Looking for a preschool/childcare? (Sharing by Mum of 4 and Preschool Curriculum Head)

Faith Leong, head of curriculum of a group of preschools, talks about things to consider for sending children to preschool, things to consider for choosing preschool, and how she copes with 4 young children

Being parents is the highest calling, but the toughest job as well. There is no preparation, no training, and it is a constant cycle of trial-and-error. Through the sleep-deprived fog, the constant monitoring and care, the niggling worry if we're doing anything right, comes the sweetest moments of your child's first smile, the way they look to you for everything they need, and as time moves on, the way they interact with the world around them and explore new things through their little eyes.

As your child grows, one big aspect of your family life will be the infant care / preschool / childcare centre that you will decide to place your child in. The vision or mission statement of any good childcare centre will allude to a partnership, based on Urie Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory, which, put simply, states that a child's immediate family and school environment (family members, teachers, immediate caregivers, classmates) and the interactions therein directly affect how they grow and develop.

As all parents want the absolute best for their child, but may be at a loss about what "best" entails, here are some points to consider when looking for a preschool / childcare for your precious one.

When should we send our kid to childcare? I felt so guilty wanting to send my girl to childcare at 4-5 months. Is it better to wait for 18 months where their immune system gets better?

Parents need / choose childcare for a host of different reasons.

1) They might need help to care for their little ones while they are at work.

2) They might not be comfortable leaving their child with a helper.

3) They might feel that preschools nurture children to be more independent and follow schedules and routines better.

4) They might want their child to play and interact with others and be gainfully engaged during the day, as preschool programmes are really chock-ful of learning experiences for children.

Working parents/mums feel guilt either way. When they're at work, they feel guilty about not spending time with their child. When they're with their child, they may feel pressured to keep up with their work commitments. My belief has always been that QUALITY is better than quantity. You might not have as much time with your child if you're a working parent, but MAKE THE MOMENTS COUNT. When you get home from work (make it a reasonable time), take a deep breath, and dive right into "Shift 2", even though all you want to do is concuss on the couch. Take your child on a walk. Go to the pool. Make dinner together. Go shopping. Break out a new toy. Go for a music class together. Your children will remember these moments, trust me.

Regarding the concern about immunity, while there is definitely the possibility that your child will fall sick in preschool, it will happen at any age (5 months, or 18 months). Children's immune systems only fully mature at about 4-6 years old, hence, if you're worried about falling sick, you'd have to wait till then. If not, give it a few initial months for your child to get what we call "acquired immunity" and from then on, they'd be perfectly fine in childcare, save for a few episodes of the common cold or flu here and there. You can also consider boosting their immune systems through a good diet, multivitamins, antiviral supplements like elderberry syrup, and so on. (Side note: Once you observe that your child doesn't fall sick so often in school, taper down their supplements, to give their own immune systems a chance to develop as well). While preschools are a group setting and will never be as clean as your personal home, do check with the centre leader on their hygiene protocols to see if you are assured that they are taking all necessary measures (again, as feasibly possible in a group setting) to keep common sicknesses at bay.

What are the key things to look out for in a good preschool/childcare center?

Things to consider (in no particular order of importance) would be:

1) Sufficient outdoor play spaces and sufficient time in the schedule for play

2) The teacher:child ratio

3) Whether the Centre Leader is courteous, approachable, kind, and decisive

4) The location and transport arrangements

5) General vibe of the place - are the children happy, interactive, and well-engaged

6) Curriculum

7) Optional enrichment programmes offered

8) Care policies - what do they do if your child is a picky eater / doesn't nap easily (Side note: While good childcare centres try their best to care for each individual child, new parents will need to be understanding of the constraints brought about by a group setting. Teachers will go the extra mile for your child when parents are reasonable, supportive, and appreciative!)

Reading between the lines in the other paragraphs will give you some tips on what to look out for as well! One important thing to note is that THERE IS NO PERFECT PRESCHOOL. Rather, parents would need to know what is important to them (Location? Fees? Accessibility? Outdoor play? Centre Leader?) and be prepared to make concessions if other aspects are not fully up to your expectations.

What does a good curriculum look like for preschool?

Preschool curriculums in Singapore are generally split into two categories - Early Years Development Framework (EYDF) for 0-3 year olds and Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) for 4-6 year olds. Simply explained, the EDYF places more emphasis on social interactions, communication, sensory exploration, and parent involvement. The NEL guidelines for 4-6 year olds should focus on making connections to the world around them, thinking and asking questions (science), phonics, reading, writing as a form of expressing themselves, public speaking (language and literacy), foundational math skills (number sense, data analysis / comparing quantities, logical thinking, etc), gross and fine motor skill development (holding a pencil, using scissors, using a paintbrush, opening buttons and zippers, all aspects of physical play, etc.), social and emotional development (character building, self-regulation skills, etc), and creative expression (art and music).

