Parents, you play a part too!
April 24, 2010, 12:39 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education a teacher working with very young children, I have seen children imitating behaviour of the adults they are in direct contact with. However at times when they do so, their parents disagree with the conduct and make scapegoats out of their fellow classmates.

While it is true that children do learn from each other, I think that such denials from parents with regards to their influence over their young ones should stop. In fact they should begin to reflect upon their own behaviour and realise that alot of the ‘negative’ behaviour observed from their children actually comes from home.

One good example is a boy I met two years ago. He was four then and was one of the sweetest four year old I have met. However he will start hitting his classmates in a really violent and uncontrollable manner whenever he became angry. No amount of so called counselling and time out could soften him in that regard. So one day I asked him why he had to hit his friends whenever he was angry and this was what he said,

“My mummy also hits me when she is angry. Daddy hits me when he is angry. I hit my classmates when I am angry. It is correct, I am not wrong.”

So I explained to him that there are many other ways to solving problems and conflicts. Hurting someone else in the form of physical actions is not the only solution. In fact that will lead to more problems. His reply to that was that talking about problems will not help him. I asked him why and he told me,

“Because mummy says that when she canes me. Talking so much (is a) waste (of) time.”

When I gave my feedback to his mother that evening, she actually told me that her child was just making her as an excuse because he did not want to get my other students into trouble. She insisted that he was influenced by the older children in the childcare and that “all parents beat their children”.

I was truly appalled by that. Not only had she fail to reflect upon herself, she blamed the schoolmates for her child’s behaviour. To make things worse, she was (and still is) an educator herself.

Personally, I think that parents should try to understand that teachers have the responsibility to update them on their children and the feedback does not necessarily have to be all positive.

There is nothing wrong with a seemingly negative feedback. If teachers are to sweep behavioural problems, learning difficulties and various other concerns under the carpet just so as not to offend the parents, it is never to the benefit of the children.

It is to my believe that parents and teachers should work hand in hand for the well being of the children.

Teachers should not worry about losing their jobs or getting a warning just because they express a concern with regards to their students’ behaviour and such. Neither should parents come along with a sensitive ego when it comes to feedback that they view as negative, resulting in a defensive stance and blaming every other people instead of understanding the issue and how they actually do play a part in both the problem and the solution.


The SPICE of early childhood education (Part 4)
August 23, 2009, 3:19 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education

(Written for SDP’s website)

kidstuffHave you ever wondered if the girl having an interesting conversation with her doll needs a psychological review? Have you also wondered if the boy telling you that his toy brick tried to gobble him up earlier on may be hallucinating? Or have youbeen annoyed by your cousin’s three-year-old bugging you with endless questions everytime you meet. Either that or you have probably been worried that your child might grow up to be a great big liar just because she has been filling you with untruths.

Now may I invite you to stop for a wee moment to cast all your little worries and annoyances aside and think out of the box.

Creativity in early childhood

Being creative helps children make connections between concepts and thus developing a better understanding of the world around them. Besides that, it also helps children find ways of expressing themselves, their thoughts and developing new ideas and perspectives.

Here is a summary on the stages of creative development in children from birth to the age of 6. Please bear in mind that the ages stated are general estimates and that each child develops at varying paces.

