A head start: solid foundations at pre-prep
15th August 2019
A solid pre-prep foundation with small class sizes, specialist teaching and dazzling facilities instils a love of learning that lasts a lifetime, says Charlotte Philips
This article originally appeared in the Autumn edition of Little London Magazine.
If you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect pre-prep for little ones in the heart of London, how would it look?
The school would be designed to make those first steps on the learning journey packed full of wonder, excitement, challenge and variety. Inside, there’d be purpose-built spaces, some cosy, some high tech.
Outside, children would have the space to explore, learn, relax – or just let off steam. And the staff, of course, would have the expert knowledge, enthusiasm and – just as important – understanding of what makes younger pupils tick, knowing when to challenge them to go that little bit further and when to hold back.
Prince’s Gardens is set to provide all that and an awful lot more to its pre-prep pupils. It’s down to a team of highly trained, caring teachers and wonderful facilities. The pre-prep area – which will have its own entrance but be interconnected to the rest of the school – will be home to children in nursery through to Year 2.
Talk to Headmistress Alison Melrose and what comes across is a palpable air of energy. Of course the school is ambitious for its pupils – academic excellence is taken as read, the goal of achieving success at 11+ never forgotten (even though it can seem a long way away at this end of the school). But pre-prep education is about so much more than that.
“This is all about giving our pre-prep children skills for the future. It’s about thinking much more broadly, about the skill sets they need, about emotional intelligence, working as a group, creativity and adaptability and having a growth mindset. All those skills are more important than ever,” she says.
The motto at Prince’s Gardens focuses on being prepared for everything. It sounds like a big ask. The key is ensuring that even the youngest children start acquiring the tools that will help them deal with failure, rise to challenges and embrace new ways of working.
“The first four years in the pre-prep are a crucial time,” says Katie Paynter, Head of Pre-Prep. “Lifelong attitudes and values are established with a focus on the equal importance of the social, emotional and academic intelligence.”
Facilities will range from a hall, just for the younger pupils, to generously proportioned classrooms where the two nursery and three reception classes can access their own, purpose-built terrace – a perfect outdoor learning space. Beyond that is the school’s two-acre garden – a paradise that is enclosed, hidden and completely unexpected.
Of course, there are the green spaces of Hyde Park, just a few minutes away, where nursery and reception classes will spend two hours each week.
Children in early years will do everything from launching model boats to explore floating and sinking, gather sticks and leaves, make sequences out of pine cones and learn how to work collaboratively – or develop independent learning skills.
With the abundance of museums on the school’s doorstep, London won’t just be these young pupils’ playground but their classroom, too. Making a universe of knowledge available, you can bring topics to life in a way that can’t help but be inspirational.
The school terms it Inspiring Introductions, – a description that could serve as a neat description of what the pre-prep is all about. There’s nothing like being able to pack in a trip to a museum into the school day with ease to trigger a huge outpouring of creativity. “There’s no other school in the country that will be able to take advantage of the museums in the way we can,” says Alison Melrose.
Take that best-loved of children’s favourite stories, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Why leave it at reading the book when you can go on your very own bear hunt – with real bears – courtesy of the Natural History Museum? The children come to school dressed up as – what else? – explorers, complete with binoculars.
After they’ve read the story, they head off to the museum where they “count how many bears have black and brown fur, think about where they live, what food they might eat. They order them by height and maybe do a tally chart,” says Katie Paynter.
The goal is to create learners with a natural curiosity for the world around them and it will all take place within a fast-paced curriculum, with specialists teaching even the youngest children. It benefits even three and four year olds, explains Katie Paynter, because “you get teachers who are so passionate about their subjects and that passion really ignites children’s interest and engagement”.
While nobody can predict how the world will look when this first class of nursery pupils are ready to join the workplace, the education the school delivers should ensure that they are – as its motto states – prepared for everything. “We’re equipping them with skills,” adds Alison, “so that if something unexpected comes along, they’re not going to be knocked sideways. They’re going to be all right, cope and be successful.”
Five top tips to get your child ready for school life.
Help them to recognise and write their own name by putting letters on the fridge door and encouraging them to find theirs.
Teach them to use a knife and fork. Invest in a set of ergo grip cutlery. It’s tactile and comes in all sorts fun designs and colours.
Expose children to a wide range of food – including vegetables. It doesn’t have to be hard work. Books like Oliver’s Fruit Salad and Oliver’s Vegetables show how much fun trying new ingredients can be.
Help children get used to changing from their school uniform to their sports kit and back again by getting them to stand in a big hula hoop and seeing if they can keep all their belongings inside it as they change. Make it a game by using a stopwatch to time them.
Get them used to fastening their own shoes and trainers but don’t be tempted by laces. Velcro is the answer. It’s quicker, easier and gives children confidence.