Meeting the children - and a ride on the bullet
The district of Shanghai that we went to had eight state kindergartens. We picked up Madam Ding from social services to accompany us to no3 kindergarten. A class of five-year olds met us and held our hands to take us to the gym. Children start school at six here but do some formal lessons at the kindergarten.
They then performed several songs and dances for us with quite
complicated choreography. Asked to reciprocate, we managed to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Incy Wincy Spider!
The class of 36 has two teachers and one 'nanny'. The teachers have a three-year training, then work for a year before they are considered qualified.
The kindergarten is open term-time from 8am to 4pm. It costs around £50 a month from an average salary of £900.
It was noticeable that there were no children with special needs. The head confirmed that they are screened before they start and not admitted if they display any difficulties. The head teacher had many questions for our group, which really brought home just how varied our provision is - each question had about six different answers, depending on whether it applied to a school, nursery, Montessori nursery, pre-school, or Scottish nursery school.
The kindergarten had spacious outdoor areas, art room, library, block room, displays and photos of children outside, but everything seemed very time-tabled.
Teachers have three year training, then work for six months to a year before they are qualified.
In the afternoon, we drove to Suzhou - a 'small' city of 10 million! We visited a private child development centre. The young, passionate owner was about to open a third setting. She had had a son with developmental delays, and looked for methods to help him. She has devised materials for brain development. Some parents really like the method, she says. Here, we did see children with SEN.
There was a ratio of 1:5 for most ages, but not all staff were early years trained teachers and there were far fewer regulations about floor space etc, such as those that apply to state nurseries. Some babies attend for an hour in morning for 1:1 sessions, and 100 children from other nurseries in the afternoon from 4pm.
This owner was obviously filling a gap, and charges more than state but less than private kindergartens, which cost £400-500 a month. But there were few resources and some rooms felt bare.
Next morning we went to Garden of the Master of the Nets attracting much attention and photos from Chinese visitors, especially those with blue eyes, blond hair or black skin.
Then on to the bullet train, the fastest in the world at over 300km, an hour to Beijing.
Today has been a day of culture and history, with lots of information from our great tour leader Zhang at Tianamen Square (pictured), the Forbidden City and the Beijing acrobats.
Lots more to come from a nursery teacher training college, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall - so I'll keep you posted!
Would you like to experience this for yourself?
There will be a second specialist and cultural tour to China this year, from 30 August – 13 September. The tour will be led by NW deputy editor Ruth Thomson.