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LizRoberts

4,000 miles later...

By the time you read this, we will all be home after having the most wonderful experience, and one that will give us food for thought for a long time.

After Xi'an, we flew to the south-west of China to Guilin, where the strange and beautiful mountains are the mainstay of everyone's image of Chinese paintings.

We visited a private kindergarten there, mostly serving a new estate of houses. The senior practitioner was a young man who showed us round every classroom, where the children sat waiting expectantly for the western visitors.

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The environment here included role play, with various elements such as a doctor's surgery and a KFC restaurant (!) set up in the corners of the rooms. The classes were of fairly small numbers of children, but the days were once more very timetabled, with the Chinese staff curious as to how free flow and child-initiated play operated in UK nurseries.

The next day, we took a boat up the stunning River Li to Yangshuo, with eyes and cameras glued to the amazing scenery.

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Our visit here was to a state kindergarten, very over-subscribed and taking from a small catchment area. It was spacious and well-designed, with a jaw-dropping mountainous backdrop. The local area's education director accompanied us and explained that she received some government money, but not enough to hire the numbers of staff needed, hence fees that were quite high in comparison to the other state setting we saw in Shanghai. Staff did receive benefits including accommodation, pension, retirement at 55 and reasonable hours of work, however.

The children, aged from three to six, showed us their morning exercise routines - choreographed and sophisticated, but great fun and incorporating pattern, gross motor skills, cultural and historical references and more. It demonstrated why the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony was so good!

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Physical exercise is seen as very important, and all the staff joined in with great enthusiasm too. This session gave plenty of ideas to the UK visitors. The education director was very keen to see information about UK nurseries and, again, to hear about child-initiated play, as this just isn't part of Chinese practice. She agreed with us, however, that four was too young to start formal lessons.

As the children went back to their classrooms, we cycled off round the farms and paddy fields surrounding Yangshuo. Then it was back to Shanghai, before the long flight home.

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We're all hoping to have further contact with the Chinese professionals we met, and, of course, to stay in touch with each other. The trip has widened our minds and our perspective on early years.

Find out about similar trips at http://www.mastertravel.co.uk/tours/professional-study-tours/educational-tours

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