0 to 2
  • absorbing information about surroundings and new objects using their five senses which always result in prolonged gazing, touching (exploration of textures and temperatures), holding, throwing and putting (often inedible) objects into the mouth
  • explore different ways of communication using sounds and gestures to garner reactions
  • light scribbling may emerge towards the end of this stage if materials are made available
2 to 3
  • the exploration of new and unfamiliar materials continues
  • scribbling starts to take place and each line or dot or a marking might represent an object, a place, a person etc.
  • name scribbles whether pre-intended or spontaneously, when asked by adults what the scribbles mean
  • symbolic and imaginative play starts to occur and simple objects like a toy brick may become a ferocious monster and a basketball may become a giant fishball
  • along with the emergence of speech, children might first attempt to make simple stories from pictures using words, that will gradually lead to putting additional details when relating events past, most of the time due to their own imagination of the situations (shouldn’t be misunderstood as lying)
  • develop a sense of spatial relations but might not be able to accurately articulate (on, under, in, out…)
  • attempts to create their own movements in response to music will begin
3 to 4
  • children begin to create with specific intentions more often, for example, the desire to illustrate members of the family or any other objects
  • role play occurs and children may start putting themselves in the role of a doctor nursing a sick patient (rag doll or fellow peers) for example
  • more details will arise in their stories
  • children will begin to find simple solutions to problems such as how to build a higher tower with their building blocks
  • children will also find new ways to position objects, co-ordinate colours in their drawings or paintings, new uses for familiar objects
  • group games consisting of dramatic content occurs
4 to 5
  • find ways to explain accidental creations
  • dramatizing a particular situation or emotion and attempting to involve and direct fellow peers in the drama and their roles begins
  • graphic symbols may come to represent specific objects or concepts (e.g., a heart shape to represent love)
  • story telling becomes more detailed and complicated
5 to 6
  • developing a personal style in their drawings, dramatic play and movements in response to music
  • illustrates and creates specifically for example, drawing a portrait of a best friend and making birthday cards for members of the family
  • drawings become more complex and detailed, sometimes with minute details like the rough texture of the tree or decorative lines on the legs of a table
  • able to script out and dramatize a story or a particular situation with emotions and expressions included
  • dramatic play becomes more complex, with every possible objects in the surroundings being utilized, for example, books will become cakes or cookies and placed in between the gaps of stacked up chairs to be ‘baked in the oven’
  • able to create imaginative objects from scrap materials when encouraged
  • replacing words of familiar songs to create new songs, sometimes with intentions to make fun of fellow peers in the name of fun and laughter

Encouraging creativity development

The encouragement and development of creativity in early childhood is important to aid learning and is often nurtured at best with a supportive attitude towards their endless curiosity, often wild imaginations and such.

As matured adults, we sometimes view the imaginations and games of the young ones as silly and ridiculous. In our own ‘experienced and grown up’ perspective, we may tend to judge them a little too critically, making discouraging comments or gestures that might in turn end up frustrating their young minds.

Keeping in mind that they are going through a period of trying to understand this bizarre world, we should play the role of facilitators and sometimes, as their playmates to go along with their dramatizations, no matter how silly or ridiculous you think it may be.

Employing an encouraging attitude as well as providing a wide range of materials that allow for exploration, imagination and dramatization, children will thrive to become creative individuals. The materials need not be expensive.

Children will be happy enough to be given a bucket of water along with cups and bottles to play with or scrap materials to create according to their imagination. This should in fact continue even when the child reaches beyond pre-schooling age as creativity should always be encouraged and nurtured but of course, the materials provided must be age and interest appropriate by then.

Here are some examples of situations and suggested actions you can take to help encourage creativity:

When a child puts an object into his mouth, instead of reprimanding him, what one can do is to simply explain in very simple words and dramatic gestures (e.g., pretend to choke) why you stop him as well as suggest new ways of finding out what the object is like (e.g., guiding him to touch the edges of the object). If the object is huge and the child is not in danger of choking upon it, just let it happen while at the same time explaining that the object is dirty or inedible. Just be patient and be prepared to repeat this several times until they stop doing so and start trying to put objects into their noses or ears instead. (And then you will have to start all over again!)

When a child shows you his ‘nonsensical’ scribbling, ask the child to explain what the scribbling represents using questions such as “What did you draw?”, “Who is this?” (when it is said to represent people) instead of “Did you draw a giraffe?”, “Is this a ball?” or “Did you draw daddy wearing his pair of blue jeans?”. Always keep questions open ended and let the child tell you what the scribble represents. Do not be bothered if it all doesn’t make any sense to you. It will be encouraging for her if you can listen patiently.

When a child tells you that his toy brick tried to gobble him up, instead of being a party pooper and putting him back into reality, play along! Ask him how the brick tried to gobble him up, when and why. Get him to tell you the story, and just have a good laugh with him later on when he is older.

When a child informs you that his friend bit him and you found that to be untrue, try to find out from him how it happened. Then ask how why no bite marks could be found and let him realize that he imagined it.

Children imagine possible future consequences and articulate them out as if they actually happened. Some may even get emotional about their imaginations and might start crying as they relate the ‘incident’ to you. Don’t accuse any child of lying but inform the child of the consequences of lying. Say something like: “Complaining to me about something that your friend did not do to you will get him into trouble. Will you like it if they do the same to you?”

