Experiential learning can help children to better grasp key concepts and absorb lessons. To nurture a love for the Malay language in its pupils, PPIS Child Development Centre (Bukit Batok) has created a Malay Heritage Gallery filled with traditional items and developed fun word games and activities.
Madam Zulaihabe Talip and Ms Razanah Abdul Razak, the brains behind Taman Warisan at PPIS Bukit Batok.
Visit the Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS) Child Development Centre at Bukit Batok and you’ll find a spacious room filled with traditional Malay items such as the angklung, sanggul and songket, which are a musical instrument, hair accessory and fabric respectively.
The pre-school’s early childhood educators use the room and its many treasures to bring the Malay language, culture, heritage and history to life for their pre-schoolers, the majority of whom are from Malay families.
During the children’s weekly classes in the room, they can play traditional Malay games such as congkak, batu seremban and guli. They can also make simple Malay crafts such as bunga rampai and tanjak, and try on traditional Malay costumes and headgear. These and other activities help to nurture the children’s proficiency and love for the Malay language.
The many treasures in the Malay Heritage Gallery.
“We also set up special corners for the children to explore, and change the themes and activities every term. They might learn all about the tudung at one corner, for example, and about a traditional Malay wedding at another corner,” said Madam Zulaihabe Talip, the pre-school’s senior principal.
The room, which is called the Taman Warisan or Malay Heritage Gallery, is Mdm Zulaihabe’s brainchild. She came up with the idea after she sent two of her pre-school teachers to attend a Malay heritage workshop organised by National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
“We were supposed to set up a Malay Corner in our classrooms after the workshop. At first, we created a larger gallery in our school’s hallway for all of the teachers to use, but then we decided to clean up a room and turn it into a proper heritage gallery,” she said.
A strong parent-centre partnership contributed greatly to the establishment of the Malay Heritage Gallery.
Strong centre-partnership with the parents also contributed to the children’s heritage learning as many of the items in the gallery were contributed by the children’s parents. To enhance the children’s experiential learning, the pre-school’s teachers also used their personal trips to Malaysia and Indonesia to source for traditional materials not readily available in Singapore, such as traditional clogs and umbrellas.
Ms Razanah Abdul Razak, one of the pre-school teachers who attended the NHB-ECDA workshop and helped to set up the gallery, said that the children are “very excited” when they have classes in the gallery. As part of their experiential learning, she incorporates an element of role play to encourage the children to imagine what life was like for Malay people in the past.
“I once dressed up as a sultan and showed the children around my ‘castle’ in the gallery. We then had a feast using a large tray on the floor and I showed them how people washed their hands using a special jug,”she said.
The children can also role-play as shopkeepers of different ethnicities at ‘stalls’ with names such as Warung Sate Sedap, Kedai Sinseh Lee and Kedai Rempah Muthu. Such activities help them to learn about the connections between Malay culture and other cultures. It also encourages them to expand their creativity and practise problem-solving through the various role play scenarios.
In addition, while the children are in the room, they must communicate in the Malay Language, which helps them to become more fluent in the language. They also learn traditional Malay songs, rhymes and riddles, many of which are now rarely taught in other schools.
The children had an opportunity to role-play a traditional Malay wedding and through this experience, learn the cultural importance of certain wedding practices.
PPIS Bukit Batok also prepares take-home learning kits which parents can use to strengthen their children’s grasp of the Malay language. These kits include crossword puzzles and word-matching games that reinforce the Malay words that the children learned at school. They also foster parent-child bonding.
Several parents whose children attend the pre-school sang praises of its gallery and innovative activities.
Ms Nur Fadila, whose five-year-old daughter Mysha is in Kindergarten 2, said: “I think many Malay families are losing touch with their Mother Tongue because they speak mostly English at home. This gallery is a great initiative because it emphasises the importance of our Malay mother tongue and its history.”
Ms Siti Raziyah Ismail and her husband Shaiful Ezhar Mohamed Eshak donated their traditional angklung and kompang musical instruments to the gallery. Their four-year-old son Sayf is now in Kindergarten 1.
“Many Malay kids these days don’t know how to play with these traditional music instruments, so we wanted the children to have a chance to use them,” said Ms Siti.
“We were very pleased when we heard about the gallery because we need to cultivate knowledge about Malay culture and traditions in our children. That way, when they grow up, they will still know their roots and can carry those traditions forward,” she added.
She noted that the gallery has helped to bring three generations of her family closer together. “When the gallery opened, we actually went to our parents and asked them if they had this or that item. It’s very engaging,” she said.
The parents added that the pre-school’s teachers, including Ms Razanah, take pride in their work and have helped their children in many ways. “The teachers are very approachable and open about our children’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Ms Nur.
“Whenever we have doubts or questions, we can just come in and speak to the teachers. The communication is not restricted to just parent-teacher conferences,” said Ms Siti.
Ms Nuryani Mashud said that her seven-year-old daughter Nuralya had difficulty recognising numbers and letters before joining PPIS Bukit Batok in Kindergarten 2. She shared: “Ms Razana helped her to overcome those difficulties. She’s now in Primary One at a different school and she keeps asking if she can come back to PPIS.”
PPIS Bukit Batok’s work has inspired other pre-schools. In 2016, it took part in the Ministry of Education’s Mother Tongue Language (MTL) Symposium to showcase its Malay Heritage Gallery and experiential MTL learning curriculum.
Since the exhibition, Mdm Zulaihabe and her two colleagues have mentored two early childhood educators from PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots pre-schools in setting up their own heritage galleries and MTL learning curricula. She also regularly invites other pre-schools to visit its gallery for learning purposes.
She said: “This whole journey has been a learning point not just for the children and their parents, but also for me and the teachers, because we are all learning more about Malay culture and heritage.”