From Montessori and Waldorf to Reggio Emilia and the International Baccalaureate, Hong Kong boasts a wide choice of pre-schooling possibilities to suit the development of young students.
Founded by paediatrician and psychiatrist Maria Montessori in 1907, the Montessori approach emphasises nature, creativity, and hands-on learning, with gentle guidance provided by the teachers. Children learn about other cultures, animals, and plants, in addition to reading, language, and mathematical skills.
Teachers – or “guides”, as they are called – take their lead from each child, allowing them to learn at their own pace. Montessori programmes encourage a child’s sense of independence and expect a high degree of parental involvement.
The Montessori curriculum focuses on five areas: practical life; sensory awareness education; language arts; mathematics, and cultural subjects such as geography, zoology, time, history, music, movement, science, and art. All disciplines tie together in complementary ways.
Toys and other developmentally-appropriate learning materials are laid out in the classroom, enabling a child to see what their choices are and then pick a task – known as “work” – according to their interests. Work options include books, puzzle games, art projects, toys that test spatial relations, and more. When they are finished, children put their work back on the shelves and move on to something else. The daily schedule allows time for them to play alone and in groups.
Guides work with children both as a group and one-on-one, but most of the interaction is among the children. In a Montessori school, teachers are not the only instructors. Older children often help younger ones learn how to master new skills. That is why each class has mixed ages. Casa classes are for children aged three to six.
Many pre-schools currently run a programme that includes Montessori elements. However, most of them are not pure, authentic Montessori. The two schools of note in Hong Kong are the International Montessori School – Pre-school and Primary. The only Montessori Primary Programme in Greater China accredited by the International Montessori Council, it has four locations across Hong Kong Island. Classes cater to children aged two to 12.
Meanwhile, Infinity Children’s School is the only full member school of the American Montessori Society. It has three locations across Kowloon, with classes catering to children aged one to six.
According to Rudolf Steiner, founder of the first Waldorf School, at the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919, a person is made up of three elements: spirit, soul, and body. The aim is to stimulate and develop these three elements in young children by immersing them in nurturing surroundings. Children are encouraged to engage in creative free play and use all five senses to absorb and actively engage in life.