Australian International School has joined forces with another international school to open Singapore’s largest pre-school. It offers an IB education, specialist language and music classes, a wide choice of CCAs and a sprawling child-friendly campus – but it all comes at a high price.
Heralded as the world’s largest pre-school, Australian International School’s Early Learning Village is the new kid on the block. The Village, which opened in September 2017 at AIS’ Serangoon campus, is doing its very best to overshadow other early learning centres with its purpose-built facilities, Reggio Emilia-inspired design, flexible timings, specialist programmes – and premium tuition fees.
Read about our tour of the campus here.
Located in Chuan Lane, The Village is a collaboration between Australian International School (AIS) and Stamford American International School (SAIS), which are both operated by the Cognita group. From August, the new Brighton College Singapore will also move into The Village. Designed exclusively for little people, The Village is a 50,000 sq m campus with the capacity for 2,100 children aged two months to six years. While both schools share the same campus, they operate independently, and offer different curriculums and academic calendars.
“We’re confident about the two schools sharing The Village as we’re both very different in terms of the programme and outcomes we offer. We're finding that parents will often prefer one or the other.
"We feel that we have the advantage at AIS as The Village is actually part of our campus. Our families are not only getting the facilities here, they also get the feeling of being part of the whole school."
The Village is very simply split into three, with AIS, SAIS and Brighton College (Singapore) sharing the building; they have their own dedicated entrances, uniforms, teachers, classrooms, play areas and resources. The only facilities shared between the two schools are the swimming pool and The Hive, an indoor sports hall.
This new campus is child-friendly in every sense: classrooms are arranged in small clusters, a swimming pool is designed for wading and learning to swim, outdoor spaces encourage discovery and play, there are toddler-sized work benches in the teaching kitchens and science labs, and in every classroom children can venture through pint-sized doors to a dedicated outdoor learning space.
From storytelling hills to sandpits, climbing facilities to miniature gardens, the campus is designed for the very youngest of learners. The Village can offer parents everything under one roof – a huge benefit for families who like their child to take part in a wide range of activities.
International teaching staff
The Village is overseen by AIS' head of early years Adam Patterson, who has a background working in international schools from Brazil to Malaysia.
While AIS describes itself as “globally focused and distinctly Australian”, it does welcome applications for The Village from all nationalities – a message that’s made clear at the end of The Village’s promo video, which reads “Open to all, not just for Aussies”.
The academic year runs from January to December with four terms; because the academic year at SAIS runs from August to June, there are several months of the year when The Village is only in use by one school anyway.
The learning journey starts here
AIS offers an inquiry-based, Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum at The Village. AIS has recently opened an infant care facility for babies as young as two months. From the age of three, The Village takes little learners through a curriculum that’s grounded in the IB’s Primary Years Programme (PYP), which focuses not only on what is taught, but how it’s taught.
AIS is committed to allowing students to be actively involved in their own learning and to take responsibility for that learning. This prepares students for ‘big school’ and makes the transition to AIS’ main campus, where students continue to follow the PYP, that much smoother.
In addition to developing proficiency in core subjects such as English, maths and science, children study science, technology and engineering. There are also daily Mandarin lessons from nursery onwards. A Mandarin specialist teacher uses songs, games and story-telling to bring the language to life for young minds; teaching is 100% Mandarin, so it’s a completely immersive experience.
AIS offers a well-rounded education at The Village where visual arts, music and drama are nurtured as much as academic learning. Students get the opportunity to perform with the LAMDA-trained drama team, and learn instruments including the violin, piano and recorder. The Orff Music Literacy Programme, which starts at just 18 months, combines music, movement, drama and speech into play-based learning; this is then continued at AIS through to secondary school.
In the gym, the school follows the SMART Steps programme, which integrates numeracy, literacy and language with physical play. Technology is integral to all lessons, and students have access to iPads and PCs. There’s also a strong reading culture that’s fostered through library sessions, author visits and literary events; every day, family members are invited to read a story to their child’s class.
The school day runs from 8.45am, or 9am for nursery, until 3pm. Parents can opt for the half day, which finishes at 12noon, and there’s the option of signing up for three, four or five days up until KG2. Ideal for working parents, the school day can be extended with the option of breakfast and afternoon clubs as late as 6pm.
Parents are kept up to date with school news via a weekly newsletter, termly reports and two parent-teacher conferences. The school is making the effort to create a close-knit community by opening a parent cafe and help desk and setting up a PTA, something that may be harder to achieve on such a large campus attended by two different schools.
All students must wear the striped AIS uniform; if nothing else, it helps to differentiate them from the SAIS students at The Village.
Beyond the classroom
While many pre-schools will end the day around lunchtime, The Village gives young learners the opportunity to take part in a broad programme of co-curricular activities (CCAs) until 4.30pm; classes include ballet, soccer, tennis, creative drama, circus skills, basketball, swimming, gymnastics and mini maestros.
One of the benefits of AIS joining forces with SAIS to open The Village is its fabulous facilities – all spread across a vast campus that covers an area equivalent to seven football pitches. It’s hard not to be ever so slightly blown away by this state-of-the-art campus with its modern seven-storey building.
Inspired by Reggio Emilia’s philosophy that “the environment becomes the third teacher”, the campus features natural materials, living walls, multi-sensory resources and plenty of greenery.
Among the facilities in The Village are various multifunctional spaces thoughtfully designed with young children in mind. Every classroom – and there is a massive 100 in total – has a 40m2 outdoor discovery space attached to it, which includes sandpits, Makerspaces, bike track, nature areas and splash pools. Nursery classes include nappy changing, sensory rooms and sleeping areas.
There’s a large indoor, air-conditioned gymnasium called The Hive for sports and events, plus specialist classrooms with large child-height round windows, a mini library, and a teaching kitchen and science lab with child-friendly workbenches. The covered swimming pool is designed for children learning to swim; it has a wading depth, 10 short horizontal lanes for beginners, four longer lanes for more confident swimmers, and a family observation deck. One of the first things you’ll notice when you walk through the school gates, though, is the six huge outdoor playgrounds with UV cover, including the popular pirate ship.
Can such a large campus really be that child-friendly – or does it look too large and intimidating through a three-year-old’s pair of eyes? While some parents may prefer the intimacy of a smaller pre-school that has a genuine village feel rather than one that is the size of a village, others will be drawn to the large-scale opportunities that AIS can offer.
The Village has been designed as a series of pods with plenty of greenery and windows in between, and classrooms are grouped in clusters of four with dedicated teaching kitchens, mini-library and open spaces. Named after Australian animals, AIS makes these classroom-clusters feel like small communities on each floor. Also, because The Village has play areas on each floor, you won’t find all 2,000 students outside at the same time.
The campus was developed under the mentorship of Professor Gary Moore (Environment-Behaviour Studies, University of Sydney) who says that,
“The child’s experience will be, ‘I’m going to this little school of just four classes around a common core activities’.”
One size does not fit all children and, while some young leaners will thrive in such a large pre-school, others may feel too overwhelmed.
Admission and fees
The Village is open to all nationalities, including Singaporeans. Fees here are more than double what you may pay at other small pre-schools in Singapore but on a par with certain leading international schools; they start from $21,418 for five days at nursery and reach $33,646 for five days in prep. Lunch is included for all full day students.
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