Given how much early experiences matter to a child’s future development, we look at how sending our littlest ones to childcare can provide them with the foundation to reach their full potential
There are so many infant care and childcare options for parents these days. Fees also vary from centre to centre, with some private childcare providers often charging more than double the fees as compared to anchor operators such as My First Skool (the preschool arm of NTUC First Campus, a social enterprise). Does expensive really mean better when it comes to early childhood education?
To find out more, we visited a My First Skool centre in Jurong West for a first-hand look at what goes on during a regular day for infants from two months to toddlers up to three years old. Here’s what we discovered:
Not Just Childcare
The dramatic play corner designed to look like a supermarket with real cereal boxes and such items donated by supportive parents
Quite often, parents send their tots to childcare because there’s no one to look after them at home. We assume that their basic needs will be taken care of – it’s just about feeding, naptime and playtime, right? Well, not quite. My First Skool operates under a holistic curriculum using innovative learning resources to spark the joy of learning from an early age. Following a dedicated lesson plan each day, teachers guide the children through age-appropriate activities that develop motor skills and life skills at the same time.
For instance, tots from 18 months to three years learn how to put on their own shoes and clothes, ‘go grocery shopping’ and ‘do simple household chores’ − via pretend play! These help to build confidence while developing decision-making and problem-solving skills, so they are better equipped to face growing challenges in the future. Learning letters and numbers through music and dance? This prepares them to tackle literacy and numeracy. All while having fun!
Not Just Teachers
The teachers here designed the attendance board as a school bus, as the children in this class love the song “Wheels on the Bus”
Teachers at My First Skool practise a relationship-based curriculum. This means that every teacher forms a special connection to a specific group of children under their care. They become the child’s primary caregiver throughout their time at the centre, not unlike a ‘form teacher’ in primary school. The child naturally learns to trust in their special teacher, and suffers less separation anxiety when saying goodbye to mummy and daddy each morning. This special bond also sees the children want to perform better – it’s a win-win situation!
The same teacher conducts activities according to dedicated lesson plans and supports the child throughout the day. Rather than giving direct commands (“Come here! Sit down now!”), they respect the child as an individual (“Are you ready? Come join us!”). Also, instead of automatically solving problems for the children, the teachers guide them to problem-solve, a practice known as responsive care. If any child feels upset, their teacher validates their feelings and helps them through the process – they are soon smiling again!
The teachers are creative interior decorators too! There are many customisations that happen in each centre − they are all tailor-made for the children and change with every new batch. Naturally, the children enjoy learning best in an environment that they’re most comfortable in, and they form a sense of belonging in a place that they help to personalise. We were really impressed by the teachers’ dedication!
Peace of Mind
Teachers can upload live updates and photos of class activities through a mobile app, providing parents with sneak peeks into their child’s progress, and peace of mind
Parents, especially first-time parents, often worry when sending their babies off to the childcare centre. They wonder how their little one handling being away from them for hours at a time. At My First Skool, parents have access to a mobile app called “My First Skool Parent Portal”. Their child’s attendance and temperature taken upon arrival are updated in real time. They can receive push notifications of announcements, and correspond with teachers on their child’s progress.
Imagine a parent’s pride when they see a photo of their previously shy child interacting with the community. In fact, during National Day earlier this year, the children made their own paper cones of ‘kacang putih’, and gave them to some elderly and foreign workers who work in their neighbourhood. It was an extremely rewarding experience for everyone, and through such experiences, the children also learn to interact confidently yet safely with strangers.
Behind the Scenes
Empowering children to learn through a holistic learning philosophy called PETAL
Nurturing children is surely a reward in itself, but during our visit, we also learnt why teachers at My First Skool seem extra enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. For one thing, they are encouraged to spend time reflecting on observations they make during class time, and discuss these with the principal and other teachers. Together, they continually work on customising activities to get the best out of the children. Teachers also constantly update themselves by attending over 50 hours of workshops and seminars a year. This adds value to the classroom as well. For example, a teacher who learns to play the ukulele can now expose the children to the wonders of a musical instrument!
Behind the teachers are a team of early childhood researchers led by Emeritus Professor Marjory Ebbeck, Senior Academic Advisor of NTUC First Campus. Unlike the typical teacher-directed approach, the foundation of their relationships-based curriculum is based on deep, active involvement and well-being of the child. Learning outcomes are continuously assessed across three main factors: psycho-social, physical, and thinking and communicating.
After School Hours
The children concentrating on threading a pipe cleaner through plastic bottle caps
The team at NTUC First Campus also believe that education doesn’t end when the child goes home after school. They encourage parents to spend time bonding with their children in an extension of what they learn in school. This will not only help reinforce positive messages and skills, but also help create a strong parent-child attachment.
For example, at My First Skool, the children also participate in activities that promote fine motor skills. In learning to thread a pipe cleaner through a bottle cap, for instance, they improve the dexterity of their little fingers. This means that learning to grip and write with a pencil will be that much easier. This is something that can easily be replicated at home as well!
(See also: Raising a Baby is Expensive – Here’s Some Help)
Early Experiences Matter
To further inspire parent-child bonding, NTUC First Campus has put together Early Experiences Matter: Parent-Child Activity Book. It offers ideas on how parents can engage with their baby from newborn and up, using simple materials often found at home.
The kids are excited to play the role of “Jack or Jill in the Box”
One of the suggested activities is called “Jack or Jill in the Box”, a game that is also played at My First Skool. It teaches children about positions and the size of their body relative to their surroundings. All you need is a cardboard box they can crawl into! Activities like these encourage kids to explore and provide opportunities to have one-on-one interaction with the teacher − or parent − to strengthen their bonding and conversational skills.
It’s part of the NTUC Good Start Bundle, a set of goodies NTUC and its group of social enterprises have put together to help young families early and support you and your newborn with relevant products and services at different stages of your parenting journey.
So what else is in the NTUC Good Start Bundle?
1. Toddlers’ Thursday
To encourage even more parent-toddler bonding time, toddlers up to three years old (and a parent) are invited to special educational experiences every first Thursday of the month. Enjoy free entry to eXplorerkid at Downtown East and AMK Hub, with Music and Dance Movement sessions to boot. Over at The Little Skool-House Early Literacy Centre at Downtown East, interactive learning zones let children discover the wonders of languages and literacy. You can visit each for free, up to six times a year!
2. FairPrice FairMily Kit
Some of the baby necessities inside NTUC’s Good Start Bundle’s FairPrice FairMily Kit
It contains specially curated essentials groceries for the whole family, including a tin of Aptamil milk powder for babies above six months. It’s basically $100 worth of affordable yet quality products you may not have time to shop for when your other bundle of joy arrives.
3. Complimentary one-year health insurance coverage for your newborn
NTUC Good Start Bundle Income free health insurance
Every Singaporean is covered by MediShield Life, but this may not be enough if Baby requires intensive medical care. Enhanced IncomeShield and IncomeShield Standard Plan are Medisave-approved Integrated Shield Plans that ensure peace of mind. With the NTUC Good Start Bundle, Baby’s first year premiums are free.
And that’s not all! In fact, NTUC Social Enterprises will constantly work at adding new goodies and perks to the Good Start Bundle, so do follow them on Facebook to make sure that you don’t miss out on all the new benefits!
Every Singaporean baby born between
1 January 2016 and 31 December 2019 is eligible to receive the NTUC Good Start Bundle goodies.
Just click here to register for your NTUC Good Start Bundle!
This article was brought to you in collaboration with NTUC and its group of social enterprises, to help Singaporeans in their everyday lives, such as provide affordable yet quality products and services, moderate the cost of living and do good for the community.