Having children is wonderful, but it is also mind-boggling. Everywhere you turn there are those who want to inundate you with information from every angle: feeding, naptimes, bedtime routines and of course, attending pre-school or nursery. If you're a working mum you may find you have to return to work sooner than you would like after your baby is born, so finding the best setting is vital for you both.
There is no doubt that the early years in a child’s life are of fundamental importance – a good start can mean a child is more likely to be a successful and happy adult. Dr Jack P. Shonkoff, from the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development states:
“From pregnancy through early childhood, all of the environments in which children live and learn, and the quality of their relationships with adults and caregivers have a significant impact on their cognitive, emotional and social development. The basic principles of neuroscience indicate that providing supportive conditions for early childhood development is more effective and less costly than attempting to address the consequences of early adversity later.”
The bottom line is that as a child grows older the ability for them to make neurological connections become harder meaning they are less able to change their behaviour. Therefore finding an early years setting to nurture their young minds is so important to set them off on the right foot.
When it comes to early years provision you can choose the kind of setting you would prefer.
These provide early years care from birth, or if not, from a very young age. Nurseries are sometimes the entry level for many pre-schools, which means that your baby can occasionally interact with older children.
Though aimed more for toddlers aged 2 and above, the scope and size of pre-schools can be extraordinarily diverse. In Asia for example, pre-schools can range from small homely groups to 'branded kindergartens' with hundreds of pre-schoolers enrolled in spacious modern complexes. In many international schools, 3-5 year-olds are accommodated within the Pre-K-12 continuum.
Child-minders are often used as a solution for working mums. Here your child may be nurtured in small groups, usually in the home of a registered child-minder. In the UK the environment provided by the child-minder: toys, food, safety features etc., is subject to regular inspection and monitoring.
Employing a nanny is quite normal in Asia; where children may each have their own nanny providing personal child-care. In the UK as well as other countries the role of a nanny can be akin to high quality professional childcare and early childhood education rolled into one - this can be an expensive option, so not for everyone.
If however, you are living overseas and you want your child to join an early childhood education (ECE) setting, there are many options for you to explore.
NATIONAL VERSUS INTERNATIONAL PROVISION
Choosing your preferred early years setting would be easier if they were all alike, but they are not. Considerable differences exist between national and international schools, and understanding how they are different can be an important factor affecting your decision.
National schools are government funded and government regulated. Teachers are mandated to follow a national curriculum that is taught in public (or state owned) schools across the country.
On the other hand, international schools are funded by tuition fees paid for by parents or by employers. International schools are not regulated, but in most cases opt for independent inspection and/or accreditation to attest to the standards upheld by their organisation as well as their professional commitment to the learning requirements of the students in their care.
- Although free to make their own decisions about what and how they teach, most international schools will adopt and follow internationally recognised programmes for curriculum building.
- International schools employ teachers from around the world, each bringing a unique cultural perspective that will enhance their classroom interactions and professional practice.
- Families of international school students often pay high fees - and in many cases this means smaller class sizes - always a good thing!
- International schools usually teach their entire programs in English, even in Non-English speaking countries. Children for whom English is their second language a dual-program of instruction may be preferred (bilingual) or if not that, then the teaching is carefully differentiated to accommodate a variety of English language ability levels.
WHAT SHOULD EARLY YEARS PROVISION INCLUDE?
It is important to remember that each and every early years setting will be different, wherever you live. There are however, some fundamentals approaches that you should expect to be present in all settings.
Social and emotional aspects of development
The precious early years really are the time for children to be learning and practising their social and emotional skills. Children need to learn from an early age and from each other. They need excellent modelling and provision needs to be available to support this.
Communication and language
Language and communication underpins almost everything. Without strong language skills it is difficult for a child to make and maintain relationships which in turn can affect their social and emotional development. It also has a big impact on academic learning. Without ‘talk’ a child will find writing difficult.
Having a focus on a child’s physical growth will enhance gross motor skills as well as fine. Both are equally important for learning and in particular writing. Not only this, children who are more physically able tend to be more sociable and have a higher self-esteem.
A focus on the individual child
Occasionally there can still be the notion that children are just children, but they are so much more. They are individuals. They are wonderful beings with their own ideas, scope, perspectives and quirks. Allowing children to be who they are and follow lines of enquiry that are fascinating to them will help nurture an inquisitive and enthusiastic learner.
At this young age, play is how children learn... about almost everything! A curriculum for early childhood must incorporate time for children to play independently as well as play with some guidance and scaffolding.
There are also subtle differences between how provisions offer their learning and teaching. Some are goal and outcome orientated - with guidelines as to what they need to know, or be able to do. Others can be more skills based and as such, potentially equip children with lifelong abilities that can be applied to learning both inside and outside the environment of the classroom.
EARLY CHILDHOOD APPROACHES
Interestingly, it is still Finland that trumps the education sector, with their underlying method that less is more. They don’t hurry or test young children as many countries, including the USA and the UK, do. Their formal learning starts much later than many, at the age of 7, and their ‘whatever it takes’ attitude means that no child is left behind. Finland has one of the smallest gaps between wealthy and deprived families when it comes to academic outcomes. So maybe we should all be looking and taking note of their approaches and the things they do right.
