International early-learning: a great start

Early Years education is an important introduction to education and an invaluable grounding for a flourishing future. For international families, the right pre-school also offers a ready-made community.

In this new International Education and School’s Fair webinar, Melodi Jordan, Head of Lower School, TASIS The American School in England, joins Carmen Powell, children’s author and education professional, and Relocate Global’s Managing Editor, Fiona Murchie, in conversation.They discuss why formal early-years education is so vital for younger family members on the move, how parents can make the right choices for the best start, and what the early-years curriculum is all about in international schools.

Click on the image above to watch the webinar

Related reading and webinars from Relocate Global

Why is early-years education important?

Many international assignments, particularly for people mid-career, often coincide with starting a family and having pre-school children in tow. It often means finding yourself moving away from close family and friends just when you most need them. Yet formal pre-school settings in an international school environment can strengthen and support global transitions for the whole family. They are a space to rebuild family and community bonds, as well as start young children on voyage of discovery about themselves and the world around them. A good early-years education is curriculum-based, child-led and focused on developing the social and emotional skills needed to thrive now and in future. It actively supports children as unique individuals to develop their own sense of identity, understand and appreciate others and offer flexibility of education pathways.“Early Years is critical as a foundation. Period,” says Melodi Jordan of TASIS, which offers mixed-age early-years classrooms for children aged 2-4 and up to age 18 in its primary, middle and upper school setting. “Regardless of whether children and families are international, early-years settings are a place where children learn social and emotional skills. They learn how to be more independent and the foundations of oral language and maths. It’s a great place to start the educational journey.”

Building a family and a community

When you’re in the middle of planning an international move, it can be tempting amid all the planning and packing to put off your child’s first experience of school until the age 4 or 5 or until repatriation. However, this could mean missing out on a critical period of learning.“It is very important for young children to attend early years education because research and science have proved that 90% of the brain develops in the first five years of life,” explains early-years educator and children’s author, Carmen Powell. “It is so important young children are exposed to opportunities for learning.” Host-country parent and baby groups are a great way to rebuild these familial support systems and a sense of belonging in a host community. This is where international schools’ early-year settings give family networks and support in-country a real boost.“The benefits of early-years education are not just about the children,” continues Carmen Powell. “For parents too it’s important they have that support system. International schools have a community within themselves.”“In an international setting, early-years education is critical because in early childhood children are becoming part of a bigger community,” agrees Melodi Jordan. “When families are international, it can be really difficult to build and connect those relationships. So, it’s a really powerful place for students to develop friendships and become part of a larger network.”Research shows the vital role of extended families on young children’s early development. For assignees moving away from close family and their home country, this can be incredibly difficult. But, says Carmen Powell, “international schools offer exactly that sense of belonging and support system they need to thrive and move forward with development. It is very important that parents are looked after in international schools and they have that sense of belonging there.“Young children in early years are invariably very dependent on their parents being happy: if parents are happy, children are happy.”

What makes a good international pre-school?

This is one of the reasons why positive transitions – settling well into school and the wider community – underpins the admissions approach in all good international schools. Education experts from around the world have participated in Relocate Global’s International Education and School’s Fair webinars on this critical area. “Transitions are so important,” says Carmen Powell. “With the little kids, I work very closely with admissions. As the family signs up, and you can do this any time during the school year, I would quickly be getting in touch with the parents to find out any information and talk about any concerns they might have. “Also, importantly, I give them the details for the class parent of that classroom. Class parents are so wonderful. They are the ones who actually pull together the parents in and organise gatherings. This is where your community starts – from the classroom parents, who tell each other where the good shops are and places to visit. If new parents need anything, that is their first port of call.”“I think all international schools know what it’s like to be new and transitioning,” adds Melodi Jordan. “There’s a really unique culture in an international setting where teachers, students and staff – everyone on campus – understands that transition and how challenging that can be and how everyone goes through that process differently. There’s a natural support system built into everyone knowing what that’s like. “Then there’s also the structures schools put into place," says Melodi Jordan. “One of the things we do for new families at TASIS is we create a community that becomes a support network. So, having start-of-school picnics where people meet each other and buddy families, so a new family has another family they can go and have a walk in the park with before they’ve even started. Those are some of the things international schools do, the thoughtfulness that goes into transitioning, for not just the child but also the family, is really special.” 

What to look for when choosing early-years education

Parents looking for international early-years settings and thinking ahead to the future have many choices. This is especially when it comes to schools. “I think whenever possible families should visit schools,” advises Melodi Jordan. “With so many virtual options, parents can also get a sense for how a school feels if you can’t be on the site. That is really critical to how you feel you fit.“I think there are schools for everyone and every type of child. In early years especially, it is important that parents understand what the school is offering and decide whether that approach is a balanced approach that parents believe is the right fit for their child. “In the example of my school [TASIS, The American School in England], we really try to show parents that we are balancing the social and emotional element with early academic engagement all through play and exploration, but there’s a real balanced approach. Families need to understand how the school is looking to develop early learners.”“Generally, parents look to school philosophy to see if there’s a match, for example between international mindedness, fit and identity, those kind of things as well as the environment, which speaks for itself,” adds Carmen Powell.

A framework for learning and education

At TASIS, the school’s approach to positive transitions is interlinked with other key areas of the Early Years curriculum, which supports young children’s wider understanding of the world, and their emotional and social development. “We create time in the curriculum to have those conversations,” explains Melodi Jordan. “We have a really strong PHSE [personal, social, health and economic] programme that focuses on expressing ourselves and what it’s like to be new. We talk through all of these emotions children can go through.“Creating that time and space in school is really important so that everybody understands that what they are going through is natural and they have the language to talk about it.” This approach to learning keys into major themes in the wider world that young children are developing their awareness of, including inclusion and the environment. “One of the things in EY particularly that you’ll hear is that the environment is the third teacher,” says Melodi Jordan. “What we are doing is setting up learning engagements that allow children to ask their own questions, to have their own investigations and create their own inquiries. If we are watching that carefully, monitoring and pushing the learning forward, that’s how children really start to ask questions about how they can help.“As students develop, they can start to ask more sophisticated questions about how we can act and make change. So this is understanding they have some power in making change and taking action. Our student council is asking more and taking initiatives out of school now.“In early-year’s settings particularly, inclusion is a natural component of the programme because every child is developing differently so teachers are trained to look at that continuum of development,” continues Melodi Jordan.“EY teachers are masters of documenting and improving that learning so they can plan forward so students are getting this individualised approach. They are looking at what each child can do, what they are exploring and what kind of approach they have and are planning for the next level of engagement.“So for a child who is learning English or have other developmental needs, teachers can identify that and work out the next steps. For English-language learners, we are creating such a vocabulary-rich environment through play.” As Carmen Powell explains, sharing and talking about books are also a vital tool at home and in the classroom for international families and young children building their understanding of language and the world around them. 

Building the right foundations

With so much at stake for an international move, and especially post-Covid, an international school and pre-school environment can be vital to allaying anxiety and managing change positively.“School for a lot of children is a safe space because of the safe structure it provides,” concludes Melodi Jordan. “It gives a lot of comfort knowing how the schedule will look, how my day will start and how will it end. I think we were already seeing the need to focus on mental health and mental wellbeing even before Covid happened. But I think it’s given us the strength and the courage to identify that this has to be a core part of our programme. “This school has being taking an incredibly strong position on social and emotional development and the way we balance that. Giving that space and time and accepting that children are where they are rather than putting them where you think they should be makes for a much more successful learning environment.”

Follow for more content and features from the Great International Education and Schools Fair

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory

Related Articles