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Nurseries around the world – China

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By Linda Groveretired teacher and photographer

Linda Grove visited China to find out about daily life in a Montessori nursery in Beijing

I have been going to China for the past 25 years and lived in Shanghai in the late 1990s. When I recently visited a private Montessori nursery in Beijing, I was amazed to see how much times have changed, and how relaxed and well organised the school was. It would have been quite different in the old days when the only nurseries available were state funded, with overcrowded classes full of children reciting and chanting.

Early education

Chinese people have always valued education, and with the many rapid changes in China today, it is at the forefront of progress. Education in China is fiercely competitive and often the route to success in later life. When young Chinese people get some money, private education for their children is the first thing that they spend it on – with schools popping up in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The nursery fee is not cheap, so parents of the children who attend nursery have to be earning a very good income.

From the age of three, the children become familiar with English through a range of songs and rhymes. With the demand for university places in China far exceeding the number of places available, English is seen as a valuable skill in order to gain access to the Chinese universities or, alternatively, to study abroad.

The nursery is managed in a similar way to British nurseries. The children learn primarily through games and activities – which are very carefully planned and structured by the teachers. Even the staffroom looks very similar to one in a school in England, except that it is a lot cleaner and tidier!

Nursery life

Before the children are allowed to start nursery, they must have a full medical, which the parent has to pay for at the hospital, as there is not a National Health Service in China. The medical inspections are very thorough, and include a chest X-ray, hearing check, sight test and blood tests.

On the children’s first day at the nursery, the whole family is welcomed and are invited to stay with their child for as long as they want to, or until their child settles. The class of 25 children range in ages from three- to five-years old. They are all in the same room and have a ratio of one assistant to five children, as well as one overall main teacher.

There is no school uniform at this particular private nursery. However at a state nursery school there would be a stricter dress code. The staff are teacher-trained, with a very approachable head teacher, who stands at the front door to greet the families each morning. The head wears a smart suit every day and the rest of the teachers wear a tracksuit uniform.

The large nursery room is bright and sunny with a caring atmosphere and a variety of interesting displays showcasing the children’s work. The nursery’s playground is on the roof of the building, with a high, strong guardrail all the way around. The children are encouraged to enjoy structured outdoor play – and their coordination and ball skills are far in advance of their British counterparts.

The nursery provides lunch – traditional Chinese food which is cooked on the premises and eaten with chopsticks. This is followed by an afternoon nap lasting for an hour or so. The children sleep on special mattresses that are brought out for naptime. Each child has a small mug with their name on and their own toothbrush.

At the end of the day, all the children are given little chores to help clean up the classroom ready for the next day. The children can stay in the nursery for as long as their parents need them to – which, in some cases, can be from seven o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night.

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