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Campus of Gems

September, 2008
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IMG_4344 The new Family Learning House Jianwai SOHO (FLH SOHO) is the latest new school to open in downtown Beijing.

  This beautiful new facility includes two toddler classrooms for children aged 18-months to 3 years, and six primary classrooms for 3 to 6 year olds. The maximum capacity of the whole school is 160 children.

  “This year we plan to open 3 classrooms,” said school principal Karyn Robarts. “We are starting slowly as we feel that organic growth is best for the long run.”IMG_4412

  Interestingly, the classrooms are all named after gems, including: Amethyst, Citrine, Opal and Ruby. Karyn feels it a meaningful way to identify different classrooms, meanwhile relating these to the educational purpose.

  "We see the child as a mine rich in gems of great value. As educators, our job is to bring out the potential treasures in every child and to help the child to develop these for the purpose of serving humanity,” she said, joking that the teachers are like “miners”.

   As a virtues-based Montessori Kindergarten, FLH SOHO continues to provide daily systematic character education, which is called “Virtues in Us” Character Education Program. For the last two weeks, guests have been invited from the local community to show the children how they use the virtues in their work. For example, a dentist came to talk about “cleanliness”.

  The school’s strong emphasis on the bilingual nature of the classroom especially delights Chinese parents: English native speaking teachers work alongside Chinese teaching assistants in every classroom, so the children are exposed to English daily and in a natural way.

  “We are here to be of service to Chinese children and their families, which is really our focus,” said Robarts. IMG_4450“The school runs longer hours from 8:30 to 4:30 pm to serve our Chinese families.”

  The new expansion allows enough space for FLH SOHO to have an independent multi-purpose room, where children can learn ballet, music or take part in other after-school activities including yoga, Chinese music and cultural dance. Every month the children will learn a different Chinese minority dance or a different international dance.

   A parents’ library with books about parenting and Montessori education will soon be ready too. Currently, the room is used for parents’ meetings.

  “In November, we are going to open our classroom for parents to observe the children and their teachers. We will have virtues classes for parents and ayis (housekeepers) too,” added the principal.IMG_4399

  School lunch is prepared on campus, with a very diverse menu ranging from Japanese sushi to Persian kuku sabzi. Every child needs to work independently to prepare the table for lunch, and get their food and drinks without the typical assistance of teachers. While the children eat, Mozart’s music plays in the background.

   “We encourage the children to serve each other, using courteous language like ‘May I have the milk, please,’” added Karyn. “We want our children to explore and celebrate the richness and diversity of our world, including different cultures, different music and flavors of different foods.”

  After school lunch, some children can go to sleep in their comfortable bedroom with stars and the moon painted on the ceiling, whilst others can play in the unity garden outside their classrooms. In the near future, the front area of the school will be turned into a playground, too.

  Currently, FLH SOHO is still offering its introductory offer of 50,000 RMB per year for families enrolling by the end of November. After November, the school fees will increase to 68,000 RMB. The fees include lunch, ballet and music classes, as well as other after-school activities.

By Xing Yangjian

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