Whole Child Education

Our Difference: Music at Huaer Collegiate Preschool

Jacqueline Speer

Principal of Preschool

Founding a preschool is a huge responsibility; it involves making decisions that affect the architecture of the growing brain. One of the first decisions we made was to ensure that our staffing model included a specialist music teacher and a physical development teacher. Recruitment of our specialists started early, and after many interviews, we were lucky to secure two outstanding teachers.

Founding Preschool Principals, September 2019


We had a vision of the type of cutting-edge music program we would create and had an even stronger idea of what we did not want to create.

A little over a year ago, I visited a preschool concert in a nearby province and heard the children sing “The Grand Old Duke of York.” My heart skipped a beat, and it took me a moment to catch my breath. The tight costumes, flashing lights, and hair pulled back so extremely tight were painful to see. The children were basically learning to be passive recipients of music. The children had to endure the discomfort of singing a song under bright lights with little understanding of what they were singing. From their expressions, it seemed the children had been trained to sing words out of context that belonged to 16th-century England much more than to modern, metropolitan, culturally rich Shanghai. The passive expressions painted on their faces seemed ruffled only by their teacher’s stern glance from the sidelines. I looked out at the parents and saw smiles with hints of tension; their faces seemed to say, “Please don’t let my child be the one who makes a mistake.” This scene is not unique; it is repeated at many preschool performances throughout the world. I went home with a sense of hopelessness and one question in my mind: What’s the point?

Our Difference

Huaer Collegiate Preschool will have performances — what we refer to as masterclasses — where the children will demonstrate their learning in front of the community. Our preschool music program is about making meaning; it is a platform for children to express themselves through symbolic languages: dance, voice, drama, design, instruments, and singing. Children will have many opportunities to use these symbolic languages on our preschool stage, complete with professional lighting, stage curtains, and a giant LED screen.

The first term’s initial focus is to increase the children’s engagement — the children’s level of involvement — rather than to have the children merely rote learn a suite of songs. For example, our kindergarten children will compose songs using a complex symbolic system (including their drawings) which will pave the way for them to start learning instruments in the second term.

Our preschool music program is based on 4 key aspects:

  • Hearing and listening: Children will experience listening to recorded and live music, and will be encouraged to identify different sounds (instruments and environmental sounds such as birds singing or car horns)
  • Vocalizing and singing: Children will join in with actions to sounds and learn how to sing songs and chants with their friends and teachers. They will also be developing confidence and self-esteem while singing to each other and performing.
  • Moving and dancing: Children will replicate familiar actions to songs as well to create their own actions and will be encouraged to move freely to the beat of different songs.
  • Exploring and playing: Children will experience exploring and playing a range of tuned and untuned instruments, including traditional Chinese instruments as well as instruments from around the world. They will experiment with different ways of playing the instruments, e.g. changing the tempo and the dynamic.

They will also develop their abilities in the 7 musical elements: Dynamics, Rhythm, Timbre, Pitch, Texture, Tempo and Structure.

  • Dynamics: the volume/intensity of a sound, e.g. loud, soft, louder, softer
  • Rhythm: patterns of sound
  • Timbre: the character of a sound, e.g. smooth sound, spikey sound, scratchy sound
  • Pitch: high sounds, low sounds
  • Texture: the layers in the music, e.g. one sound or several sounds
  • Tempo: the speed, how fast or how slow a song is
  • Structure: how a piece of music/song is built up, e.g. verse-chorus-verse-chorus

Our music program dares to seek and soar beyond traditional notions of music education for very young children. We look forward to introducing our cutting-edge outdoor program, led by Mr. Marko, in the next post.