How Hong Kong Kindergartens get Creative

If you’ve found this blog you’ve either found the hyperlink in the blog, Starting a Book Club, or you’ve found this passage through some other means. If it’s the latter, then go and read Starting a Book Club. It will help you get to grips with my ideas behind this blog. 

 The story I started to tell in Starting a Children’s Book Club was about a time when I almost lit alight my flat whilst creating materials for my book club. I was sat on the wooden floor of my apartment typing and printing comprehension questions to accompany the book, Stardragon. But before laminating the questions I had a stroke of creativity and decided to cover the paper in glitter before putting it into the plastic laminating wallet. Aha! Genius! I was ready and waiting with my paper, glitter, and plastic laminating wallet, ready to post it through the tiny opening in the melting machine. I inserted the plastic with no problems, it seemed to go in smoothly. I waited for the paper wrapped in glitter and plastic to emerge from the output. I waited a little longer, but still no sign of any plastic. I waited for this wave of creativity to work, but it would seem that my genius plan had not succeeded. Something was definitely wrong. Hmmm! A flicker of smoke crept out of the output and I picked up the laminator to find a folded mess of melted plastic and glitter stuck to the heated rollers inside. I jumped from the floor and flew over to the socket to turn off the laminator and I realised that I very nearly, probably, set my tiny Hong Kong flat on fire.

 Lesson 1: Don’t put glitter in the laminator. 

From this thought, I burst into laughter at the memory of all of the holidays and festivals held at my previous school, Keenmind Kindergarten (KM). At KM, creativity was a must. It really should have been emphasised as a key factor during the interview. Working at KM taught me that to be an artist you need time, not that that was ever unclear. In Hong Kong schools, events are flashy and creative. I remember trying to stick a giant sheet of red paper to a painted concrete wall and then sellotaping a supersize spider’s web on top - this was Halloween of course. Easter was even flashier, with pastel-coloured eggs sewn all over the school gate, and Christmas ...well, how would you feel after making several thousand paper roses? Each event set a standard for the next, and each event helped me understand the significance schools place on parent days. They matter. If a parent can only visit a school on five opportune days throughout the academic year, then of course the school wants to set a good example - even if it is at the expense of the teachers social lives (joking, but not really). 

My fondest and strongest memory at KM has to be graduation. I was experiencing a class graduation for the first time. It really was lavish. Perhaps an elaborated description would help you understand the size of it, but i’ll keep the description short and sweet. Basically, it was hosted at Disneyland. Flashy AF! Now I know you’re picturing Micky Mouse up on stage handing out graduate certificates to five-year-olds (signed by Goofy) with a personalised cap-throwing picture for every participant… and if that’s the picture you’re thinking of well… you’re spot on. 

It was that ridiculous. Lesson 2: Do it for the kids!

But let’s go back. Before graduation, my colleagues and I, helped choreograph a theatre production. I use the term theatre production, rather than “play”, because it was closer in appearance to Broadway than to an amateur school show. The production, The Wizard of Oz, was perfectly practised and rehearsed by our K3 graduates. Who knew that four and five-year-olds could be so rhythmically in tune? The teachers, my colleagues, worked tirelessly to design and create the backdrop for each scene in the show. Materials were ordered (thanks amazon), props were purchased, and costumes were made or bought by each of the hard-working parents. The latter point, has to be one of the most uniquely hilarious experiences of my time at Keenmind. I believe this experience is worth explaining!

The event is of course a show, and in shows, costumes are the opposite of basic. The parents searched high and low for phenomenal, cutesy, unique, stand-out outfits. I recall one day day in particular, I was sat at the red table in my classroom waiting for the afternoon class to arrive when in comes a young girl who’s part in the show was a flower (she was the part of the choir and all members were a different type of flower). Now unfortunately for schools, there are often too many students to fit the story line and so half of the class become the choir, props or backing dancers, etc. The young girl, nearly six in age, drops her rucksack onto the table and starts unzipping her school bag. I could have sworn I had seen a beam of light appear or perhaps a yellow laser. Anyway, she reached her hand into her rucksack and pulled out the first puff of a yellow material. Nearly matching her own height in size, she tugs on the material and out pops Mary Poppin’s monstrous volume of luminous fabric, an amount that would be better measured in hectare rather than yard. This material was so gigantic that when I went to inspect it I discovered hand-sewn golden sequins, flowers in layer after layer of fabric, and eventually the top half of the dress. It was as if my little K3 student had turned into a magician, transforming me into the character of my old drama teacher at middle school and my classroom into the stage. The dress her mother had chosen for her looked like it had been whipped into shape by a fairground candy floss machine and was brighter than a florescent berol highlighter.

It was FABULOUS, it was ‘My Big Fat Gypsie Wedding’, it was probably shipped in from Shenzhen, and it was 100% not going to be accepted by the head of school.  

 Needless to say, her parents hoped she might stand out. We sent it back.

Lesson 3: Do not underestimate the passion behind the Hong Kong parents!

Starting a Children's Book Club

My reasons for starting a book club were to further my education of children’s literature and child development, increase my communication with parents, and open the door for unique experiences. Hong Kong is an amazing place to be if you can see inside the homes of the local people. If you can do this, you will understand how Hong Kong parents want to raise their children, how they view the role of the teacher, and what their family principles are. Considering these foundations, I started Amelia’s Darlings Book Club and started developing my skills as an entrepreneur. 

 I started my research into book choices by studying the children’s books at the library. Once I had gathered my own ideas, I racked my brain for the most thoughtful and intelligent friend I had who shared the same love of children’s literature: Angela. 

