Hunting for the right preschool in Singapore can be nerve-wracking, especially for first-time parents. We think there are many great preschools in Singapore and there are many factors to choosing the right one for your child. After navigating four different preschools for my little ones, here’s my two cents worth on how to choose a preschool for your child.
Choosing a Preschool in Singapore
- Kindergarten or Childcare
- Pedagogy & Curriculum
- School Fees & Budget
- School Culture & Teachers
- Air-conditioning & Cleanliness
- Outdoor Play Spaces
- Social Mix
A. Kindergarten or Childcare
There are two types of preschools in Singapore. For children ages 3 and 6, there are usually kindergartens or childcare centres. Kindergartens are usually three to four hour programmes, with one offering an after-school care option while childcare centres usually offer a full-day programme from 7 am to 7 pm. Depending on your need and whether you have support from other caregivers such as grandparents, you would need to deliberate about the various preschool options.
After deciding on the type of preschool hours, determine the possible locations you prefer. For instance, some parents prefer the pre-schools nearer home, or the office, or near grandparents or other caregivers’ homes.
Choosing a preschool close to home or office would give you the convenience of dropping off your child quite easily before and after work. However, if there is support from other family members, they could do a pick up near their homes instead to shorten travel distances.
C. Pedagogy & Curriculum
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Every preschool subscribes to a certain pedagogy. You might have certain preferences as to which pedagogy is best and decide accordingly. As different preschools have different ways of executing the Montesorri or Reggio Emilia or Project approach, a school visit and speaking with the school leaders, finding out more from its activities from its website or social media would help in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the pedagogy as well as curriculum.
Similarly, many preschools offer a bilingual curriculum that most parents prefer.
For every class of 12 to 25 children depending on the child-teacher ratio, there are usually two teachers who use two different languages to communicate with the children. Some might even use Mandarin as the predominant language in its curriculum. For families with a monolingual background, such aspects might be helpful to language acquisition.
D. School Fees and YOUR Budget
As many preschools in Singapore are privately-run, there is a huge range of fees typically from $160 to $2,400 per month. Singapore citizen children can enjoy a basic subsidy at childcare centres, and there are additional subsidies for families with household income below $12, 000.
When it comes to kindergartens, families with household income below $6, 000 can also enjoy subsidies depending on income level.
Decide on an amount your family is comfortable with paying when looking for a preschool in Singapore. Higher fees typically mean a lower child-to-teacher ratio, larger spaces and a more prominent brand. While paying less does not necessarily mean lower value, it can also mean that the preschool enjoys government subsidies that translate to lower expenses for you.
E. School Culture & Teachers
Get to know the school culture and what the teachers are like. Are they nurturing? Are they enthusiastic? What is their tone like? Schedule a school visit while class is in session. Speak to the principal as well as the teachers to gauge the culture of the school.
Ask questions about the experience of the teachers, methods of discipline and see how they interact with the children. How do they placate an anxious child? Which other preschools have they taught in? What are some of their favourite teaching methods?
All these observations and questions would be helpful to make an informed decision about the kind of preschool you want to enrol your child in.
F. Air-conditioning and Cleanliness
The spread of viruses can be fast and furious especially in preschools. Given the child’s developing immunity, it might be better for fresh air to be circulated in the preschool environment.
Hence, I personally favour non-airconditioned classrooms over those with air-conditioning unless there is air pollution such as haze issues, of course. However, parents with children with asthma or eczema might prefer air-conditioned classrooms because of their children’s sensitivity to pollen, humidity or other triggers.
More importantly, ensure that the preschool environment is clean and hygienic. Protocols such as sanitizing of toys and common surfaces should be in place, including post-HFMD outbreak cleaning as well as daily cleaning schedules.
G. Preschool Environment
Walking around the classrooms would also give you a better sense of how the children learn, whether it be art or experiment corners, manipulatives or types of toys and learning corners, play-pretend areas – these tell you a lot about the preschool’s environment.
People familiar with Reggio Emilia often speak about the environment as the third teacher. Basic principles would be whether the classroom is conducive for learning, whether there are areas for quiet time, reading, free play or artwork. Is the classroom a safe and soothing place to be in? Are there deliberate setups or décor that would spark the child’s curiosity and encourage questioning?
H.Outdoor play spaces
This factor is really important to me since outdoor play is essential to the child’s learning and vestibular development. In other words, children need to move!
Suss out the playground at the preschool, if it’s outdoors – great! If natural elements are used in the making of the playground, wow! If there’s a garden or a treehouse or a nearby park, even better!
Some preschools have sand and waterplay corners for plenty of sensory play. For preschools without such facilities, the neighbourhood would most likely offer cool public spaces for lots of play. In addition, I’d also love to see outdoor time dedicated for least 45 minutes per day.
I. Social Mix
While this factor could largely be attributed to the preschool fees and location, social mix helps children to interact with peers from different cultural backgrounds and abilities. A truly inclusive preschool can also encourage children to be more empathetic and caring towards others who might need more help. I love it when preschools make a deliberate effort to celebrate each other’s festivals so the children learn to embrace differences from a young age.
Put aside those “long waitlists” and hear out other parents who have kids at the preschool. They will offer honest opinions about their child’s experience. Be it the meals served, teachers’ observations, type of classmates, format of year-end concerts, parents who have been-there-and-done-that would give you pros and cons of the preschool and sometimes even a brutally honest review you might not expect.
Chase away your anxiety about choosing a preschool in Singapore with a good dose of optimism
If you think you might still be anxious about preschool choices, have a good shortlist of all of your options and be optimistic about your child’s first school! There are plenty of good options on our island and the move to grow the early childhood sector has seen better outcomes for every preschool child. Fret not even if you don’t get your first choice because alternative options may be the stress-free way to go.
A good dose of optimism never hurts. All the best!