Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Do I have to send my child to kindergarten (or playgroup)?
Whereas school isn’t mandatory until 6 years old, the majority of children in Hong Kong begin their formal education at two years old, or three at the latest. Most begin playgroup at 6 or 12 months. To some parents, this idea seems ludicrous.
We hear cries of "Children should just be playing” and “Children should be allowed to be children”.
So, should Hong Kong children attend kindergarten? At two or three? Or not at all?
Fortunately, in selecting a preschool, parents aren't forced to choose between protecting a child's play time and making sure they're ready for primary school. A high-quality early childhood international education program can offer children both.
Joanna Hotung, Founder and Managing Director at KG Group, operator of Mills International Preschool says, "Kindergarten provides young children with a very positive start to their development and educational journey when the school philosophy works closely with parents to devise a nurturing and stimulating environment for each individual child. It should not be a one-size-fits-all situation.”
In Hong Kong, our international kindergartens offer the IBPYP program, UK EYFS, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and other curricula.
We suggest three areas in which young children may benefit from a playgroup/preschool experience:
Most parents would agree that their children should be tri-lingual and biliterate. According to many experts, a child should have 25-30 authentic hours a week of exposure to the minority language. If the target language is not present in the home at all (or not native), this should be increased.
So, for non-native English/Chinese speaking families, parents may choose a preschool to ensure their toddler is exposed to another language early on. This is absolutely necessary when parents intend for the child to continue studying the language in primary and beyond.
General wisdom on introducing a second and, even a third language, is ‘the earlier, the better’.
Our founder, Ruth Benny, says : Speaking from personal experience, this was essential to my two children. As a non-Chinese speaking family, my two finished a bilingual primary school. I don’t believe this would have been possible, were it not for early, consistent, deliberate exposure to Chinese from 4 months of age."
Learning refers to much more than academics.
Many parents stress about academic achievement and overlook the importance of other qualities, such as motor skills, creativity and morality, which are equally important for whole-child development.
From the age of one, children may start to learn common social conventions such as waiting in line, washing hands before eating, taking turns and sharing.
As they grow older, they come to appreciate that other people have rights and feelings just as they do. They learn to share, communicate and negotiate with their peers and begin to recognize the importance of friendship in their lives. These skills, important in themselves, are key in preparing a child for primary school.
The more honest parents among us may say we sent our kids to preschool to get them out of the house! But, particularly if both parents are working and living in an urban environment, a preschool environment with qualified educators is preferable to having a bored toddler at home with the helper day in, day out.
At preschool, children are exposed to a range of music and art activities that most parents and helpers simply don’t have the time, energy or expertise to do at home.
Then again, a high quality early education program certainly does provide a basic foundation in math and literacy skills, as well as developing language skills.
Many of the top primary/secondary schools have affiliated preschools/playgroups. Getting into the school early earns the child priority to move up. For many parents, this is security, and very good common sense.
Even if the parents choose a preschool not directly affiliated, primary schools do look at a child’s previous schooling. It’s a standard requirement to include two years’ reports in any application to primary school.
It’s extremely unusual in Hong Kong that a child of 4 has not had previous, formal schooling. The obvious benefits are compelling. If you are confused about the wide array of options, do seek advice from a professional admissions consultancy such as Top Schools.
Which kindergarten? Four top tips:
Be selective in choosing a school and do the following:
1. Do your homework
Before choosing a school, prioritize what’s most important to you and your family, taking into consideration academics, language(s) and other extracurricular activities. Practicalities such as bus schedules may factor into the decision process but often become less important than they may first appear to be.
Whether you’re choosing a preschool or high school, find out what happens to children who graduate from that institution. Where do they go next, and are they successful there?
2. Make personal contact
Visit the schools - even the ones you think you’re not keen on. It’s only through comparison that parents learn what they most value in an educational setting. This can be time consuming so we encourage parents to spread the visits out.
Not being able to see the children in class, interacting naturally with their teachers and peers, is a big disadvantage.
3. Talk to real parents
If all goes well on the visit, seek out parents whose children went through the program, and talk to them about their experiences.
Increasingly, schools are asking parents to act as parent ambassadors. Whilst this is a good move and only to be encouraged, these parent ambassadors are almost always advocates for the school. They’re “fans” and may evangelise, rather than helping you to evaluate both the pros and cons. So, in addition, seek out parents whose children graduated, or otherwise left the school, who are more likely to give a balanced evaluation.
4. Don’t apply everywhere
If you follow this advice, you will be able to come up with a shortlist of schools that meet many of your criteria AND where you have a decent chance of being accepted. We recommend applying to 3 schools at most.
Making an application only after having done your homework, visited the school and talked to parents and students means you'll be much more likely to accept an offer if and when it comes, and feel comfortable doing so.
We have helped hundreds of parents to make the very best choices for their children. Contact us today!