Schools in China
I’m not sure if the schools are the same all over China or just in this area which is Chengdu, but I suspect they are the same.
Children start in kindergarten at a very young age and for the first two weeks they stay for the morning only and then after their initiation they stay all day till about 5pm. They start at two and half years old when they can barely speak their native language never mind English but the schools here in China are very different from home.
It turns out that I am teaching at the best Montessori Kindergarten in Shuangliu, I was offered this school but had to do a demo class in front of many teachers and the headmistress, thankfully they liked me and offered me the job right away.
For those reading that don’t know, Montessori is a method of education developed by Dr Maria Montessori, it is a child centred method of approach and has been used for over 100 years in many parts of the world. Montessori teaching is based on the development of the whole child, physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Students are usually in mixed age classes from 2.5 to 6 years old, they learn concepts from working with materials rather than direct instruction, and they work with the environment and very often use natural materials. The students lead their own education and have freedom of movement within the class.
In our school they arrive at about 8.30am every day, they go to get their health check on the way in to the school, which the teachers do, by taking their temperature and looking at their tongue for any signs of illness, they then proceed to their class, throughout the morning they will have lessons and colour and maybe make things. At around about 11am they have lunch having had a milk drink about 9.30 to 10 am. The lunch is delicious and freshly cooked by chefs who make wonderful recipes from scratch with fresh ingredients arriving at the school daily.
The children have their lunch about 11.30 to 12 noon then they have a sleep, there are small stackable beds in the school which the teachers lay out in the large hall like rooms attached to the main classroom, once they have eaten their lunch they are put to bed for their sleep which will be for about 2 hours.
When they wake up they are given a drink of water and taken to the toilet etc. before being taken back to their class for more lessons. As an English teacher I have to teach every class in the school once a week.
There are 500 children in the school and another200 which I teach at another school within walking distance of my kindergarten. I go to the other school every Tuesday and teach full classes every day except Friday when I will be just mixing with the children talking to them in English and also observing their studies and encouraging them.
The school is a huge gated complex incorporating the main school which is built over 6 floors with each class having two rooms to work in, one for the main bulk of the lessons and the other for quiet time or sleep time or whatever is needed any particular time in the day. Also on the school grounds are offices opposite the school and a play area in between with proper, child friendly surfacing and play equipment like slides and climbing frames. There is a covered play area set underneath the school like an open basement, it rains a lot in Shuangliu but is also hot most days so the covered area suits in all weathers There are guards on every gate into the school, no one is allowed inside the gate if they are not a parent or approved guardian of the child. At the entrance you have a credit card style card to scan on entry, which recognises each individual identity. Once inside the school has 5 floors with huge class rooms on each floor, in all there are 13 main classes and 2 baby classes where some are as young as 2.
As I have already mentioned lunch is prepared freshly every day and consists of fresh local grown produce and local farmed meat and the menu varies every day but always with rice or noodles, plenty of vegetables and meat, there is no sugar or dessert for lunch just proper food.
There is a canteen for all the teachers to eat their lunch, which is provided free by the school, we have to go next door to the primary school for our lunch, which is a short walk across the school yard. Every teacher gets their own food then cleans their utensils after use and replaces the steel serving trays used, ready for the next people in line; the teachers from both schools eat at this same place. The food is so nutritious, but nothing like you would imagine Chinese food to be like, basically the food sold in Chinese takeaways in the UK is not the food you find here. I have not seen any dishes that are sold in the UK actually sold here at all, everything is so very different, also as we are in Sichuan province where there tends to be a colloquial way of cooking which for Sichuan involves lots of oil and lots of spices especially Sichuan peppercorn.
This week I sat in on a class which is what I do every Friday, this week was class 3 and I enjoyed every minute, first they all walk in a circle observing concentration at keeping your feet following the line around the room while also being very quiet, then they all sit in a circle and address each other to say good morning and also to the teacher. After that they have a break of water or milk, whatever they prefer, with a small piece of fruit.
There are 40 children in each class usually with about 3 teachers so after they have had their snack they are split into 3 groups depending on what they each prefer to do and one teacher goes with each, the group I was with did Origami which is the Chinese art of paper folding, we all made a boat, this is done to help the children’s concentration and it really did the job, they were all completely focused and enjoying making their boats. While we made boats, one of the other groups went off to colour and the other group was learning about balance and poise by carrying a tray with objects on it, around the room on the line I mentioned earlier. This teaches them concentration again and balance and helps their memory, as they have to remember where they put their trays down and what was on them.
After the crafts we all went in to the basement play area and danced to music with hand movements and dance movements, which was obviously well known to the children; I tried to keep up at the back. Then they moved onto climbing frames and they had to walk across the plank without anyone holding them, learning all about balance again and concentration.
I have to say as well, that hardly any of the children I have taught so far have had any behavioural problems apart from the odd couple and that is out of 700 children. They don’t eat junk food at all in school and any sweets or desserts; they live a far healthier school life and eat healthier food than we do at home. I am enjoying learning about the Montessori Method of teaching and learning, I think it’s making for more confident, healthy children.