We had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte, an experienced early childhood education practitioner and leader who will be leading one of the newest preschools in town – St. Joseph’s Institution International Preschool.
News flash: St. Joseph’s Institution International (SJI International) has expanded its educational offerings to include early childhood education with a new Preschool on Holland Road! Taking over the former Maris Stella Kindergarten, SJI International Preschool will continue to nurture young minds holistically.
Being parents ourselves, we’re just as curious as most families about what this new preschool has to offer. And there’s no better person to walk us through SJI International Preschool’s offerings than its Head of Preschool herself, Dr. Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte.
With more than 30 years of experience in the early childhood education field, Dr. Teo-Zuzarte has nurtured both young children and early childhood educators. In fact, many young leaders in the industry were her former students! She has also been appointed as a sector leader to support national initiatives in early childhood care and education for Singapore. Plus, she’s an avid runner who has completed two half marathons; and is training for her first full marathon!
The HoneyKids team managed to catch up with Dr. Teo-Zuzarte to find out what the new SJI International Preschool has to offer new families, as well as existing ones who were part of the Maris Stella Kindergarten.
Hello Dr. Teo-Zuzarte, we’re excited about the opening of this new preschool by SJI International. What can you tell us about it?
We’re equally as excited about it! SJI International Preschool is an exciting and purposeful endeavour for the SJI International Community. It’s a significant leap in our commitment to offering a comprehensive and holistic early education for children.
For starters, we’re making physical improvements to our campus, which has housed the Maris Stella Kindergarten for the past 68 years. These will be in the form of thoughtful refurbishments to create a stimulating learning environment for our young learners.
Of course, we’re keen on preserving the campus’ historical significance as well as Maris Stella Kindergarten’s excellent educational legacy. We’re doing this by integrating our own educational philosophy and expertise with that of Maris Stella’s. We firmly believe that the synergy between both institutions will enable us to create a truly exceptional preschool programme.
We also have an exciting update: our Preschool will incorporate sustainable practices through the process of circular farming. We’ll be creating a natural ecosystem of fish and vegetables from farm to table. This is one of the many ways our Preschool is striving to develop future-oriented dispositions, skills, and knowledge for sustainable living and enterprise among our children. We believe this enables children to see themselves as agents of change in the world they live in.
What’s the curriculum like?
We have two programmes: the Early Years programme for children aged two to four-years-old; and the Kindergarten programme for those aged four to six-years-old.
For the Early Years programme, we prioritise building strong relationships with children and their families. The curriculum here is defined as routines, experiences, and interactions. Key features that parents can expect include responsive care, respect, and deep engagement. As we’re working with young children, the routines are centred on caregiving. Experiences are based on play activities that are both teacher-directed and child-initiated. Our educators also create stimulating activities, like playing or using learning materials efficiently and productively, to help facilitate growth and understanding as part of the daily interaction in our Preschool.
For our older children in the Kindergarten programme, we use a blend of approaches that include structured and emergent components of the curriculum. There’s a focus on literacy and numeracy, along with opportunities for children to apply their knowledge in projects aligned with their interests. Learning domains such as language, numeracy, discovery, aesthetics, and health are integrated into transdisciplinary themes. As children explore these areas, it fosters understanding, skills, attitudes, and social responsibility.
Above all, SJI International Preschool places a strong emphasis on pastoral care. We focus on nurturing character development and instilling virtuous values all within the framework of our Lasallian Catholic ethos. Our goal is to ensure that every child feels a profound sense of value and love.
What about inclusivity and diversity – do these feature in the Preschool’s curriculum?
They definitely do. Singapore is a multicultural and multiracial society, so it’s important we teach our children what it means to live and thrive in an environment such as this. We teach this through one of our signature programmes, The Virtues Project. This is a global initiative that inspires the practices of virtues in everyday life. Examples of virtues taught through this programme include appreciation, kindness, helpfulness, cooperation, and patience. These are virtues that teach children to embrace diversity and champion inclusivity.
Inclusivity and diversity are also at the core of what we do at SJI International Preschool. We use the principles of Universal Design for Learning to intentionally provide opportunities for all children to succeed. Our learning environment is inclusive, featuring flexible spaces and furniture that accommodate the different needs of young children who walk through our doors.
And what about technology? It’s such an integral part of our lives now, does it have a role to play in early childhood education?
It’s true that we live in a world that’s abound with technology; and today’s children are called ‘digital natives’ as well. As such, it makes sense for us to use technology as tools for teaching and learning at our Preschool. These are used in developmentally appropriate ways to help children apply and extend the knowledge they’ve learnt. For example, we’ve embedded coding into our core curriculum here.
Parents often worry about the transition between preschool and primary school. How does SJI International Preschool prepare children for that huge milestone?
Everything we do at our Preschool revolves around equipping children with the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to prepare them for life. Not just primary school, but beyond that. This includes developing their executive function skills, which enable children to focus and pay attention, remember instructions, set goals, and demonstrate self-control. These skills are crucial for early learning and development, supporting children to regulate their behaviour. The ability to self-regulate is correlated to social and academic success.
Another popular question from parents: how can we help our children with separation anxiety and tears at drop-off?
I would like to firstly assure parents that this is quite normal. Children may experience behaviours such as crying when their trusted adult leaves, especially if they’re entering group care for the first time. Similarly, some families may also feel apprehensive about leaving their child in the care of others. It takes time for children to adjust to a new environment. As such, having a positive partnership between family and school is essential. Families can be rest assured that our teachers at SJI International Preschool are trained to collaborate with each and every family to ensure a smooth transition from home to school for all our children.
That’s so lovely to hear, Dr. Teo-Zuzarte. Last but not least, what’s the best way for interested families to find out more about the Preschool?
We welcome families to visit us during our upcoming Open Houses, happening on 28 October and 4 November 2023. Our Open Houses are the perfect opportunities for families to see how we empower children through a blend of structured activities, hands-on exploration, and imaginative play.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Dr. Teo-Zuzarte!
This post is in partnership with St. Joseph’s Institution International Preschool.