Tag Archives: best schools in Dubai

Choosing schools and nurseries for your children | The School and Nursery Show Dubai | Emirates Towers 13th – 14 October 2017 | Free admission

The School and Nursery Show 

The subject of schools and nurseries has always been a minefield.  What works for one family isn’t always the right formula for another.  There are so many factors to consider when thinking about schools.  Here is just a short list of questions to consider when looking at schools and nurseries.

#Who are the teachers?  Where are they from, and what are their qualifications?

#What curriculum are you seeking? British vs International Baccalaureate (IB) vs American and so forth.

#What are staff retention numbers?

#Facilities of the school

#Pastoral care – how does the school deal with individual children and how does it deal with bullying?

#Strength of academics

#Classroom sizes

#Demographics of the school

#Exposure to languages

#Size of the school

#Homework policy

Having grown up in the UK, there was no question back in the day that I would follow the British-system, and in my early years of being in Singapore, I followed the Singapore system. However, Dubai has so much diversity, and with families from all over the world with different thinking, philosophies, priorities and value systems, schools have been created for many of the larger demographics groups based on demand.  There are German schools, Swiss schools, French schools, IB schools, British schools, Indian schools, Lebanese schools and American schools that it can be confusing for parents. Then, within those larger curriculum frameworks, each school has a different interpretation and style of delivering the curriculum.

For example, Kings’ Dubai has a strong British academic focus but has adopted elements of the IB system to bring all the subjects together to make learning less abstract for children.  It brings elements of each subject into other subjects, therefore, giving children the ability to understand the use of Maths in Science for example. There is a great deal of homework especially from Year 1 onwards, and three reading books a week based on your child’s ability.

North London Collegiate School offers an International Baccalaureate curriculum but underlays the British system to support the IB curriculum to provide academic rigour especially for English.  In Maths, the school has adopted a program from Singapore which has proved successful in their London school.  The school stems from their famous UK school where 40% of students get into Oxford and Cambridge, and the school in the UK manages the school in Dubai and in South Korea.

The Swiss International Scientific School also provides an IB curriculum but it places a heavier emphasis on languages.  All subjects are taught in French for one week and English the following week.  They also offer German as an alternative to French for families seeking it.

Then, there are always the more traditional British non-profit schools like JESS, DESS and Jebel Ali that have always upheld great academic reputations because much of their annual budget is invested in their teachers.  However, DESS has a no homework policy with just reading books and spelling sent home every week.  JESS and Jebel Ali, however, do have homework, reading and spelling.

Finally, after sieving through the pros and cons of the schools, parents will still arrive at a similar conclusion under any curriculum or any school choice.  At the end of the day, most parents care only about one thing, the teachers – the single greatest resource of any school.  Of course, facilities, sports, and after-school activities are value added services, but the children’s ultimate impression of school and the children’s love of their subjects will depend heavily on their teachers.  Most of us parents can relate to that ourselves from our childhood. We often observe that when schools invest in their teachers rather than facilities, schools become much more in demand than for any other reasons. Therefore, it is important to speak to different schools and nurseries to get an understanding how the management invest in their staff.

In the past, Dubai schools had long waiting lists but this is now a thing of the past.  10 years ago, expats had to leave their families at home until school spaces became available in Dubai.  That is not the case now as schools are more able to serve families better. The increased competition amongst school has benefited families and children as schools become better service providers.  The schools that are successful are listening to parents more and more, and many of the top schools will take constructive feedback seriously.

