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If you look at the big picture, all the little failures along the way don't matter Mrs Zita Tan and Ms Bianca TanPebble Place Development Centre.

A Blessing in Disguise

This mother and daughter duo turn the tables on a learning disability, gaining invaluable perspectives to life instead of being hindered by it.

Bianca and Zita 
 

When Bianca Tan was a child, she couldn't quite understand why she would so easily forget what she had read just moments ago, or why words like 'band" would appear as "danb", or how "puppet" would become "quqqet".

Furthermore, the sentences on the page seemed to move about so constantly that she even had to use a ruler as a guide. Reading, not surprisingly, became a rather excruciating process, and this in turn impeded her ability to learn at the same pace as her peers. Her self-esteem took a huge battering. She struggled with overwhelming feelings of insecurity.

Dyslexia was the bane of her existance. But not anymore. Today, the 22-year-old has learned not only to embrace this condition, but also to make it her unique selling point and a powerful catalyst for self-improvement.

"The first thing I always tell interviewers is that I have dyslexia, and that it is my biggest weakness and strength. There's nothing to be shy about," she quipped. "It has in turn forced me to compensate in other areas. I'm very outspoken, have lots of creative ideas and I love experimenting with things."

Inspired by the patience and determination that her former early childhood teachers had for helping her, Bianca now wants to emulate them by helping children with special needs. She is currently pursuing a degree in Early Childhood at Wheelock College, thanks to a scholarship offered by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).


Bianca
 

The infectious positivity she emanates now can largely be attributed to the nature of her upbringing, which was centred not on the importance of chasing academic grades but the simple yet poignant philosophy of "being happy in life".

Her parents, Mrs Zita Tan and her husband, tackled the problem by playing to their daughter's strengths instead. This meant relieving their daughter of academic expectations, encouraging her passion for sailing and instilling in her a self-belief that she can still achieve success in life despite having dyslexia.

"If you look at the big picture, all the little failures along the way don't matter," said Zita. "Ultimately, children need to have a good time in school. Friends, self-esteem, being happy - these are much more important than grades."

Zita's approach worked wonders. Having been sailing since she was eight years old, Bianca quickly developed a love for the sport and even went on to represent her primary and secondary schools, winning medals every year at the inter-school competitions. She even briefly made the national team.

When she entered Temasek Polytechnic to pursue a Diploma in Early Childhood Education, the confidence that she had gained from her exploits at sea helped her to become the vice president of the student body's executive committee. The outspoken young lady also took part in inter-polytechnic forums as well as the Youth Model ASEAN Conference.

Bianca cites her mother as a huge source of inspiration. Zita who herself has been an early childhood educator for more than two decades, is currently the director of Pebble Place Development Centre.

Zita's passion for bringing out the best in children naturally rubbed off on Bianca, who has been helping out at Pebble Place over the years. But apart from this, Bianca was also constantly amazed by how resilient a woman her mother is. Besides having to run the child care centre for the past 17 years, Zita also had to care for, not one, but three children with special needs - Bianca's younger sister also has dyslexia while her younger brother has high-functioning autism.


Zita engaging parents at Baby SG 2016Zita
 

Despite these commitments, Zita still managed to obtain a diploma and degree in early childhood education. She also has a post-graduate certification in educational therapy from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore.

Indeed, her tenacity in chalking up various academic achievements reveal much about Zita's steadfast belief in life-long "learning" instead of "studying".

This philosophy to education and life has also come to define Pebble Place, its educational philosophy and pedagogy. Zita proudly says that the curriculum in her child care centre does not simply focus on teaching the alphabet and numbers, but rather, evoking the curiosity in kids.

"At my school, the kids don't study - they learn. The key to teaching a child is motivation. When children have the desire to learn, they can do anything," said Zita.

Committed to providing the children at Pebble Place with the best education possible, Zita adopts a dynamic, ever-changing curriculum that is tailored to suit every batch of students. The early childhood teachers at Pebble Place aren't given lesson materials to follow - they are encouraged to evaluate the nature and interest of each child before tailoring a suitable programme for them.


ZitaBianca as Santa
 

For example, last year's nursery children got the chance to experience a theatre performance because Zita found that many of the children responded to such cognitive learning well. "This year's outing, which has yet to be planned, will also take into account the interests of this new batch of children," said Zita.

Every year, Zita also goes the extra mile for the kindergarten children by hosting an annual overnight camp at her home. The camp always makes for a moving and memorable experience. Zita gets to witness how much the children have grown since joining Pebble Place. It is often the simplest of actions, like helping one another fold their blankets and mattresses in the morning that puts a smile on Zita's face.


Zita and Bianca at Pebble Place
 

When asked what drives her to go above and beyond her job scope to do this, Zita refers to the very same philosophy that she raised her children on.

"We need to be happy - that's what we teach in the school. You want the children to remember more happy times than bad times," she said.

"To be honest, if my own children do not have the learning disabilities that they do, I doubt the school would operate in this manner."

And therein lies the beautiful irony in this tale - though dyslexia impedes the conventional learning process, this mother and daughter duo has actually gained a profound, alternative perspective to life because of it.

In fact, it could even be considered a gift.

After all, a significant percentage of those working in NASA suffer from dyslexia. The organisation is known for actively recruiting such individuals as studies have shown that people with dyslexia possess a proclivity to think out of the box.

"That's what I've been telling my daughters all this time," said Zita. "Even though you have dyslexia, you're still very smart. Dyslexia is a gift!"

This gift has made it possible for Bianca to grow to be the person that she is today. This positive philosophy and experience to development and learning, is what both Bianca and Zita share, as daughter and mother. 

Bianca's story was featured in The Straits Time on 3 November 2016. Be inspired by her resilience in transforming her dyslexia into a gift for supporting the learning and development of young children with special needs.


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