Laughter fills the air at The Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Step into one of its many Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) classrooms and you’ll see why. Some little learners are indoors, juicing lemons or moulding clay. Next door, happy feet bop to the beat in a dance class.
Outdoors, they proudly sport their sunhats, engaged and supervised, as they bounce around obstacle courses that they had designed on their own with tyres twice their size, wooden boxes, planks, ladders and more.
At the Alice Smith School, children love learning. Every day brings something new to explore, experiment, discover and solve. Rigidity and boredom have no place here — only recognised approaches as to how children best learn at this age. The result? Physical and intellectual development according to each young learner’s own pace, needs and interests.
Here, classrooms look quite different from “traditional” preschools — for good reason. Every detail in their construction, function and aesthetics is designed to support learning. Inside or outside, there are opportunities to connect with the natural world and have first hand experiences of life and growth.
At the Early Years and Primary School, wood finishes and greenery galore –– enough to make you forget that 800 students, representing over 40 nationalities, walk its halls each day. The compact, family-friendly feel exudes a sense of intimacy and trust. Spaces are as vast as they are stimulating.
Primary School Principal Alan McCarthy looks forward to walking these grounds every day. On his daily check ins, he greets every student and faculty member by name. They know him just as well.
“These relationships stem from us loving and caring for the children so much,” shares McCarthy who has spent the majority of his international career in education.
“This is why we prioritise getting to know each one, so we can give them the care and education they need to succeed. You can see they appreciate how much the adults are investing in them. It gives them a sense of happiness and confidence. It also has a huge effect on their sense of self, character, and esteem.”
The bespoke Alice Smith Early Years curriculum adapts key knowledge and skills from the English National Curriculum to reflect the context of the school and life in Malaysia. Teaching is heavily influenced by the recognised approaches of Reggio Emilia, Anna Ephgrave, Maria Montessori and Alistair Bryce-Clegg.
The above ensures children communicate well and grow up resilient, socially and emotionally ready for their next step. While the experience is fun, it is just as rigorous.
“Play is a natural way for young students to learn,” says Principal McCarthy, who was once an Early Years teacher himself. “Our teachers are especially skilled in intervening within the play to extend each child’s learning in one way or another through direct instruction.”
A smooth transition from EYFS to Primary classrooms
Moving from EYFS to Primary School can feel daunting. At The Alice Smith School, teachers in both stages work closely to ensure this doesn’t happen. By placing an Early Years educator in Year 1, they ensure each child’s background is understood and the appropriate approaches are used. Classrooms also contain signature EYFS elements. While teachers love to see students progress, they firstly want to see them happy. They’ve succeeded in maintaining countless smiles.
The Alice Smith Primary curriculum is just as personalised. Content evolves annually so teachers are able to forge genuine connections with students while keeping up with current, global affairs.
This year, students in Year 2 focused on the endangered nature of sea turtles, highlighting sustainability. Those in Year 5 explored why it rains so much in the country. Meanwhile, students in Year 6 learned about the Silk Road and its relevance and connection to Malaysia.
As they progress, more specialist teaching is introduced — in art, computing, physical education, modern foreign languages and more — up to eight hours a week, to be exact. Thanks to their Early Years foundation, Alice Smith Primary School students embark on each new frontier with confidence and zeal.
An impactful Early Years education is the best investment any parent can make. “The primary areas of learning are physical, personal, social, and emotional development; communication; and language. At Alice Smith, these are first introduced in Early Years,” he explains.
“If children are not experiencing a quality education, they could face academic challenges down the line. Here, it is essential that children hit the correct milestones before moving on to a more formalised education. This is how they reach their full potential.”