I want a school which supports my child both academically and emotionally. I want my child to have fun at school; to have their strengths realised and support provided on areas where they may need extra assistance or more of a challenge. I want a school which helps them grow into well rounded and confident individuals – Catherine

The annual School and Nursery Show is a good initial research hunting ground for many parents under one roof.  Many of the new and existing schools and nurseries in Dubai will be showcasing their school and curriculum.  However, the more established schools may not take part, but still, the Show will allow you to research curriculums, meet staff, and ask many generic questions about education.  It’s a good place to have one-on-one time to understand the concept of various schools.  It is also good opportunity to ask questions about the school’s teaching style, student support, the vision of the current headmaster/headmistress, to find out who owns the school, who runs the school and so forth.  By meeting the representatives of the school, I often think parents get an intuition about school and whether it is suitable for their children.  This is really the case of first impressions count.  After meeting schools at the show, it is important follow up with a tour of at least 3 – 6 schools to get a deeper understanding.  For many of us, our children, during the academic term, spend more time at school or nursery than they do at home on some days so it is vital that we choose the best environment for them.

Some of the schools and nurseries taking part this year include Willow Children’s Nursery, Stepping Stones Pre-School, British Orchard Nursery, Clarion School, Dovecote and Hartland International School.

The British curriculum is something I am familiar with so I feel that was a considerable driving factor for me at the time I put my son’s name down for school (at that time he was 6 months old). The British curriculum is renowned for its academic excellence across the world and therefore attracts experienced and highly qualified teachers. I feel very happy with the standard of teaching my son receives in Kings School Dubai, the majority of the teachers teaching the British curriculum are from England and are focused on growing confident and responsible citizens of the world. – Natalie

Entry is free to the event.  The Schools and Nursery Show takes place on Octobert 13th and 14th at the Emirates Towers.  To register please click on the link 

10 things parents can do to prepare and support the development of children for nursery | by Davelle Lee

Most parents have now found out which nurseries have offered them places, and it is worth starting now to prepare your little ones as term start dates are only 4 months away. Davelle Lee, our correspondent, based in Singapore, tells us a few ways to help our little ones settle when September comes round.

The transition from home-care to kindergarten can be scary, perhaps more so for parents than their children. It is a big step in early childhood development, a child’s preliminary leap out of the proverbial nest. If you are a parent worrying about your child’s impending departure from home and into the mad world of Montessori, Reggio Emilia or Forest kindergartens, let me assure you that this period can be exciting and enjoyable for you and your child as long as you make the necessary preparations.

#Let them wear their own shoes. 

Infants start to gain a sense of self at as early as fifteen months of age. Once they start to walk, they are able to explore their environments on their own. At this stage, toddlers start to take initiative, which overtime morphs into a desire to learn and an openness to experience. Kids who are inquisitive benefit a lot more from the rich, stimulating environment that a kindergarten provides than those who are shielded from the world around them. Foster your child’s initiative by allowing him to explore independently (under your watchful gaze, of course). Encourage him to perform simple tasks on his own, such as pouring himself a cup of juice or pulling on his socks. This helps them develop a sense of self-efficacy and also improves their motor skills. Do make sure that the tasks you assign him are physically manageable. It is unlikely that junior, at age three, will know how to lace up his boots just yet.

#Create opportunities to share.

Prior to kindergarten, children who don’t have siblings have little opportunity to interact with groups of their peers. As a result, most kids are still pretty egocentric at that age. Parents and caregivers often give children their undivided attention, responding to their needs under record-breaking time. Imagine that “I want what I want, and I want it now” attitude carried into a classroom of twenty screaming kids. Not pretty. Pro-social behaviour doesn’t come about naturally. Kids learn to share through observing interactions between adults and modelling their behaviour. Give your child the chance to split her cookie with you, or prompt her to offer Grandma the last piece of fruit during snack time.

Eventually, most children will develop a sense of fairness at school, shaped by constant reinforcement, either in the form of punitive action or reward. Such reinforcement can be dished out by anyone, even peers. Children who refuse to share may face social sanctions like ostracism, and those who are generous and kind may become more popular. By giving your child a head start in the sharing department, he or she will be primed for quicker adjustment to an unfamiliar setting where every child is competing for resources and attention. Learning pro-social behaviour early means that your child can also set a great example for the other children in class.

#Talk about race and diversity. 

