What's on at Holland International School?

A series of bite-sized blogs about what it's like at Holland International School, about our vision for education, how we excel at sparking a love of learning and how our approach establishes a happy and secure foundation for our students' personal and academic growth.

The Power of Play at Holland International School
31 January 2023, Ms. Ashley Bentley 

When you visit Holland International School, one of the first things that strikes you is that our children love to play! For many years, children’s psychologists have emphasised the importance of play-based learning to educators and parents.  Jean Piaget (1962) was one of the first psychologists to study the impact of play on a child’s cognitive development.  Scientific research shows that play experiences help children to develop: physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally.  As the poet Diane Ackerman states, “Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning”.  Play is good for you.    

However, when I first started teaching 20 years ago, many parents and school leaders found it hard to understand how children could reach the goals expected of them by simply ‘playing’ all day.  There has certainly been a shift in mindset over the past decade, much to the relief of Early Years practitioners around the world! It is vital to understand the impact play has on young children.  Essentially, it allows them to learn about the world around them and make sense of it.  Play encourages children to create their own processes, ways to complete the tasks and ‘jobs’ they wish to achieve, both within the classroom and at home.  Good quality play-based learning, allows children to learn new skills and to challenge their own thinking.  It provides numerous opportunities to collaborate; to forge new relationships, share ideas (and resources), solve problems and negotiate arguments. At Holland International School, these are some of the key principles that we base our school upon.  

At HIS, play is a central part of both our Dutch and English Stream. Dutch education is well-known for focusing on learning through play throughout the first 2 to 3 years of primary school.  The English Early Years Curriculum, also centres its goals around the child and encourages independence; we allow children to navigate their own way within a play-based environment.  The learning environment within our Preschool and Early Years department, is designed to allow students the opportunity to engage in both unstructured and structured play.  Continuous provision is available in all classrooms; these are the staple resources that the children can access every day, for the whole school year, regardless of the IPC unit that is being followed.  This predictability in play is not a weakness within teaching, it is actually essential for young children; repetitive play is healthy for our youngest learners.  Having these core resources (such as building blocks) promotes confidence and increases self-esteem in children as they become ‘experts’ in navigating their own environment.  Our Early Years teachers are skilled enough to allow children to make their own decisions when playing, as this nurtures their sense of identity.

As the children at Holland International School move from the preschool to the Reception Class or to Group 1, they are offered structured as well as unstructured play.  Teachers know when to step-back and when to intervene in order to scaffold play and move learning forward.  Enhancements are added to learning corners, which allow for further challenge and exploration as each child grows.  However, students continue to make their own choices and pursue their personal interests as we believe this is key.  The role of adults is crucial in modelling conversations and developing language in our classrooms.  Many of the children at HIS speak at least two languages.  Whilst playing outside or within roleplay corners, our children replicate the rich language they hear adults use.   

One of the unique features of the preschool and Early Years at Holland International School, is its beautiful setting within the Bukit Timah area of Singapore.  In 2005, Burdette and Whittaker carried out some thought-provoking research which proved that outdoor play encourages a child’s brain to develop at a faster rate than indoor play.  Within our setting, outdoor play also holds significant importance as children have several opportunities each day to play outside with different groups or classes.  They can: run, climb, dig, balance, create, pretend and explore the environment that surrounds them. They can access: sand, water and other materials to encourage them to get their feet dirty. 

Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison stated, “Children need the freedom and time to play.  Play is not a luxury.  Play is a necessity.”  

At HIS, we couldn’t agree more.  If you would like to come and see our school in action and observe our children play, please make here an appointment with Marc, our School Principal. 

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Belonging: What does this mean at Holland International School, Singapore?
28 November 2022, Ms. Ashley Bentley 

"I have always been interested in the idea of ‘belonging’ and the role that schools can play in establishing this for children. Since moving to Singapore, I have become even more intrigued about what this means within an International School setting, where children come from different countries, with varying cultural identities, and often move frequently. What does ‘belonging’ actually mean? It is a term that we hear a lot within the expat community, as we fear our children won’t be able to make the deep connections that they did when living in their home country.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, belonging is: “a feeling of being happy or comfortable as part of a particular group and having good relationships with the other members of the group because they accept you.” This is a good place to start when we are considering young people, who spend the vast majority of their time within a school setting. It is essential that children feel happy and emotionally settled. A great deal of evidence shows that children who are happy and feel fulfilled socially, actually learn more, behave well and are motivated to achieve. When difficulties occur, children who feel comfortable within their school setting are able to cope better as belonging creates a protective factor for them; it builds resilience as there are always others to fall back on for support.

In the UK, I was lucky enough to help lead a school of over 400 children and 40 members of staff.  I prided myself on knowing everything about every child, their parents, siblings, often their grandparents.  As a church school, the sense of community was strong and it shaped our ethos and everything we did.  When I joined Holland International School this year, I believe I was looking for this same feeling of belonging; the need to once again be a part of a school community where, in the words of the famous sitcom ‘Cheers’, “everybody knows your name”. This is certainly true within our school. HIS is a home away from home for its students; a safe space where they can be themselves because they feel valued and supported. The positive relationships between the staff and children at HIS are key in establishing this feeling of safety, as well as the small and welcoming school grounds. Being small is not a disadvantage at Holland International School, it is one of our main strengths. When students, staff or parents, join the community they are quickly integrated and welcomed. As you walk around the school, there are similar themes that can be seen within all classrooms that bring us together, but there are also differences between classes and groups. Being the same but different is vital in an International School; the children know they belong to the same school community and yet they can celebrate their identities and unique nature within this safe space.

I love the quote by Brene Brown, an American research professor. She says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”. This is what we wish for the nearly 300 students at Holland International School, that they take risks in their learning, try new things and are confident when they move on to their next school. The International Primary Curriculum (IPC) offered at HIS, allows children to take these risks, to research and investigate with independence, but still with the support of their peers and teachers.  During celebrations such as Sinterklaas or Christmas, or simply during Friday assemblies, it is wonderful to see how the whole school comes together to connect.  The children sing, smile and cheer, free to be themselves within the safety of every school gathering. 

Parents are, of course, a huge part of our school community and the connection between home and school can clearly be seen. Recently one of my students moved to a new country. The child’s parents cried when we said goodbye to him, the other children in the class were visibly upset when the time came for him to leave; they hugged him as siblings would hug each-other. Although this was a very sad time for all of us, it also made me feel that we had created something very special. When this child left Singapore it was like a member of our family left as he belonged to our class.  Deep bonds are formed at Holland International School. 

To conclude, what does belonging mean for the students at Holland International School in Singapore? To me it means: a sense of community; being deeply connected to others (peers and staff); being understood as individuals; being seen, valued and respected."  

If you would like to come and walk around our boutique school,please contact our admin teamto make an appointment for a personal tour with Marc, the school Principal.