PARENT power could prove vital when the country goes to the polls in May, and all political parties have put family friendly policies at the heart of their campaigns. Tax-free childcare, additional pupil premiums and educational reforms are all under the spotlight, but the question remains: could we be doing more with the early years?
Cennydd John, Founder of Hatching Dragons nurseries – the UK’s first bilingual Mandarin-English Nursery that is set to launch in the Barbican in April – thinks we can and explains why parents are beginning to question the value of traditional nurseries and challenge the assumption that the language of learning must only be English…
The Need for a Different Kind of Childcare
LONDON is a great place to raise a family. The opportunities for learning, playing and exploring are varied and almost limitless, but at times it feels like the price we have to pay is also never-ending. For most of us, work is a necessity rather than a choice and in two-parent families it’s more common than ever for both to have jobs outside the home. But with childcare costs rising, it’s easy to wonder whether it’s worth going back to work.
Despite this, I’m still a firm believer in the value of nurseries. They offer our children the opportunity to socialise, develop friendships and to apply our values in a real-life, social environment that helps build their autonomy (from us) and self-confidence. And I’m not alone. Recent research from Oxford University and the Institute of Education once again prove the a structured and nurturing early years environment can make all the difference in later life, with recipients seeing happier, more emotionally stable and rewarding adult lives.
But so many fail to meet the exacting expectations of us parents. Irrespective of the nursery, there’s always the niggling feeling that we could do it better ourselves. This got me thinking about what I would value in a nursery, above and beyond that we can offer ourselves – love, care, attention and as much stimulation as us parents can muster. What can be offered that we can’t offer ourselves as parents? For me the answer was fluency in a second language that I knew would have a real positive impact on my son’s life and prepare him for a future where colleagues are as likely to be in China as they are in Chicago.
And many parents appear to agree with me. Bilingual nurseries are rapidly growing throughout the UK, driven mainly by the increasing awareness of the cognitive and neurological advantages the dual language upbringing can have on your child. All current research points to the fact that bilingual children have enhanced analytical reasoning; are stronger in concept formation and creativity, are more attentive and outperform their monolingual peers in almost all academic areas later on in life. And no, you don’t need to be a native speaker of the second language as a parent – the brain plasticity of a child aged 0-5 is such that language acquisition happens rapidly and naturally.
I’m glad to see things are changing; driven, in part, by the changing needs and expectations of parents, who, like me, want more for their child from the money they put in to childcare. But for me, the language that would make most impact for my son has to be Mandarin, given the importance of the country today and what potential impact it can have on my son’s future. And that’s why I set up Hatching Dragons, the UK’s first bilingual Mandarin early years provision.
Our team – which includes top early years educationalists, a former Chairman of Ofsted and bilingual mandarin specialists – have drawn on the best bilingual early years models from around the world to produce something truly special: a cross cultural pedagogy that enhances every developmental aspect of the EYFS. My hope is to help our children develop the confidence and capabilities that will allow them to thrive in a world that is increasingly intercultural, interconnected and international. I want to offer them the foundation to easily continue their Mandarin in primary, now that it’s part of the national curriculum, but at the very least prove to them that there is something more out there and that I’ve offered them something beyond myself as well. Most importantly, I want to start a conversation about how we might be able to do something more with the early years: how we can use the time more to offer our children something unique; something that will make a real difference to their lives beyond which we can offer ourselves as parents; something perhaps worth the money we pay for childcare.
Hatching Dragons is launching the first of its bilingual Mandarin-English nursery settings in the Barbican in April and is now taking registrations for Open Days. For more information, please see the website, www.hatching-dragons.com or call 020 3287 7020.