Forget conventional wisdom: children are not colour-blind. If you live in a place with high ethnic diversity, it is likely that your child will notice early on that some children are different from others. Adults can say nasty racist things, and even a passing comment by a stranger can have lasting impact on your child. Look out for misconceptions your child might have picked up about children of different ethnicities and address them during play. Read storybooks with a diverse range of characters together. During imaginative play, you can also use dolls and stuffed animals to illustrate racial prejudice and help your child develop empathy.

#Watch out for gender stereotypes.

Once in a kindergarten that I worked at, I heard a little girl tell her friend, “You can’t be a princess because you have short hair!” Though laughable, statements like these can have profound effects on a child’s socioemotional development. The poor girl with the bob cut, wailing that she wanted to have long red locks like Ariel, is proof that deeply ingrained gender-stereotypical concepts can be very damaging to a child’s self-image.

Children make sense of the world by drawing from the television shows they watch, the books they read and perhaps most importantly, the stuff you buy them. Having a ton of Esla and Anna merchandise is perfectly okay, but it is important to remind your daughter (or son) that Frozen-mania has no gender specificity. Both boys and girls can appreciate Disney princess shows, just as they can all appreciate Spiderman or Thomas the Train. Ultimately, respect your child’s preferences. If it’s a bright pink backpack that your child likes, and not the gender-neutral green that she says she hates, then there is no harm in purchasing the former. Just be sure to explain to her that her personal taste is dissociated from her gender. Other little girls may very well prefer the green backpack.

#When it comes to which schools to pick, do your homework.

The quality of kindergarten education can vary widely, regardless of the fees that centres may charge. A good centre can provide a more responsive, stimulating and structured environment for children to hone their cognitive and social skills. Here are some things to look out for:

Make sure that the centre has a wide range of toys and equipment such as blocks, water and sand play. Facilities such as reading corners, free play areas and notice boards should be organised well and clearly demarcated with ample space for children to manoeuvre. If possible, observe the classroom interaction. Warm teacher-child engagement is vital, because perceived support and acceptance from teachers its critical for a child’s adjustment. A low staff-to-child ratio usually facilitates better interpersonal interaction.

#Get involved!

Parents’ active participation their children’s education and engagement with the school have been found to strongly predict future academic success. Talk to your child about their day, discuss the assignments that they have brought home and practise what they have learned at school. You can never make too many collages with macaroni, after all. On top of this, having two-way communication with teachers is essential for boosting your child’s school competence. Teachers can identify certain weaknesses and strengths in your child that you might not have noticed before. In addition, mutual understanding and collaboration can help all parties to provide tailored support to best benefit your child.

#Prep junior for a great time.

A study conducted in the United States found that children who expressed enthusiasm about starting kindergarten had better adjustment, participated more in class activities, showed greater social competence and persistence in their work. Get your child excited about the fun they can expect, be it the new toys they’ll get to play with, the big playground in the yard, or the new friends they will make. Kindergarten is a big milestone in your child’s growth, so build his or her anticipation by emphasising that it is a place where they will become more mature and more capable than ever before.

 #Dealing with separation anxiety.

Parting with your child on the first day of school is never easy. Not for him, nor for yourself. Don’t worry if your child seems to be having a hard time saying goodbye at the beginning. Children who are securely attached to their primary caregivers will quickly catch on that at the end of the day mommy or daddy will be there to take them home. However, some children have anxious dispositions and may face greater difficulty adjusting to the kindergarten environment. If you notice that your child is socially withdrawn, stressed, or constantly makes somatic complaints while at school, you may want to consult a clinician about possible interventions, such as individual or group play therapy. A skilled practitioner can help to alleviate these internalising behavioural problems and help children with high social anxiety acclimatise to the school setting.

#Keep your child (relatively) safe.

