It is so hard to find a daycare place in Hong Kong – but I was very lucky: Lina attended MASS International in 2016/2017. This is an international kindergarten in Tai Hang, which focuses on English and Mandarin, and it looks after children from a very young age: from about 8 weeks old (yes this is crazy young, but it also shows hot short maternity leave is in Hong Kong, especially when compared to some European countries).
MASS International is one of the very few places in Hong Kong that offers unaccompanied classes for children under 2 years – there are a few government/public daycare centres but it is almost impossible to secure a place there, as they are in very high demand and supply is short.
It was by coincidence that I found out about MASS International back in 2015 and we visited the campus on Tai Hang Road a few times, to meet with the principal and teachers and find out more about the environment.
At MASS International kids can do half-days or full-days – and what we really enjoyed is that one week the whole programme is in English (let’s say the topics is public transport or the hungry caterpillar) and then the next week the programme repeats, but in Mandarin (or vice versa). The class rooms are next to each other, and the teachers are native speakers, and it is full immersion for a week, before it changes to the other language. In addition, there is also a Spanish focus at MASS International, so there is at least one hour of Spanish each week.
The daycare/pre-nursery starts at 9am in the morning and firstly all the kids do exercises and sing songs together. Then the children go into their own groups/classrooms and do some activities in the morning, before they have lunch and sleep together. Then after lunch the small children can play or there is another activity session for those that are interested, while the older kids have a second classroom session. The daycare/pre-nursery ends at 4.30pm. There is also a schoolbus/nanny service, but we did not use it. I brought Lina to MASS International every day and picked her up again.
What we loved about MASS International:
- The full-language immersion is great – and even if I didn’t know which week we were in, I could easily tell from the songs Lina was signing. Even if she couldn’t talk much, she could sing a few Mandarin and English songs
- The teachers are native speakers – and everyone we met was very friendly, open, helpful, supportive and flexible
- Lina had an amazing teacher, who always encouraged her and was very supportive. She always provided lots of feedback about Lina’s development and her interests at school
- At the end of each term you receive a thorough update on what your child has been doing, what the strengths/areas of development are and what is planned for the next term
- The kindergarten does not have its own outdoor area (apart from a small garden), but the kids went to the public playground nearby and before/after class they could always play in the indoor area with each other. That was a good way for Lina to meet with older/younger kids that were not in her pre-nursery class
- There is not much homework except for reading a story/picture book every weekend
- Lots of different activities – and also excursions, some just for older kids (K2-K3 level) but others free for everyone, including park visits, sports days and charity activities
What did we not like so much?
- One of the downsides is the location – it is a 15 mins walk to Tin Hau MTR station or the Central Library to catch the ding ding. You can take a bus or Mini Bus from Lei Tak Plaza going to Causeway Bay, but these can be very busy at times
- Also it is an international kindergarten, with plenty of holidays. While the kids learn about different cultures and festivals, there are quite a few days that the kindergarten is closed, which is not great if both parents work and do not have someone else to help you with childcare. In the public system that’s easier as the nursery will only close on public holidays, when offices are also shut
- Now, with hindsight, I also felt that the interaction between parents was missing – there is no formal association or informal get-together. The only time the parents might meet is at drop-off or pick-up times, but even then the conversation is short – and it is hard to actually meet parents of children that are in Lina’s group. This could be an easy area to improve though
Why did we change kindergarten? Our focus is for Lina to learn Cantonese – and there are many local kindergartens closer to our home, so ultimately, we said good-bye to MASS International with a sad heart, and enrolled Lina in a local kindergarten.