For Mrs Linda Liew, an infant educarer from MY World @Tiong Bahru View, a chance to volunteer at a friend’s child care centre 20 years ago ignited her passion for working with young children. She has not looked back since and encourages other mature ladies to join the early childhood sector.
Mrs Linda Liew, Lead Infant Educarer, MY World @ Tiong Bahru View
Mrs Linda Liew’s foray into the early childhood education sector first began as a favour for a good friend who needed help with setting up a child care centre. Being a hands-on person who loved children, she promptly agreed to help her friend with the centre’s operations, such as helping to care for the children as well as administrative matters.
As it turned out, the smiles and laughter of the kids proved too much of a draw for Mrs Liew – she has since gone on to forge a 20 year-career in the early childhood sector.
The 61-year-old is currently an infant educarer at MY World @ Tiong Bahru View. Mrs Liew, who has three daughters and five grandchildren, was part of the team that helped the child care centre launch its infant care services.
The infant care bay of MY World @Tiong Bahru View has a uniqueness about it – the walls of the centre are a little different from the usual. Covered with a variety of materials that have different colours and textures, the unique walls at MY World are part of the efforts to create a holistic and multi-sensorial learning environment, that is not limited to the usual reading of books and listening of songs. This new learning initiative was launched by MY World in 2016.
Mrs Liew is no stranger to multi-sensory environments. She said she first came across the concept several years ago when she visited a friend’s child care centre. Intrigued by the benefits that such learning spaces have, she has since sought to replicate the concept at home for her grandchildren, albeit on a smaller scale.
In order to contribute to this unique space at MY World, Mrs Liew said that she had gone to the library and visited numerous online sites to learn more about the concept. She even helped to create the necessary materials in her spare time, sometimes even enlisting the help of her grandchildren.
“In order to create this environment, my pre-school provided the funding and resources necessary. My principal also gave us a lot of ideas on what we can do in the infant room. We used a lot of recycled materials, such as sponges, bubble wrap, cardboard boxes and plastic bottles to create the textured wall and floor. These recycled materials were contributed by parents and teachers,” said Mrs Liew.
“These objects allow the children to feel and understand the difference between smooth and rough, and soft and hard. Other objects, such as wind chimes or mobiles that we make ourselves and hang on the window grilles, also teach children about different sounds, and all these things are multi-sensory learning platforms that facilitate the training of psychomotor skills.”
Dr Melinda Eng, an education consultant and a music educator at MY World, explained that such a learning environment is necessary because children are naturally inquisitive and rely on their senses to find out more about their environment and to seek comfort.
“The sensorial walls at MY World enhances learning by providing sensory stimulations that develop different parts of the brain; children engage in gathering information and processing them to understand what they see and feel in relation to how the adults describe them,” said Dr Eng.
Moreover, a multi-sensory environment can also help teachers to come up with a customised teaching approach to each child. Dr Eng said that as the children are exploring the textures and objects, teachers can observe what calms or rouses them, as well as what they like or dislike, before planning extended experiences to meet their needs better.
To add to this multi-sensory experience, Mrs Liew crafts toys from recycled cardboard and discarded items. Some of the toys she has created before include vehicles made by attaching wheels to a tissue box and five stones fashioned using cloth and beans.
While such a multi-sensory space is conducive to the learning process, the children are not simply left to their own devices. Mrs Liew explained that infant educarers have the responsibility of facilitating the exploration process by asking questions and reinforcing what is happening.
For instance, when a child is playing with a toy or exploring a particular surface through touch, educarers have to introduce vocabulary such as the size, shape, colour and texture of the toy or material.
“Infant educarers also have to be mindful of respecting the infants and toddlers’ choices and interests. We always let the infants and toddlers know what is happening during routines and play. If they are afraid to try new things, we do not put them down but encourage them and guide them along,” said MY World’s principal Jane Koh.
Despite her age, Madam Liew performs the same tasks as every educarer at MY World. Besides taking care of the children, she is also responsible for writing the teaching plans based on each infant’s needs. She also regularly interacts with the parents, updating them on their child’s progress in school and dealing with any concerns they might have.
When asked if a person of her age finds the workload too tough to handle, Mrs Liew said: “Our shifts can span from 7 am to about 4.30pm - it’s a pretty long day and it can definitely get tiring. But getting to work with the children and seeing those smiles on their faces is well worth it. In fact, the children make me feel young again!”
Being a mature educarer in school does come with benefits. For example, Mrs Liew has found that her colleagues afford her more respect because of her experience in the early childhood sector. Parents are also more receptive to her advice and assurances.
“I am able to apply the skills that I’ve gained as a grandmother to my job. I am familiar with routine care and care for the infants as my own. I can understand the parents and even grandparents easily as I myself have been through the same experience of being a parent and grandparent,” she said.
Mrs Liew also believes that sexagenarians like herself who have experience in caring for their grandchildren should consider becoming a part of the industry. The fulfilment of seeing a child grow up and achieve necessary developmental milestones is tremendous.
She noted that mature women without any experience in early childhood can also explore joining the sector. Several institutes are now offering courses that equip participants with the necessary knowledge and skills to be a qualified infant educarer. There is also the Allied Infant Educarer (AIE) programme announced by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) which allows new entrants to attain knowledge and skills through on-the-job training and coaching.
“All a person really needs for this job is patience, a love for children, readiness to learn and a decent fitness level. When will I retire? I’m not sure, really. I’ll probably work in this industry until no pre-school wants to hire me anymore!” quipped Mrs Liew.
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