Q+A: Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten, Singapore
Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten, Singapore, answers our questions and gives Winter's readers a guided tour…
What happens when parents visit the school?
When visiting Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten, parents are either greeted by the Director and Owner of the school, Miss Jackie Barkham or a Senior Teacher. Parents are shown around the classrooms and playground and in doing so get to see the lessons going on around them. Thus, they can get a first-hand experience and feel of the teacher/student interactions, class dynamics and on occasion student/visiting parent interaction! A visit normally lasts from 30 minutes to over an hour depending on parents’ questions.
What do you do to help children settle in?
We offer an orientation session for all students. This is designed to help the children new to the school settle into their class and begin to develop a bond with their teacher. As such, in order for this bond to develop, we ask parents to leave their children in our care and to return at the end of the orientation. Separation anxiety is always difficult, but rest assured that our role is to reassure, comfort and make the children feel comfortable in a safe and caring learning environment. If this means being one-to-one with the child and giving lots of cuddles, we will do that.
"Our aim is to make your child's first experience with Swallows and Amazons a pleasant one."
Orientation sessions give the children, parents and teachers a first-hand feel of a typical session at Swallows and Amazons. It gives an opportunity for both parents and teachers to assess whether Swallows and Amazons will provide the best and most suitable learning environment for the child.
Why should I send my child to your school?
We focus on the child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. We endeavour to give each child achievable outcomes each day they come to Swallows and Amazons. The child will leave the day with a sense of accomplishment and have that “Yay! I can do it!” feeling. We have a teacher-to-student ratio of at least 1:5, even at Kindergarten level (at 18 months old it is 1:4). This means that the teachers are able to set up and follow through with Individual Learning Plans for each child as they have more time and give more attention to each child.
In the early years, the Emotional Development (EQ) of the children is equally important, if not more so, as learning their ABCs. The learning or building upon their IQ will happen naturally in the classroom’s learning environment. What should a child do if they are feeling unhappy, frustrated, jealous or angry if they don’t quite have the linguistic skills necessary to describe their feelings? We work with the pre-schoolers and give them strategies to handle these emotions. For example, instead of screaming, or biting, children are empowered by saying things like, ”Stop” eventually building up to, “Stop, I don’t like it!”
"The child will leave the day with a sense of accomplishment..."
We also believe in teamwork. We work together with the parents and their child in order to provide a fulfilling and stimulating learning environment.
We are flexible with the number of sessions per week you can opt for, from two sessions to five full days (ten sessions) a week. It depends on what works best for the child and the family and whether we have the places available.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Educating children is not just about getting ready for Primary 1 or first grade — the IQ (intelligence quotient). It is about curiosity, exploration, experiences, self-esteem and interactions — the EQ (emotional quotient). Children have an innate sense of wonder and awe and are natural explorers. Our aim is to allow this instinctive desire for enquiry to flourish.
We believe children should have fun. Play is essential for children to develop high-level social strategies as well as physical and mental skills. At Swallows and Amazons teachers know why, when and how they can help ‘play’ become an enriching, meaningful learning experience so that children can fulfil their potential.
How do we share in your child’s learning with parents or guardians?
We encourage parents to contact us at any time if there are any concerns, or questions regarding the programme, policies, or the child’s progress. We will do our best to make every child’s experience at school an enjoyable and productive one. Of course, this is impossible to achieve without regular and consistent communication with, and support from, parents.
"We encourage parents to contact us at any time if there are any concerns..."
Each teacher emails a “Daily Sheet” home every school day to each parent of a child in the class that outlines the food eaten, the activities done, books read and songs sung and what they did at Circle Time. Talking to children about their experiences at pre-school sounds easier than it is! The question, "What did you learn in school today." often receives the response, "Nothing”, “Can’t remember” or “All we did was play!"
By using the information in the “Daily Sheet,” alternative questions can be asked that might help your child share more specific information with you, such as, “How did you make that.”, “We have that book. Let’s read it together.” or “Did you find the dinosaur in the Sand Pit.”
At the end of the week, the teacher will email to parents a Weekly Curriculum Outline of what is planned for the forthcoming week.
How can parents get involved?
We have plenty of opportunities for parents to get involved, from becoming a weekly volunteer, to being a mystery reader, to coming in and helping on a field trip. We often reach out to parents to come in and demonstrate and talk about a special skill they may have. We have had dentists, doctors, photographers, dietitians, a Japanese mime artist, cricketers, rugby players, aircraft engineers, home cooking experts to name but a few.