When a child informs you that you are a wicked witch, be a wicked witch. Turn him into a frog and get him to pretend to be like one too.

When a child changes the lyrics of a song to make fun of his peers, suggest new ways of changing the lyrics to something more positive, but make it fun and get him to participate in coming up with new lyrics.

When a child asks you one question too many, you can dramatically yawn and fall asleep on the floor. Get the child to participate in the dramatization too. But if she wants you to wake up, just yawn again and say: “Shhh… will you pat me to sleep? I need a rest.” At the end of it all, the questions will most probably be forgotten (but I am not going to guarantee that new ones won’t come up). At least have some fun while you stop the interrogation.


Sometimes it is not easy to stay patient when you’re faced with the little ‘nonsensicals’ that children come up. The trick is to stop to think before reacting negatively and try to be as encouraging and patient as you possibly can.

The most important thing is that it does not hurt to become a child yourself an hour a day to engage in their dramatic games. Whatever it is, children can never see things from our mature perspective and should never be expected to do so till much later. This is what we should all remember before snapping at them or becoming impatient.

Childcare centres should not extend their operating hours
May 29, 2009, 7:46 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education

childcare2As an early childhood educator working in a child care centre, I am personally saddened by the recent letters written to the press by some parents requesting for MCYS to call for the extension of operating hours of child care centres.  Two letters have been forwarded to me by Jacob, you can read them here and here.

The call, in my opinion, is a very selfish one that benefits nobody else but the parents and probably the economy. Here are the reasons why.

1. Children will then get to spend lesser time with their parents

Parents play an important role in nurturing their own children. They are immediate role models who will in turn pass down to their children the concept of what makes a family unit and they are the ones the children are naturally emotionally attached to. From my experience working in child care centres locally, I see that more children are spending time away from their parents and grandparents. Some children can spend up to 12 hours in the child care centre, being the first ones to arrive and the last ones to be picked up.

Socially and emotionally, these children do not feel as secure as those who see their parents more often because they will always long for more quality time with their parents but they are often disappointed when they see their friends being happily picked up earlier than them. Eventually the feeling of “my parents do not want me” will slowly emerged although never fully articulated. In many cases, this will in turn cause a child to feel a sense of frustration due to the jealousy felt towards those who get to be picked up earlier and it affects the child’s attitude in terms of socialising with the other children negatively.

Many a times, children will ask me if their parents are picking them up and why they are so late. I am always in a dilema to answer such questions because I do not want to come up with lame excuses for the parents, neither do I want to encourage the idea of workaholicism and materialism by telling the children that their parents need to spend long hours at work in order to earn more money than they already have, to provide for them. Telling them such a ‘reason’ will shape their worldview that money weighs heavily against family relations eventually and that is against my personal beliefs. I doubt anyone will encourage such a concept to be passed down… or maybe I am behind times?

2. Where and when do children have their dinner?

Do not forget that children are growing little human beings too. They need food when they are hungry and the time for them to be hungry is not based on when their parents get off work. If childcare centres do relent and extend their hours, they will have to provide dinner too for the love of the growing needs of the children. Then it will mean that the children spend at least 2 meals at the centre, and for some, all three meals.

Where then is the responsibility of the parents?

Does anyone ever consider how a child feels, only seeing the parents when they wake up and just before they sleep?

3. Child care staff are human beings with families of their own too

Another reason why Singaporeans generally make selfish parents is due to the complete disregard that child care staff are human beings too. They also have families of their own that they need to spend time with as well as the fact that they need their daily rest too.

You can say that shift work can be fairly arranged to ensure that the teachers do not overwork but let me give you a scenario.

Let us say that childcare centres operate from 7am to 8pm and each teacher works on a 9 1/2 hour shift as what it is now in most cases. So the teacher working on the closing shift works from 11am to 8pm, providing that the parents come promptly by 8pm to pick their children up. The teacher goes home at 8pm to have dinner. If the teacher eats out, she will probably reach home at 9.30pm. If the teacher has to rush home to cook, the family will probably be having dinner at about 9pm. Now will there then be much time for the teacher to spend with her own children or family members or even to meet her friends? The answer is no and hardly. She will then have to get ready for the next workday, rest and wake up to get ready for work and go to work again and the whole cycle begins.

