Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
As a parent, I wanted to ensure the best possible start to my son’s growth and development, and so when he turned three I enrolled him in a pre-school program at an American international school in Surrey. The numerous benefits of his time in pre-school – and subsequently in pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten (from the ages of 3-6) - provided an optimal foundation for the start of my child’s educational journey.
One of the major advantages of these formative educational years was that they allowed my son to become familiar with a school setting. With the guidance of kind, knowledgeable and supportive teachers, and the benefit of small class sizes, he developed early reading, writing, and numeracy skills. My son also learned valuable listening and communication skills, as well as how to solve problems. A purposeful focus on PSHEE (Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education) fostered his development of irreplaceable lifelong skills.
The extraordinary enrichment offerings afforded in these early years included arts, music, sport, STEM, field trips, and community service. My son conducted experiments on magnetism in a state-of-the-art science lab, learned about the importance of environmental health from visiting primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, and designed and built Mayfair festival games to raise money for local charities. He explored his interests, discovered his passions, and learned that he could be a change-maker in the world.
The opportunity for socialization was a big draw for my son’s early education and, as a student at a school that boasts a student body representing more than 50 different nationalities, my son has had the good fortune to interact with classmates from around the world. This exposure to friends from different countries, cultures, and religious backgrounds has set the stage for my child to become a compassionate member of the global community in which we live.
International schools recognize that children come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and educational systems. These schools are uniquely equipped to help students to grow and develop, regardless of their starting point. This could mean filling in gaps where necessary or extending students’ learning.
Most international schools encompass an extended age range, from pre-school through graduation, which provides curriculum consistency and academic and social continuity. An additional benefit is the elimination of the stresses of entrance exams inherent in moving from school to school.
The best schools create a safe environment in which children are encouraged to take healthy risks. In school, as in life, sometimes the best learning comes from making mistakes, reflecting, and trying again. In this way, students develop their confidence and perseverance.
There is a welcoming openness at international schools, as all members of the community know what it is like to be new. School communities can become the extended family of students and parents.
Given the nature of international schools, admissions policies are often flexible, and formal assessments are usually not necessary. However, when exploring international schools in the UK, a family visit to the schools you are considering is both recommended and beneficial so that you may find the best fit for your child and your family.
Dr. Carolyn Norris is Coordinator of Community Service and CAS at TASIS The American School in England.