Can you give me a breakdown of where your students come from? (nationality)
Being in Singapore, we are lucky to have a truly global student population. Our children come from the UK, Europe, the USA, South America, Asia and Southeast Asia.
How do you teach reading?
Even from the early age of 18 months when the children join Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten, they are exposed to letters, phonics and speech all around them in the context of the term or week’s theme, or something of interest, not in an abstract way. In short, children are genetically endowed with amazingly elaborate hardware that enables them to first mimic, then comprehend, and then articulate utterances in the local language.
The phonic approach is the traditional technique of deciphering words by sounding them out. Phonetic knowledge is built upon, reinforced and expanded throughout the early years. The children at the age of around 3—4 years old are exposed to wordless books, where they begin to talk about, imagine and think about what is going on in the pictures. They then move onto word books. The reading programme used by the School is the Fitzroy Readers together with the Oxford Reading Tree (ORT).
The Fitzroy Readers systematically introduce all basic letter sounds along with writing and spelling at the same time. This programme, used in conjunction with the ORT, has been very successful in delivering a greater love of reading and writing. Children who read and write with confidence typically have greater success in all fields of education.
How do you recognise the learning differences in children?
We provide an enquiry-based learning environment whereby the students are the active participants in the learning process. Student thinking is at the centre of all learning and they play an equal partner role in the learning process. With our teacher/student ratio of 1:5, we are well equipped to engage the students in learning through purposeful play.
At the same time, it is vital to maintain a child's self-esteem and self-confidence, a belief in oneself that they "can do this". All children will learn differently and at a different pace. A child may find some concepts easy to grasp, and other concepts may take more reinforcement and revisiting. By allowing the children to be the active learners and giving them daily achievable outcomes, they are self-motivated to continue to discover. We understand these differences so with our high teacher/child ratio, we are able to work with the children to better meet their needs.
"...with our high teacher/child ratio, we are able to work with the children to better meet their needs."
In what ways do you provide inclusive education that takes into consideration different abilities and styles of learning?
We are an inclusive school. Inclusive education not only benefits students with disabilities but also creates an environment in which every student, including those who do not have disabilities, have the opportunity to flourish. Here are some ways in which our inclusive educational practices build our capacity to educate all learners effectively:
- Differentiated instruction increases student engagement — no two learners are alike, so we place great importance on creating opportunities for students to learn and be assessed in a variety of ways. In the face of all this diversity, schools can no longer operate as if one curriculum and way of teaching will fit most of the students. Instead, students can pursue a common set of curricular goals or learning standards, accomplishing them in different ways and sometimes to different degrees of mastery. Teachers help children to understand and make connections among different experiences.
Putting the EQ into IQ — another important factor in effective inclusive education is the focus on the emotional development of the children. All children should have high self-esteem and confidence. They should be given daily achievable outcomes and a feeling of “I can do this!”
- Respect for diversity creates a welcoming environment for all — we accommodate students from different ethnic groups, language groups, cultures, family situations, and social and economic situations, with different interests and purposes for learning, and different abilities and styles of learning. Inclusive education for students with disabilities can only be successful when those students feel that they are truly a part of the school community. This requires open and honest discussion about difference, and an institutional respect for people of all backgrounds and abilities. In inclusive schools, the establishment of such a climate benefits everyone by fostering an environment where students and their families are valued for who they are.
- Inclusive practices make effective use of a school's resources — making sure each student gets access to knowledge, skills and information. Such access improves the life chances, available choices and valued contributions of every person.
What languages do you offer?
We offer Mandarin to all age groups. For the 18—24 month olds, we have a Mandarin Teaching Assistant who takes care of and nurtures the children in Mandarin in class together with the English class teacher. For the older age groups, we have a 30—40 minute Mandarin class in every session. In addition, the Kindergarten 1 children have immersion Mandarin daily from 2.30 to 4pm.
What extra-curricular activities do you offer at school?
From the age of 3, we are able to offer children a range of activities including Soccer, Tennis, Swimming, Yoga and Kindergym. They run on separate days and are provided by specialist suppliers. The extra-curricular activities (ECAs) normally start at 1.15pm and finish at around 2pm daily. Even though your child may be signed up for the morning sessions only, if they sign up for the ECA, we will accompany them to the ECA provider at no extra cost. Parents will only need to pay the ECA provider.
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Images: Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten