More before- and after-school care centres are offering added value to their services these days. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing the best student care centre for your child.
Even as we plunge full-tilt into the year-end festive season, it also signals that a fresh new year is looming. The children may be eagerly or nervously anticipating the new school term, especially if they’re starting Primary One. But there’s one more thing to consider if both you and your spouse work. Have you settled on who looks after Junior after school and before you get home from work? Lucky you, if you’ve got the help of Grandparents, nanny or trusted helper. Otherwise, student care centres are the answer if you don’t want your child to be a latchkey kid.
By the way, if you haven’t yet enrolled your child in a before- or after-school care facility and you need to, you have to do so now! Because every child is unique, and no two service providers are the same, one size doesn’t fit all. Here are some tips to help you in choosing the best student care centre for your child.
1. Consider the Options
The basic purpose of Student Care Centres (SCCs) is to provide care and supervision to school-going children from Primary One to Secondary Two (7-14 years). Aside from meals, naptime and playtime, most also provide homework help and tuition. Others might offer additional enrichment programmes, excursions and holiday activities.
There are two main types of SCCs available: school-based or community-based centres. Many parents prefer school-based centres, as they feel the tuition curriculum would better complement the school syllabus. However, not all primary schools have one yet (they will by 2020!), and those that do often boast a waiting list. Community-based centres are often located in community centres or in HDB void decks, much like childcare centres.
Some SCCs are operated by charitable and religious organisations. There are also a number of ‘premium’ centres, often located around private estates, as well as mummies running home-based centres.
Special Student Care Centres (SSCCs) also provide student care for Special Education (SPED) school-going students with disabilities aged seven to 18 years. Specific care services may include educational support, social interaction and life skills for independent living.
2. Pinpoint the Location
The most important factor when choosing the best student care centre usually comes down to convenience. It’s best if the centre is close to either your home or your child’s school. If your child needs to travel from school to the centre, an SCC that offers transportation is ideal. Otherwise you’d have to arrange for transport, often a school bus, to ferry them there. Sending your child there on your way to work or fetching them after is also easier if the centre is near your home.
3. Do the Maths
SCCs operate during the hours when parents are usually at work. Standard hours are 7.30am to 6.30pm, although some might start earlier and/or close later. Most, not all, also run for half a day on Saturdays. Some, again not all, operate during school holidays. Check that potential centres you’re considering meet with your requirements.
Another crucial factor to consider would be the fees. It varies from service provider to service provider, and holiday surcharges may apply. Eligible families can apply for Student Care Fees Assistance (SCFA), which helps subsidise SCC fees.
4. And Some Research
It’s a good idea to do some homework before you decide on which is the best student care centre to settle on. Ask friends, relatives and neighbours who have children for recommendations. Even if they don’t have children enrolled in an SCC, they might have heard something on the grapevine. You can also search for reviews on potential SCCs’ Facebook pages and parenting forums.
5. Extra Perks to Consider
Apart from the standard tuition and schoolwork guidance, different SCCs may offer different activities during the day. These may include art and craft, outdoor play or speech and drama. Some SCCs offer a range of optional value-added programmes that you may like to consider, if your budget allows. These might range from piano and abacus classes to cooking and swimming lessons, and even robotics coding. Some centres also organise special programmes where they might take the kids on educational excursions or holiday camps.
6. Learn about the Personnel
It’s always a good idea to find out who’s caring for your child. SCCs typically employ educational professionals, often recruiting retired and ex-teachers and experienced tutors to guide the children academically. For specialised programmes, they often collaborate with external service providers, such as swimming coaches or music schools.
If your child has learning difficulties, it would be important that the SCC offers learning support. The teachers should be suitably qualified and experienced in attending to children with special needs.
(See also: Helping a Child with Dyslexia Read Better)
7. Drop by for a Visit
Once you’ve narrowed down the possibilities, visit the potential centres in person during operation hours. That way, you can get a better feel of the environment your child will be in. What is the teacher-student ratio like? How well do the children and teachers interact? Is it air-conditioned? Is there a structured timetable for meals, naptime and playtime? What are the meals like? Does it have shower facilities? Are there plenty of books and free-play opportunities for the children? A visit will allow you to get a feel for whether the centre is the right fit for your child.
8. Introduce Your Child
Finally, once you’ve pretty much found the best student care centre for your child, bring them for a visit too. All the better if the SCC offers a trial session so your child can join in the day’s activities. After all, it’s crucial that your child feels at home in a place where they’ll be spending half their day for most of the year.
To find out more about Student Care Centres, visit the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Student Care Portal.