Now is this humane? Who says that if one is dedicated to the profession, one has to bear the downside of the profession? The dedication in this profession is towards the development of children in their early years, not a high class nanny or slave for Singaporeans who have time to make children but no time for their children.


Now it is a fact that we are living in a workaholic and materialistic society, and it is a natural desire of most human beings to have children.

Nevertheless, child care centres should not be seen as dumping grounds for parents to put their children in while they work hard to earn the bucks to pursue their materialistic and professional desires. Dumping the children in the child care centres for such long hours do not benefit the children’s development and will in the long run create social problems as children will eventually see and imitate. Do you think that a child whose parents do not spend time nurturing, building bonds and taking care of him when he was young, affectionately needy and impressionable when his parents are old and frail? The case will most probably be, dream on.

Then our society will be full of old folks complaining about how their children have abandoned them for their worldly pursuits without reflecting why. How depressing.

Also, if this goes on, there may be a huge lack of childcare teachers in Singapore in time to come and nobody is to be blame but the selfish parents of Singapore, the ministry that relented and the child care centres that do nothing to speak out for forgetting the reason of early childhood education and simply operate in the interests of parents.

I hope that MCYS will stick firmly to their family based principles (or so they proclaimed) and child care centres will advocate the importance of parent-child bonding and relationships instead of relenting to the selfish demands of Singaporean parents.

Last but not least, if you want to have children, make time for them. Otherwise please do not make any children and negatively affect their development by not being there in the name of career and materialism.

The SPICE of Early Childhood Education (Part3)
May 17, 2009, 9:32 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education

(Written for SDP’s website)

3kidsIntellectual development, also known as cognitive development, is the development of mental abilities. Children learn gradually to solve problems and understand concepts as well as absorb new and more complex information. There are many known theories on this area and here in this write up, I would like to focus on the theory developed by Jean Piaget (1896–1980).

Theory of cognitive development

This theory, first developed by Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget, suggested that there are four stages to a child’s cognitive development.

The first stage which starts from birth to approximately two years of age, focuses mainly on the child’s construction of his understanding of the world. Piaget termed this as the sensorimotor stage. During this stage, the child’s knowledge of his surroundings and the world is limited to his sensory perceptions as well as motor activities. In other words, the child discovers and learns by way of hearing, touching, seeing and feeling.

One of the most important discoveries during the early days of this stage of development is the concept of object permanence. This refers to the awareness that an object continues to exist even when it is out of view. From my experience with very young children, I have observed that this concept is gradually developed through play. For example, a toddler will throw an object and then set out to find it.

Many parents reprimand their young ones for such acts but in my opinion, turning this into a game will help children more than by prohibiting them from such play.

When the child has developed an understanding of object permanence, the emergence of “direct groping” will begin to take place. In other words, the child will perform motor experiments on objects, using hands, arms and legs to see what will happen (e.g., moving a brick from point A to point B or pressing buttons).

The next stage is the pre-operational stage which occurs generally between the ages of two to six. At this point of development, the child has yet to develop a concrete understanding of logic, and is unable to manipulate information mentally. At this stage children are still unable to relate to the opinions of others. This is what is referred to as egocentrism. Most adults see this as selfishness and start panicking about whether or not their child will grow up to become a selfish person but, rest assured, this is normal development.

In order to help a child move out of this sense of egocentrism, one has to be patient and keep on explaining and reinforce the concept of sharing and empathy. Role playing helps a lot in this regard as it will help to strengthen a child’s sense of empathy by putting them in the shoes of others.

Also at this stage, a child develops the use of symbols. This can be seen during pretend play whereby a child might use objects such as a brick, a chair or even a cardboard box and imagine those objects as trains, cars, a treasure box or what not. This helps with language and creative development which  occur rapidly during this stage of development.

The third stage of development occurs between the ages of six to around eleven and is called the concrete operational stage. During this period, the child develops a better understanding of mental operations and he begins to think in logical sequences and in association with personal experiences. But while the child is able to think logically, he might still have difficulties understanding hypothetical or abstract concepts.

The milestones achieved during this stage of development includes the ability to understand number values, to classify objects accordingly, to solve multiple aspects of a problem using the method of trial and error and the elimination of egocentrism.