Accidents are bound to happen at school. Research shows that boys are more prone to injury than girls, and most injuries occur outdoors. The good news is that you can reduce the chances of injury by choosing a centre that has a continual staff education plan on child safety; this is actually the strongest predictor of injury prevention, according to data collected from close to a hundred kindergartens in Austria. Discuss with the management team at your centre of choice about safety measures have been put in place. Open communication and constant feedback will ensure that the centre covers all its bases and keeps your children safe.

#Encourage your child the right way.

We all want to protect our children’s self-esteems. We want them to know that they are unique and competent individuals. But be careful not to shower your child with the wrong kind of praise. Psychologists have found that person praise, directed at a child’s attributes rather than effort or performance (e.g. “You are so pretty and smart!”) can actually reduce a child’s persistence when it comes to attempting new or challenging activities. This is because children who receive such praise develop a sense that their abilities are innate and are fixed at a predetermined aptitude. They may choose to perform tasks that are familiar and simple, instead. Parents should provide non-generic praise that is specific to a particular task. For example, when your child shows you a nice drawing that she has made, don’t tell her that she is a “good drawer” but rather say that it is a “good drawing”. In targeting her performance, this type of praise gives the child a sense of mastery in the task. This will help the child develop greater motivation to learn new skills.

Educating boys | Is the system failing them? | Three boys and a girl

Parenting is mind-boggling these days.  I think I feel it more so in Dubai with the numerous cultures, influences and beliefs than anywhere else in the world.  In the last couple of years, I, as a parent, have noticed some significance differences in educating boys vs girls just at home.  This is my observation as a mother, observation of other children in class and also through friends’ children.  This is not to say there is not always the anomaly boy but I am describing the average boy in today’s world.

My 7-year old boy expressed to me his frustrations of feeling overwhelmed on some days at school.  He has to learn to write cursively, get his spelling right, learn 2 foreign languages, learn to write essays, ensure he understands punctuation, know his fractions, divisions and multiplications and the list goes on.  Most boys his age are cooped up in classrooms all day, and their natural instinct is to move through space.

I am no parenting expert and I stay up at night reading all I can about educating boys in the hope of being able to help my son not feel as if he were ‘drowning’ in academics.  I have come to the conclusion that my boys need my help academically, not because they are not intelligent in their own right but I realised that if I don’t help them to have a natural love of learning, they may feel overwhelmed by what is expected of them in schools these days.  Statistics show that as the decades go by, girls are academically outperforming boys.  Why?  We are assessing boys and girls in a system where girls have better odds of winning.

Circle Time for boys

It was pointed out in a book that circle time was tough on boys having to sit there and listen to story whilst sitting cross-legged.  All of it is a struggle when you are three years old.  My empathy goes out for my boys and all boys who are just being themselves.  It is evident after much research by experts that many boys need to be physically active and on the move.  Sally Goddard Blyth reminds us that the ‘most advanced level of movement is the ability to stay totally still’ (N. Rowe, quoted in Goddard Blythe, 2005:137) so what this means is that children  who find it hard to sit still need to move more, not less, in order to develop mature motor skills.

Parenting and Teaching experts

Steve Biddulph’s book on Raising Boys first caught my attention that boys are innately different to girls.  Physically they develop later, and their ability to learn languages also develops later.  Girls use up to 30 times more language in their play than boys.  Their different levels of hormones makes them more energetic, boisterous and competitive so hard to sit down all day.  After more research by other experts, I discovered that boys also find it hard to cross the mid-line of their body (do you see your toddler son scribbling with one hand and then switching hands to reach the other side of the paper?) and the ability to balance and exercise will help this to progress faster.  This is because the synapses of the brain have not yet connected.  Children cannot read and write until they have crossed this line and learning language is more challenging for them.  Boys ankles and wrists also often develop almost a year later than girls at around 5 to 6 years of age so they struggle to write.  The physical developmental list goes on.  There are many authors on the subject and to find out more read Getting it Right for Boys: Why Boys Do What they Do and How to make the early years work for them by Neil Farmer.

