Creating Meaningful Distance Learning through Play and Inquiry

For the last 10 weeks, like colleagues all over the world, teachers at UNIS Hanoi have been steeped in creating online learning opportunities for their students. In the blink of an eye we went from school as we knew it, noisy, bustling and in person to school via asynchronous and synchronous formats, videos, Zooms and presentations. In the elementary school at UNIS Hanoi, our focus has been to stay true to our core values and ensure that learning remains engaging, inquiry based, playful and fun. 

As our programme has evolved, we have worked long and hard to remain true to the inquiry based, playful beliefs that are foundational to the Lower Elementary at UNIS Hanoi. When we are on campus, one measure we use to ensure our programme is robust and rigorous is that engagements frequently require students to ask questions and lean into problem solving while remaining innately playful. Teachers have rich professional dialogue to ensure the programme and practice align with our core beliefs. As a school, we define play as combining hands-on learning with student-initiated play. Play is highly adaptive, involves choice, promotes agency and provides rigorous opportunities to inquire into important concepts and personal interests.

So how did we manage to make the shift to distance learning, while remaining true to our beliefs and keeping learning playful?

  • Selecting the right tools for asynchronous and synchronous learning was important as we got started with Distance Learning. Students and parents across the Elementary School use the online platform See Saw to communicate and share their learning with teachers. We have used a range of online tools like Flipgrid, Padlet and Screencastify to share learning and engagements with students. Daily synchronous sessions in the form of Morning Meetings to connect with each other, start the day for all elementary students.
  • Our 3-4 year old programme was reimagined for online learning after sharing best practices with colleagues around the world and listening carefully to student and parent feedback. Students are given choice and agency in choosing how they develop the big idea for the week. Video conferencing sessions are used to build community and help students maintain contact with each other every day.
  • Thinking about what meaningful engagement might look like at home has involved activities like author studies, which have been wonderful for students. Choosing books over several days has given students the ability to make connections and revisit texts they love. Robert Munsch, Julia Donaldson, Peter Reynolds are a few favourites that have worked very well.
  • Using story workshop and loose parts pedagogy with our younger students has sparked a lot of involvement from the children. The open ended quality of it has been bringing in really interesting work and giving teachers a glimpse of what the children are currently experiencing.
  • Distance Learning Art lessons in the Early Childhood Centre have linked with current Units of Inquiry as much as possible. This has resulted in many successful, investigative and playful engagements. Students in Discovery and K1 created the “Paperbag Princesses” with real paper bags as well as loose parts from their homes. The students have also made math connections by creating animals from different shapes and using boxes and recycled materials in their homes to build sculptures and enormous towers. The challenges of not having access to all of the art supplies we have at school were originally very daunting but with lots of creative thinking and problem solving it has become much easier and so fun.
  • In Kindergarten 2, Market Day, which is a much anticipated event on the calendar, could no longer be on campus in the ECC playground and so had to become a virtual buy and sell experience, with a website. It was hugely successful and our students were involved in meaningful service opportunities too! In art lessons the children made many beautiful things to sell online, ranging from toilet roll shakers, paper vases of flowers and beautiful bookmarks. 
  • In Grade 1 students have worked on researching their significant person. After writing scripts about their person, students created their person in art class with found objects at home and now will green screen video their person from home to share with the grade level. Lots of indoor scavenger hunts of math items this week for Math Week, using paper planes to practice measurement, Reading in homemade forts… keeping their skills going while making learning playful. 
  • G1 have also worked on amazing portraits of significant people using many different materials. The children have also created artworks based on famous artists- a favourite must have been inspired by Van Gogh’s sunflowers where the children used so many different materials like lego men, fruit and vegetables, rocks and stones, socks and shoes to create their own flowers. So many great ideas and so much fun!

We are deeply grateful to all of our families who have partnered with us and worked alongside us to keep students engaged and motivated. Our focus remains on ensuring the learning for all our students is relevant, meaningful and playful.

Nitasha Crishna

Lower Elementary Deputy Principal

Elementary School Schedule 2019/20

Creating the most balanced day for our students is a priority each and every school year. Following parent and teacher feedback this school year, we have made some adjustments and improvements to the schedule for the 19/20 school year. We also want to ensure that the day is structured so as to minimize transitions for all students if possible and to allow us to keep our continued commitment to World Languages, PE, and the Visual and Performing Arts.

