Have you heard about the new breed of preschools in Singapore?
There are new breeds of preschools in Singapore taking a more play-based approach, with mixed age classes, all natural handmade toys, and fun classes in the green outdoors.
When choosing a preschool for your little one, are you the type of parent who looks at the impressive charts and posters on the walls, expect worksheets and homework to be given, and want a more rigid academic system?
Or do you prefer a preschool which offers play-based activities, freedom to explore and a more holistic approach?
If you fit into the latter category — or even if you don’t, just keep an open mind as you read more about the new breed of preschools in Singapore which are a little different from the rest.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) recognises that a child’s development in the early years is important, as this is when they will inquire, explore and discover the world around them.
According to Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister of Education, “Preschool education involves arousing children’s curiosity about the world around them, teaching them social skills such as learning to work and play with others, and building their confidence”.
He also believes that this is when young children develop learning dispositions that will remain with them throughout their lives.
“Children who are confident and eager to learn are ready for the next stage of learning and are more likely to do well in school”, he says.
Many of the preschools in Singapore are already academic and results-based, in preparation for the child to enter formal school – but what if you prefer a more play-based approach and feel that your child should learn at his own pace?
Would your child “lose out” and not be able to catch up with his peers once he enters Primary 1?
So which preschool system is in line with your own parenting beliefs and is right for your child?
We give you the breakdown of some of the different preschool philosophies available in Singapore.
Montessori for Children is considered one of Singapore’s only “true” Montessori preschool that closely follows Dr Maria Montessori’s method which was developed in the early 1900s.
This is a child-centred approach where teachers serve as guides and the “school work” is actually play-based.
Although there is still a focus on academics, what sets this method apart from the typical Singapore preschool system is that children will learn at their own pace and are free to work at whichever level they are comfortable at.
This also affects how the classrooms are arranged — children aged three, four and five will be grouped together as this will allow the older children to act as role models to the younger ones which helps to build their self-esteem, and at the same time exposes the children to different age groups.
As Montessori is more of a philosophy of teaching, many preschools in Singapore can call itself Montessori without really adhering to the core principles which include mixed-aged classes, teachers who received formal Montessori training and the use of classic Montessori materials.
Benefits of the Montessori method: Parents who choose this approach believe that it will help their child’s leadership skills, independence in general and builds self-esteem.
Little Bunnies offers a programme for young children aged two to three years where they can play and learn at the same time in a green outdoor environment as opposed to being confined in a regular classroom like other preschools in Singapore.
There is active learning through structured group play activities which allows children to use their natural curiosity to develop essential skills for further learning.
Children will be encouraged to nurture a respect and understanding of how things grow as they learn and play in the lush tropical landscape of the school grounds.
The National Parks (NParks) agrees that children who receive regular exposure to greenery will have better school behaviour and improved relationship with their peers.
The philosophy at Little Bunnies is that, “Children need nature for their emotional and physical well-being. For a lot of children, exposure to nature is extremely minimal if at all. Children have become disconnected with the natural world so we set about reconnecting children with nature.”
Benefits of learning outdoors: NParks believes that greenery contributes to one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being, so children can actually benefit from regular exposure to greenery.
With modern technology invading our everyday lives, it is difficult to keep your child completely screen-free.
But the Singapore Waldorf Early Childhood Programme encourages parents to commit to their philosophies such as:
- No deliberate early stimulation of a child’s intellectual faculties
- Limiting your child’s exposure to T.V. and other electronic media
- A willingness to participate in the life of the school
- A preference for a non-commercial environment for your child
The toys available are mostly home-made and are natural materials such as wood pieces, sea shells, silk cloths, wool strings, felt animals, and simple dolls.
Their playgroup is open to children below 3.5 years and encourages parents to be actively involved in activities which their child can learn by imitating, such as baking, sweeping, chopping food or making handmade crafts.
They strongly believe that for young children, the best form of education is by imitating their parents.
Benefits of the Waldorf Steiner education: Waldorf schools usually have a warm home-like environment, use mostly natural materials, have zero tolerance for mass media and offer age-appropriate learning.
Blue House International is a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in Singapore which has a curriculum that is “child originated and teacher framed”.
This philosophy believes that children must learn through hands-on experiences where they can use all their senses and should be encouraged to explore with the teachers being there to help them explore.
Children will also learn through a project based approach which will help them solve problems and resolve conflicts.
So for example, if a child is playing outdoors and comes across a flower and wonders how it grows, instead of the teacher directly answering his questions, she will encourage the whole class to “find out together”, perhaps by building a garden and learning what happens from there on.
Reggio Emilia-inspired programmes are also known for documenting what the children do during lessons, and will take photos, make videos, or write observations so that the children, teachers and parents can review what they have done throughout the year.
Benefits of Reggio Emilia-inspired schools: Curriculums are based on children’s interests, which lead to open-ended projects so they have the power to direct their learning and let their creativity grow.
Although these teaching methods and approaches are not completely new to Singapore and some have been around for many years here, the availability of such preschools that truly follow their philosophies are still far and few, as the majority will cater to parents’ demands.
Local parents here are concerned about their child’s academic abilities and worry that if they don’t start learning more at an early age or get used to a rigid education system, they might not do well in formal school and thus fall behind in class.
But Dr Elizabeth Pang, Programme Director for Literacy Development at MOE’s Curriculum Planning and Development Division says, “Developed countries such as Finland provide a preschool system which does not introduce formal reading instruction until age seven. Yet when the Finnish children enter the equivalent of primary school, they do well academically.”
She also explains that making preschool children do what is normally done in primary school, such as worksheets, is a mode of learning that is not developmentally appropriate and does not come naturally to a child.
“Why kill the joy of learning at such a young age?” she asks.
Dr Douglas Kong, a Consultant Psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital explains that enrichment classes offered at preschools are useful to help parents discover which are the interests they should help their children cultivate, but it is also important that the activities are appropriate for the child’s individual level of physical and psychological development.
So for the parents who prefer the less traditional approach and an alternative method of teaching, these new breeds of preschools in Singapore may be the right fit for you and your child.
Do you think the preschool system in Singapore is too rigid for young children? Would you be interested in sending your kids to these new breeds of preschools? Or do you feel that children can benefit from getting an early head-start in education? Share your comments below!