Thursday, September 6, 2012

Play or Cram?

This article appeared in the Sunday Times on 2 Sep 2012. It was sparked off by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally where he asked parents not to overwork their pre-schoolers by sending them for tuition. In the article, we see parents whose kids have not had a single day of tuition before Primary 1. At the same time, we see parents who've signed their kids up for classes with the hope that they will be well prepared for Primary 1. Some parents who do not believe in these extra classes feel that the kids will not have time for play if they start attending such classes from young. So are the parents who do send their children for 'extra' classes turning them into 'study machines'? I suppose a balance is required.

Nathan is turning 3 in a week's time. Since the  beginning of this year, he has been attending pre-nursery playgroup for 3 hours in the morning. In addition to that, for 3 out of 5 weekdays, he attends enrichment classes in the afternoons. During the school holidays, I sign him up for various school holiday programs. Am I robbing him of his childhood? I do not think so. He enjoys school in the mornings and looks forward to his enrichment classes. He is learning through purposefully designed activities. Although I do (sometimes) get the... "I want mommy to go to class with me... mommy, I don't want to go...", I know he stops fussing 2 minutes after I drop him off, and he has fun the rest of the time. When I pick him up, he's usually all smiles, and all excited to show me what he did/made in class that day.

For Nathan, this is his routine on a typical weekday.

Pre-Nursery Playgroup
In Singapore, most kids start their pre-school education the year they turn 4. The kindergarten that I enrolled Nathan in gives parents the option of pre-nursery playgroup, which starts the year the child turns 3. By the way, I am one of those parents who registered my child for a kindergarten when he was just a couple of months old. I did my research on kindergartens, their values, their curriculum, their facilities, their locations etc and decided on the one I wanted my kids to attend. This 'popular' kindergarten we chose accepts registrations as soon as a birth certificate is available. Nathan is a September baby, so we actually did not stand much chance in getting him a spot. But thankfully, we managed. The registration process was hassle free too. I called to make an enquiry, was told to print out a form which I can download from their website, mail it in with a cheque (registration fees & deposit), and that's all that is required. About a week later, I received a receipt and confirmation that Nathan's got a spot.

Nathan's class has 14 students (including him). Teacher-student ratio is 1:7. Aside from English, Mathematics, Chinese and Art, he also has sand play, water play, outdoor play included in his time table. He learns independence, turn taking, social skills as he interacts with his teachers and peers. Once in a while, they will celebrate a classmate's birthday. Birthday song, cake cutting, goody bags... all kids love birthdays. Being a kindergarten built on Christian values, he attends chapel once a week, where he gets to hear bible stories and sing songs about God. I think his morning is well spent in school.

Enrichment Classes
Three days a week, Nathan attends enrichment classes. At this age, he is like a sponge, learning at an amazing pace. I like that his time is meaningfully occupied. Having him in class also allows me some time to catch up on my work, run errands... and take a breather. 

Julia Gabriel EduDrama Program
Once a week, Nathan goes for classes at Julia Gabriel Centre. The class duration is 1 1/2 hours. Through interactive story telling, speech & drama, as well as art & craft, his English language and communication skills is nurtured. Nathan particularly enjoyed the school holiday program I signed him up for in June. He made goggles and a shovel which he used while pretending to look for treasures buried underwater. I read to him daily, usually before nap time and bed time. He clearly loves books and can remember all the stories which he has read before. He is able to draw associations and narrate the stories by himself. Just looking forward to him being able to read by himself.

As a student, I really struggled with Chinese in school. I spent much time learning 听写 and still ended with tons of 改正 to do. No matter how hard I studied for 听写, I just couldn't remember how to write all the words that I was expected to know. My 听写 exercise books were always used up really quickly because I had to use many pages for 改正. I wasted spent so much time on Chinese in school; time which can be better spent on other stuff if I was better at the language. Not wanting Nathan to struggle like I did, I made it a point to get him started early. After attending classes at Berries, and us spending some time reading Chinese story books and revising the words he learnt, Nathan can now recognise all the Chinese words in the picture below. Each week, he learns at least 2 new Chinese words. Story time and craft time is also incorporated in class. I was told that Berries is more academic driven and some older kids might not find the classes enjoyable. Well, for now... Nathan enjoys the classes and has learnt to recognise so many Chinese words. I certainly hope that he will not struggle (like I did) with the Chinese language when he starts school proper.

