Reggio Emilia approach

Out of the blue, the opportunity to be involved in the setting up of a Kindergarten adopting the Reggio Emilia approach landed on my lap. I grabbed it. Now, before we get too excited, its probably going to be a very small role. There are already experts in running childcare centres and RE trainers involved. Financial sponsors are also nearly all in place. I really just need to be the coordinator since I’m the one with no skill and no money.

I’m really really excited about this project. As evident in some of my earlier posts, I was searching for preschools for Sophia and so far none have been fully satisfactory. Among those that I looked at, the ones adopting Reggio inspired approaches appealed to me but at the end of the day they would be lacking in certain aspects.

I first heard about this method through reading the website of The Blue House Nursery, which my sister told me about. She was very drawn to this nursery but my reaction was lukewarm because all their teachers seem non-local, which is fine, but none seemed to be froma  chinese speaking background. Which is just a dealbreaker for me because much as I like the reggio approach, billingual exposure is much more important to me. The window before 7 is such an important window for linguistic development beyond which I am a stong believer that one can learn a language well enough to be proficient but certainly not fluent. As a result I did not even make enquiries at The Blue House.

The next time I stumbled upon the website of a Reggio Emilia inspired school I really liked what I saw. On paper. The said school was Between 2 Trees set up by a lawyer and a lady with designing background. The teachers all have degrees, not just diplomas. The curriculum was very fluid depending on where the conversation brings the class. There was a lot of emphasis on art and creating an environment which inspires creativity. I thought I struck jackpot. I made an appointment to visit the school with high hopes. I wouldn’t say my hopes were dashed but it could be because I visited at a bad time where most children have already gone home and some were taking their afternoon nap, the school felt lifeless. We were brought around and we saw more good stuff. Classrooms set up for pretend play where shoes are contributed by families so that children can pretend to be mother, father, children etc and wear the corresponding shoes then playact in the mock kitchen. We saw models of owls done by the children. We saw a bunch of children playing with clay. The lighting was turned down because it was wind down time before nap. And the best part was, there was an art material room with rows and rows of raw material for artwork, not all professional art material, most collected from everywhere like ice cream sticks, buttons etc. It was a creative child’s dream come true. My brain fericiously wanted to like this school. My heart strongly refused to. The only logical reason I could give for rejecting the school was they allowed the auntie who cooked for the children to be part of the clay session and the Auntie was saying things like “ni-ni” (nice nice) to them. But surely learning to interact with the old is part of the learning process so I can’t fault them for it. No reason but I just didn’t quite like the vibe of the school. Blame it on bad timing I suppose.

And so the search continues. Now its not that I’m tied to the Reggio Emilia approach. I’m just generally drawn to any approach that allows young children freedom to bloom and grow. Play based approach, project based approach etc all appeal to me. Worksheets, montessori, not so. Approaches that tie children to pre-set tasks doesn’t quite work in my short experience as a mum. A few of the mummies I know raved about the Glenn Doman books and flashcards so I read a few of his books and invested in a combination of store bought and homemade flashcards. The Glenn Doman methodology is rather military style forcing information down babies throat imho and while I managed to do it when Sophia was largely immobile, the moment she could run away from it, she did. So teh flashcards were dropped and instead she was allowed to roam around the house. Strangely (or perhaps this is actually normal) she prefers to roam to the her row of books on the bookshelf (second from the bottom so perfect height for her when standing up) and start pulling books out. So as she pulls a book out we open and read it to her. Surprisingly, she remembers things from her first words book whereas for flashcards its really short term memory. If we force her to look at 2 flashcards and immediately afterwards quiz her about them she points to the correct card. But I’m not convinced it would work if we ask a week later. On the other hand, the book knowledge seems permanent. Perhaps this is the difference between self directed learning and forced learning.

So there. I am sort of, accidentally, applying a sort-of Reggio inspired appraoch at home and am now sort of involved in setting up a Reggio inspired preschool. I hope it becomes a success in that it grooms confident, intelligent individuals. Perhaps I’ll think about sending Sophia there instead of the other premium schools I’m considering. But since I have so little say in how the school is shaped, I’ll need to evaluate it as it develops. Very excited to be given the chance to participate nevertheless. Glad that its not just the high income that gets to send their children to inspired preschool programmes like these.

