When considering preschool or kindergarten for your child, there are many choices in Shanghai. But what about before preschool – is there somewhere, besides playgroups and staying home with the ayi, for your little ones to get extra stimulation and an edge on socialization before heading off to “school”? Enter the world of pre-preschool: programs designed for children and parents together to ease the littlest ones into the larger world of education in a developmentally appropriate way.
Often considered Mommy or Daddy & Me classes, these programs offer children a chance to gain socialization and participate in sensory activiites such as arts and crafts and storytelling while learning alongside a parent. Songs and games as well as a variety of thematically designed educational activities help the youngest learners and their parents interact on a more intimate level.
Usually aimed at children aged 18 months to four years, the purpose is to ease them into the idea of school-based programs and meet other children their age in an environment resembling a preschool or kindergarten classroom, but in a much less formal way. It is also a great opportunity for parents to have some interpersonal interaction as well.
"These types of classes are great for both the parents and their children, says Speckled Frogs owner, Anna Dixon. "The parents get to see their little one grow in confidence and make friends and the children get valuable time with their mum or dad." Speckled Frogs is a music and movement class for children aged 6 months and upwards. Activities include singing, dancing, playing with instruments, toys and parachutes, while learning to interact and share eith each other.
As the idea becomes more and more popular, there are various locations throughout Shanghai that tailor to this parent/child concept. These spaces are child-centric and use materials that are safe and appealing. A lead teacher or instructor guides both parent and child in a series of activities in an allotted amount of time appropriate for the age of the child.
This is exactly what The Little Gym’s Parenting Class aims to do: bring together parents and children in a fun and relaxed environment. A world-renowned experiential learning and physical development center for children aged four months to 12 years, The Little Gym has had many parents play alongside their children at the centers over the course of its 35 years in the field.
Pre-preschool program instructors pride themselves on developing children’s physical, social and emotional abilities through themed motor skill training activities, music and games. The instructors are there to facilitate the classes, but ultimately the experience is for the children, with parents there to encourage them.
Children younger than five may not have the attention span or coordination to actively participate in all the games. Parents might feel discouraged by this, but actually it is a very normal part of their development. The instructors are there to support parents and remind them to be consistent and proactive in setting safe and strong examples for their children. Over time, their children’s skill sets will expand and, in the end, this interaction strengthens the child-parent relationship.
Alice Meng, mother to a 21-month-old, says, “With my daughter getting older, I wanted her to have more physical and mental activities. We originally went to music classes together, but I decided to look into Acorn Academy to focus more on preschool preparation along with arts and crafts.” Meng spends quite a bit of time outside of the classes with her daughter, going on walks, shopping, singing at home or reading books, but she feels these classes are a great opportunity for her daughter to meet with other children in a more structured environment.
“I’ve definitely seen her learning new things,” Meng says. “She was on the younger side for preschool prep, but when we did the trial she actually seemed engaged and listened, for the most part. She has started counting and learning letters. I also love that we get to do arts and crafts and get our hands dirty, things that we probably wouldn’t want to do at home.”
Phoenix Chen, General Manager at The Little Gym, reiterates, “It provides access to intimate moments for parents and children, free from household chores or phone calls. In the 45-minute class, parents can observe their children more intently, know about them and actively communicate with them.” Fostering this strong foundation for the parent-child relationship at such a young age ultimately will help children become more confident, and therefore more prepared for preschool in the near future.
Other Resources for Parents and Children:
• Gymboree: www.gymboree.com.cn
• Julia Gabriel Center for Learning: www.juliagabriel.com
• Singing Speckled Frogs: WeChat ID:
• The Little Gym: www.thelittlegym.com.cn
• Zooligans: www.zooligans.org