The formal operational stage is the last stage of development in the theory developed by Piaget. It occurs between the ages of 11 to 15 and carries on into adulthood. During this time, the development of abstract thought, reasoning, systematic planning and the ability to solve a problem by the application of knowledge occurs.

Encouraging intellectual development

Here are some suggestions for parents to help encourage intellectual or cognitive development in their child (sensorimotor and pre-operational stage)

Sensorimotor stage:

1. Expose your child to all sorts of textures by the use of books that allow feel and touch experiences and toys with varying surface textures.

2. Allow sensorial experiences such as letting your child hold or play with ice cubes and seeing it melt to liquid form.

3. Provide and allow your child to play and experiment with building blocks of varying sizes.

4. Provide a mirror that your child can peer freely into. Children at this age/ stage of development are always curious about their reflections.

5. Play all sorts of music from classical to children’s songs. Provide musical instruments for them to play along. It might turn out to be noisy but your child is learning in the process.

6. Expose your child to books and toys with strong colours.

7. Try not to use baby talk but speak to your child in proper sentences instead.

Pre-operational stage:

1. Read to your child and provide picture books with simple sentences.

2. Engage your child in conversations and discussions on simple topics such as “How do you feel about this?” or “What do you like?”. Be encouraging and do not stop the child from saying ‘nonsense’ or directly correcting grammatical errors. Do so by replying or responding with the correct grammar and sentence structure.

3. Make time for drawing, painting and scribbling. You can play a piece of music and encourage the child to scribble to the rhythm and beat or just simply draw according to how the music makes him feel. Always encourage a child to describe his drawings or paintings.

4. Allow for role play, for example, the child might decide to be a chef and starts cooking dishes with building blocks or plastic vegetables, placing them on plates and serving to you. Play along and bring it further by making paper currencies with your child so that you can use it to pay the chef.

5. Sing songs and rhymes with your child.

6. Create games such as treasure hunt. Treasure hunt is good for learning about numbers. Hide number cards everywhere in the room (on the tables, under the chairs) and get your child to look for it. Then go through the number order once the numbers are found. Limit this to 5 numbers initially and then increasing as the knowledge of numbers increases.

7. Sensorial activities such as water play, sand play and even cooking and baking should be carried out with your child’s participation as such activities help to develop knowledge and logic.

The SPICE of Early Childhood Education (Part 2)
May 17, 2009, 9:26 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education

(Written for SDP’s website)

Contrary to popular perception that physical development refers simply to the physical growth of a child, this important area of development actually refers to the development of physical skills. In this write-up, I wish to focus mainly on the development of motor skills.

What do we mean by motor skills?

This is the ability to make purposeful movements with the utilization of the necessary skeletal muscles that are required to accomplish a task. Motor skills generally involve the proper functioning and co-ordination of the brain, skeleton, joints and nervous systems. The development of most motor skills occurs in early childhood and can be divided into gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills are acquired during infancy and up to early childhood. Children at the age of two are normally able to stand up, walk and run. As the child grows, these skills involving the use of large muscle groups, will improve as he learns how to better control his movement.

Tables outlining the normal age-stage of gross motor development, such as when a child should begin crawling or running, should be used only as a loose guide. This is because every child develops differently, depending on their social and physical environment.

There are many things that can be done to aid a child’s development of gross motor skills such as walking on the balancing beam, crawling through tunnels, kicking a ball about and climbing onto child sized chairs and tables, and so on. The child will eventually learn how to move forward, shift and balance his body weight as well as learn the possible functions of his upper and lower limbs.

Be watchful but don’t stop a child from repeating particular activities even if she fails, and falls, at the first try. Encourage the child to try again. This will in turn build up the child’s confidence besides the intended gross motor skill(s).

Fine motor skills

This refers mainly to the co-ordination of small muscle movements usually occurring in the hands and fingers, in co-ordination with the sensory organs like the eyes and the ears. The development of fine motor skills is important for the development of other skills such as writing, cutting, basic self- help skills and so on.

During a child’s infant and toddler years, basic grasping and manipulation skills are usually developed. By the age of three, a child can create objects with wooden blocks and play dough as well as scribble with crayons. Some children from this age group can even insert objects into matching spaces.

It is also at this point of time that most children will tend to show preference of using one hand over the other. There are many debates over whether a child showing signs of left-handedness should be corrected but, personally, I don’t believe that that is necessary.

