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CHARACTER BUILDING THROUGH HANDS-ON LEARNING - THE EXPLORERS

The first of its kind in Singapore, a new uniformed group for preschoolers introduced early this year has helped children at St Paul's Church Kindergarten learn valuable lessons in humility, resilience, discipline and integrity.

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Over the past few months, six-year-old Robin Peter has been making a conscious effort to greet his neighbours, speak politely, and eat his vegetables.

He is one of 180 K1 and K2 children from St Paul's Church Kindergarten (SPCK) who are part of a unique programme called The Explorers, the first uniformed group designed for preschoolers in Singapore. Developed by the Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade Singapore, together with the kindergarten, the programme encourages children to develop a curiosity about the world around them, to be sensitive towards others, and to inculcate values and qualities such as resilience, humility, leadership and discipline.

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'The Explorers Programme' was developed by St Paul's Church Kindergarten, together with Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade Singapore, to support character building in preschool children

Robin's mother, Mrs Bharathi Peter, has noticed a change in her son since the programme was started in January this year. She said, "We ran into a neighbour recently and Robin greeted him with, 'Good evening, Uncle. How are you? How was your day?' We were all a little surprised because usually he would just say hello quite casually."

Mrs Bharathi Peters and son Robin
Mrs Bharathi Peters and her son, Robin

"He's been very conscious of his actions, to make sure that he's walking the talk, and living out the values that he has learnt in school. He will sometimes turn to me and ask, 'Mummy, was I behaving responsibly?'"

The Explorers, conducted every Thursday for 90 minutes, is not a co-curricular activity. It has been incorporated into the kindergarten's curriculum. Children are required to wear a uniform during the session - yellow caps and blue vests.

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Children are required to wear a uniform during the session.

The idea first came about when Ms Michele Koh, SPCK's principal, was looking for a character development programme for the children last year. Her senior teacher then shared with her the existence of a uniformed group for preschoolers in Hong Kong. Together, they approached the Boys' Brigade for help to develop a similar programme here. The Girls' Bridgade was subsequently brought on board as well.

"We wanted something that tied in with the school's mission and vision of nurturing fit and healthy children who are kind and compassionate, with enquiring minds and bold imaginations," said Ms Koh.

The programme includes hands-on activities such as nutrition workshops, sports, obstacle games, and an adventure camp where children will learn simple skills such as cooking a meal, basic household chores and grocery shopping. They also learn first aid, and participate in community  service. The children earn badges and awards for completing various tasks and displaying positive values such as responsibility and integrity.

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The children learn how to cook a meal during 'Nutritionist Month'

 

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Obstacle games and courses are also part of supporting children's holistic development through 'The Explorers' programme

Ms Koh said that the children have been enthusiastic about the activities, and earning awards helps give them a sense of belonging, ownership and pride. Parents, too, welcome the programme as some activities have left a deep and lasting impression on them. One parent, Madam Jane Cheong, was particularly moved when the children were asked to wash the feet of their peers to commemorate Good Friday.

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A lesson on humility - washing the feet of their peers

"I think The Explorers was significant because it taught my daughter Emma the value of humility, and how to care and serve," said Madam Cheong. "Through this programme, she has learnt the importance of honesty, even calling me on her own accord one day to confess that she had broken something at home."

Jane and Emma
Mdm Jane Cheong and her daughter, Emma

Some parents hope that such a programme can be introduced island-wide and even to younger children. "It would be beneficial if such activities can start in nursery," said Mrs Peter. "Inculcating the right values early is important because ultimately, we are defined by our values and that's what ensures our future happiness and success. We want our children to grow up as compassionate and caring individuals."

 

CHARACTER BUILDING

Another parent, Madam Goh Kim Pei, also feels it is important for children to build strong characters through fun, experiential activities instead of simply learning through books. She, too, has noticed that her six-year-old daughter Sarah has become more responsible after joining the programme, and now takes better care of her own belongings.

Mdm Goh Kim Pei and daughter Sarah
Mdm Goh Kim Pei and her daughter, Sarah

Their views echo the findings of a 2014 nationwide survey conducted by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and SIM University, were most of the 3,800 parents with young children interviewed ranked moral and character development higher than academic achievements and materials success. More than 90 per cent of parents surveyed wanted their children to have a happy life, to be gracious and caring, to get along well with others, to be useful, independent and confident individuals, and to be good citizens.

Part of the success of The Explorers programme hinges on active parental involvement. "Children look to teachers and parents as role models, and that is why it is important for parents to be heavily involved," said Ms Koh. "For example, for a child to earn a nutritionist award, he ro she has to complete certain stipulated tasks with their parents at home, such as having a balanced diet and exercising. Parents have to sign off in the booklet we give them."

Ms Koh hopes to grow the programme by involving external partners. The kindergarten is planning to work with community partners to get the children and parents to pack goodie bags and distribute them to the destitue elderly who live alone, and to conduct workshops where the young explorers will make terrariums with the elderly. The kindergarten has also recently come on board ECDA's Start Small Dream Big initiative, which encourages children to give back to the community.

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All activities in 'The Explorers' Programme are designed to be hands-on for the kids

"All these activities are designed to be very hands-on for the kids, with the parents serving as their guide. That's the best way to learn," said Ms Koh. "We want the children to feel empowered, and to know that in showing consideration towards others, they can be a blessing to the people around them."