There are many more early childhood approaches adopted internationally. We list them here complete with a brief description of what they offer:
Steiner Waldorf schools also view the early years as birth to 7. They share the idea that children will learn much more efficiently if they have had plenty of opportunity for developing emotionally, socially and physically first. The Waldorf Steiner approach ensures the learning space is calm and soft looking with resources made of natural materials. Children here do not use technology until they reach upper school.
Reggio Emilia is a unique Italian perspective who value children as ‘strong, capable and resilient’. Reggio Emilia, so called after the town it originated in does not have a ‘method’ and does not provide training. Instead surrounding villages and towns will just be Reggio inspired because no two communities are the same and so the teaching should be different.
Montessori schools, which also originate in Italy prepare children to ‘be curious, lifelong learners, as well as good citizens, future innovators, and able leaders’ This approach has a real ethos of calm learning and also uses resources made from natural materials. They allow the children to learn through active play and focus on the individual child.
EARLY CHILDHOOD CURRICULA
Here are some of the early childhood curriculum frameworks that are available internationally, complete with a brief description of what they offer:
STEM SCOPES EARLY EXPLORER
The Stem Scoped Accelerated Learner Curriculum is for children aged 3-5 (and older if required). If you’re unsure STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. The great thing about this curriculum is that is has been built by teachers who have knowledge about the profession. It provides hand on experiences that teach lifelong skills whilst learning subject knowledge.
The Creative Curriculum from Teaching Strategies is another American curriculum; however this one was established 30 years ago. It has changed and adapted over that period and state that they enable every child to be a confident and creative thinker. It is research based and focuses on outcomes, 38 to be precise, even for children 2 and under!
High Scope open their website with bold statements. They mean business! High scope uses KDI’s (key development indicators) to support and gently extend children’s learning. These include those listed earlier in the article. They promote active learning through exploration and play.
INTERNATIONAL PRE-SCHOOL CURRICULUM
According to the International Pre-school Curriculum (which is not the International Primary Curriculum - both IPC!) Pre-school education is more than just ABCs and 123s - it is an integrated system of schools development, teacher training and a research-based curriculum. The curriculum itself focuses on 38 subjects and 57 thematic units delivered through 6 core-content learning areas: Language arts, Socio-Emotional, Numeracy, Creative Arts, Science and Motor Skills. IPC claims to meet or exceed the standards of all major education systems, from Singapore Math to UK Literacy, integrating phonics, literacy, and comprehension into its curriculum.
KinderMusik is slightly different to those listed so far. It is only designed for the early years and so does not continue through to the primary age. They focus on music to enrich a child through their early and critical years. Tapping into Montessori, they promote self-directed learning and stating that ‘The fun and music-making in every KinderMusik experience is designed to support children’s social-emotional development, and to nurture their confidence, relationship-building skills, and yes, independence.’
EARLY YEARS FOUNDATION STAGE
The EYFS is a curriculum framework that sets the statutory standards for the development, learning and care of children from birth to age 5 in the UK. The EYFS statutory framework sets the standards that all early years providers (including child minders) must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well, and are kept healthy and safe.
EYFS promotes teaching and learning to ensure children’s ‘school readiness’ and gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for good future progress through school and life. In an overseas setting, international schools (often British) may choose to follow this framework in a non-statutory context.
INTERNATIONAL EARLY YEARS CURRICULUM
The IEYC is developed by Fieldwork Education in the UK. It stands on 8 principles that they consider essential. This includes the individuality of the child, allowing them to learn at their own place, the importance of play and the general importance of the early years. Formative assessments are made in the way of observations and learning is based around themes to capture their curiosity.
INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE ORGANISATION
IB PRIMARY YEARS PROGRAMME
The IBPYP seeks to ensure that children (from age 3 yrs) have a caring and active part to play in a life-long journey of learning. This curriculum has an inquiry-led framework which promotes independent thinkers and taking responsibility for their own learning. Much of the learning is centred on the world, global issues and real-life contexts.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
INTERNATIONAL CURRICULUM FOR LANGUAGE AND CREATIVE ARTS
The ICLCA from Taaleem in the UAE, is a curriculum that focuses on language and the creative arts. They also mention their holistic approach. Their number 1 goal however is about fun; ensuring both teachers and children enjoy going to school. Their goals and skill developments present a real different approach to others in the list, including having a creative approach to life and curiosity. Pre-school children here are not expected to undertake any kind of test.
NURTURING EARLY LEARNERS
The NEL Singapore Government Curriculum has 6 areas of learning including social and emotional development, motor skills and language and literacy. They talk of a holistic development (thinking about all areas of learning) they want to build self-confident learners and develop a learning disposition that builds strong foundations.
There will undoubtedly be certain skills or specific focus that you desire for your child, so investing time into thinking about what your priorities and personal preferences are, and then researching which of the setting available to you will be a good fit, is a useful place to start. Visiting nurseries, Pre-schools or schools, will also help to make your decision easier; each will have its own feel. The decision about where and how to begin your child’s education may well be a big one, but ultimately the decision is yours. Bon chance!
Contributor Hannah Harding