Attempts to manipulate simple tools such as pencils, zippers, snap buttons, scissors and spoons to complete specific tasks will emerge between the ages of three to four. At this stage, it is good that parents allow and guide their children to use such tools with patience and not dismiss them as slow and end up doing everything for them.

Activities such as dough play, threading wooden beads, tracing, scooping, sorting and matching, cutting, painting, tearing and folding are activities that can help to improve a child’s fine motor skills.

I have seen many parents stop their children from activities like dough play because of the ‘dirt’ and mess created. Such activities are important for the child’s motor development. Besides, it will be a good opportunity to teach children to clean up and pack away. Excuses will not help a child, only patience will.

In conclusion

Many parents may want to push their children to read and write instead of running about outdoor. Many do not have the patience to wait for their children to finish simple tasks like self-feeding and putting on their own shoes, resulting in them waiting on their children from head to toe in the name of speed.

Without being able to mold a ball of play dough into simple forms, how can the finger muscles learn to hold a pencil, not to mention writing a word? Without learning how to scoop and direct the hand to move the spoon into the mouth, how can a child learn to eat?

If you love your children, let them have the time and space to grow. Let them play as children play and let them learn the way they should learn.

The SPICE of Early Childhood Education (Part 1)
May 3, 2009, 9:28 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education

(Written for SDP’s website)

blocksIn my last contribution, I mentioned five main aspects of early childhood education: social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional development. This instalment writeup is an elaboration on the first area of focus, namely, social development.

What is social development?

Social development refers to the ability of children to interact and bond with others around them, establishing human relations such as friendship and kinship.

The social development of a child starts off at infancy and is mainly about bonding with their parents and primary caregivers as well as anyone they may come into frequent contact with. As they mature, they begin to interact with each other through play. In Singapore, parents often associate play with empty fun, a waste of time that could be better used.

Maybe its because the education is so exam-oriented that parents are so anxious that they make their children spend all their time and energy in front of books. What they don’t realise is that play forms a very important function in the development of young children.

The importance of play

As toddlers begin to play alongside each other engaging in solitary play, they interact directly with inanimate objects. This is what we term parallel play. Although during this stage of play toddlers often appear to be ignoring each other, they are highly aware of the presence of others around them.

It is during this period that they begin to observe and imitate as well as form initial opinions about each other. Sometimes, one will reach out to snatch the object another toddler is playing or kick the one playing next to him.

Such behaviour should be gently stopped but must not be seen as “naughtiness”. This is the only way the toddler interacts with another because the concept of the needs and feelings of others has yet to be established.

It is through such experimentation as well as the guidance that caregivers provide that they come to understand concepts such as sharing, showing consideration to others as well as the emotions of another individual besides themselves.

When they slowly mature to engage in cooperative play, usually in pairs and then later forming small groups, young children start to learn more about social concepts such as trust, sharing, being considerate of others as well as cooperating with each other to achieve a common goal.

At the same time, they start to participate in contributing to discussions on how a game or an activity should be carried out. During such a discussion, arguments may arise and tiny fists may start flying. The role of parents and educators in such instances should ideally be one of facilitation and not reprimand.

Dealing with conflicts

In my experience so far as an educator, when my own students start to engage in physical fights, I normally separate them by putting them in separate chairs. The rest of the children come to undertake the role of arranging the chairs for the parties involved and it is amusing observing their  reaction which has become automatic.

Once the angry parties have been seated, a series of questions will be asked so as to let the children vent their anger verbally through the answering of questions. After one or two questions, the children will start arguing and debating with each other about the rights and the wrongs.

Through questions like “What could you have done if you don’t like what she was doing?” and “So do you mean to say that someone else can also kick you just because they don’t like what you are doing?”, they gradually start to admit that other actions could be done to solve the problems instead of getting physical.

In fact, conflicts among children should not be seen negatively by adults but should be used to help children understand the feelings of others. It is by our facilitation and guidance that they will eventually develop a sense of empathy. Conflicts, just as much as play, are part of social interaction and as parents, care givers and teachers, we should not neglect or dismiss such opportunities and simply punish the children for being “naughty”.

By doing so and judging children based on our “adult” view of socializing, we might just end up having children who “behave themselves” for the sake of conformity and for the sake of pleasing people. Is that what we really want?


