It is reassuring to know that your child is in a safe, nurturing environment while you're away. Aside from making sure your child is fed, hydrated and rested, a good child care centre or kindergarten is crucial for your child's early development. Here are tips on how to pick a centre that best suits your child's needs.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Enrolling your child in a pre-school that is easily accessible can benefit both parents and children. Having to travel long distances can tire out a child even before he or she reaches school. A centre close to your home or workplace will make pick-ups and drop-offs easier. Start your shortlist with these handy online guides:
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) website has a tool, the Directory of Family and Social Services, that'll help you find a child care centre or kindergarten close to you. The search for child care centre and kindergarten functions are also available through the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Preschool Search Portal.
The portal provides important information for first-time parents and allows parents to view important information about the child care centre of their choice such as fees, licensing tenure, and even vacancies!
Parents can also indicate your interest in specific child care centres through the portal.
GET THE FACTS
Now that you've begun shortlisting, start taking a closer look. Get up to speed with the various centres' details such as education philosophy and curriculum approaches, operating hours and fee structures.
Consider the following questions:
"Who's caring for my child?"
It's worth digging a little deeper into each centre's key staff members. Do they have the requisite training and certification? Do they have the relevant experience to provide meticulous care and a nurturing experience for your child? For children with special needs, it's particularly important to ensure you pick a centre where staff members are trained on how to manage your child's needs.
"What's my child learning?"
Different centres embrace different approaches to learning. Take time to find out more about the education philosophy and curriculum approaches offered. Figure out what suits your child best. Some centres embrace play-based learning, while others favour approaches such as "multiple intelligences" and "whole-brain learning". There're a host of other curriculum approaches to consider too, such as the "Reggio Emilia" approach or project-based approach, which emphasises on interpersonal relationships, and the High Scope method, where children are encouraged to learn by interacting with their environment.
It's also useful to find out about the programmes and activities each centre offers - how these learning experiences are supported by followed-up activities such as field trips, hands-on tasks, and whether the curriculum integrates IT, research, science and technology, the arts, multimedia, to name a few.
Finally, take note of each child care centre's licence tenure*, and whether they have certain quality certifications. The Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework, or SPARK, is one of the quality indicators parents can consider.
*Parents should note that the licence tenure is only applicable to child care centres.
"What will my child eat and drink?"
Whether your child is in a full-day child care arrangement or in kindergarten for part of the day, nutritious meals or snacks are a must. Studies have shown that children develop food preferences during their pre-school years, and eating habits tend to stick, even beyond adulthood. Full-day centres should offer breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and these should be nutritionally-balanced and low in fats and sugar. If your child has certain dietary restrictions, it's important to discuss these with the centre to ensure that his/her needs are taken care of.
If you're curious to know which centres are tops in this area, Singapore's Health Promotion Board honours centres that provide nutritional meals for their children in accordance with its guidelines.
"How closely do centres and parents work together?"
Research has shown that students with parents who are keenly involved in their school lives are less likely to have behavioural problems, and more likely to do well academically. With this in mind, choose a centre that offers you opportunities to be involved in your child's learning journey in the pre-school years.
Ask whether there's a parent support network at your centre of choice, and how parents are encouraged to contribute their time and resources in effective ways. Also find out how the centre communicates with their parents.
"What happens in an emergency?"
We hope bad things don't happen - but when they do, it's reassuring to know your child is in good hands. Take the time to find out about each centre's emergency arrangements, and how each centre typically responds in situations like sudden illnesses or other emergencies.
PLAN A VISIT
Once you have all the facts, narrow your list down and plan a field trip of your own - to check out centres! With your child in tow, arrange to speak to each centre's supervisor or principal, and observe how your child responds to his/her potential educators in each setting.
Is your child happy and relaxed, or cagey and tense? Pick a centre where it is clear that your child feels at home.
Take time to observe the other children in the centre as well. Some points to consider include the following:
Do the children look happy and engaged with their tasks? This will give you an inkling of whether the centre's activities are age-appropriate and engaging for children across a spectrum of abilities and interests.
Do the children turn to their early childhood educators for comfort and help? It's important that they do - after all, early childhood educators are an extension of parents when you are away - and seeking out comfort is an indicator of trust and affection from a significant adult - the teacher.
Do the children have access to a variety of materials and educational toys? Aside from promoting early literacy, children learn best when they're at play. Access to a wide variety of interesting materials and playthings will encourage exploratory learning, so your child's learning experience is enhanced.
Are the children at ease in their environment? Is the centre welcoming, bright and cheery? There should be plenty of space for little ones to explore their environment - safely, of course, so be sure to check for baby- and child- proofing.
The end goal is to find a centre where you know your child is well-looked after.
HEAR FROM AN ECDA OFFICER
Ms Ching Pey Suan, a Senior Early Childhood Officer with ECDA, says there is a positive association between a good centre and child outcomes. "Children will develop secure attachments and confidence. They will also benefit from programmes that are holistic, and provide optimal support and experiences for children's growth, development and learning in a safe and healthy environment."
If you are well-versed with the Chinese Language, catch Pey Suan's interview in MediaCorp's "Baby Steps" (宝贝事儿一箩箩)! In this episode, she shares with parents useful tips on how to select a suitable infant care centre.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
Click the links below for more resources from ECDA to help you in your search for a pre-school!
Selecting a Kindergarten
Guide for Parents with Children in Child Care Centres