Should the growing years be the ‘play’ years? Is a toddler too young for enrichment classes? Is there a RIGHT age at which a child could start?
Besides her regular kindergarten class, Jahntelle attends a weekly language course at Kumon, as well as speech and drama lessons. She has also taken a phonics course at Zoophonics, ballet classes and Chinese lessons at Tien Hsia.For 5-year-old Jahntelle, enrichment courses have been part of her life since she was two and a half. Her younger sister Jovielle, who turns 3 in December, is enjoying music lessons now. Jahntelle and Jovielle are among the increasing number of young children who attend pre-school enrichment classes. Their parents, Johnny and Jeanette Bruto,feel it is necessary and benefits their children.
Enrichment courses – a hit with parents
As for why, Mrs Bruto speaks for many parents: “We believe it is good for the kids as it prepares them for the demands of the primary school system in Singapore. It also gives them a chance to explore various interests and talentsthey may have.” They also explain that Jahntelle attends Chinese class because it would be useful for her to be exposed to the language early, as they do not speak it at home. As for Jovielle, her love for singing and dancing naturally led them to signher up for music class. Siblings Hakim, 8, and Khadijah, 6, had similarly packed schedules when they were younger. Their mother, Juli Anna, signed them up for phonics, swimming, Lego and music classes. She says, besides wanting to expose them to a variety of activities, she also wished to let them mix with children of other races and religions as they attended a Muslim kindergarten.
But are they really enriching for kids?
Most young parents might remember how different their own pre-school education was: nursery at age 4, followed by kindergarten from 5 to 6, before entering primary school at 7. But now, more and more of these parents are sending their own young ones from the tender age of 2 onwards for enrichment and pre-nursery classes.Childcare centres and pre-school institutions have sprung up to meet the increasing demand for such classes. These cater to toddlers as young as 18 months and all the way to 6-yearold kindergarten kids.Going beyond the usual childcare services and playgroup activities, some also offer a wide range of enrichment courses on art, language, music, dance and even creative thinking. But are such activities actually good for the children?
Yes, they are
It seems that most parents believe, as the Brutos do, that these help their children prepare for the competitive education system in Singapore. Theyalso hope to cultivate and develop the budding artist, musician, dancer or scientist in their tiny tots. Parents may also have other practical or personal reasons for their decision. But what about the possible downsides of such courses? Are parents being too “kiasu” by starting classes for their kids at such young ages? Some parents may feel that their kids’ childhood should reflect their own experience of carefreeand idle days – ” a time to catch grasshoppers, climb trees and play outdoors”. Some childhood experts also believe that the home is the best place for very young kids, both for learning and play. And the parents should be their children’s best and earliest teachers, both in imparting practical knowledge and moral values.
What is the correct choice?
There is probably no right or wrong answer. It depends on each family’s situation and the parents’s goals for their children. But the trend is clear. Many parents are convinced that their pre-school kids would benefit from such enrichment courses. The problem is they are not sure which are of good quality and suit their children. In addition, the courses usually come with a high price tag, a big financial commitment for families on a tight budget.
Montessori, Kumon, Shinchida, Berries World… Help!
For parents facing the issue for the first time, this can be a very difficult decision. What are some factors that parents should consider in deciding whether to send their toddler or pre-schooler to an enrichment centre? And how should they choose suitable centres and courses?
Mrs Preman Komala Devi, Principal Curriculum Specialist, NTUC Childcare, shares her views on the following:
1. What are some factors that parents could consider in deciding whether to enrol their pre-schoolers in enrichment classes?
Parents should first identify the child’s interest in a specific area. After which, they should find out if the class has opportunities for progression (beginner to intermediate to advanced level). Most importantly, parents should understand their own objectives for the enrichment class – whether it is to expose the child to new skills, develop their social skills, or pursue a talent. This will determine the parents’ expectations from the class and from their child.
Parents should also consider looking at providers who have a good reputation in the market for conducting quality enrichment classes. They should also find out if the mode of delivery of the classes suit their child’s learning style.
2. Is there such a thing as being too young for such classes?
How much a child benefits from an enrichment class depends on his ability, not age. Some providers do state a specific age group to meet their syllabus requirement, and in some classes, a pre-test is administered to group children for classes based on their abilities.
Some classes are not suitable for younger children as there is a need for a certain level of independence, physical development, and the ability to understand instructions. Certain enrichment classes cater to accompanying adults for younger children, and allow children aged 18-months to 2-years onwards into independent programmes (classes that do not require accompanying adults).
3. Are there any possible downsides to enrolling children at such an early age? What about possible benefits?
A good enrichment class can help young children go beyond their preschool curriculum, and nurture their natural talents, aptitude and interests in specific areas. Enrichment classes expose children to various topics early, as research has shown that brain development is most sensitive in children aged 0-3. They also help children to develop social skills as they learn to work in a group and interact with people from different backgrounds.
Enrichment classes should be looked upon like an extra-curriulum activity with fun-to-do stuff that is not taught to the child in a normal preschool setting. In this way, the child’s interest can be sustained in wanting to learn a new and fun skill. However, if unnecessary pressure is put on the child, they may then be reluctant to learn or to go for class, and this will certainly hinder their learning.
Mrs Lorene Nalpon, Educational Practitioner (C/AOGPE USA) has this to add:
Many of the progressive enrichment centres have a curriculum designed to have mums and dads in the classroom too. Parents see what their children are learning and many parents pick up the skills themselves, be it phonics lessons or learning to play a musical instrument. With parents being involved, the follow up at home can be better done. Parents will know exactly what needs to be practiced and so when the next lesson comes, the children will be ready to absorb the new content. Some parents have actually picked up the skill of playing the organ through attending their children’s classes.
Â It is all about balance
In the end, everything comes down to getting the right balance between (course) work and play. Both are important. It depends on the parents’ judgment to make the best choice for their children. Mrs Bruto knows this too well. She is clear that there is a limit as to how much enrichment classes can benefit her kids. Something more is needed. As she says, “The classes cannot replace Mum and Dad’s love, presence and involvement in the children’s lives”.