Structured Playgroup in Hong Kong for 8 to 24 Month Old Children

【Interview with Livia Tang, School Principal of Mighty Oaks Acorn Playgroup】

As a nursery and kindergarten that emphasizes character education and social emotional learning, Mighty Oaks also offers a playgroup program called Acorn Class. Designed for children from the ages of 8-24 months old, Mighty Oaks’ Acorn Playgroup is a trilingual program aiming to provide a nurturing educational environment for children to learn through play. “Playgroup is always the first step for babies to learn how to explore. At Mighty Oaks, our playgroup program is a very structured one that focuses very much on character building and moral education. Our goal is to instill the moral values in children to prepare them to become well-rounded people” says Livia Tang, the school principal of Mighty Oaks Acorn Playgroup.

Ever since the Mighty Oaks Acorn Playgroup was first established, Livia and the team have been dedicated to providing structured playgroup courses for parents. “We have been to a lot of other playgroups in Hong Kong. We found that generally, in parents’ minds, playgroups are just purely for play and for their babies to interact with other children. However, we believe that focusing solely on free play does not lead to the best outcome for a playgroup course. That’s why Mighty Oaks’ Acorn Playgroup has its own curriculum, which I know is not very common in Hong Kong.”

Another main objective of the Mighty Oaks Acorn Playgroup program is to promote parent/caregiver education. Since children are required to attend classes with a caregiver, parents or caregivers can learn about the proper ways to interact with babies. Livia points out that their playgroup program starts accepting children at 8 months old because this is when parents need the most help. A lot of parents have anxiety and worries about the development of their children - especially if it is their first child. Teachers at Mighty Oaks’ Acorn Playgroup can demonstrate to parents or caregivers things they can do at home, so that they can apply the same kinds of methods to teach or interact with their children. Consistency is very important in a child’s learning journey.

The Mighty Oaks’ Acorn Playgroup curriculum has been designed by Livia, in line with the kindergarten curriculum which is based on the United Kingdom’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and the Canadian Full-Day Kindergarten Curriculum. According to Mighty Oaks’ concept of the nine “fruit of the spirit” used to promote moral values, there is a monthly theme and teachers follow the theme to design class activities. “Even though we do have a very structured curriculum, children still get a lot of opportunities to explore and do fun activities in class. From the hands-on learning process, we hope students will develop a strong foundation in character building as well as acquire good social skills.”

Mighty Oaks’ Acorn Playgroup consists of three levels. Sensory Acorn, which is the first level, is designed for toddlers aged 8 to 12 months old. The one-hour class allows children to explore anything in the classroom to stimulate their senses. Teachers make use of objects of different textures to help enhance babies’ physical and cognitive development. “Sensory activity is crucial to early childhood development. Our program includes messy play involving different senses under a safe and encouraging environment. Children can get really dirty touching and playing with different things such as starch in order for them to explore and stimulate all five senses.” Livia stresses the importance of sensory activities. “It’s very important that children are given opportunities to explore their surroundings at an early age. We’ve seen some cases where children, by the age of two, refuse to touch things because they think it’s dirty. Therefore, it is necessary for children to learn how to explore.”

Toddlers aged 1 year old or above are promoted to the next levels - Baby Acorn (12 to 18 months) and Growing Acorn (18 to 24 months). Both courses are structured similarly, with a difference in class duration. Baby Acorn classes are 1.5 hours long, with 45 minutes each of Chinese and English activities.  Growing Acorn classes last for 2 hours, with longer and more in-depth class activities. Based on the theme of the month, the teachers design interactive activities to strengthen children’s gross and fine motor skills. Each lesson also includes a free play session in the indoor/outdoor playground at the Mighty Oaks campus.

This year, Mighty Oaks is working with Orff4kids to develop their own music program. “To implement the music program in our school curriculum, Orff4kids is designing a custom-made program based on our school themes. They are also providing training to our teachers so that they will know how to design class activities using the Orff Approach,” says Livia.

Teachers at Mighty Oaks Acorn Playgroup are required to have the same qualifications as the Mighty Oaks Kindergarten teachers. They either have an early childhood education certificate, or are experienced kindergarten teachers. “Normally, playgroup providers in Hong Kong don’t have such a strict policy on teacher recruitment as we do. Since we wish to maintain the same high level of teaching quality as we have at Mighty Oaks Kindergarten, we have decided to have our kindergarten teachers teach the playgroup classes as well,” says Livia. “Apart from their qualifications, we also look at how passionate they are. We want teachers who are energetic and able to interact well with children at this young age.”

Nowadays, with numerous playgroup providers in Hong Kong, Livia believes that what makes Mighty Oaks Acorn Playgroup stand out in the market is their uniquely structured curriculum. The stability of their teachers also helps in maintaining their good reputation. “Learning is a lifelong journey. Our focus on character education and social emotional learning is to equip children with the skills they need when they face challenges or failure,” says Livia.


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