The part I loved the most was developing the curriculum for my classes in Dongguan. I had the playgroup for children aged 1-3 years and the kindergarten classes for the 3-6 year olds. As they were Montessori based, we used the Montessori apparatus and materials which were presented to each child individually or in small groups based on their level and area of mastery. I sourced for both local and foreign activities for the practical life activities which included the use of chopsticks, pouring from a Chinese tea pot, the use of bamboo tongs and tweezers for handling Chinese tea leaf, wash boards and more ‘western’ items such as a manual coffee grinder, transferring water with a turkey baster, apple cutters and muffin trays. The children loved the different things we had prepared for them to use and to practice with, especially at the beginning of every term when we would rotate and change some items on the practical life shelf.
Aside from the Montessori materials, we also had a thematic, inquiry-based approach to learning about topics, which proved to be interesting to the children. This meant going back to the drawing board for me. Given the nature of playgroup-aged children with their rather short attention span, we went through a different theme every month while the kindergarten aged children would explore one theme every term, which lasted 3-4 months. This is simply because the older children asks more question and need to be allocated more time for them to research the answers for themselves. Once a theme was identified, I would look at most of the possible options that it could expand to, and come up with sub-themes, which were then narrowed down to weekly topics and daily lesson, plans.
To make sure that we gave the children a holistic approach to learning and to cater to the different learning needs and styles of the children in the class, I had to make sure that the daily lesson plans included activities which are highly sensorial, hands-on, music and movement and art and craft which were properly strung together so that they present themselves as one whole topic rather than a few fragmented activities. This bird’s eye view to a holistic approach for thematic based learning is something, which I’ve learnt from working at an IBO international kindergarten here in Hong Kong. I love how it teaches teachers to plan what to ask rather than what to teach. I particularly love seeing how the children respond positively to an inquiry-based curriculum by developing an analytical mind capable of deductive reasoning, even at a tender age of 4! They are able to form hypothesis and ask questions which are well though, they start to juxtapose the information which they have discovered and are quick to point out irregularities and similarities, and all these are really cool higher level thinking processes which some adults don’t even get.
The thing that I was most proud of was the development of a sensory play curriculum, which differed from day to day, and from one theme to another. For example, if we were scheduled to have water in the sensory tub on Monday but the theme was on fruits, we would fill the tub with water and fruits for the children to wash with some fruit with washing liquid and sponge, plus a terry cloth to wipe the fruits dry after they had been washed. Since we had a routine for children to help with the preparation of their lunch and snack, the children could cut the fruits and serve them during meal times. Every activity was multi-purpose in that they were highly physical, sensorial, provided children with opportunities to be independent (after all, some of them are practical life activities), helped them consolidate and reflect on the theme that they were exploring and provided them with different channels to think about the topic and to express what they had learnt in different ways. This was a big job but one which allowed me to flex my creativity and teaching skills!