My name is Mrs. Helen Benaglia-Wood and I relocated to Hong Kong from the UK almost 13 years ago after completing my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics with Modern Language (Japanese).
I have worked in both international and local primary schools and kindergartens during my time here, before being part of the start-up teaching team at Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong (WASHK).
I currently serve as the Head of Key Stage One, Year One Class Teacher and Parent Representative Coordinator.
Lifelong learning is a key value of mine: I completed my Master’s in Education Leadership with distinction last year and I obtained my Postgraduate Diploma in Education seven years ago, both whilst working full-time.
I have also previously taught the flute to both children and adults. In my free time, I enjoy running, hiking, surf ski and I am a member of a dragon boat and outrigger canoe team in Hong Kong. I am also an avid language learner speaking Cantonese, Japanese and trying to learn Mandarin and Italian.
What kind of difficulties do students often encounter when they graduate from kindergarten and become a Year One student?
The transition from kindergarten to Year One comes with challenges, all of which the children overcome amazingly well within the first month of school.
Every child’s transition differs due to their previous educational experience; some children have hardly ever spoken English; most children attended half day Kindergarten and some children have never been to school before.
Based on my experience, these are the three key challenges that I observe most frequently.
For those children graduating from local kindergartens or those new to learning English, adapting to learning iSTEAM, Art, Music, and the variety of subjects offered at WASHK, in English, rather than in Chinese, can be a challenge.
Although most children have the language skills they need, this can certainly be a daunting transition for our non-native English speakers.
Secondly, the adjustment from half day school to full day school can feel like a long time apart from caregivers for the children. This can be further increased if the child enrolls in the extra-curricular program offered.
Whilst having lunch at school may seem normal for adults, having lunch away from their family is a huge milestone for children.
Some children entering Year One have never been to kindergarten before. This scenario has become increasingly popular due to multiple school closures over the last two years. This leads to children feeling that they are behind their classmates academically.
Parents question whether they should catch-up at home, whether their child is weak or underperforming. All these attitudes can cause stress and anxiety to families, and we want to avoid this. Rest assured, every child will learn effectively, at a level that is suitable for each child’s ability, once they start their learning journey at our school.
How could the parents better prepare the children for the transition from Kindergarten to Year One?
To better prepare children for starting Year One, I would recommend three areas to develop:
language, routine and independence.
For those new to speaking English, I usually suggest that parents can spend a certain time during the day, for example, before dinner, to speak English.
This could be for just 15 minutes at first and then increasing the time frame as the children become more comfortable. Doing this will expose children to English conversational language, especially the vocabulary used for giving instructions. If the parents also have limited English, please refrain from being shy, this is a fantastic time to learn a few sentences together!
Secondly, routine and structure are highly important for young children. Waking up and going to bed at the same time and ensuring adequate rest is the key to preparing a child. This routine can begin much earlier than when school starts, even in the first few years of a child’s life.
Routine should be kept throughout the holidays too, especially during the long summer break before their first day in ‘big school’. Allowing time to exercise, get fresh air and relax are equally important within their busy school routine.
Finally, independence. Children can help at home to do small tasks: set the table, tidy their toys, put their clothes away, to name a few. These activities give children ownership and make them realise what they are capable of.
Once starting school, children should pack their own school bag every evening before bed (you don’t go out without knowing what is in your bag, so why should they!
When children pack their bag, they know what to expect the following day, the different books or letters the teacher may need, their homework and what they will be eating at snack time. This simple action encourages independence and sets the child up for the school day ahead.
How does WASHK prepare children for this transition process and support the children to be ready for their primary school life?
Before a child enters WASHK, they are assessed. The purpose of the assessment is to see whether he/she is suitable to join Year One as well as confirming that WASHK is the right school for that child. We are assessing a child’s potential not what they know during the assessment, so that teachers can prepare for each family’s arrival to WASHK.
The teachers at WASHK support children from before their first day at our school. From the assessment, parents will be made aware of any fundamental areas to improve, so that they can work on this before they enter the school.
On the first day of school, the children are guided through the classroom, where to put their school bags are where the washrooms are.
A visual timetable is used so that children know what is coming next throughout their school day. Although children are happy at school, they want to know when they expect to go home to see their caregivers again.
Whilst we want children to be independent, in unpacking their bag and getting out their correct learning materials, we are there to guide them through every step of the journey.
WASHK is the most flexible and student focused school I have ever worked in. Whether it be learning online or face-to-face learning, the teachers provide outstanding support to our families.
This could be through differentiated learning materials, phone calls to the families or one-on-one intervention. Individual targets, goals and support are put in place, so that regardless of a child’s needs, they are presented with best environment to excel. For example, if a child is new to learning English, specialist support and additional sessions will be scheduled.
Every teacher is dedicated and committed to provide the best learning experience for all children in the Wycombe Abbey School community, not only during the transition to primary school but throughout their whole educational journey.