWCSEA’s concept-based curriculum explicitly builds students’ language skills, helping them make connections between their prior knowledge and the new ideas being explored in a unit. Infant School teachers develop students’ vocabulary with intentionality and purpose. For example, in the K2 unit on materials, teachers develop students’ understanding of a variety of properties of materials. Part of understanding these properties is to describe what a material is like. For example, its texture, weight, or transparency. For the property of “water-resistance”, which is explored through exploration of sinking and floating, teachers front load the words “repel” and “absorb,” so students can use precise scientific language to explain their findings. Such teaching benefits all learners, including those who have English as an additional language, because language use is both explicitly modelled and transferred to real life experiences.”
– Carla Marschall, Vice Principal, Infant School, Dover Campus
UWCSEA Dover, 1207 Dover Road
UWCSEA East, 1 Tampines Street 73
firstname.lastname@example.org | uwcsea.edu.sg
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