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Between 2 Trees

We visited between 2 trees during lunch today and was shown around by a pleasant lady Hui Hua who’s the resident artist. The preschool did not feel much like a school at all and felt more like a very open concept home. The philosophy was one of project based learning and the idea is that school is like an ongoing conversation with the students. When something new is mentioned in class, the teachers think whether they can incorporate it into the curriculum and make a learning experience out of it. For example, currently the nursery children are doing shoes and there was a row of different shoes laid out for them to put on and role play. There was also a kitchen area where they pretend to cook. Eg one can put on heels and pretend to be mummy preparing food in the kitchen. I thought it was a little dangerous to have kids put on those adult sized shoes but thought one can’t always be over protective. It was a quiet afternoon so not many children were around. The biggest group a group of 4 x 2-3 year olds playing with clay. An almost equal number of adults was around but there doesn’t seem to be much talking. They were just playing with the clay. In fact, the auntie in charge of cooking did more talking than the teachers, which was bad because auntie said things like “bisket nie nie (biscuit nice nice)”, not the type of linguistic environment I want to create for Sophia.

Overall I stepped out of the school feeling very sleepy. Hui Hua claimed that all their teachers have degrees in early childhood education but Kenny claimed that he saw one’s profile saying just diploma. In any case, they all seemed like the Hui Hua kind – really nice and gentle but not very lively or animated. Not sure they will be that good in sustaining children’s interest.

So the conclusion is: I’m not so sure. I probably will end up going with The Children’s Place.

Kindergarten review updates

Its been a while since I updated about my kindergarten visits but I haven’t been sitting on it. I have visited a few more and my husband did too. I went to baby haven, the infant and toddler care arm of Pat’s Schoolhouse since I intend to put Sophia in a preschool from 18 months on and their big boys and girls school starts only from the year kds turn 3. Baby haven was not impressive honestly. Its at a pretty quiet row of several kindergartens including Chiltern’s Place and Pat’s Schoolhouse Halifax. The indoors area is quite typical, a 2 storey house divided into several classrooms. Looks kind of dreary but no different from The Children’s Place which seems similarly devoid of natural light indoors. The person bringing us around was pleasant enough. The teachers were gentle, not terribly energetic but acceptable. The chidren did not seem too interested in the class. Overall I didn’t mind it but was not impressed. I walked out thinking I like the feel of Odyssey more.

However, I reminded myself that Pat’s Schoolhouse is tried and tested and yet significantly cheaper, especially after Odyssey’s recent ridiculous hike. Moreover, the Odyssey actually had a pretty low standard when hiring teachers. They just needed 5 O level passes and some even failed english and had to retake at the British Council. I would want my girl to be immersed in an environment wher proper language is spoken so she can grow up with proper language skills. This is really the window of opportunity for her to pick up language is the most pain-free way, just by imitation. To unlearn any wrong linguistic skills picked up at this stage when she’s older would be a serious pain. So Odyssey is not ideal either even though we liked the vibe in that teachers and children all seem happy.

However, Kenny and I later organised a trip to Halifax which was very unpleasant. The lady bringing us around was not very interested in explaining to us and got very defensive whenever we asked about further details. I also saw milk bottles, some still half filled with milk just thrown into a plastic container and left on the floor, which seems really unhygenic to me. The children seem chirpy enough. We observed a music class and the teachers were not energetic at all. They didn’t even sing, music was played from a tape. And the teacher was supposed to be a dedicated music teacher!!

So at the end of the trip Kenny was pissed and I was not too impressed either. As such, the shortlist is back to either The Children’s Place or Odyssey, with a slight preference for The Children’s Place because of quilifications of teachers but Odyssey has a huge boost from grounds and equipment.

We’re checking out Between 2 Trees soon and I promised Kenny this will be the last kindergarten we view before deciding on one.

Kindergartens

I have been going around visiting a few kindies. Yes, shout KIASUUUU all you want. My baby is more than a year away from attending any kindergarten and I am already trooping around Singapore searching for the best one BUT in my defence, it was my parents who stressed me out by saying that the good ones have 2 year queues. NOT TRUE. At least, not true for the good and expensive ones. Not sure whether there are good and cheap ones that have queues. Of course, I am not talking about Nanyang kindergarten although I have no idea what the hype is about for Nanyang. It shares the same name as the primary school everyone wants to get into but has no affiliation so no priority. Teachers speak pure mandarin to the younger kids but my kid will have sufficient mandarin exposure at home. So why send them there? Moreover, the kindergarten actually gives me a very stifling feeling, as if they will be spoonfeeding my kids lots of knowledge as chinese schools traditionally do.

So I’ve eliminated the most popular kindergarten in the country. What do I want? I basically want a place where children learn through play and where my girl learn good language skills through listening to good language being spoken all the time. I’ve looked at a popular one Eton House. Didn’t like it. Kids didn’t look happy. Went to The Children’s Place and was impressed both by the principal and the happiness level of the kids. The Odyssey’s grounds are impressive and children look happy but am concerned about the complaints about management that I saw online.  There seem to be a few more good ones to check out and I may do so especially since going forward all the january mummies are going back to work and I will have no company in the afternoons anyway.