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Guide to children’s education in Singapore

If you’re an expat with little ones in Singapore, you might find that the early education system here uses different terms to the ones you’re used to your home country. So to help you out with choosing a pre-school or playgroup, here’s a quick run through all the terms we use here on the island.

Just look at those pretty bunches 

Places your kids can play and learn

1. Playgroup

A regular meeting for babies and toddlers, organised by parents and held at their own homes, or at parks, cafés, restaurants, pools or play centres. Parents accompany their children as they learn to play with others. At the same time, parents meet others with children of similar ages to share experiences.

2. Drop-off Centre

Drop your children off at one of these centres for supervised play while you run errands or attend appointments. Cherie Hearts (6271 0080 | cheriehearts.com.sg) run a drop-off service for babies and children aged two months to 11 years at various locations. Cookie and Monkey Kid’s Lounge (6222 2868) at Level 2 VivoCity offers a babysitting service where kids can play or do arts and crafts while you shop.

3. Learning Centre

Singapore is awash with learning centres, also known as enrichment centres or educational play centres. Babies and children can get involved in music, Mandarin, arts and crafts, maths, dance, drama and gym classes.

4. Preschool

Before beginning statutory education at age six in Singapore, many children attend preschool from the age of 18 months upwards. In Britain, preschool is known as nursery school or playgroup, while in the US the terms preschool and pre-K are used. The areas of development include:

• Personal, social, economical and emotional development
• Communication
• Knowledge and understanding of the world
• Creative and aesthetic development
• Mathematical awareness and development
• Physical development
• Teamwork and social skills
• Self-help skills
• Scientific thinking

5. Kindergarten

In Singapore, many international schools use the term kindergarten to describe the first, and sometimes second, year of primary school education.

However, the Singapore Ministry of Education uses the term kindergarten to mean a preschool that provides a structured three-year preschool programme for children aged four to six. Children learn activities that develop language and literacy skills, basic number concepts, social skills, creative and problem solving skills, appreciation of music and movement, outdoor play, English as a first language and Chinese, Malay or Tamil.


Different approaches to playing and learning

Preschools in Singapore have different educational approaches. Visit a few before deciding which approach is best suited to your child’s temperament and interests.

1. Play-based Approach

Play is the most natural way for young children to learn. Learning involves long, uninterrupted periods of open-ended play where children follow their own interests. They are encouraged to initiate activities and be self-directed with the teachers’ support. When children play, they are also exploring and enhancing their ability to tackle problems, be independent, socialise, develop knowledge and self-esteem, develop fine and gross motor skills, and develop skills in language, literacy, maths and science.

2. Project Approach

The Project Approach is a hands-on, interactive style of education that builds on children’s natural curiosity, enabling them to interact, question, connect, problem-solve, communicate and reflect. It focuses on active participation in real learning based on children’s interests and abilities. Projects do not constitute the whole curriculum but are used in conjunction with more traditional teaching methods.

3. Montessori

An educational approach developed by Italian Maria Montessori in the early 1900s that cultivates a child’s own natural desire to learn and absorb information. Montessori education is characterised by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. The curriculum is broad-based and covers exercises of practical life, sensorial materials, language, mathematics, cultural studies, sciences, and development of social behaviour and physical activity. Classrooms provide a prepared environment where everything children come in contact with facilitates and maximises independent learning and exploration.

4. Waldorf Education

Waldorf, or Steiner, education is a humanistic approach to education based on the philosophy of Austrian Rudolf Steiner. Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic and conceptual elements. The approach emphasises the role of the imagination in learning, developing both creative and analytical thinking. In early childhood, learning is largely experiential, imitative and sensory, with an emphasis on learning through practical activities.

5. Reggio Emilia Approach

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was started by the villagers around Reggio Emilia in Italy after WWII, who created a self-guided curriculum guided by the principles of respect, responsibility and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children. Parents are a vital component of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. They are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children.