Understanding early years education: essential info for parents of preschoolers in Singapore

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Is your little one ready for preschool? This essential info from some of Singapore's top international schools will steer you in the right direction for that all important decision...

One minute you’re lamenting the woes of sleepless nights and breastfeeding issues, and the next your tiny person is almost ready to go to preschool. But when is the right time to send them off for their learning journey, what are the key considerations when making your preschool choice, and which curriculum would best suit your little learner? We’ve been talking to some of Singapore’s top international schools and preschools to get these burning questions answered…

Canadian International School (CIS) – Andrea Strachan, CIS Vice Principal of Primary School, Lakeside campus

1. What age should I consider enrolling my child for an early years education programme?
This all depends on what you are most comfortable with as a parent. Research shows that high quality early years education programmes provide children with a significant head start in life and in learning, which benefits all the way into adulthood. The most important thing is that you choose a programme that meets the developmental needs of your child. It should be a programme that is rich in play and led by experienced early childhood educators.

At CIS, we begin our nursery programme from two years old. We feel that this is an age where children can learn important social skills as part of a larger group, and engage in learning experiences that are not easily replicated at home. We focus on supporting the development of inquiry skills that will lay a rich foundation for future learning.

2. What are the strengths of your early years curriculum?
Our early years curriculum is framed around the development of social skills and approaches to learning, as these support success in both life and in academics. We focus on self-concept, self control, interactions with others, and developing a sense of community. We nurture persistence, curiosity, self-organisation and reasoning. Through a play-based approach, we teach pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills that are differentiated to meet the unique needs and level of development of each child.

3. What should be the key considerations when choosing a preschool program for my child?
When choosing a pre-school programme for your child, you should make sure that the school’s approach provides opportunities for your child to develop social skills and to learn through play. Children also benefit from experience in outdoor learning environments: does the school have access to an outdoor play space where children can experience and interact with nature? The classroom environment should be engaging, children should have access to a variety of hands-on materials, and there should be some level of choice in the classroom in terms of what the children can play with and do. It should be a learning environment that supports ‘learner agency,’ providing each child with voice, choice and ownership of their learning.

To find out more about CIS visit the HoneyKids School Selector

Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse – Rowena Mark Ramos, Curriculum Executive

Understanding early years KIDDIWINKIES

1. What age should I consider enrolling my child for an early years education programme?
Toddlers are at the tender age where they are only beginning to make sense of the world around them. Naturally, parents will be anxious when thinking about sending the little ones off to school. While there is no precise age to enroll children into the early years programme, it is important to provide vast experiences to allow these toddlers to explore and widen their exposure in a safe social environment.

Prosocial behaviours should also be introduced to toddlers to encourage socialisation as they are generally more inclined to play alongside each other rather than together. Hence, enrolling your young ones into an early years programme would provide them with the opportunities to develop their social skills, that are foundational in fostering stronger social-emotional development.

2. What are the strengths of your early years curriculum?
The best way for toddlers to learn is through discovering things on their own, and what better way than to do it through play! Here at Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse, we adopt a play-based curriculum to enable our children to be involved in open-ended exploration. We believe that curiosity is the first step to learning and through exploration children will be able to use their five senses to support their learning. For instance, when children are engaged during sand play, they acquire early numeracy concepts such as ‘heavy’ and ‘light’. Our children become constructors of knowledge as they explore, discover and learn.

Through our curriculum, our children are also given opportunities to make choices and decide on what interests them. When these decisions are made in a playful and relaxed atmosphere, the play that occurs will undoubtedly help children to learn at an optimal level.

3. What should be the key considerations when choosing a preschool program for my child?
Besides keeping a keen eye out for a curriculum that suits your child, we must not forget that a quality early years curriculum depends largely on the aspect of respectful caregiving. Respectful caregiving stems from meaningful and secured relationships between the educarer and the child.

Here at Kiddiewinkie Schoolhouse, we ensure that our educarers are sensitive and mindful in their interactions with the children in their care. We value each child as an individual by being attentive to their needs and development while attending to them responsively and appropriately.

To find out more about Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse visit the HoneyKids School Selector

White Lodge International Preschools – Raihanah Raimi, Head of Schools

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1. What age should I consider enrolling my child for an early years education programme?
Babies and toddlers begin to explore new environments from an early age. As such, playgroups provide a stimulating environment for them to explore and be engaged in play activities with other children. Our playgroups are fun and help children develop language, cognitive, physical, self-help and social skills from a young age. Plus, many wonderful long term friendships between children and parents are formed at White Lodge.

