My wife and I are in the process of selecting a preschool for our son, who will be 2 years, nine months in August, when the programs start.
Our short list came down to:
- Four Seasons Art school
- Tunghai Universities pre-school
Waldorf didn’t make the list. First, we know friends both in Taichung and in the United States who’ve had kids at Waldorf and the Waldorf schools seem a bit overbearing about how parents implement Waldorf’s philosophy in the home environment. But that isn’t the main reason; there is a lot we like about the Waldorf philosophy and we know it is a love it or hate type of school. What really turned us away was we don’t like having kids aged 2 to 6 in one class. Also, the lady we talked to was a complete space cadet, whose only response to our questions about the safety of the youngest kids in such a set up was that we shouldn’t be worried because Waldorf was a “non-crash environment”. It is also pretty far from where we live.
Morrison didn’t make the list because (1) the expense, (2) we want our son in a Chinese-language environment, (3) we’re not entirely comfortable with the religious emphasis, and (4) the commute isn’t very convenient. That said, we know plenty of people who went to school or sent their kids to school at Morrison. It is a good school if your primary concern is to have your kids on a U.S. curriculum so they can fit back into the system in the United States…and if you can afford the tuition. It just doesn’t make sense, especially for preschool and kindergarten.
There are lot’s of local preschools we checked out in the SiTun area, that didn’t make the list, mostly because of the traditional cram school approach they take and/or the unprofessionalism of their staff.
My thoughts on the three we like in Taichung are below. I would love to hear from parents who already have kids in one of these schools:
- Four Seasons Art school
We know an American couple who have a son at one of the branches of this school. They really liked it. When their son first started going, the mother would drop in at the school to check in on him and observe the classes. They make this easy to do without disrupting the class. Their son has been going there for a couple years. They invited us along one day when they went to pick him up and showed us around. Today, we did the formal tour at the branch in SiTun, which is less than a block from where we live. Beside how conveniently close it is, we like the following:
- it has the best designed, newest, cleanest facility. This is not really that important to us, but it really stands out from all other preschools we’ve visited.
- the teachers and staff are all friendly and professional, but they are pretty young–a minor red flag to me. It’d be nice if it seemed more teachers were making a career there.
- the food they prepare is high quality. whole grains, organic vegetables, etc. To some degree it seems like over expensive food to appeal to the yuppie parents, but it the menu looks varied and well balanced and the kitchen clean.
- it seems very secure. It is hard to see someone sneaking in or kids sneaking out. Since I live so close I’ve often walked by the school during drop off and pickup times and I’ve accompanied friends when they picked up their son. I’m impressed with how professional and well organized they are.
- the “curriculum” seems rich, lots of fun, educational activities, arts projects, field trips, exercise…no text books not a huge emphasis on rote learning for the preschool kids.
- the English classes are taught by native speakers…I don’t care so much about English education in preschool, I only speak to my son in English at home. Also, I’m not plugged into the Taichung ESL community, so I don’t know how qualified and experienced the teachers are there or what the turnover is like (foreign teacher turnover tends to be very high, it isn’t uncommon in many schools with foreign teachers for the kids to have their teachers changing in within the same semester). The one benefit, however, may be a bit more ethnic diversity among the teaching staff.
The costs are:
Registration: 18,600 TWD per semester.
Monthly tuition: 10,350 TWD
Uniforms, backpack, and other misc. items: a few thousand more.
Insurance = 153 per semester.
This was the higher-end local preschool before Four Seasons Arts school opened. In many ways it is similar, just not as trendy. The facility is set up very similar to Four Seasons, but it looks a little tacky and run down. The principle at the Feng Chiah branch has a masters in education from the US. Both the principle and Zhu Ren were very professional, experienced and left a good impression. We didn’t have a lot of exposure to the teachers. The educational approach is similar to Four Seasons. The only complaints we heard about Emile was from Taiwanese parents who feel it doesn’t “teach anything” since they don’t load the kids up with books. I’m sure they’d have the same to say about Four Seasons. Personally, loading a toddler up with books and cramming in math and vocab is really not what I’m looking for, so I’m fine with the “curriculum” at Emile.
Registration = 18,500 a semester
Montly tuition= 10,500
Uniforms, backback, misc. = 2,450 a semester.
Insurance = 204 a semester
The only reason I would consider Emile over Four Seasons, is that you can put your kids in half day at Emile. The half-day tuition is only about 20% less than full time, but it is cheaper and we are not sure if we want or son to go full day.
- Tunghai University’s pre-school
Tunghai University’s pre-school is about 40,000 per semester, full time. We are waiting to hear from them about half day costs (they didn’t have a rate sheet and said the principal would have to calculate for us and get back to us…kinda strange.)
Tunghai’s facility would turn off many better-off Taiwanese we know. It is old. They don’t use air conditioning, unless it is exceptionally hot, etc. Also, they have no English class at all.
I like it because:
- they are flexible with time and price if you don’t want to do full day
- the teachers are very well-trained, experienced, and I felt the best about the teacher there than any where else I visited. I think that this might be because they are employees of the university, get good pensions, decent pay, and the prestige of working for the University.
- they have access to University facilities. For the smallest kids, it doesn’t make much difference, but as they get older, they have access to the pool and other rec facilties, the music department facilities, etc. One thing that is cool for a country kid like myself and for my son who loves animals, is that they are located right next to the Tunghai farm where the animal husbandry and vet students run an organic dairy farm and take care of / experiment on various farm animals. Not just cows and pigs and sheep, but ostriches and other more “exotic” animals. It was, however, kinda funny/disconcerting to have the teacher who was showing us around tell us that one good thing about the farm animals at Tunghai is that they are exceptionally clean because the students have to experiment on them. Hmmm…
We haven’t made a decision yet on which school. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.