It is the responsibility of every parent, caregiver or teacher to observe and take note of their charges in the way that will facilitate and guide instead of punish and force. To force a child to play with another when he/she is not ready might, in many cases, lead to the child being more withdrawn or picking up the habit of simply pleasing the adults by following their instructions.

The same thing goes with apologies. We should not force a child to apologise to another without first making them realize their mistakes before initiating an apology.

Do you want the child to become someone who does things our of sincerity or do you want the child to become someone who lives by the way of subserviently pleasing others?

Early Education in Singapore
May 1, 2009, 6:28 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education

“So long as he can read, write and is a good boy who gives no problems, we are happy enough because we are busy parents who cannot really spend much time teaching him.” – Father of M

“Does he keep up with the rest of his peers? If he doesn’t, do inform us because when it comes to Primary One, it might be too late for us to do anything.” – Mother of M

“I am depending on you to improve her attention span. She cannot sit still for 10 minutes but I would like to send her to enrichment classes next month and it is important that she focuses. Otherwise it will be a waste of money. It is all very competitive out there, she should get a good headstart before going to primary school.” – Mother of S

Welcome to Singapore. It is a garden (as described by a taxi driver in Shanghai) and a first world nation among other things. While we attain “first world standards” in many regards, our people’s knowledge in the area of early childhood education (ECE) is appalling.

The above-mentioned quotes are from parents whose children are only four years old. At such a young age when they should be enjoying themselves, discovering the world through exploration, imaginative play and such, they are being driven from one enrichment class to another.

What were you doing when you were four, can you recall? I can — fondly. I spent all my time getting into trouble and trying to get my younger brother from following me all over because he was such a pest. But it was hell of a fun! Undoubtedly the results were never pretty as canning was still not frowned upon back then.

Anyway, coming back to the question of early childhood education it is sad to see most parents being so ignorant. As gathered from most of the conversations with Singaporean parents over the past 2 years, the general belief is that preschools are only here to prepare the child for formal education (primary school) besides helping out with their child care load.

As an early childhood educator I find that the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is not doing enough to contribute to the awareness of what an early childhood education is about. From what I see, some of their officers have no idea of it themselves. Yet they are the people auditing and assessing the quality in preschools islandwide. This often frustrates me.

So what is early childhood education?

From a local perspective, ECE simply means sending a child to a preschool, be it a kindergarten or a child care centre. This is not so. It refers to the education of a child from birth to the age of 8 in general and it does not have to take place in the absence of parents or caregivers in a formal setting of a classroom or school. It takes many forms, depending on the educational beliefs of the parents or teachers.

To put it simply, it refers to the learning experiences of a child at an early age. So broad is the term that the process of toilet training a child at home is also considered a form of ECE. This is because infants, toddlers and young children learn differently from older children and adults. They learn mainly through experiences and are especially effective if all the five senses are involved in the experiences.

Words like ‘dangerous’ and ‘slippery’ mean nothing to them unless they step on a slippery surface and take a fall. Concepts like ‘high’ and ‘low’ cannot be understood well enough unless, for example, they take turns climbing up a tree and look down from an elevated height. It is only through such experiences that a child begins to understand various concepts of the world.

Conscious and unconscious facilitation by an adult or an older child will further enhance this learning process as they introduce the vocabulary through explanations to build up the logic of an experience. This facilitation is what educationist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to as “scaffolding”. The following are the main areas of development that ECE focuses upon (especially in the very early years):-

1. Social
2. Physical
3. Intellectual
4. Creative
5. Emotional

In between the above areas of development stated, we also have language development as well as the development of morals and sense of responsibility and independence.

Effective ECE is not about training a child to be an instruction follower and adult-pleaser. It is also not just about preparing the child for formal and institutionalised schooling. It is about developing the child into a thinking being who, by facilitation, gradually makes sense of the concepts of life while at the same time maintaining their thirst for further understanding and attainment of knowledge and life skills.

That to me as an early childhood educator, is the most important aspect of my role in the lives of the children under my care. For it to work, the co-ordination and collaboration of effort between parents and educator make a huge difference in the development of children.

May I be so daring as to claim that ECE is as, if not more, important as university education. For how can one even write a thesis without first learning how to develop an idea or thought?