It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

From making learning fun for children to engaging their parents, an early childhood principal's approach to early childhood education has won the admiration and respect of children, parents and colleagues.

Mrs Mabel Ng-Lee, Principal, Pebble Place Child Development Centre

Ms Loong Shih Huey hadn't either, when her child first sang it to her one day in 2009 after coming home from Pebble Place Development Centre in Tanjong Katong. But when her third child, who also goes to Pebble Place, sang her the same song, Ms Loong could see why her children could relate to it.

Sung to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", the song teaches children that traffic lights are meant to guide drivers and pedestrians alike, and road users should always pay attention to the colours of the lights.

"Twinkle, twinkle, traffic light, guiding us both day and night. Red means stop, green means go, yellow means, very slow," Ms Loong recalled with a laugh.

Mrs Mabel Ng-Lee, the centre's principal, had thought of this variation of the well-loved children's song. It is but one way in which Pebble Place hopes to make learning fulfilling and enjoyable for children.

Through songs, speech, drama and lively story-telling sessions -- which Mrs Mabel is known for -- children gain an interest in stories and reading, and develop language in a broader perspective with insights to life, values and relationships.

Songs, speech & drama and lively story-telling sessions - Mrs Mabel's choice strategy to develop children's interest in language and literacy.

"I think Mrs Mabel is an excellent educator - her love for speech and drama, and sense of fun, really make a difference in helping the children to learn," said Ms Loong.

This approach to literacy is something Mrs Mabel takes seriously. "I try to reach out to not only the children, but also their parents. I bring all of them to where I want to go, which is through hands-on, play-based learning. Not worksheet based, pencil and paper work," she said.

Mrs Mabel strongly believes that children learn best through hands-on, play-based learning.

"I don't want the kids to grow up only knowing numbers and ABC's, and miss out on the finer things in life. Smelling the flowers along the way is very important to me as it allows the children to explore the world around them. Penning down their learning will allow multi-disciplinary learning to take place."

This determination stemmed out from her own concern for her daughter when she was still in playground in the late 1990s. Mrs Mabel was a primary school teacher then. Only day, her daughter came back with some worksheets, asking Mrs Mabel how they should be completed.

"I had a shock! She's supposed to be in a playgroup, but look at what she came back with. At 2 and a half years old, she's meant to know what's two plus one and two plus two? I'm a teacher and I'm trying to make lessons fun for my students, and yet my daughter is going through this?" she said. "I felt very torn."

It was then that Mrs Mabel toyed with the idea of setting up a pre-school that provided alternative approaches to education.

By 1999, preparations were underway, and Pebble Place officially opened its doors in 2000.

Mrs Mabel summarised her thinking at that time, "If you want your child to be tip-top at spelling, this is probably not the school. But this is the school that helps them to take ownership of their learning, and makes it enjoyable and fulfilling for them."

Self-help skills, confidence and ability to take ownership of their own learning. These are all part of Mrs Mabel's hopes for the children from her pre-school.

Part of this approach entails treating each children as distinct individuals. This way, they can pick up new skills and knowledge in a way that best suits their characters, and in the process gain confidence and independence, said Mrs Mabel.

Parents of students at Pebble Place can attest to this. "Mrs Mabel has a good understanding of the children's needs and is very receptive to feedback. She understands that each child is a unique individual going through unique circumstances," said Mr Kelvin Lee, another parent.

But while she is focused on making learning fun for the children, Mrs Mabel said that over the years, her interactions with parents have become the "greater part" of her work.

Now, there are more families where both parents work full-time, said Mrs Mabel. With less time spent at home teaching their children, parents invariably hope that teachers equip their children with as much knowledge as they can.

As such, Mrs Mabel realises that she also needs to manage parents' expectations, and even give parenting tips. This way, parents can understand that children who attend Pebble Place can still have fun while learning.

"Their child is not a commodity to be boasted about to relatives, their child is to be loved as well," said Mrs Mabel.

Beyond parenting tips, Mrs Mabel sometimes also finds herself having to give advice on how the parents treat each other. She has met husbands and wives who do not talk much with each other at parent-teacher conferences, and who do not have a clear picture of how their children are progressing at school.

In Mrs Mabel's view, each member of the family must treat each other with love and respect, so that the child can grow up in a caring environment. "When the parents love each other and show it, the children can see and sense it, and they will grow up to be more confident and empathetic," she said. "It takes a whole village to raise a child."

It is because of this belief that the school actively encourages parents to be a part of their children's activities at Pebble Place.

For example, parents are invited to join the children on outings, and the teachers will make sure that there are activities that involve parents. Mrs Mabel will also take the opportunity to chat with parents on how their children are faring in school.

On another occasion, the children set up a sandwich bar in school and invited their parents over. Sandwiches were sold and proceeds went to the Singapore Children's Society.

"This way, parents are not only involved in what the children learn at school., but through their involvement in this charity event, teach their children empathy and gratitude," said Mrs Mabel.

Mrs Mabel's approach to a child's education has definitely stuck a chord with the children and parents. They see their children enjoying their time at Pebble Place, and also the company of Mrs Mabel and the teachers there.


"Mrs Mabel has definitely shaped our children's understanding of life. She has given them a desire to learn and at the same time, good grounded values. She has made them curous and fun-loving and not just book smart. I think she has the gift of inculcating important values in the children just by her daily interactions with them," said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee has three children who have attended, or are attending the school. Likewise, Ms Loong has sent all her four children - aged between three and 15 - to Pebble Place.

Mrs Zita Tan, the co-founder of Pebble Place, can attest to the impact that Mrs Mabel has left on the children's -- and their parents' - lives over the 17 years since they started Pebble Place together. "I think you can say many mothers and fathers have been 'transformed' and consoled by her," she said.

Her work at Pebble Place goes beyond just education, but truly enriching lives of young children and their families." ~ Mrs Zita Tan, Director, Pebble Place Child Development Centre.

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