I realised I cannot teach or inspire my boys in the same way you would motivate a girl – it is not a one stop shop method for all.  I only  have 4 kids at home but imagine a class of 24 – 30 children.  In general, girls and boys are wired differently from birth and the developmental science is evidence of this.  The books speak the truth, and it is true that school systems around the world might not be helping them.

Finland’s Education System

Finland has been declared the nation that has the best education system, and their children at 7 years of age and the majority of boys  are fully developed and finally ready to learn.  40 years ago there was an education overhaul as part of the country’s economic recovery strategy, and today there are 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools in Finland.  In 2000, Finland had the world’s best readers, and three years later they led in Maths, and in 2006, Finland became the best country for education.  Why?  Their philosophy is ‘Whatever it takes.’

The schools are small enough that teachers know most of the children, and when one teacher needs to provide extra support for a child, all the teachers can conceive ideas that might contribute to the overall well care and education of that child.  Also, there are no standardised tests in Finland, no rankings and no comparisons with students – something the Finnish don’t understand US’ and UK’s obsession with standerdised tests.  Yet, 93% of Finnish children graduate from academic or vocational high school.  This is 17% more than in the US, and the highest rate in the EU.  Finland also spends 30% less on education than in the US, and yet 30% of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.  Play is an important component of Finnish education and homework is minimal with an average of a 75 minute recess vs 27 minutes in the US.

A teacher in Finland says ‘Children learn better when they are are ready.  Why stress them out?’  Most teachers also spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours a week for ‘professional development.’  Finally, and most importantly, all teachers in Finland must have a Masters degree which is fully subsidised.

So what can we do at home to help them?

Whilst I can’t change the school system nor can I move my children to Finland, I am trying to support them at home as best as I can.


This is a natural mechanism for learning as it allows both girls and boys but boys especially to construct their own understandings about their surroundings

‘The power of play as the engine of learning in early childhood and as a vital force for young children’s physical, social, and emotional development is beyond question.  Children in play-based kindergartens have a double advantage over those who are denied play: they end up equally good or better at reading and other intellectual skills, and they are more likely to be come well-adjusted healthy people.’ – Miller and Almon (2009 : 8)

#Role play

Boys want to play superheros so encourage them.  They work out their roles and characters within themselves.  Let them talk about Transformers, Spiderman and Pirates.  Play alongside them, encouraging them but without controlling their boisterous activities.

#Learning on the go

Most schools and nurseries send letters of the week or songs they have been singing.  Learn with them and point things out that might start with the same letter.  Naturally, the Alphabet Song, Days of the week and traditional nursery rhymes are always great to sing when on the move, in the bath or just before bed.

#Read to them

As a parent, I believe this is the most important things that we can do for our children especially at bed time.  It has been noted that boys learn to read and write in situations that they find to be non-threatening.

#Do not give too much information

Boys prefer short amounts of information that is a direct order.  Too much information will mean you will get frustrated and the goal would not have been achieved.

#Support their interests

My son loves cooking and crafts, and we are writing menus, looking through cookbooks, and I explained to him that ‘comprehension’ needs to be used everywhere.  He currently hates comprehension in English class.  I am hoping the cookbooks will help improve his comprehension skills when he deciphers the instructions.

#Talking all the time

Talk about anything from Months of the Year, to spiders and bugs and what makes a good bug?  How do you know that a spider is not a bug and so forth?

#Play outdoors

Get boys to play outdoors as much as possible.  Best that it is children led and not adult led play.  Let them run in a park, beach, to let them explore and discover.  This helps with motor-skills, balance and physical development

#Create a writing area at home 

Create an area at home that is well-resourced with colouring papers, felt tips, pencils, name cards, crayons and are in good condition and replenished reguarly.  Display the children’s work so that they are inspired by each other and to do more.

#Regular bedtimes

This is a whole chapter of information on its own coming on the blog soon.  But essentially it is important that boys get to bed on time and at a regular hour to support best learning practices.

Do share with us other inspiring ideas on how we can help our boys.