Choosing a Hong Kong Pre-school During Covid

Pre-schools and nurseries across Hong Kong remain closed for now due to the Covid-19 crisis. But if you are looking to the future and hoping to choose a pre-school ready for when they do reopen, how do you go about this under the present restrictions? What should you be looking for?
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

There are certain fundamentals that we always advise parents to consider when choosing a pre-school or nursery. Right now, given the Covid-19 crisis there’s a few more important factors that we’d advise you to add to your list.

The Covid-19 Impact – choosing a pre-school or nursery

Meet the people.  Can you ‘virtually’ meet the Nursery Manager or your child’s teaching team? There’s little more important for successful Early Years education than the relationships your child will build with these new and important adults in their life. Try to schedule a video chat with as many members of the team as you can. Do you like these people? Do they seem warm, knowledgeable and passionate about Early Years education? Do they ask questions about your child as an individual?

Take a virtual tour of the facilities. Look not only for an attractive, well-resourced environment but also things like secured entrances and exits, fire exits and well maintained equipment and buildings.

See what is happening behind the scenes during the closures. Most nurseries are sharing at least snippets of their online learning and support on social media at the moment. Do you like the look of the activities on offer? Is the team continuing to engage their families and children even now, two months in to the closures?

What plans does the nursery have in place to ensure safety for children and staff alike when they reopen? Again, most nurseries are working hard behind the scenes to have these plans in place and stress tested before they reopen. Do the plans sound well thought out, workable and will they put your mind at ease when you leave your child there?

We would suggest that nurseries should be thinking about things like increased hygiene measures, more stringent cleaning protocols, smaller class sizes and ‘zoning’ (restricting staff and children to certain areas of the nursery to prevent unnecessary cross contamination).

Ask how the nursery plans to support the emotional well-being of young children when they reopen. It may well be more challenging to help children settle in to nursery life after a long period at home with their parents. Children are also experiencing the stress and upheaval of the current situation, even if they cannot articulate it. How does the nursery plan to address this?

First day
When will nurseries reopen? Nurseries across Hong Kong are preparing themselves and will be ready to welcome your little one.

What else to look for? The fundamentals of choosing a nursery

Start by shortlisting nurseries that will make your life easier. As ambitious as parents today can be, there’s little good in choosing a highly academic, little Einstein producing nursery that sees you landed with a hideous daily commute.

Factors to consider include:

Proximity to work, home and the school(s) of your older children. Schools and workplaces often open brutally early in Hong Kong. Can you get everyone where they need to be whilst maintaining their (your) sanity? If you can’t manage the commute, does the nursery offer transport? If you are a stay at home parent does the nursery run offer a chance to stop for a coffee and a whip round the supermarket on the way home?

Is the nursery affiliated with a school/school group? The recent spate of new school openings has reduced the pressure on school waiting lists and place availability in Hong Kong, but a nursery that offers your child priority for your preferred school may well be a sensible long-term strategy.

Curriculum. If you plan to return home any time soon, it may make sense to choose the curriculum widely offered in your home country. That said, this is probably more relevant for primary and secondary age children, but do read up on the curriculum offered and make sure you feel it will meet the needs of your child.

Languages. Most nurseries operate with English as their first language but you will find others that lead with Mandarin. Many English speaking nurseries will offer language programmes as a regular activity.

Choosing a nursery – more important questions to ask

  1. Does the nursery have documented health and safety procedures that they are willing to share with you?
  2. Does the nursery employ a qualified, full time nurse?
  3. Do other staff have Paediatric First Aid training? How many?
  4. Are there quiet, comfortable and age appropriate sleeping areas for the children?  Are they children supervised when they sleep?
  5. Are the staff appropriately qualified to teach the curriculum offered? A nursery that offers the EYFS should have lead staff qualified with Cache Level 3 Diplomas as minimum. 
  6. How will the staff help your child to settle? How is separation anxiety dealt with?
  7. How is feedback on your child given? At what intervals? How will any concerns be raised and addressed?
  8. What is the adult:child ratio for each age group?
  9. What is staff turnover like? How many staff are retained year on year?
  10. Does the nursery have a good balance of indoor and outdoor play areas?
  11. How the children are kept engaged and interested throughout the day – is there a balance between structured activities and free play?
  12. Do the children have access to classes from visiting teachers? E.g. ballet, football, swimming and music. How will these visits be managed safely in the context of Covid-19?
  13. Do they children have regular access to books? There should be a mixture of books which are accessible for independent use and story time books which are read by the staff.
  14. Is there are wide range of resources and play equipment? Look for creative resources, (paints, glue, age appropriate scissors, modelling clay, collage materials), construction toys (blocks, simple Lego, tubes and linking shapes), physical play equipment (hoops, balls, balance beams, sand and water play) and imaginary play (dress up clothes, role play areas e.g. kitchens and shops).
  15. How are the different age groups separated? Is there scope for play with both older and younger children?
  16. Is screen time offered? When and for what purpose?
  17. How can parents support the nursery and be involved in the nursery community?

Finally, evaluate your nursery choice with care, but never disregard your gut feeling. Listen to your instincts - only you know your child best.

Choosing a nursery or pre-school? Read more:  

Which pre-school is best for your child?

Which international schools offer a pre-school education in Hong Kong?

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