The Path to Independence

By Beth Roulston 2019-12-05 10:11:15

As our world grows closer together, and our children grow into global citizens, it’s of no doubt in many parents’ and educators’ minds that an international setting and curriculum is the future for education. But the topic of how and when to begin your child’s journey into formal education makes for an interesting debate. Should they be left to play and wait until they’re older before stepping into school? Or, can starting education early pave the way for your child to succeed in the future? Perhaps the more important question should be, how do I obtain the best of both scenarios?

Harrow Cubs is the new Early Years programme led by Clair Wain designed for children aged 18 months to 22 months at Harrow Shanghai. Its curriculum and teaching methods very much follow a play-based, inquiry-led learning approach that helps to nurture a sense of independency and confidence in younger pupils. What is comforting to note about Harrow is that it comes from a long history, 450 years to be exact, and since the beginning this British-born institution has constantly endeavoured to provide the best start in education for all its pupils.

Each classroom within Harrow Shanghai Early Years is warm and soothing with different areas dedicated to varied activities such as arts and crafts, kitchen creations, reading, an intriguing yet brilliant green rice ‘sandpit’, and some cosy play areas. Connected to the back of each classroom are doors that lead out to the Early Years’ dedicated outdoor area. As I walked outside, mainly to check out the outdoor ‘mud kitchen’, I couldn’t help but join in a classic playground game of ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’ which was led brilliantly by Scottish teacher Mr Paterson; a perfect example of a simple yet powerful game that helps social interaction and development.

As one would hope and expect, Head of Early Years, Clair has a warm, bubbly personality which encapsulates the ideal person you would want to have around your children. What I did not expect, however, was for Clair to introduce me to a beautiful poem called “The Hundred Languages of Children” by Loris Malaguzzi. As she was reading it, I began to get an understanding of the ethos that is powering Harrow Cubs: “The child has a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking.” The poem represents the concept that can sometimes be forgotten and that is that each child is an individual and should be treated as such.

As play-based learning can sometimes be a point of controversy, especially for the more conservative parent, Clair explained that the school’s recent parent workshops were imperative in helping them to personally identify when the children are learning. As old Harrovian, Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught” and the same could be said for any child.

“I think slowly parents are beginning to see the value of a more play-based, inquiry-based approach. They can see their children growing more competent. Pupils come into the classroom wanting to try and do so many things and they're not waiting for a teacher to tell them.”

Admittedly, I could not help but wonder, just how exactly will Harrow Shanghai face the challenge of helping children as young as 18 months transition from a home to classroom environment?

According to Kelly Marie Wailes, the Deputy Head, the most important aspects are settling the children into their new environment and routine and helping them feel comfortable with their teachers and care assistants. Kelly’s words filled me with confidence as it is obvious that each child’s individual needs are taken into consideration. For example, a child’s first day is relatively short and then gradually lengthened day by day so that they become used to their schedule. As a parent one of my worst fears would be for my child to feel as though I had abandoned them with no understanding as to when or if I was coming back. To prevent this, Harrow Shanghai actively encourages parents to come in for what they call “Stay and Play” thereby pupils can happily play secure in the knowledge that a person they trust is nearby.

The second thought I couldn’t escape was how the school intends to introduce children so young to its core philosophies? For this, Harrow Shanghai created something called the ‘I-Rules’. These are six values that represent the school’s key ethos but in simplified forms.

“Let’s take for example, applying knowledge with compassion. That's a very big statement… Basically the I-Rule that is attached to this is ‘I Care’. What you're teaching the children is that being kind, being gentle with others, being considerate with their words, and careful with their body is still a leadership attribute.”

One of the final aspects that both Kelly and Clair brought to my attention was just how important a school community can be for a parent and it was this sentiment that began the Harrow Tots programme. For many parents, expats and Chinese alike, starting fresh in a new city can be incredibly daunting especially when you’re balancing a busy schedule.

Harrow Tots aims to foster a strong community through joint parent and child activities hosted by the school, and thanks to the programme leader, Kate Ellison, the programme has become so popular that it has been fully booked every week since it began. Harrow Shanghai hopes that the Tots programme can help parents build strong relationships, encourage young children to make new friends, and ensure that help is there for when it is most needed. Afterall, many of the school’s employees have been through the same experiences and understand just how important it is to support both pupil and parent.