A Bilingual Early Years education at Wellington Colleges China

Fiona Carter

Director of International Business Development and Academics, Wellington College China

Setting the foundations for bilingualism in our young pupils is central to our approaches in the Early Years at Wellington Colleges China. This is from our staffing arrangements to the rhythm of the day and the inspirational learning environments in which our children play and interact. The steppingstones which enable our children to express themselves, understand others, think and be confident readers and writers in both Chinese and English are set from the beginning of their time in our Huili Nurseries.

The standards we set in the early years are taught through project-based approaches where pupils are invited to share their knowledge and, with the help of the adults, research what is important to them in greater depth. Ensuring the most effective Early Years approach for our pupils, we have merged the English Early Years Foundation Stage and the Chinese Curriculum (from three to six years) guidelines. The result is an encompassing curriculum and Huili framework for teaching and learning.

In China, each of our nursery classes have a team of two partner teachers who are equally responsible for the education and care of the class, highly trained in early childhood development and constantly reviewing the pedagogical approaches they use. This partnership between a foreign teacher and a nationally trained Chinese educator is integral to a provision which truly offers the best of East and West to ensure a bicultural as well as bilingual offer. Adults must be playful for children to be engaged and involved in the learning opportunities around them and children`s self-initiated play is narrated and supported in both English and Chinese to ensure there is a continuing development of their mother tongue language while acquiring English, eventually to a near native standard.

Our international educators always look for ways to prompt the children to practice a new English word or phrase or use their Chinese to discuss concepts at a deeper level. By hearing and then applying new vocabulary in play-based situations. Invitations to play, which are over and above the continuous provision in the indoor and outdoor spaces, help provoke new learning and motivate children to think deeply and solve problems independently. These are chosen to either respond to children’s interests and/or promote and introduce new vocabulary, concepts, and specific skills.

To support this in multiple languages, the interactions children share with all adults, and especially those who do not speak the child`s first language, must be meaningful and reflect what our children already know about the world. A key method of enabling this is through a combination of immersion and intentional teaching in the target language whilst children are highly motivated in well organized and easily accessible provision. Indeed, the learning environment is a critical component when teaching young children multi lingually and spaces must be carefully crafted to inspire curiosity in our pupils. We encourage them to express their feelings and follow their enquiries and both indoor and outdoor environments are designed to encourage pupils to make connections in their learning. A balance of quiet, reflective spaces and areas with open-ended materials reveal their existing knowledge and inspire them to think creatively. Our outdoor spaces are designed to offer huge potential to foster children’s Characteristics of Effective Learning in nature and surroundings. Outdoor learning lets pupils run, climb, and explore in ways that are not always possible in their everyday lives. Teaching and learning actively outdoors with free flow access from the classroom for the majority of the day helps them develop a strong sense of independence, physical strength, and sensitivity to their surroundings. Nature is viewed by us as the 4th teacher and woven into daily practice as well as a pathway to future work on global citizenship higher up in school.

Finally, relationships and a sense of community are viewed as key to achieving academic excellence and enabling children to make connections with their peers, teaching teams and the wider school population are key to successful learning. Positive relationships among the children can start with something small such as a shared book, a smiling face and common interests. It continues to grow as the children work together towards the same goal and learn to embrace different perspectives when meeting a challenge. It presents in dialogues and tasks, giving the children the confidence to apply the new information they have been taught and take cognitive risks in new situations. Seeing parents as experts in an area of specific interest is applied through invitations to visit classrooms, offer solutions to a child`s research project and large- scale exhibitions and celebrations of learning.

On leaving Early Years, our pupils will either enter one of our bilingual primary schools or move into a Wellington International. In both cases, children enter the next age phase confidently with multi linguistic skills and, as importantly, a global and bi-cultural view of the world.

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