Richard and I visited Schoolhouse by the Bay last month as I'd heard good things about it.  We came away with a good impression of the place so I thought I'd pen a report on it.
This pre-school is located in Katong Community Centre, which is a relatively short drive from the CBD.  It started as an experimental project set up by the Learning Society and its partners, in collaboration with some Canadian researchers. It is affiliated with the Canadian International School, Singapore.  The school’s Advisory Council consists of the ex-Principal of Raffles Girls’ Primary School (who is also the Chairperson of the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet), the President of the Association of Early Childhood Educators, Singapore, and the Head Principal of the Canadian International School, Singapore.

The first thing that struck me was how friendly and welcoming the staff were.  They were happy to have us drop in anytime for a visit.  When we got there, we were given a personal tour of the place.

The facilities are quite impressive.  It has a library, learning rooms, a dance studio, several playgrounds, a canteen, a huge gym and an auditorium. A relatively new school, the facilities and equipment are still in good shape, clean and well-maintained.  Most of the classrooms are located in a ring and in the heart of the ring there is an observation room with 2-way mirrors through which parents and educators can observe the children while they learn and play during class.  The children were allowed to be free-roaming in the classrooms and they looked happy and relaxed.

The curriculum is generally child-led, which is what I like.  They practice alternate English and Mandarin days, meaning everything is done in English the first day, then in Mandarin the next day, and then back to English the following day.  I found their programme to be well-rounded, with a good mix of reading, writing, dramatic play, music and movement, physical activities, creative art, mathematics, computers, etc.

The fees are quite affordable and I think it is great value for what you'd pay, something like getting an international school flavour at local school prices.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

At ECP Beach

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dinner at Keppel Island

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wordless weekend

Sunday, April 11, 2010

At ECP beach

After Ryan's Shichida lesson, we met up with Kenny, Belinda and Matthias at East Coast Park beach.  Ryan enjoyed himself thoroughly at the seashore.

Matthias also enjoyed himself thoroughly, sleeping to the sound of the waves and the gentle sea breeze.

Before Ryan came along, Richard and I used to come to ECP beach almost every Sunday for breakfast. We'd bring our dog and have a short walk along the beach before sitting down for breakfast with the newspaper at one of the restaurants by the beach.  We would also come in the evenings and walk out to one of the jetties or the breakwater and just take in the sea breeze and the serenity of the sea. 

I'm glad to see that Ryan loves the beach as much as we do, possibly even more!

After skipping swimming class three weeks in a row, Ryan couldn't stop grinning when he got in the pool this morning! 

He collected his Duckling Award and badge! Well done baby!

Ryan woke up very early today (at 6.30 am!) which meant that Richard and I had to get up early as well. We went for breakfast at Old Havelock Road and after that, walked over to the wet market to buy some groceries and some food for lunch. There was a bird singing competition going on, so we hung around for a bit to watch.

Once the covers are off, all the birds start singing together. The judges must be very talented to be able to pick a winner!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I like Saturdays

Saturday was a carefree day. After brunch at the Marmalade Pantry, we hung out at home till the evening when Richard drove us out to Labrador Seafood Restaurant for a seafood/barbeque dinner by the sea.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Today I turned one year older and, hopefully, wiser.  I was delighted to receive all the kind messages, wishes and gifts from family, friends and colleagues.  In particular, I received many gifts from my dear hubby, including one which he "shared" with Ryan.

In addition to all the celebrations with family, friends and colleagues, our little family had a quiet and private dinner celebration at Dempsey Hill.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The hunt for Ryan's pre-school (Part 2)

Next up on the list - pre-schools with very strong emphasis on Mandarin.  We didn't have to think long before deciding against these pre-schools. The chief reason is that, apart from the Mandarin emphasis, we did not hear many comments about the rest of the curriculum. We are looking for a pre-school that offers a well-rounded experience, so these pre-schools got crossed off our list pretty quickly. Anyway, this is the report.

First target of scrutiny was, what else, Nanyang Kindergarten.  Relatively near our home, it is extremely popular due to its sizeable alumni.  Parents with no ties to the school are attracted to the school for two reasons: first, the exclusive medium of instruction for its nursery years is Mandarin and second, the insanely long queue for a placement (ie. the longer the queue, the more I must make sure I don't miss out).

If you attended Nanyang Kindergarten as a child, or if you live on its doorstep, then I can understand why you want to send your child there. If not, then it is hard to understand why you would want to join the hordes of parents in the neverending queue. It seems that the only "outstanding" trait of the pre-school is its exclusive Mandarin nursery and I am not convinced that this is something that should be so highly coveted.

From my reading on learning languages, I don't think that being taught exclusively in Mandarin in nursery is going to make a huge impact on Ryan unless Mandarin is regularly spoken with him outside of school. Having a non-Mandarin home environment as we do, I would be concerned that my son might be uneasy, scared even, at being plunged into a complete Mandarin environment. Of course he will adjust and adapt, but why would I want to send my son to a Mandarin bootcamp when I can provide him with a less stressful introduction to school life? Although Richard and I recognise the importance of learning the language, we certainly do not intend pre-school to be a way to have Mandarin drilled and tortured into him, whether he likes it or not.

My view is reinforced by my understanding that Nanyang Kindergarten follows a regimental routine, driven by worksheets and results.  This very much reminded me of the typical Chinese high regard for paper qualifications. I would prefer a method where Ryan is given more freedom and is allowed to develop without the stress of being compared against other children. I believe that learning should be a process where the child is himself motivated to learn rather than a situation where he is forced against his will.

