One exceptional school, two languages, four locations – we take a tour of the IMS Stanley campus.
Greeted by the welcoming smiles of Maly, Head of Communications, and Karin, one of the school’s two main founders, we delve into a conversation outlining the particulars of the school in Stanley known as the International Montessori School, or better known around Hong Kong as IMS.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the Montessori method, it’s worth noting that it has been around for over a hundred years and is based on the philosophy of education established by Italian physician, Dr. Maria Montessori. It involves self-directed activity, hands-on learning (with specially designed materials) and collaborative play in a mixed aged group classroom. Children are free to make choices in their learning, giving them opportunities for exploration of a particular topic and at their own pace.
The classroom environment is designed with purpose and great care with materials which support natural interests to help solidify a love of learning. Montessori materials and learning tools are used in this way –“show children how to use them and allow them to solve questions with these tools their own way”. Montessori teachers, embracing this philosophy, spend a year of their training learning how to use these materials.
As for IMS, you couldn’t find a more passionate school founder than Karin, although to be fair I didn’t get to meet her co-founder Anne. It is Karin who tells me how IMS came to fruition from an idea borne out of creating a dual-language school in which children could be nurtured sufficiently to truly thrive, reaching their full individual potential as students. It was a chance meeting with her Montessori educated co-founder, Anne Sawyer, that set the wheels in motion.
Karin grew up in HK, speaking Cantonese and English, later learning Putonghua as well, and saw immense value in being bilingual. She also saw a need for a nurturing way for children to learn. After her schooling in HK, Karin was educated in the US. She worked in finance and at a pivotal point, she met Anne Sawyer. Anne, an American who has been in HK for quite some time, had attended 2 years of Montessori in her youth and was convinced this was the answer. The Montessori method could help fulfil their joint vision of creating a child-centric, supportive learning environment and one which could accommodate dual languages.
Believing that children are born with a natural desire to meet their own needs and to learn, IMS founders got to work designing the school and the materials for teaching in English and Putonghua. They had to invent the Chinese curriculum and materials based on the traditional Montessori teachings and materials. This was a time before Montessori was introduced in mainland China. Today there are Montessori schools and training programs in China.
The dual language aspect of IMS was meticulously crafted and was of utmost importance to the founders of the school. Chinese shares equal value in the curriculum as English. “The mindset at IMS is to have faith the kids can do it”, says founder Karin. The teachers embrace this fully and support all efforts behind this concept, using both languages and incorporating both cultures in the classroom full time. It is in this consistent, dual-language setting where children are presented opportunities to acquire language naturally throughout each day. Impressively, there are children in the school learning at near native Chinese speaker levels as a result of this environment.
As a general rule, Montessori educators embrace children’s innate drive to learn by providing an optimal environment for engaged, inquisitive students. Regardless of developmental stage, the opportunity to choose activities, to move and work freely within the ground rules, and to work for long blocks of time without interruption are fundamental elements of learning the Montessori way. The challenge is finding the right level for each child, a level that is not too easy or too hard to motivate self-directed learning. What self-directed learning gives back is a plethora of life skills and an aptitude to become an adaptable, educated, responsible, independent, and conscientious adult. Those are the goals of Montessori.
At IMS Stanley you’ll find the values of Montessori paired with a dual-language programme, a garden patch, large function hall and a lot of open spaces for exploration and expanded learning for its 500 students. Stanley is one of the four IMS campuses in Hong Kong and educates children aged 3-12 years, covering preschool through upper primary. The other IMS campuses include Ap lei Chau/South Horizons, Mid-levels and Sai Wan Ho, serving the major catchment areas on Hong Kong Island.
IMS was accredited by the International Montessori Council (IMC) in 2012. IMC is an international organisation of Montessori schools that was established to provide support for Montessori programmes worldwide. The accreditation is a guarantee that an institution has met the highest professional expectations in all standards and criteria. IMS is the first accredited Montessori Elementary Programme in Greater China and a pioneering Montessori institution in Asia.