Neverland: International Art Preschool

Expats.cz goes back to nursery school

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 24.06.2011 11:01:32 (updated on 24.06.2011) Reading time: 6 minutes

Neverland is one of a few bilingual or English-language preschools in Prague. Located in the grounds of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague 6, Neverland prides itself on a creative approach to early education.

We visited the preschool and spoke with the principal Markéta Kynclová about the school’s art-centered learning and what a being a Neverland kid was about.

School Philosophy
The director of the school gave the philosophy directly. She said, “The school works with the creativity of the children in a safe, spacious, and inspiring environment.” Sounds good, but what exactly does it mean?

Ms. Kynclová explained that they use all different forms of art, such as painting, ceramics, dance, and cooking in the classroom as a way to stimulate the children’s interest in a variety of topics. Even topics such as reading and writing are approached by stimulating children’s creative side, so as to introduce an idea or to reinforce it.

“At this stage they are learning about the letters. They are learning the phonetics, so we use drama at first. Every letter has a name and also has a sound, and the sound is introduced by a story with movement,” she said.

Drama is only one way children learn the alphabet. They are also encouraged to make letters decorating them however they please, and also learn through songs and games.

Typical Day Classes Split by Age
The school day at Neverland is very clearly organized. It begins with ‘circle time’ for half an hour. “This is about singing and talking about what the day is like. They talk about who is at school today, who is at home. It is more simple with the small ones and more advanced with the bigger ones,” Ms. Kynclová said.

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So, even though the school day resembles each other, the content differs depending on the age of the kids. The age of the kids is from one to six and there are five classes.

After circle time, the kids have more set lessons including English, Math, and Storytelling, depending on the age.

Then there is a short snack followed by an hour of play time. Even in this regard, Neverland tries to differentiate itself from a typical nursery school.

“We have a great outdoor area for playing. For us, it’s also very important that the children enjoy nature. First of all they can learn there. They can do different activities there like drama and sport. They also learn how to respect nature,” Ms. Kynclová said.

To promote an awareness of the natural surroundings, the school has flower beds and a veggie patch. “The kids have planted their own plants there and are watching how they grow, so they know how you get the peas, for example, that you don’t just go to the supermarket and buy them.”

Following the outdoor activities, there is ‘Art Theme Activities’. This includes the visual and performing arts mentioned. As with everything at Neverland, the impression again is that the fun has an educational goal. Whether the kids are learning to dance, painting a picture or acting out a story, this time is used to reinforce something they have learned earlier.

The afternoon program is also comprehensive.  There are subjects like science, geography and history, all adapted to cater for young minds. For example, younger ones learn about colors and shapes, while the older ones will start with basic arithmetic.

Life After Preschool
Ms. Kynclová pointed out that the education provided at Neverland prepares students for education in an English-language environment. Because the school follows a British preschool curriculum, kids should have no problem entering any international school where English is the language of instruction.

Whereas if the children from Neverland go to a Czech school, they may well  have an advantage over other students. Ms. Kynclová said, “The kids are repeating lots of stuff; basically they may be a little more advanced, and we’ve also had cases of students from this school that went straight into grade two.”

But the academic skills are only one side of what Neverland offers. Ms. Kynclová  feels that the children coming from this school are more self-confident and more independent. Again, this comes down to the school’s emphasis on art.

“Through art you learn a lot. First of all, children learn to express their emotions. We ask them to draw a picture based on how they feel today and then we ask them to talk about it. Then with drama, if you do lots of drama it really helps to build your self confidence because you have to perform in groups and alone in front of everyone,” she said.

Last of all there is the social dimension. With so much focus on group activities, the children learn early how to get along and take part. The approach is very much left to the kids.

“Because we’re not pushing them, we know that everyone needs their time, so if we’re doing some group activity, say dance, they can watch, and then when they feel it’s the right time, they can join in. If you give kids the chance to decide on their own, they don’t feel this pressure from outside then it helps them to join in quickly.”

Where the Students Come From
At the moment, the school has 45 students from many countries, including USA, Central Asia, Russia, and the whole of Europe. The mix means that the kids will use English to communicate with each other. Even if there are many kids from one language group at one time, they know to use English at school, especially those that start early.

“When they start at the age of one, they understand that English is at school, mother tongue at home,” Ms. Kynclová said.

The school also recognizes the cultural and religious differences of the children. This means that children from Jewish or Islamic backgrounds have a chance to celebrate and tell the others about their practices.

“In these cases we get the parents involved,” Ms. Kynclová said.

Personal Impressions
Because the preschool is located on the grounds of the International Baptist Seminary, the school is secure. The location in Prague 6, specifically Nebušice, behind Divoká Šárka, also lends the area a quiet and peaceful atmosphere.

The classrooms are colorful and well-equipped. One aspect I especially liked was that the classes had posters made for the children’s birthdays. Each birthday is celebrated and even the parents of the child are invited.

All the staff members were friendly and helpful and there was absolutely no problem about communicating in English with anyone I spoke to. The kids were just as friendly and eager to speak in English. A group of them greeted us cheerfully without any prompting from their teacher.

These particular kids were on their way to the playing area, which is truly spacious and surrounded by trees and with enough play equipment for the class. The veggie patch was in good shape and most of the kids looked like they were getting on very well.

I say most, because I was able to witness how one teacher dealt with two boys who had been fighting. I was impressed by the calm way she spoke to both of them. Moreover, rather than tell them their actions were wrong and forbidden, she tried to explain to them why the behavior was unacceptable in a calm and rational way.

Overall, Neverland appears to live up to its claims. The children were happy and playing well and the environment was safe and fun. It was almost enough to make me want to be a kid again.

So, moms, dads, and children, what do you think of Neverland?

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