“It’s wonderful to see young children from different cultures and backgrounds learning together,” says Ian Thurston-Barnes, Principal of the Little Urban Center preschool (LUC). “They don’t have baggage or preconceptions but instead experience the world as they find it.”  The school’s mission is to encourage children aged two to six to develop global outlooks and open minds. It uses a combination of eastern and western approaches to give pupils an international perspective from an early age.

Founded in 2012, this Shanghai-based, non-profit institution aims to provide pupils with the tools to be happy and successful in their lives and future careers. With lessons conducted in both English and Chinese, children have the opportunity to become bilingual or multilingual. Parents are encouraged to get involved: LUC invites them to take part in activities such as workshops focusing on the importance of sleep for children. “The parents are our greatest advocates and are deeply committed,” says Thurston-Barnes. “Many have studied, lived and worked in different countries. Now they want to give the same advantages to their own children so they become the citizens of tomorrow.”



The LUC staff are as diverse as the children they educate, coming from numerous English-speaking countries as well as China. All share the experience and passion to drive the curriculum forward. They work in teams of four, which ensures children are supported; and teachers work cooperatively – both in year groups and across the school – so that ideas and best practice are shared.

The curriculum is an adapted version of the British Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, including Jolly Phonics: the preferred formula for effective literacy teaching. Lessons at LUC are made relevant to the cultural backgrounds of pupils to inspire a deep love of learning. As well as traditional subjects such as science and English, the curriculum encourages exploration, play, conversation and spontaneous learning. It aims to provide high-quality holistic education that focuses on cultivating integrity, compassion and creativity.



Situated opposite Century Park in East Shanghai, the LUC’s modern campus boasts excellent facilities including a theatre and a cookery classroom. Together with the indoor and outdoor play areas, these help to nurture a child’s imagination, confidence, creativity and resourcefulness. The LUC also runs a summer school for the duration of the long vacation.

Positive values such as equality and responsibility are instilled in pupils; but not via a once-weekly lesson. They are integral to everything the staff and children do at LUC, whether that is discussing a story in a literacy session or waiting for lunch. “Teachers may talk about topics like ‘managing our feelings’ during any class,” says Thurston-Barnes. “Our focus is always on what’s best for the children and creating the conditions for each child to grow and blossom.”

The excellent results LUC graduates achieve validates the approach taken by the principal and his staff. Competition for places at Shanghai primary schools, especially the bilingual ones, is fierce. But LUCians, as former LUC pupils are known, have been known to achieve scores of 100 per cent in their entrance exams. This owes a lot to the school’s undertaking to expand the mind, develop the imagination and broaden the child’s horizons as much as possible. “Each day at LUC should be as exciting and challenging as the next,” says Thurston-Barnes, “for everyone.”