There’s something very villagey about The Grange, which offers families in Singapore a more creative, homely – and affordable – alternative to the many spacious, state-of-the-art campuses here.
Nestled in a leafy green residential neighbourhood in the North East, easily accessible from the Central Expressway, this low-rise primary school has a small, cosy and very understated atmosphere. It’s a school that is growing organically to meet the needs of its slowly growing student body. It’s a school that is able to reduce its fees to just $18,480 by taking a very DIY approach to developing its facilities. And it’s a school that has examples of its hands-on learning both indoors and outdoors.
Read our review of The Grange here.
Sharing a site with Kinderland’s flagship pre-school, The Grange feels very welcoming for its young learners. Whether it’s meeting the friendly principal at reception or seeing one of the teachers building a tepee in the garden, you quickly realise that it’s the people who really make this school what it is.
Affordable schools need to be resourceful – and it’s interesting to see just how The Grange is developing a no-frills but inspiring campus that is well-suited to its creative, thematic approach to teaching.
Walk into the school garden and you’ll find a fruit and vegetable garden filled with passionfruit, mangoes and Chinese spinach that have been grown by the students. There's also a wooden tepee and woodworking bench, all built by Graham Worthington, a language teacher and husband to the principal Jennifer Worthington. Apparently, whenever Graham isn’t teaching in the classroom, you’ll find him building something in the garden; as a teacher with a very evident passion for hands-on learning, it’s clearly a labour of love.
There are hand-painted signs pointing to the students’ UNICEF and Garden to Table projects, a small shaded play area, and several homemade games. It’s a garden where children may be playing badminton, planting passionfruit, hammering and nailing something, or simply swinging and climbing on the small low ropes course (another Graham-creation).
“We may not have the big swimming pool and other facilities that the big schools have here, but we’re able to engage children with tactile skills. Children are very happy with simple challenges, and they don’t need sophisticated, expensive apparatus to learn and grow. Just look at the simple rebound wall we have, for example, which is teaching children how to catch and move.”
“They love nature here, and we’re teaching them to ask questions about what they see, what they discover.”
It doesn’t take long to walk around this small school, which is housed in an old but well-maintained, two-storey building. The classrooms are fairly small in the younger grades, which is not a problem at the moment as there only 16 students enrolled, but it could feel cramped if and when classes reach their maximum size of 24.
As you’d expect in a more affordable school, the rooms are quite basic, but they are well-organised and learning-friendly. The desks can be moved for different learning configurations, the furniture is designed for primary-age, and there is space for whole-group circles, small group work, messy play and independent learning.
The school makes full use of its limited space; for example, we saw word walls at the top of the stairs, a recycling station in the corridor, and a rebound wall for ball games in the garden.
Don’t expect to find libraries of iPads or Smart Boards in every classroom here as The Grange is focused on a very balanced use of technology. iPads are shared between groups of students in class, and teachers work on traditional whiteboards.
“At a younger age they can depend too much on technology and features such as auto-correct. We don’t want them to forget how to spell or simply go to Google to find the answer to every problem. Instead, we want them to develop their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills outside of technology.”
Other facilities include a multi-purpose hall that is used for sport such as gymnastics and dance, a library, dedicated language rooms, and a music room that is shared with the Kinderland pre-school.
There’s also a spacious and very colourful art room that’s often used for Creators in Residence projects, when professional artists visit the school to work with students. It was interesting to hear about a recent visiting artist who brought in a 3D printer. This example highlighted how, although the school may not have the funds for the latest technology, it is still finding ways to give its students access to such equipment.
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