Strong parent-teacher partnerships in the early years are strong building blocks in giving children a good start in life. Two parents share how their rapport with their children's pre-school teacher, Ms Beth, has benefited not only their children, but them as well.
Ms Bethanie Wong, Early Childhood Teacher, Orion Preschool
When three-year-old Darsh Kaul joined the Orion Preschool in November 2015, he was barely speaking at home. His mother, Madam Meenakshi, was worried and wondered if her son would be able to cope with being around strangers.
"Other children his age were already talking so much, but he would utter only a few words like 'mama' and 'papa' even when he was at home," she said.
Within a few months of his enrollment, however, he had blossomed into a sociable child who spoke in full sentences and was excited to go to pre-school. This dramatic change, Madam Meenakshi believes, was due to his teacher, Ms Bethanie Wong Kai Shi -- fondly known to the children as Ms Beth -- and the pre-school's good relationship with the children's parents.
To draw Darsh out of his shell, Ms Beth spoke to Madam Meenakshi to find out which words and songs he liked, so that she could use these as a conversational hook to encourage him to participate in class. She also regularly checked with Madam Meenakshi whether Darsh was using the new words he had learned in pre-school at home.
"Ms Beth is a very caring teacher," Madam Meenakshi said. "She understands the power of touch, kind words, hugs and smiles, and those are the things that children look for. When she's talking to Darsh, she bends down to his height, talks slowly and crinkles her eyes in a smile."
She added, "She always gives me updates about what he's doing in pre-school. From a boy who says just one to two words, he's now speaking in full sentences. I know my child is happy in the class, and that's really what matters."
Other parents also highlighted Ms Beth's efforts to build a good relationship with them and their children. Madam Johanna Tan said that her three-year-old Lara had cried a lot and refused to go to school when she joined Orion in January 2016. Lara had been "very attached" to a teacher at her previous pre-school, which unfortunately closed down.
Ms Beth, after speaking with Madam Tan and her family members, discovered that Lara likes to be called a princess, and used that to build a bond with her. Madam Tan noted, "During Lara's first week in the school, Ms Beth rang me every day during lunch time to give me an update on what Lara was doing, what worked with her, and what didn't work."
Even now, Ms Beth checks with Lara's parents to find out how their child feels about her time in pre-school. If Lara mentions to her parents that she had a quarrel with a friend in class, they will discuss the problem with Ms Beth on how they can help the two children resolve it.
"Lara takes a while to warm up to people, but Ms Beth and the pre-school were very patient and nice to her. Now she's used to Ms Beth and says she loves her very much. Probably the only reason she goes to pre-school now is because she likes Ms Beth!" Madam Tan said with a laugh.
Despite her love for children, Ms Beth almost did not become an early childhood educator. The 25-year-old had graduated from Republic Polytechnic with a diploma in New Media but felt a different calling.
"I enjoyed being with children more than being with computers," She shared.
She joined the early childhood sector after graduation and worked there for three years, earning a professional diploma in early childhood care and education from SEED Institute in the meantime. Seeking to improve herself, she also recently completed a bachelor of early childhood studies programme offered by Australia's Monash University in Singapore.
When asked about the secret of her success with children, Ms Beth laughed and said that she simply tries to understand them, and that communication with their parents is key.
"I'm pretty detailed when it comes to finding out what they like and dislike. If a child comes to school and cries, I know he likes toy cars, I'll offer him a toy car to play with to soothe and distract him," She shared.
"The main thing as an early childhood teacher is to know your children. Once you have built a bond with them and they trust you, things will be smoother," she added.
She also keeps parents informed of their children's progress in pre-school, sometimes on a daily basis. She even encourages them to call her if they have questions or concerns about pre-school-related matters.
"It's better for parents to talk to the teacher on the phone, if not face-to-face. Verbal contact is very important because emails and texts can be misread or misunderstood."
Both Madam Meenakshi and Madam Tan said their children have become more attentive and happier in class. Madam Meenakshi marveled, "Darsh is a super active child and he never used to sit still in one place. But now he will sit in class and listen to Ms Beth. He also never used to sleep during the day time, but now he does. From a hyperactive child who had a lot of tantrums, he has calmed down a lot and is happy."
Ms Beth talks to parents as friends, with the understanding that they both want the best for the children (L to R: Madam Meenakshi and Darsh; Madam Tan and Lara).
Madam Tan shared that Lara cannot wait to go to school now, adding, "Whatever she does during the weekend, she's very excited to go to pre-school and tell Ms Beth. You can tell that Ms Beth takes a genuine interest in her job and is very enthusiastic. When we pick up Lara after school, MS Beth always tells her, 'Don't forget to bring your smile tomorrow!' "
Ms Beth said she talks to the parents as friends, with the understanding that they both want the best for the children. She said of her philosophy, "Keep things casual and informal, share things about their children's behaviour, and likes and dislikes in class, and ask lots of questions. That's how they know that you care."
Bethanie's story was also featured in Minister Tan Chuan-Jin's blog post at MSF Conversations and Lianhe Zaobao! Click the thumbnails below to read more.