Early childhood educators, driven by strong passion to give a good start for every child, can accomplish great things beyond the classroom. Two early childhood educators, Ms Debra Thang from St James Church Kindergarten (Gilstead) and Ms Wendy Yee from Canossaville Preschool share how they realised their dream of publishing a children’s book for preschoolers in Singapore.
Mindy’s First MRT Adventure tells the story of Mindy riding the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) for the first time with her father. The children’s book for four to six-year-olds was written by Chin Yu Teng, Debra Thang and Wendy Yee, early childhood graduates from Wheelock College - Singapore Institute of Technology.
Debra (left photo) and Wendy (right photo)
DRIVEN BY PASSION – A DREAM COME TRUE
The book started out as part of a coursework assignment for an early childhood curriculum module, but the young early childhood educators had greater ambitions for it. Yu Teng, Debra and Wendy envisioned a children’s book that would serve as a teaching resource for all preschools in Singapore. This stemmed from their observation that there is a lack of children’s books with local content here, as well as the urge to apply what they had learned in their early childhood course to contribute back to the sector.
The authors planned to create a story that children would enjoy and could relate to in their daily lives. As ‘transportation’ is a key thematic topic used in many preschools in Singapore, they figured that creating a children’s book about Singapore’s transportation system would incite excitement in the children and support fellow educators and parents in their engagement with children.
Beyond introducing preschoolers to Singapore’s public train system, ‘Mindy’s First MRT Adventure’ also imparts important values such as public courtesy and kindness.
Said Wendy, “We wanted to capture the beautiful wonder in children’s’ eyes and how they tend to see everything around them as an adventure through the book!”
When asked about the challenges they faced in making the book a reality, the authors recounted the difficult decisions they had to make regarding the book content, without compromising on the quality of the reading experience.
“Initially, we wanted to include facts about the MRT in the book, but decided against it as we did not want it to merely be a non-fiction book or fact-sheet for children,” Wendy shared. The authors eventually decided to adopt a narrative style and incorporated the facts into the storyline and illustrations.
Aside from a powerful narrative, the children’s book also needed meaningful illustrations to engage the children. Timeline was the next big challenge. As the book was also a school project, it needed to be completed within three weeks. The authors decided to go ahead with simple line drawings for their illustrations on the initial draft.
“Back then, we did not have enough time to fill in the colours of our drawings. Therefore, we pitched it as a story and colouring book for children - where children can read and fill in the colours on the train or during their MRT ride”, added Wendy with a laugh.
NO MAN IS AN ISLAND – CREATING SUCCESS THROUGH COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
’Mindy’s First MRT Adventure’ has come a long way from an initial coursework assignment. With the support of Land Transport Authority (LTA), ‘Mindy’s First MRT Adventure’ had an initial print run of 10,000 copies. The copies were made available to the public at more than 16 MRT stations at the launch of the Downtown Line in October 2017 and distributed to all preschools in Singapore.
Debra shyly admitted that it was daunting to send the first request to LTA for support. However, she pushed on with the belief that collaboration with community partners would make their book accessible to more children in Singapore. The authors’ passion for the book paid off when LTA agreed to come on board the project.
“I did not want for it to become yet another school project that ends up collecting dust on my shelf. Aside from early childhood, writing and illustration has always been my passion. I really wanted to realise my dream of publishing a children’s book. I truly believe in the book’s potential as a valuable resource for educators in preschools. I feel that there is a real gap in authentic local literary content for children and would like to play a part in helping to bridge this gap.”
“I felt like I was marrying my passion for design and my passion for kids,” Debra added with pride.
LTA also worked with the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to distribute physical copies of ‘Mindy’s First MRT Adventure’ to all preschools in Singapore.
The softcopy version of the book is also available for download on ECDA’s Grow@Beanstalk website.
USING THEIR PUBLICATION TO SUPPORT YOUNG CHILDREN’S LEARNING
The authors have since graduated from Wheelock College-SIT. Debra and Wendy have joined the early childhood sector, while Yu Teng, the third author, opted for a different career due to family reasons. Walking the talk, both Debra and Wendy actively use ‘Mindy’s First MRT Adventure’ in their own classrooms. They encourage the children to share their experiences, observations and their love for taking the train. They also use the book to develop the children’s critical thinking abilities by discussing topics such as values and appropriate behavior on the train and in public spaces.
“I have had parents come up to me telling me how their children love the book and insist they read it to them every night before bedtime!” chimes Wendy.
“For me, getting to hear from the children themselves on what they like about the book means everything. I am heartened what initially started out as a passion project has reached young children and their families in ways I could have only imagined!”
Ms Julia Conceicao, Wendy’s Principal at Canossaville Preschool, said that she was proud of Wendy. She also
“realised the potential of young early childhood educators in coming up with innovative and creative ideas that go beyond just teaching.”
“I think it’s amazing the way Wendy and her co-authors have planned and written (the book). These are things that children need to learn about – values, environment, and social skills. The book not only covered multiple topics, but its local content is also easy for the children to relate to.”
The authors also recalled the moment when they first received the physical copy of the book and a
feature article on the front page of the Straits Times. “It felt surreal to see the article featured in the newspaper and to hold the book in our hands for the very first time. We were blown away by the support. We almost cried!” shared Debra and Wendy.
Dr Jacqueline Chung, Debra’s Senior Principal at St. James’ Church Kindergarten proclaimed,
“I was delighted that Debra could experience the joy of seeing her creative efforts and ideas materialise in a children's book. She is an inspiration to the children that she teaches. Naturally, I was also eager to add the book to our kindergarten library collection of local books and have our teachers use it as a teaching resource. The text and illustration work well together to capture little details that children will notice when they ride on the MRT. The story line has a natural and easy conversational flow and allows teachers opportunities to highlight a variety of elements - from physical structures, signs and symbols, to appropriate social behaviour, safety, courtesy and values.”
Both authors feel that there is increasing recognition of the importance of early childhood education and are thankful for this.
“There is a strong support system available. It is important for educators to make use of the available resources, develop a support network and find like-minded people along the early childhood journey!” Wendy said.
“There are many ways for one to contribute to the early childhood sector and fill the gaps. Children are by nature full of curiosity and courage. Early childhood educators can do their part to empower them by setting a good foundation for critical thinking and a healthy appetite for risk-taking, which will stand them in good stead for the future.”
Early childhood educators, when driven by their passion for children, can contribute in wonderful ways aside from teaching. As testified by Debra,
“There really is no better time to dip your feet into the waters to see why the early childhood sector is an exciting place to be in.”
The authors were also featured in a Straits Times interview on 16 October 2017. Click to read the article ‘Book takes kids on MRT learning journey’.
Download the soft copy of Mindy’s First MRT Adventure here!
Click here for activity ideas from the authors on how to use ‘Mindy’s First MRT Adventure’ in the classroom!