Preschools turn to the world as their classroom
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Channel NewsAsia (Online)
SINGAPORE: Over the past decade, preschool education providers have begun to focus more on play as a vehicle for learning.
But are parents buying in? And how effective are these methods in preparing children for primary school?
Like many preschool operators in Singapore, PAP Community Foundation childcare centres have shifted away from structured, rote learning and added more elements of play into their curriculum over the past two to four years.
Said Ms Karen Chua, Centre Principal of PCF Sparkletots Bukit Batok East: "We have put in a lot of effort to set up learning corners with purposeful play content to help our children engage in their learning activities. And through play, we also observe that children are really immersed in their activitIes, through hands-on activities, and that gave us a very rich observation of how children grow, and from there we use this reference to adapt our curriculum to help them progress."
Feedback from parents and caretakers has been largely positive.
"I don't want a teacher that is always strict and always says 'sit down, sit down, let's do this, let's do that'. I came over here and I checked the environment, and I find that the whole layout gives them the confidence of play - buying things, sharing things, going to the supermarket," said Mdm Alice Wong, whose grandchildren attend PCF Sparkletots in Bukit Batok East.
Star Learners Montessori also focused heavily on academics 10 years ago. Now, children pick up skills in estimation and math, through outdoor play with paper footprint cutouts.
But for some parents, there is still the worry about measuring the effectiveness of such methods, leading some to consider extra classes outside of preschool hours.
"A lot of parents worry about what their children do for the 8, 9, 10 hours that they are at the childcare centre. So because of that, a lot of parents seem to defer towards an intensive worksheet-based setting," said Star Learners Group CEO Tan Meng Wei.
"Because at the end of the day or the end of the week, or the term, they get this whole load of worksheets back which their children have dutifully completed, and they feel slightly more relieved."
"What I think we're straddling is that we want to prepare our children to be ready for Primary 1, and what I've openly shared with my teachers is to be ready for the first semester of Primary One, and not to overdo it," said Mr Tan. "We want to give them the confidence to go into the primary schools, without making them learn their Primary Two spelling already."
HEAVY WORKLOAD COULD LEAD TO DISINTEREST IN LEARNING
Dr Karuppiah Nirmala, Early Childhood and Special Needs lecturer at the National Institute of Education, warned against giving young children a heavy workload.
"Children should not be given too much worksheets and sent to too many of these tuition or enrichment centres because what happens because many of these children might not just only prepared, but over-prepared for primary school, and they become very dull, they become bored and sometimes they even dislike learning, and that is dangerous," she said. "Once that happens, it's very difficult to make them love learning again."
"While some pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills are important for children, an overemphasis on the academics as well as too much preparation or over-preparation may result in more harm than good for the young children. Research shows that children who are happy, confident, socially and emotionally well-adjusted and are ready to learn tend to perform better and adjust very quickly in primary school," Dr Nirmala added.
Regular communication with parents can help assure them of their children's progress, said childcare centres, as well as gaining their support of the school's activities.
For example, PCF kindergartens encourage parents to work on learning activities together with their children, such as going on a trip to the supermarket to identify the characteristics of the fruits on sale. Similarly, Star Learners ropes in parents through cooking classes and story telling sessions during the centres' Book Club week that runs during the last week of every term.
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