How your child's learning is displayed is also important. Do the teachers send photos of class activities? Do the older children have journals to note down their learning? What about parent involvement in weekend home learning activities? Parent-teacher conferences? If parents have concerns on their child's learning, who can they approach? 

What is your take on early enrichment classes before 1 year old e.g. Heguru.

In my opinion, early enrichment classes before 1 year old (if any) should focus on sensory exploration, for example, swimming class. Gym class. Music class. All these types of classes give children an opportunity to develop their senses and whole body muscles, and this lays the foundation for other learning in future. Infants and toddlers need to be engaged in ways that makes them observant and alert to the world around them, as this will encourage them to reach out more and continue learning.

Any tips on home schooling/activities before sending to preschool?

My no.1 advice to parents - READ TO YOUR CHILD. They love the sound of your voice, and as you read to them, point out the pictures in the book. Provide noises for the animals in the story. Encourage them to do some action - clap like the character in the book, play peekaboo with the pages. Always always involve two or more senses.

Other activities that young children thrive on would be lots of sensory play - paint, playdough, music toys, outdoor walks (with some interaction, not just sitting in a stroller). Activities that involve their whole body would be helpful as well - swimming, sand play, slides, swings, etc.

Side note: Don't be too concerned about the mess. Let them explore to their heart's content - just clean up after. As for whole body play, falls and accidents are a natural process of learning. As long as the area has no hard surfaces, no sharp objects, and no drops in height, LET YOUR CHILD GO. Do not hover. Do not overreact at a small tumble. Let them pick themselves up and self-correct. My three older kids walked before 11 months old because I let them freely explore. Over time, they knew how to crawl to the edge of a step / platform and just stop. They learned to use depth perception to know the boundaries.  

You have 4 children! How do you manage 4 children and work at the same time?

My reply to friends who call me a supermummy? I'm supertired. (haha) But here's how I cope:

1) With every new addition to the family, you adapt accordingly. You work them into the schedule, bring them along to holidays, buy the clothes and shoes for an additional person, arrange their playdates, plan another birthday party, and so on. Help is important, so do delegate chores to your helper, get daddy to help with bath and meal time, send them to the grandparents' for sleepovers, and order everything online (because who has time to walk in malls).

2) The more challenging part would be the constant monitoring of everyone's school schedules, enrichment class schedules, health, clothes and shoe needs, etc. Mummy will just need to learn to switch quickly from one to the other. (I've ever had a day where I was at work in the morning, had PTC for my older daughter in Primary School during lunch, brought my 3rd to the dermatologist for a recurring skin condition in the afternoon, then came home and brought my 2nd for a haircut, and the 4th to his swim class in the evening. And finished up the rest of my work when they went down for the night).

3) From an early age, train your children to be independent. Teach them to wear their own shoes. Put their own milk bottle in the sink. Throw their dirty diaper in the bin. Wear their own clothes. Keep their toys. Buckle their own seatbelts. Our responsibility as parents is not to do everything for their child, it's to teach them to do it for themselves. Undeniably, teaching is much harder than doing it for them.

4) Delegate and automate. Order all groceries online (no time to go physical grocery shopping). Put the husband in charge of buying repeats, such as diapers, wet wipes, milk powder, etc. Focus on the groceries that need your decision-making, such as what to cook for dinner. Another tip is to open a WhatsApp group chat for both parents with each child's name as a chat name. Send doctor appointments, important documents, school updates, etc to those chats for easy retrieval.

Could you share a recommended list of childcare centres?

It's hard to have a "recommended" list of childcare centres because as mentioned previously, there are many factors to consider and parents would need to know what aspects of selecting a childcare are important to them. Hence, there is no "once size fits all". School tours are very important and an excellent way to find out more about the centre. Ask all the questions you need. Get to know the principal / centre leader. Observe how the teachers interact with the children in their class. Find out if the centre curriculum is progressive enough to stimulate and teach your child all the way to K2. If you do come across reviews online, do try to read between the lines as well and be your own judge as every family's situation and experience is different. If you feel that you can trust this group of educators, you will have peace of mind throughout the day while your child is at school, and many parents have shared that this is very precious to them.

Thanks for your time, Faith, for sharing these useful tips! 

Written by: Faith Leong


Faith is a proud mummy to 4 preschoolers, 2 girls and 2 boys. She has more than 10 years of experience in the early childhood am currently Head of Curriculum for a group of preschools. Have other burning questions? Leave a comment or drop Faith a PM on IG @_faithie_  and she will be happy to chat!

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