Chengzhu Mandarin Centre
In addition to Chinese classes at Berries, Nathan also attends classes at Chengzhu. Chengzhu seeks to nurture a love for Mandarin and its classes appear to be more fun and 'laid back' as compared to Berries. Last term, the theme was animals. Nathan learnt the names of animals and is able to identify the animal (picture) when told its Chinese name. There is no emphasis made on character recognition, unlike Berries. Dramatization and songs are incorporated to reinforce learning, so they'll sing animal songs and hop around like kangaroos for instance. I thought I should not make learning the Chinese language such a dread for him, so I included this class which is supposedly more fun. 

On days that he does not have classes, we will spend time learning thru play. Either playing with toys at home or baking cookies. Some days, he will be running errands with me... going to the bank, or to the post office, or to the supermarket to pick up groceries. I enjoy having him as company as I go about doing the things I need to do, though having him does slow me down some days.

During the school holidays, when he does not attend pre-nursery playgroup in the mornings, I will sign him up for other school holiday programs. Like this week, he is attending an art camp at Abrakadoodle. He's liking it thus far. Tomorrow's the last day of the camp, and I get to see all the art work that he's created.

In the evenings, we usually have dinner at home and spend some time with his grand parents or cousins. After that, it's shower time, story time and he's in bed before 9pm.

In time, I intend to introduce sports and music lessons. Will probably start with swimming and violin/piano. Do drop me a note if you have recommended swimming coaches or music teachers. I am interested in group classes... preferably parent accompanied ones for violin/piano.

I have made it a point not to schedule classes on weekends so we can spend time together as a family. Weekends are times when we'd go on simple outings (to the beach, to the zoo, to the museums, kite flying... ) and just enjoy spending time with one another.

So with his sort of routine, do you think I am depriving him of his childhood? He enjoys the classes and his time is meaningfully spent.

What's your take? Will you send your kids for enrichment classes?


  1. Hi, does Nathan attend the language learners programme at Chengzhu? I'm trying to decide between Berries and Chengzhu for my girl at N2. Is the standard at Berries or Chengzhu higher? I need to ensure that she is prepared for higher Chinese at P1 and we don't speak Mandarin at home. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Summerempress,
      Nathan has attended Language Learners at Chengzhu when he was in N1. Then, I let him attend both Chengzhu and Berries. This year, I've decided to pull him out of Chengzhu. If your intent is preparation for P1, I think Berries would be a better choice. Chengzhu creates the environment for loving the language, but unless you attend the daily program, I think it won't be sufficient. Berries might not be as fun as Chengzhu but at N1, the kids already start learning character recognition. They learn two characters/phrases each week. At the end of the N1 year, Nathan was able to recognise/read over 100 characters.

    2. Thanks very much for your views Ling! Much appreciated. Did you revise new words with Nathan during the week?

    3. Hi Summerempress, I laminated the word cards from Berries (the kids bring home 2 new word cards every week) and use those to revise with Nathan often. I'll just get him to read me the cards before nap time, just to make sure it remains in his memory bank. :)

      Have you registered you child? Some centres have really long wait lists, especially for the popular time slots!

  2. Yes I have just registered my daughter with Berries today! Thanks for all your good advice :)

  3. Hi !! I read your blog with interest. Which kindergarden did your boy go? Im looking for Christian based kindy too.

    1. hi diana, thanks for dropping by. perhaps you can drop me an email instead? just click the email icon on my right side bar. :)

  4. It is a nice post indeed. In my opinion preschool is good for kinder as they learn so many things from their childhood which can help them later in their life too make them a good person, personally and professionally too.

  5. Hi,

    I'm interested to send my kid to berries as I want to have a good foundation. Can check what is the class size and teacher to student ratio compared to chengzhu?

    1. Class size for berries is bigger, though it does depend on location and time slot.