Visit a preschool these days and you might be surprised at what you see. Gone are many of the brightly bold elements, the traditional classroom enclaves and the walls collaged with primary-coloured student artworks. Today, preschools with modern designs are following a new approach, one that offers a different palette and more open space. It can be somewhat strange for new parents to enter such a learning environment – our construct of preschool is often the brighter, busier and even more chaotic one of old than the landscape of (relative) calm you may encounter on a school tour.
We asked ZOE HEGGIE, Lower School Vice Principal of the Canadian International School Hong Kong (CDNIS), for some insight into this change. Her school has recently completed a purposeful redesign of its early years’ facilities, which cater to 90 three-to-five-year-olds.
Neutral tones and calm vibes
When you visit the CDNIS Early Years Environment (EYE), you immediately notice the neutral tones and natural materials. Not that it presents as a dull space in any way; rather, it’s a lively area bursting with very busy little people.
The space was designed to be calm and homely. Ms Zoe explains: “It’s not brightly coloured; there’s nothing overstimulating on the walls.” She agrees that this may come as a surprise, even to some educators.
“This goes contrary to what many teachers were taught. All the current research is about toning it down; tone down the colours and the stimulation, and it will be calm.”
This begs the question – does the calming idea work in practice? “Happily, the teachers have all reported that this has been the calmest start to the year we’ve had!”
A chameleon classroom space
Each preschool session at CDNIS begins in what looks like a traditional classroom. These early-years classrooms are referred to as “nests”. Then, after the day’s initial structured class activity held in the nest, the bi-fold doors are opened and the space is transformed into a vast open environment for preschoolers to explore.
It’s here that the teachers set up an art area, a science corner, a music area, a language and literacy activity, a mathematical thinking activity and more. Ms Zoe explains, “These have all been designed for the particular week, depending on the learning outcomes the teachers are trying to achieve.”
What’s the advantage of this type of open environment? “Our students are lucky that they can access all these areas each day. That’s the problem with being in a classroom – the teacher is limited each day because they don’t have the physical space. So, there just isn’t the room for the train track, the cars, the dinosaurs and the paint station all set up every day.”
Interestingly, this open approach also allows more access to language learning. “The advantage of the open space is that each day children can access the Chinese language learning corner,” says Ms Zoe. “Any children with an interest in speaking the language will gravitate to that.”
This approach also means that young learners are given the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with more adults. “All of our three-to-five-year-olds have more access to more teachers than they would in a traditional classroom setting.”
Searching for a school?
Listen to our podcast episode exploring how to choose a preschool: expatliving.hk/schoolsinhongkong. It’s part of our “Schools in Hong Kong” series!
See more in our Kids section