 Angela worked at Baker & Bloom in Wan Chai, an out-of-school programme specialising in creative reading and writing. I was once lucky enough to cover one of her classes and managed to gather some experience at what I believe is one of the top education centres in Hong Kong (although I think they now consider themselves a school).  

 As an expert in children’s literature, I was keen to solicit Angela’s syllabus. To her credit, she introduced me to my favourite book of 2018, The Day the Crayons Quit. If I were to give any advice on how to start a children’s book club, it would be to contact every teacher you know and pick their brain with regard to their favourite books.

 My creative personality enjoys exploring fun activities for children and once I had a rough outline for a curriculum, I took time in designing and testing creative activities to accompany each book. In fact, some of my experiences are quite funny, but that’s a long-winded footnote for another blog

 Et Voila, I had created my curriculum for Amelia’s Darlings book club within a few short phone calls and several lengthy visits to Hong Kong Central Library. 

 It was an early Saturday afternoon when I finally managed to conduct my first children’s book club. I organised to meet for 90 minutes at a Starbucks in Tsim Sha Tsui. The cafe had enough spare tables for my small group of eight budding book clubbers (plus parents) and it was as casual as I had hoped it would be. This location, surprisingly, worked well for my first and second sessions! My third session differed majorly, I had met the parent of all parents, the ultimate hostess, who offered to host at their home on la Salle Road. Audrey, her mother, and her grandmother hosted Amelia’s Darlings third book club! I’ve spent time in the homes of some of my tuition students, but this was an experience I could only have had due to starting a book club. Audrey’s family were gracious, welcoming, and exceptional chefs - I even left with a box of chocolates and a trinket box made from lychee packets! We had homemade red bean sweets, delicious puff biscuits, and a traditional cake. My little group of book clubbers, now doubled in size, were spoiled with good food brought by all attendees, and the mothers attending had the chance to drink tea and enjoy each other's company with close proximity to their little darlings. 

 So, teaching in Hong Kong? Why not start a children’s book club. It took me a few phone calls to build a curriculum, two sessions to find a host family, and 90 minutes per week to gain an insider's guide into the lives of Hong Kong families. 

 

😊

 

See my book choices for ideas and inspiration for your own book club!

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Animals in Education

ANIMALS IN EDUCATION | THE HARBOUR SCHOOL

 

"We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole".

- Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.

I learnt about animals and their educational benefits at a school in England: I used to take children horse riding. It was astonishing to see the differences in behaviour at the equestrian centre and then back at school. Now, sat in this busy coffee shop in Hong Kong I can recall the silence from the children as they moved with the rhythm of the horse. A natural precaution was always taken and the children maintained exceptionally focused in order to absorb every ounce of knowledge from the instructor.

I believe that there is wisdom in having animals in schools. I was lucky enough to be invited to feed the animals at The Harbour School and this is what I discovered.

Should we have animals as part of our education? What about sustainability and animals? What’s the impact of introducing animals to students?

 

It was a gorgeous April morning in Hong Kong, so I took the south island line down to Ap Lei Chau. Sarah, the Marine Biologist who I was due to meet, had arrived earlier than I and was feeding the fish upon my arrival. I entered the school on the ground floor and was surrounded by spacious tanks and touch tanks (oh, and a guinea pig who was staying for the weekend). Sarah and I fed the horseshoe crab - purchased at the market - and she explained how the children would initially refuse to touch the crab, but since have formed a liking to him. The children know his temperament and behaviours (a little bit bossy with a tendency to steal food), and they keep a watchful eye on him whilst caring for the other animals in the tank: sea stars, sea urchins, and sharks. When introducing a new student to the animals, the teachers at the school are given the opportunity to teach children how to treat animals. The introductory stage is particularly important for parents because the amount of kindness a child shows towards animals has strong implications for later life choices.  

 

Moving around the touch tank, Sarah explained that starfish "eject their stomach" to eat. As a teacher of creative writing I thought about my students and their stories about fictional animals. Could the knowledge of marine animals bring more creativity to their stories? The textures of the shells and scales that I had the chance to touch were fascinating.

 

We moved on to look at the bamboo sharks, hiding under a little wooden home. Hong Kong is a popular place for shark fin soup and so exposing children to sharks will help them develop their own opinion about the consumption of shark fin. Sharks are fascinating creatures and humans have learnt to fear them ever since the 1975 movie, Jaws. Looking at the sharks, Sarah explained that a male used to share with a female, but they didn’t get along and so the centre released the female and sourced another male. Due to this process the school were blessed with the opportunity to demonstrate the behavioural patterns of sharks. We know little about sharks and their migration patterns, but recent research discovered that sharks swim among their gender and only meet with the opposite sex for reproductive purposes.

 

It was fascinating to visit a school where curriculum consultants are appreciating the benefits of animal psychology and educators are understanding the global need for teaching sustainability. The environmental issues we are now predicting will be problematic not for us but for our children's children, and thus, why not provide them with the tools to change now.  

 

 Key Points:

  • Incorporating wildlife in schools enables parents and teachers to study how children treat animals. Psychologists claim that early behaviour towards animals is a big indicator of personality and later life choices.

  • Children develop a sense of responsibility to care for the animals. The responsibility factor helps develop empathy in children.

  • Students learn about animal psychology.

  • Learning about animals expands children's vocabulary! I learnt about ten new words during one trip!

  • I viewed projects which showed evidence of creativity and entrepreneurship!  

  • The children learnt myth-busting facts about sharks! Go shark conservation!

  • Being with animals is therapeutic and relaxing!

 

Inspired by this blog? Be sure to check out our latest workbook: Sustainability & Marine Animals.  

 

 “The sea is as near as we come to another world."

- Anne Stevenson

 

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