The REACH Kindergarten Program; where it all begins.

By Penélope Guevara

The first day of kindergarten is a momentous occasion for young children and their families. Exactly one year ago, 40 young children ages 5 and 6 years old had their very first day of supplementary school at REACH.

Seeing their children walk through REACH’s gate for the first time filled our guardians with excitement, anticipation, and some nerves, knowing that their little ones were starting a new chapter in their lives.

children first day of kindergartenLittle girl on her induction day at our Cambodia charity.

12 months on, it is clear that our young students have grown and learned so much. Our team has had the pleasure of witnessing them blossom into confident learners eager to explore the world around them and their energy and laughter has motivated us every day. We have seen them grow in social-emotional development, become more independent, responsible, and self-aware. Their creativity and imagination is endless!As we conclude our academic school year at REACH, we’d like to celebrate the Kindergarten kids, their parents and the team for successfully piloting a wonderful curriculum for our first cohort of little ones at REACH.

But before we delve into the impact of the program, we want to first explain how we identified its need back in 2019.

From REACH’s inception, it has always been our goal to stand alongside families in their fight against poverty. In line with this, our entire strategy has been based around supporting guardians, to ensure that their basic needs are met, so that their children can attend school.

The plan for the Kindergarten program stemmed from the fact that the guardians in our community who had young children, were either unable to work as a result, or needed to take their kids with them to dangerous work sites.

A young mother with her children.

Sadly, in Cambodia the threat of workplace accidents is high, and the preventable loss of life is a devastating, but common reality.

In 2020, Aljezeera reported that “after six children died when a building site collapsed, the Cambodian workers’ union called for a halt to a construction boom that had killed more than 60 people in seven months, while the government vowed to tackle child labour.”

Oldest children have more responsibilities and are most likely to drop out of school.

In other instances, we saw parents having to make the difficult decision to continue working, but as a tradeoff, asking their oldest children to stay home from school to look after their younger siblings. Often, this scenario would end with youths dropping out of formal education, further perpetuating their family into the depths of the poverty cycle.

Whichever scenario a family was choosing as their ‘solution’ to childcare, if they weren’t able to get their young kids enrolled into the local Kindergarten (which has very limited places) or have them start public school on time, their children were being left to their own devices, without stimulation, or a safe place to develop.

So above all, the most important reason for adding this program to the chain of programs we offer at REACH is the fact that Kindergarten is a critical time in a child’s development.

 An early start in education brings numerous benefits to children’s development.

One of our little ones enjoying his time during break time!

Attending a pre-school is the time where young children learn the basic skills they need to succeed in their foundational years at Primary school and where they build key social skills to implement in their daily lives.

According to UNICEF (2018), in Cambodia, despite 97% percentage of children attending primary school, with limited access to pre-school facilities across the country, only 27 per cent of 3- to 5-year-olds are developmentally on track in literacy and numeracy. Our young learners during their daily classes at REACH.

Our kindergarten team proudly teaches children how to play, problem-solve and learn in a safe environment.

At REACH, our interactive curriculum allows children to be exposed to a variety of activities and games which encourages children to be active in class, participate and collaborate with their classmates.

Play-based learning has been demonstrated to be highly beneficial for our young students to retain information better and use their knowledge in their everyday life. 

Every week, our young learners gain knowledge in the basics of the English language by spending 15 immersive hours learning basic vocabulary, the alphabet, phonetic sounds, reading, word families, writing and singing songs.

Kindy kids at REACH’s playground area.

During each week, their development is also complemented by 3 hours of learning basic Maths and Arts. This is all taught in English, further strengthening their listening and comprehension skills.

Coming to REACH on a regular basis has allowed them not only to start speaking English but also to begin benefitting from our Health & Nutrition program. Each day, our Kindy kids receive daily nutritious meals, multivitamins, clean drinking water and regularly wash their hands and brush their teeth at our hygiene station. Having access to a wholesome diet from an early age has boosted our students’ physical growth and we believe this is key to their physical and mental development.

Didactic learning encourages children to be active in class, participate and collaborate with their classmates.

The little ones are the first link in the chain

Previously, we’ve discussed the REACH youth being the final link the chain, and we truly believe that empowered youth are key to families’ breaking the poverty cycle.

