Updated: 4 April 2013
Contemplating a move to another country is no easy thing. I've been on the internet trying to find all there is to know on preschools in Hong Kong and the information is scattered among official websites of schools, forums and blogs. Which got me thinking. If I was having some difficulty getting clarity on the preschools elsewhere, someone could be having issues trying to figure out the situation in Singapore.
In Singapore, the terms "childcare", "preschool", "daycare", "nursery" and "playgroup" are often used interchangeably. It can be confusing to those used to another system elsewhere. We'll be using preschool as the generic term in this blog post. Kindergartens are slightly different as you will see later on. When referring to children, I'll be using the term "she/her" just simply because I have a daughter. :)
Preschools in Singapore take in children from 18 months/1.5 years old, although some places only take in older kids. If your child is younger than 18 months, she can go to an infant care center. Some preschools offer infant care services right up to kindergarten. Kindergarten usually take in kids 3 years or older and may request that your child be toilet trained before attending kindergarten
For example, you have three children, one aged 5 years old, one aged 3 years old and one aged 6 months old. If you chose to, you could send all three to a preschool which has an infant care programme. Do note that not all preschools offer infant care programmes.
You could also enrol your oldest (5 years old) in a separate kindergarten. Childcare centers offering kindergarten programmes and actual kindergartens may not have much difference in terms of curriculum, play-time etc. However, the schedule of kindergartens follow the general primary school (refer to days of operation below). Some say that childcare centers provide more child-rearing services e.g. showering the child, making sure the child eats lunch/meals etc whereas kindergartens don't necessarily include meals during the school day.
The legal definition by the Singapore authorities is "children aged 3 to 6 years may enrol in kindergartens while children aged below the age of 7 years may enrol in childcare centres".
Days of operation
Preschools operate Mondays-Fridays and are closed for public/bank holidays and special days such as Teacher's Day. The preschool itself may also be closed on certain days for training of the teachers etc. These closure dates are generally communicated to the parent at the start of the calendar year.
Kindergartens will generally have 1 week of holidays in March, 1 month of holidays in June, 1 week of holidays in September and 1 month of holidays in December.
There are preschools where your child can go for 2, 3 or 5 days per week. Naturally the school fees are adjusted accordingly.
Hours/days of operation
Very often preschools work on a half day/full day system. Preschools usually operate in one of these 3 ways.
7 am - 7 pm: If you choose full day programme for your child, this means that you can drop the child off as early as 7 am and pick up by 7 pm. For a half day programme, you would pick up your child by 1 pm (or anytime earlier than that). Breakfast and lunch would be included/prepared for your child if she is on half day programme. For full day programmes, the child will enjoy snacks/tea. The preschool would expect the child to have dinner at home.
9 am to 5 pm: Half day programmes may mean 9-12 pm or 9-1 pm, depending on lunch arrangements
2 hrs: There are 2-hour playgroups available to kids but my understanding is that most of them are only open to 3 years old and above.
Kindergartens have a morning session and an afternoon session. The morning session could be 8.30 am-11.30 pm (lunch not included) and the afternoon session from 12.30-4.30pm.
Extract from actual childcare centers
Playgroup - 18 months turning 3 years old
Nursery - 3 years turning 4
Kindergarten 1 - 4 years turning 5
Kindergarten 2 - 5 years turning 6 or going to Primary 1
vs Bibinogs Preschool's
Pre-Nursery - 18 month turning 3 years old
vs St James Church Kindergarten
Pre-Nursery Playgroup - Year the child turns 3
Some places will take the month of the child to determine which group she will be in, some will take the year. For example, if your child is born in December 2010, she may go to nursery in Dec 2013 (the exact month when she turns 3) or any month 2013 (if the preschool uses the year of birth).
The predominant mindset in most Singaporean preschools is "Leave it to us". I have yet to come across a preschool in Singapore which states that the parents have to do parent/volunteer duty. However, on excursion/outing days, it is generally good to accompany to your child along with the preschool's excursion for the main reasons 1)the teachers and helpers do have a tough time dealing with all the children in an external (no boundaries) environment e.g. fire station, library, park etc, 2)you get to take photographs of your child having fun, and 3) get to know the teachers and your child's friends better.
For children prone to separation anxiety, different preschools have different ways of handling it. Some preschools allow an adult to accompany the child for the first few days of the preschool and subsequently drop-off. Some preschools prefer that the child be dropped off from the start and that the adult should say goodbye after the necessary checks at the door. You know your child best, talk to the preschool to see which approach you prefer vs their policy.
When to register
The situation is very competitive in Singapore and most parents are generally advised by friends and family to register as soon as possible. Many preschools will have open houses in October-November but appointments to see the preschool outside open houses can be arranged.
The fees charged by different preschools can be varying, even those within the same chain of childcare centres. Aside from the school fees, there are the following charges:
- registration fee to register your child
- deposit. This is very similar to a rental deposit and the amount will be refunded to you once due notice is given.
- school uniform. Some preschools don't have school uniforms
-mattress & cover. For full day programmes and if your child is young, they will usually take a nap in school.
The childcare centers/kindergartens in Singapore are privately run, although there are 2 chains which are linked closely to the government (the PAP childcare group is linked to the ruling political party of Singapore and the NTUC childcare group is linked to the largest workers'co-operative in Singapore.
However in March 2013, the Singapore government announced that they were getting into the kindergarten industry. The Ministry of Education (MOE) will start and run 4 kindergartens spread over different parts of Singapore. They are doing so in the hopes that children, particularly those from disadvantaged families, will 'do well' by ensuring that the children receive good preschool education. Half of the slots in these 4 kindergartens will be reserved for children from lower-income backgrounds.
There have been debates on preschool or pre-primary education with everyone agreeing that the industry varies largely from its most basic school to its most advanced. At the advanced schools, a 3 year old child will be able to recite numbers one through thirty whereas a 5 year old child is expected to be able to recite numbers one through ten at some basic schools. How best to prepare children for primary school (formalised education) was discussed by parents, industry experts and the government.
My own take is that this is not an issue you can address piecemeal, by simply targeting the preschool industry. If the child is not ready or finds primary school too hard, is it a issue of the child not being prepared enough beforehand (preschool) or the school expecting too much from a 6 year old child? My friends just told me that they are looking for a kindergarten for their 2 year old son so to prepare him for primary one (4 years away!). I do believe that if there is a need to play catchup, it would be when my child is 5 years old, the year before she enters primary school.
DD is not at an age where I have to worry about primary school so I am viewing the developments with concern but not urgency.