Ensuring that we are able to create a schedule that kept all those priorities in mind, you will notice the following changes to the school day next year:

  1. Lunch in the ES will start from 12.20 pm. This means that students will have the ability to engage in a morning of learning, have their lunch and then have a shorter afternoon of learning. We are committed to providing students with regular outdoor recess so we will continue with both morning and afternoon recesses.
  2. In order to minimise transitions for students the schedule is designed so that students have no more than 2 specialist lessons a day. We are moving from the current model of 40 minute lessons to 50 minute lessons. This will allow teachers to create learning experiences for students where they get to be engaged for longer blocks and also support students walking across our campus without losing out on instructional time.
  3. Given that lessons will be longer, students will still avail of the same or more amount of instructional time across the curriculum though the number of lessons in some disciplines may be fewer. For example, in the current schedule, students have 6 x 40 minute PE lessons every two weeks, which works out to 240 minutes. Next school year, students in the upper grades will have 5 x 50 minutes of PE, which will have them experiencing  250 minutes of PE in two weeks.
  4. In order to accomplish all that we are striving for in our schedule next year we are putting in place a Week A and Week B schedule. Elementary School parents will not need to worry about keeping track of Week A and B as PE and (where applicable) Library days will be the same each week.
  5. In keeping with the other divisions of the school, school will start at 8.10 am and finish at 3.30 pm. ASA’s will finish as usual at 4.30 pm

Detailed schedules will be sent out by your child’s homeroom teacher at the start of the new school year. We remain committed to ensuring that our students have rich and fulfilling days at school where they can learn in ways that will help them grow and thrive. We have worked hard to try and create a schedule that will let us do just that. We look forward to sharing it with you.



Nitasha Crishna Chaudhuri

ES Lower Elementary Deputy Principal


First ES Parent Coffee for 2018/19

Our first ES Parent Coffee for the 2018/19 school year was held last Friday in the ‘Creativity Space’, one of our brand new learning spaces situated in the ES. A big thank you to all our parents who were able to be there. If you were unable to attend, a warm virtual welcome from the Elementary Leadership Team and the Elementary School Counselors.

The session comprised of two main sections- reconnecting, including a brief over view of our Elementary goals for the year, followed by a time for parents to contribute towards a list of possible topics we can look at covering during our regular ES Parent Coffee Mornings this school year.

The Elementary Leadership team is made up of our Principal, Megan Brazil, Deputy Principals, Stephen Lush (Upper Elementary, Grade 2-5), Nitasha Crishna Chaudhuri (Lower Elementary, Grade D-1) and Joshua Smith, our Primary Years Program Coordinator. A key function of the ES Leadership team is to continue to ensure that we provide excellent learning opportunities for each and every student and contribute to the dynamic, stimulating, caring environment for our whole school community.

Elementary School Leadership Team:  Megan Brazil, Stephen Lush, Nitasha Chaudhuri, Joshua Smith

Two other very important members of our Elementary faculty, are two ES school counselors, Dylan Meikle ( Grades 3-5) and Kris Bezzerides (Grades Discovery-2). Kris and Dylan work with students and teachers across the school to ensure are students feel happy, secure and ready to learn when they are at school.


Elementary Counselors:  Dylan Meikle, Kris Bezzerides

UNIS Hanoi has three key values that underpin our approach to all we do at the school. They are Learning, Community and Responsibility. For returning parents, these words will be familiar to you. Our students are well versed with our three core values and they guide all our work as a community of learners. This school year, under each of these values, these are our ES goals:


  • A continued focus on inclusion: ensuring all our students are successful
  • A continued focus on differentiation
  • Focusing on our model of how to best serve our English Language Learners (EAL program)


  • Building community through a culture of kindness
  • Continuing to strengthen the culture of coaching


  • A renewed focus on sustainability via the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Strengthening service learning in the ES

The Elementary Leadership Team would love to hear from you about your experience in the ES and about possible topics you would like to learn more about this year-please take a few minutes to fill in the google form below which will be very useful information as we put together the program for Parent Coffee mornings for the year.

 What is important to you?

Have an enjoyable long weekend!


Nitasha Chaudhuri
Elementary School Deputy Principal