2. What are the strengths of your early years curriculum?
We provide a diverse child-centered learning environment that facilitates active learning, involvement and discovery through a fun, hands-on approach. Our programme has an excellent balance in practices from the east and west and is based on the UK Early Years Foundation Stage and Singapore Kindergarten curriculum framework. We are most proud of our values programme and we are advocates for inclusive education. We have developed wonderful activities to help children be respectful, empathetic, kind and accepting of all from a young age.

Our children experience learning as an adventure as it inspires and encourages the development of their imagination and confidence. We understand the child’s perspective, and within White Lodge provide a world in which they can explore and express themselves confidently. Our children leave us with a good foundation for primary education and have a good balance in their personal and academic success.

3. What should be the key considerations when choosing a preschool programme for my child?
A clean, safe and welcoming school environment that is child-centered. A well-developed curriculum with good teaching resources, lively teachers, open communication and good governance by a management team represents a well-run school organisation.

To find out more about White Lodge visit the HoneyKids School Selector

Shaws Preschool – Imeelia Ismail-Tan, Director of Curriculum 

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1. What age should I consider enrolling my child for an early years education programme?
Choose a preschool that suits your child. In the early years, children love exploring, so we believe that the curriculum should be full of opportunities and experiences for the children to explore how the world works. This includes plenty of open ended activities, which allows not only exploration, but also creativity and problem solving. Children in the early years are also growing socially, so there should be plenty of opportunity for the children to work on things on their own, alongside other children, and to engage in activities where they have to try and work together with their friends. Although we want the children to explore freely, children at this age also feel safe with routine, so it is important to find a curriculum which provides a balance between structure and free activity that you are parents feel comfortable with. And of course, the great outdoors. Children love exploring, and having an outdoor facility allows children to explore nature.

2. What are the strengths of your early years curriculum? 
Shaws Preschool has a play based curriculum which hits all of the above. It is play based filled with exploration. The curriculum and schedule provides various activities for the children, ensuring the children are always engaged in whatever activities they are doing. There is plenty of outdoor space, and there is a strong sports programme which helps children’s coordination and physical wellbeing.

3. What should be the key considerations when choosing a preschool programme for my child?
Choose a programme that suits your child. It is important that the programme is tailored to the early years. Children in the early years develop at their own pace in different areas. The programme should be able to nurture all the children as they develop. It should not be a one-size-fits-all programme, especially for this age group, Even activities within the class should have different levels to suit different children. The teachers should be well trained in early childhood pedagogy to understand the milestones in the early years – this helps children develop confidently. Visit the school and check that the children should be engaged: this means they are happy to be there and enjoy learning.

To find out more on Shaws Preschool visit the HoneyKids School Selector

One World International School (OWIS) – Dawn Ross, Early Childhood Senior Coordinator and EC3 Class Teacher

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1. What age should I consider enrolling my child for an early years education programme?
Children are eligible for our early childhood programme from the age of three years old. Our admissions are open throughout the year but this is dependent on the availability of places in the grade. Our Early Childhood is currently full for this academic year but we are accepting applications for August 2019.

2. What are the strengths of your early years curriculum?
The OWIS Early Childhood department is one big family. We pride ourselves on our dedicated and committed staff whose aim is to nurture young children through a play based curriculum approach. We encourage kindness and kind deeds and foster a caring and inclusive approach in everything we do in Early Childhood. All teachers spend considerable time planning exciting and interesting activities for the children in their class, which leads to happy, engaged children. OWIS follows the PYP curriculum. This is a child centred curriculum focussing on inquiry, where the children direct their learning. An important part of the PYP programme is the IB Learner Profile attitudes and attributes which teachers instill in children from Early Childhood and throughout their Primary School years. Examples of these attitudes and attributes are being a risk taker, collaborating, being caring, enthusiastic, principled and balanced, although there are many more. At OWIS we also use the UK document called ‘Letters and Sounds’ alongside the Jolly Phonics programme to teach phonics, reading and writing.  This is a fantastic programme which is very successful in helping children progress in reading and writing.

3. What should be the key considerations when choosing a preschool programme for my child?
I think the most important considerations are ‘Will my child be happy here? and ‘Is the environment one that fosters learning?’. Parents should be encouraged to talk to the teachers of the school they are considering. Another important consideration is the links the school fosters with parents.