Woodland Pre-Schools have been developing young minds in Hong Kong since 1978 – and language learning has always been a key element of the “Woodland Journey”. Now, the group has launched a new Mandarin Curriculum. We drill down on the details below.
Mandarin learning gets a new look
According to Kiwi expat and Woodland’s Director of Teaching and Learning RAE LANG, the new approach encompasses not only Woodland’s play-based inquiry approach to teaching and learning, but also their belief in “Respecting the Image of the Child”.
“The Mandarin Curriculum that we’ve developed is grounded in measurable learning outcomes and it aligns to the Early Years Foundation Stages and English National Curriculum,” says Rae.
At the heart of the new setup is small group instruction – or what the school refers to as Mandarin Workshops. “These Workshops allow us to meet the needs of the learner, whether they’re new learners of Mandarin or familiar with the language,” says Rae. “Along with this, there are provisions that give children the chance to explore their understanding of Mandarin, discovering and becoming familiar with stroke order, character recognition and cultural awareness.”
The recent changes were brought about after a review of the previous curriculum; in short, the school was keen to provide a more rigorous and robust offering. ”We wanted a curriculum that was measurable and developmentally appropriate; one that reflected our established philosophy and approach to teaching,” says Rae.
How the new Mandarin Curriculum at Woodland looks
Accompanied Classes: Daily Mandarin sessions are taken by a Mandarin specialist. These vary in duration, from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, according to the particular programme.
Unaccompanied Classes: Unaccompanied classes begin with Stepping Stones, which includes Environmental Mandarin. This means a full-time Mandarin teaching assistant works with the children as they move through their daily activities and learning engagements. The assistant is constantly speaking with the children in Mandarin, having meaningful and authentic conversations.
Pre-School: Children have the choice of bilingual, English classes with daily Mandarin Specialist or full Mandarin class.
- Bilingual classes: Full-time Mandarin teacher and full-time English teacher, with the curriculum presented in both languages.
- English classes: Daily Mandarin lessons with a Mandarin specialist. These are 30-minute lessons, involving small group learning sessions (Mandarin Workshops) and Mandarin provisions. The Mandarin Workshops allow instruction to meet the learning needs of the individual child.
- Mandarin classes: Taken by Mandarin teachers, following the Woodland curriculum, with the language of instruction being Mandarin.
Putting the Curriculum into practice
So how exactly does Mandarin feature in the daily curriculum at Woodland?
Rae gives an example from a Stepping Stones class, where a Mandarin teaching assistant is working alongside a child at an art station. “They’ll be speaking with the child in Mandarin – commenting on and reinforcing the child’s thinking, sharing ideas and processes, expanding on their knowledge and listening to the child as they talk about their process and interest. Through this, the Mandarin teaching assistant will use familiar words and basic Mandarin vocabulary – everything from ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to colours and shapes.”
At Pre-School level, Mandarin Workshops involve a small group of children working with the Mandarin specialist on a specific skill. One example is stroke development, which gives children an opportunity to experiment and connect with a particular stroke (through personal discovery).
“An example of this is the character for person (人),” explains Rae. “The children may be given some loose parts and asked to create a person – this way, they gain an awareness that pictures have meaning. After discussion, the children will be shown the character so they can see how it actually looks like a person. They’ll then be given multiple opportunities to make the character, see the character and draw the character.
To reinforce the learning, children are also given the chance for further independent exploration of the character using different materials – twigs, sand, fingerprints or various writing instruments, for example. This reinforces the learning from the Mandarin Workshop.
How Mandarin helps
The benefits of acquiring a second or third language are well documented; and these benefits can really come to the fore when you start the process with little learners.
“Learning another language at a young age helps children build and strengthen their brain synapsis,” says Rae. “This supports problem solving, creativity, cognitive development and deepens cultural awareness.”
On the other hand, as many of us know all too well, Mandarin is tricky! Like learning all languages, it takes time to improve – and you need lots of opportunities to use the language.
“One of the best ways is to make it as authentic an experience as possible,” says Rae. “One parent told us their child helps order at a restaurant for the family. This is an authentic way for the child to engage in the language. Whenever a child is attempting to use the language, always praise them on their effort.”
What else is happening at Woodland?
Another strong focus at Woodland is outdoor education, and there are also changes afoot on this side of the curriculum!
“We’re introducing our Outdoor Education Programme this year,” says Rae. “Initially, we’ll be working with our Prep for Primary children, and we have linked up with Backyard Gang HK (thebackyardgang.com). We believe having a strong outdoor education Programme supports character development and aligns with our philosophy of teaching the whole child, and our focus on wellbeing.
Find Woodland Pre-Schools at Mid-Levels, Happy Valley, Kennedy Town, Pokfulam, Repulse Bay Beachside, Repulse Bay Montessori and also Sai Kung in Hong Kong.
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