The choices for early childhood education in Hong Kong are extensive, as a visit to any of the increasingly popular kindergarten fairs makes clear. But the amount of choice means that picking a kindergarten can be a minefield for parents. The questions come thick and thin. Which type of preschool/ kindergarten is best? Should parents choose a kindergarten that reminds them of the one they attended themselves? Or should they spend time searching for their dream preschool instead? Should they follow expert advice by matching the school’s education approach to their child’s preferred learning style, or simply look for a place where their child seems comfortable?

The preschool years are now recognised as a crucial period in a child’s education, and the early childhood period, from birth to seven years, is rightly deemed important by parents. Research confirms that this period provides the foundations for future all-round development. It not only affects academic progress, but also social and emotional growth – it influences a child’s entire approach to learning and life. But there are varying theories about of how these qualities are best nurtured in the very young.

Asian societies shake their heads in disbelief at some Western-oriented education systems, where a child aged five or six might only be able to read some simple sentences. Asian parents tend to leave nothing to chance, and promote the development of their youngsters with daily worksheets, writing practice, focused early literacy exercises, and listening-to-teacher strategies. But experts in early childhood learning disagree with this approach, saying that such strategies do not lead to effective learning in the young.

Such disbelief grows when any child-centred preschool practice which includes play-based learning is mentioned, even for reading and maths. Teachers in these environments only teach early literacy and numeracy if they think a child is interested in these subjects. Even then, the child will be taught via play-based scenarios, rather than by using worksheets. This does not fit with the Asian concept of education.

Frankly speaking, the long-term outcomes from different approaches to early learning are not that different when it comes to building a solid foundation in the basic skills needed for primary school. For example, learning to read at an early age does not make a child achieve better grades years later, provided that reading skills appear within a reasonable period of time, say by early primary school.

So where does all this leave parents who are making an early education choice for their child? A good starting point is considering what feels comfortable and sensible to the parent. Taking account of the child’s learning style, or as much as is known about it at such an early point, also makes sense. Attending the fairs, talking to staff from different preschools and kindergartens, and visiting the locations helps a lot. Try not to base a decision entirely on catchy or trendy educational slogans or promises. It’s more important to find an establishment where parents can easily communicate with teachers. Parents should find a school where they can support their child’s learning with the help of sensible professional guidance.

Parents struggling with their choice of preschool or kindergarten might take note of an old Finnish saying: “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily”. Children should certainly begin learning while they are young, but they should also be happy in their labours.

Written by Dr Yvonne Becher
Head of Psychological Services at The Child Development Centre
Ph.D (HKU), MClinPsych

References:
Walker., T (Oct 1, 2015). The joyful, illiterate kindergarteners of Finland. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/the-joyful-illiterate-kindergartners-of-finland/408325/

 

This article was originally published on the Education Post website – http://www.educationpost.com.hk/resources/parents-guide/170719-parents-guide-fountains-of-youth-how-to-choose-a-kindergarten-that-suits-your-child