But we believe that those lucky enough to commence their journey at our NGO from age 4.5 will have the greatest chance at success.

By starting to support a child’s educational journey and social development from such a young age we are able to nurture the smallest REACH students into tomorrow’s leaders for more than a decade.

The young children enjoy daily nutritious meals that help them grow and develop!

Being enrolled at REACH since the age of 4.5 years old means that the children and their family will receive the benefits of our programs until the student reaches the age of 18 years old. And it doesn’t stop there, once they become adults, we aim to then continue supporting our alumni through the Geoffrey Wilson Scholarship program by providing them with scholarships for University and higher education programs, Vocational Training placement, internships and ultimately fair job opportunities.

This means that the students who just yesterday received their certificates as the first generation of Kindy graduates, over the span of 15 years, will be the ones who will experience every single program and level of English we have to offer.

At the same time, their families will grow, learn and be supported by the Outreach Program and our dedicated team of social workers at the same time.

REACH mother receiving food support from REACH’s Rice Rewards program.

The support our families have received goes beyond our programs.

For those of you reading that don’t already know, REACH is a supplmentary school, that works to complement what the students are learning in the public sector. Not only do we teach students within our gates, but our team also works very hard to ensure that they have access to their government school classes, and all of the materials and support required to pass their classes.

Access to public school, although it is considered to be ‘free’, has many barriers to entry and commonly, disadvantaged children start school late due to varying factors. 

Last year our Education team found out the exciting news of public schools opening enrollments for young learners. In our effort to engage our families and students in education, our team got to work and researched the steps and documents needed to help our families enroll their children in kindergarten public school, thus preventing students from starting their journey in public education at an old stage as they commonly do.

Thanks to the speed with which our team acted, all our little learners attend both schools, public school and REACH.

The next generation of kindergarteners…

With our second school year starting on the 1st of August, our enrollment strategy changed to bear more focus on supporting our existing families.

For a full week, our team of social workers interviewed and visited our families to assess the number of siblings our current students have left that couldn’t attend REACH in the past or that continued to be on our waiting list. Once approved and realizing we still had spaces available, our team searched for cousins and direct relatives to grow our community.

To ensure that we could focus on more young children from our existing families, we lowered the entry age into our kindergarten, opening it to children 4.5+.

A recent report published by UNICEF’s in 2023 found that despite early childhood education being provided within the framework of the National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development, the enrolment rate of 5-year-old children reached more than 60 per cent between 2017-2020. This number falls to 32.6 per cent for 4-year-olds and 12.1 per cent for 3-year-olds.

Learning this, our team felt even more passionate about enlisting our existing students’ siblings from a younger age to get them into our system, so that they could be fed and supported earlier on, alleviating pressure on their families.

Team member Sokly interviewing one of our families.

During their placement tests, our team evaluated the children’s pencil grip and usage of scissors, their personal interaction with our teachers and overall confidence.

This basic test allowed the Kindy teacher to get to know the students prior to the first day of class and to also assess those who will require extra support. On top of that, we believe that by having these future students oriented and tested at REACH first, it will help them settle and familiarise themselves with our team.

Our entire team is eager to see how the first generation of Kindergarteners continue to grow as they move onto Yellow Room and are also equally excited about the generations to come!

From next semester, we will be welcoming 25 new Kindy kids into our program, for their first immersive year of learning at REACH.

Kindy students at our hygiene station washing their hands and teeth!

 Take a step further and directly support our Kindy program!

You can help us achieve our mission by sponsoring the entire Kindergarten program.

For approximately $11,500AUD, you can ensure all costs for the program are covered for an entire year.

This can be paid in a one-off payment or on a payment plan monthly, quarterly or bi-annually.

Valued program sponsors receive:

  • Their name/logo up on our sponsors board in Siem Reap
  • An annual call with the local program manager
  • Comprehensive quarterly program reports and impact analysis’
  • 1 annual video update of the program in action
  • Media packages to promote the relationship online
  • Recognition across our social media platforms
  • Featured on the homepage of our website

If you are interested in learning more, please contact to receive a comprehensive program sponsorship overview pack and to set up a call.

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