Reading the forums, one comment in particular bothered me: the high staff turnover. Apparently, the teachers go through a revolving door and even the principal and the vice-principal left without replacements last year. I would prefer a more stable environment where the teachers and the students form strong bonds and relationships.

Generally, the comments I received were to the effect that Nanyang Kindergarten leaves much to be desired (especially K1 and K2) although Nanyang Primary School is a very good school. Unfortunately, there is no formal affiliation between the two - a child in the kindergarten does not gain automatic admission into the primary school. Having said that, as a parent of a child in the "Nanyang family", you get to attend Nanyang gatherings and functions and can get to know lots of "Nanyang parents", which may better your chances of being selected as a parent volunteer for Nanyang Primary School (oh, the politics of primary school admission in Singapore!).  We have no ambitions to get Ryan into Nanyang Primary School so that put the matter to rest.

I'm sure there are lots of parents who have different and equally valid views and whose children are very happy at Nanyang Kindergarten.  It all boils down to a matter of preference. The long and short of it is that Nanyang Kindergarten is not for us.

Also up for consideration was Newton Kindergarten, also quite near our home. Founded by Newton Life Church, it is also very popular and has a long waitlist. Compared to Nanyang Kindergarten, I hear the students from Newton Kindergarten learn more difficult Chinese characters and have a higher proficiency in the language.  However, as with Nanyang Kindergarten, apart from the Mandarin emphasis, we did not hear many comments about the rest of the curriculum, so there was no firm attraction for us.

The search continues.

Pre-schools are generally free to devise their own approaches to teaching and learning for their nursery years. Hence, there is a diverse variety of styles, philosophies and methods available to cater for every need or fancy. To narrow the selection, we shortlisted one or two pre-schools from each “category” based mainly on location (proximity to our home or our workplaces).

First category - pre-schools set up by churches. On our shortlist were St. James Church Kindergarten (SJCK) (Harding Road branch) and Barker Road Methodist Church Kindergarten, both of which are near to home.

The attraction of these church pre-schools was the idea that our son would be in a Christ-centred environment. However, after some inquiries, I found out that the pre-schools accept children of all religions and neither actually emphasises Christian practices or beliefs, apart from saying grace before meals. So, the church factor is not a true plus-point.

Barker Road Methodist Church’s nursery classes for Ryan’s year were not yet open for registration when we called up in March (only open in April 2011 for 2009 babies) so we put that on the backburner [edit: we've since lost interest in Barker Road Methodist Church due to the non-emphasis on Christianity and upon hearing that the traffic congestion is so bad around there that it can take up to an hour to fetch your child from school]. As for SJCK, I was attracted to them because their grounds at Harding Road look quite inviting for little children. However, upon closer inspection, the rabbits in the small rabbit run are always sleeping and the water in the fish pond is so green that I can’t see the fish. I’m not convinced that the children are actually given time and license to go out and play with the rabbits and fish (how do you play with a rabbit/fish anyway?). More likely, the children will just play with the playground equipment in the playground next to the classes. The swimming pool on the grounds does not belong to SJCK (it belongs to Aquaducks).

Reading the forums, I was not able to find any specific “plus-points” about SJCK.  Happy parents just say "no complaints". Negative comments? One parent complained that the teacher spoke English like an “aunty”, whatever that means (I’m not too bothered about this). One parent mentioned that the K1 and K2 classes can go up to 30 children in one class (this comment does worry me a bit).

Anyway, I had good feelings about the school so Richard and I went down to its office. The people at the office were polite but not welcoming. We got the impression that it didn’t matter to them whether or not I signed my son up. I suppose this is understandable given that, for their 2012 nursery class, the waitlist was already in its fifties for the morning session and in the late twenties for the afternoon session (the total cohort is 70). However, I would really like to believe its motto that “every child matters”, so the polite but cool treatment was a teeny weeny bit disappointing.

Ok, I’m not too fussed about that. I was more interested in finding out more about the curriculum. From what I read on the forums, SJCK fulfils the academic requirements, but no star students here. The core curriculum seems to be a mish-mash of different models of teaching and learning, with no consistent and holistic approach. Their "selling point" is not their core curriculum but the enrichment programmes conducted by various outside parties for their students (Kinderart, Helen O’Grady Drama, Ednovation, The Mapping, etc). I find that a little bit strange, that the enrichment can overshadow the core curriculum but I guess that’s a matter of perspective.

More importantly, the branch at Harding Road will have to move out in 2012 (possibly 2013 if they get a one-year extension on their lease). At the moment, they do not know where they will move to. Plus they can't say whether they'll take the sleeping rabbits and the mystery fish with them.

The Leedon Road branch is still under construction and will be ready in time for Ryan but it's a bit further away than we would like. Also, given that these will be new and improved premises, I expect the school fees to be "improved" as well.  After all, they are non-profit.

Well, from an outsiders’ point of view, I think that this is an average pre-school. I think it fulfils the basic requirements of a pre-school, as all pre-schools should, but nothing more. It’s a pleasant place, and certainly a one-stop centre for enrichment courses. A significant negative factor for us is that the campus at Harding Road will expire in 2012/2013, so we’re quite hesitant about betting on this horse.

The search continues.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Good Friday/Easter Sunday weekend

We drove back to KL for the Good Friday/Easter Sunday weekend.  We managed to sort out some issues with the new condo and run a few errands. A few family birthdays fall in April so on Friday, we had a family dinner to celebrate them all. Drove back to Singapore on Saturday night as we were warned that there would be massive traffic jams the next day.
Today we skipped swimming (again!) as there was a slight drizzle. Had lunch with the Leows and went for Ryan's Shichida class (a new term begins!). After class, we went to fetch Max from the boarding kennels and, on the way home, dropped by the beach for a short walk.

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