Stamford American International School has collaborated with another international school to open Singapore’s largest pre-school. Based in Serangoon, 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.
Stamford American International School’s Early Learning Village really is one of a kind. The Village, which has been heralded the world’s largest pre-school, opened in September 2017. And, with its impressive facilities, Reggio Emilia-inspired design, flexible timings, specialist programmes – and premium tuition fees – it has become quite a talking point across Singapore.
Located in Chuan Lane, Serangoon, The Village is a collaboration between the Australian International School (AIS) and SAIS, which are both operated by the Cognita group. Designed exclusively for little people, The Village is a 50,000 sq m campus with the capacity for 2,100 children aged 18 months to six years. While both schools share the same campus, they operate independently, and offer different curriculums and academic calendars.
Located just a 10-minute drive away from SAIS’s main Woodleigh Lane campus, The Village is very simply split into two, with AIS having one half of the building and SAIS the other; 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 that can be divided into two for PE lessons.
SAIS offers the International Baccalaureate programme and US curriculum at The Village. It is overseen by early years principal Michael Day, who has a background working in Australian schools and, most recently, as deputy director to the elementary principal at SAIS.
The Village 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 pre-schooler to take part in a wide range of activities.
The learning journey starts here
With a curriculum that focuses on child initiated and teacher guided experiences, SAIS strongly believes in “allowing children to be children”. During the pre-nursery and nursery years (aged 18 months to three years), teachers focus on activities that “foster cognitive, physical and emotional development”.
From the age of three, The Village takes little learners through a curriculum that’s grounded in the IB’s Primary Years Programme (PYP), and integrated with SMART Steps PE, languages, music, and STEAMInn (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths and innovation). In the last year of KG1, SAIS prepares students for the move to Grade 1 at its Woodleigh Lane Campus, which helps enormously with your child’s transition to ‘big school’.
Typical of an American pre-school, students follow a full timetable of study and spend the majority of their time with their homeroom teacher learning the core subjects – English, maths, science and social studies. Progress is monitored through Teaching Strategies Gold Tracking, which is aligned to the US Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework.
The school says,
“We believe that children learn best through hands-on experiences and, with this in mind, we developed an education model which combines all six subject investigations where everyday moments are aligned to essential discovery learning.”
SAIS offers some impressive specialist classes that parents may feel give their child a better start in life. If you’re looking for your child to be bilingual, bi-literate and bicultural, for example, then SAIS has a language programme that stands out from the crowd. Starting in pre-nursery, the school offers daily Mandarin or Spanish lessons taught by native speaking specialists. From pre-kindergarten, parents can sign up for the Mandarin/English bilingual programme, which divides all learning time between Mandarin and English; there’s also an accelerated English programme from the age of five.
The musical journey at The Village starts with songs and dance, and moves to weekly lessons in Singapore’s only school-based Suzuki violin programme from KG1 onwards. There’s an option to progress to the cello from the age of five, and to join the school’s instrumental music programme (IMP) from the age of three for 1 to 1 private or group music tuition in violin, cello, piano or drums.
According to SAIS, “a moving child is a learning child”, which is just one of the reasons for its focus on physical education within the curriculum. The school follows the SMART Steps and Perceptual Motor Programme, which integrates numeracy, literacy and language with physical play.
We’ve already seen how SAIS brings innovation to the fore in the programmes it runs with Microsoft and Bloomberg at its unique Innovation Centre at the Woodleigh Lane campus. It’s interesting then to see how SAIS introduces innovation to its early years students at The Village by including an innovation kit in every classroom at nursery, pre-K and KG1 level. The school claims that “innovation is a concept woven into all learning”, and it follows this through by giving students access to tools such as Virtual Reality Kits, BeeBot robots and Makey Makeys in various classes.
The academic year runs from August to June with two semesters; because the academic year at AIS runs from January to December, there are several months of the year when The Village is only in use by one school anyway.
SAIS offers a flexible timetable with the choice of half day (9am to 12.10pm) or full day (9am to 3.30pm); there’s also 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 teatime clubs.
Parents are kept up to date with school news via daily blogs, a weekly newsletter, quarterly 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 that's operated by two different schools.
All students must wear the red and black SAIS uniform (it’s one way of differentiating them from the AIS students).
Beyond the classroom
SAIS organises excursions for students, as well as visits from authors, artists and other visitors. 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). There’s a 40-minute block dedicated to CCAs everyday for children aged three to six years; classes include ballet, soccer, tennis, creative drama, circus skills, basketball, swimming, gymnastics and mini maestros.
One of the benefits of SAIS joining forces with AIS to open The Village is its fabulous facilities. 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 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 can include sandpits, Makerspaces, nature areas or splash pools. 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 teaching kitchens and science labs with child-friendly workbenches. The covered swimming pool is specially designed for children learning to swim; it has 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, are 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 SAIS 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 that create small communities on each floor. Also, because The Village has play areas on each floor, you won’t find all 2,000 students playing 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 of activities’.”
One size does not fit all children, though, and while some young leaners will thrive in a large pre-school, others may feel too overwhelmed.
Admission and fees
The Village is open to all nationalities, including Singaporeans (the SAIS Woodleigh campus is only open to expats). 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 $23,004 for five days at nursery and reach $34,606 for five days in KG1. Lunch is included for all full day students.
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