Saturday, June 15, 2013

Heguru Preschool I

Last Sunday, Ryan and I attended a class at Heguru. The school had very kindly invited us to participate in and observe a trial of their new programme to be launched in July 2013.

The programme is called "Preschool I" and is for children between 4-6 years old. These are some of its features:
- The class is 70 minutes long. After the 70-minute class there will be a short debriefing session for parents to keep the parents informed of what the class did that day.
- The children are not accompanied by their parents in class. For last Sunday's class however, the parents were allowed to stay in the classroom to observe and to evaluate if the class was right for their children.
- The class size is larger than that of the Infant and Toddler class, with a minimum of ten students. There are benefits to a larger class size - the students have a prequel to primary school classes, the weaker students will be motivated by the energy of the stronger students, and the environment provides opportunities for learning social skills in a classroom setting. There is a sense of healthy competition as the children feed off each other's enthusiasm and eagerness, and there is a vibrancy in the air.
- There is one head teacher giving instructions and taking the children through the class, with a team of assistant teachers to assist the children.
- The first half of the class is mostly spent on input, which includes intuition games, memory games, math, and some moral teaching. The second half is spent on one handicraft and one booklet of worksheets. The aim of the second half is to strengthen the connection between the right and left parts of the brain. There is also a physical exercise segment and a dance segment.
- For the worksheets, the students work through the booklet together, one page at a time. They have one minute to work through one page.
- Each child is given two more booklets of worksheets to bring home for reinforcement and revision.
- Compared to the Infant and Toddler programme (which Rachel is attending), there is more emphasis on discipline, independence, and active participation by the children. The children have to carry out little tasks like hand up their name cards in a certain way, handle their worksheets on their own, sit in a certain way, and answer attendance call in a certain way. There is a segment where the children have to individually speak and do a short presentation in front of the class, and there are times when the children are expected to voice their own answers and responses to the activities.

If you have an image of what a Japanese or Chinese classroom is like, I'll bet your vision has well disciplined students, every child shooting his or her hand up to answer the teacher's questions and everything running like clockwork. That's pretty much the feel that I got. A little military-like with the teacher barking out orders, of course without the military put-downs and punishments. There is a level of strictness, but there still is a lot of positive encouragement. If the child is unable to do the activity, the child is simply encouraged to try again next time. Of course, there is a lot less of the huggy-feely stuff that we like to give our 1-3 year olds, which didn't seem to matter to these older children.

Did the children like it? I think yes, most of them felt the high energy and were spurred on by the challenging environment. All the children had no problem responding to the sharp and brisk tone of the teacher. Some of them were very responsive during the activities, shouting out their answers and eagerly putting up their hands when they completed their worksheets.

To be honest, the atmosphere felt stressful to me, but the students didn't seem stressed and, in fact, were enjoying themselves. A couple of them were withdrawn, but that seemed to me to be part of their personality. Perhaps being in a class like this will help them to come out of their shell?

The class was mainly made up of boys. I don't know if things would have been different if more girls had been in the mix. I do believe that, after a few classes, the students and the teacher will find their equilibrium so, ultimately, it may not matter as different genders, different personality traits, and different levels of engagement will all find synergy.

As for Ryan, he enjoyed the class, although I am not sure if it was because his good buddy Brayden attended the class with him! It took him a little while to get a feel of his surroundings and to get accustomed to the loudness of the teacher and the students. Nevertheless, he was interested in what was going on, kept his attention on the activities and generally managed to be independent and, after a couple of worksheets, he was comfortable enough to point out, "I'm not done yet!" when the teacher indicated time was up.

We won't be signing Ryan up for the programme. We are looking at signing him up for a martial arts class, so his schedule will be full. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience to attend the class. Fast-paced and challenging, full of energy, and I imagine that the children find it lots of fun. It was eye-opening to see the children responding so well and so eagerly to the teacher, and enjoying themselves in the process.

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