I can’t believe my little chubby baby is a big boy now (19months old!)and it’s time to start selecting a preschool! It’s nuts how quickly time flies especially in Singapore but here we are. He’s definitely ready – he loves playing with other kids, is very sociable and loves learning. He’s learning really well at home, and he can even point out numbers 1-10 and sounds a-e, but sometimes he gets really bored at home despite my best efforts to keep him occupied! Which of course is a part of childhood, but we’ve started to look for somewhere he’ll be stimulated and have lots of friends…:)
I’ve found it quite hard to get specific details on preschools in Singapore, because there are different branches of some of the more popular schools and parents’ satisfaction can differ from place to place. Also a lot of the information online is out-of-date. As someone who teaches, I know that a school is only as good as its teachers so a review from 2011 is no good, unless of course the school has all the same teachers!
So to help other mums and dads, I’ve decided to document my tours of preschools in the Robertson Quay and River Valley area, and maybe even in the Bukit Timah area too! As you can probably tell, we haven’t made up our minds up and we’re open to moving if need be.
I’ll post official photos from the schools’ websites, as I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of other people’s kids!
First up is Cambridge Preschool, Robertson Quay:
The school’s focus is on developing the fundamental skills of arithmetic, reading and writing and cultivating real-life skills like teaching kids how to communicate, negotiate and present.
They use the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) developed by a Harvard University Professor. MI basically believes that humans have 8 intelligences: we can be body smart, people smart, word smart, logic smart, nature smart, self smart, picture smart and/or music smart. All these intelligences are required to live life well so schools such as Cambridge structure their curriculum to reflect this. I guess you could say it’s about raising all-rounders who are not just book smart but athletic, musical, creative children who enjoy reading, art and interacting with other people.
I’m interested in a half day structure (until 1pm) which works well with Cambridge because they do all their learning in the morning and naps and unstructured play in the afternoons (he can do that just fine at home!)
These are the pros and cons of Cambridge:
- They have small class sizes with 6 preschoolers to 1 teacher and at least 1 classroom assistant (I saw 2 assistants which was great).
- Their rooms are very large and the school has a huge floor plan which is deceptive from the entrance. At the same time, the school has a very calm, cosy environment.
- I love the gymn area where kids can play and burn off energy before school starts. Once a week, an external team of specialists set up the gymn and do physical exercise with the toddlers. My son would love this.
- All learning is project based, which means that a topic or idea is introduced, then explored, and then the students create a physical representation of what they’ve learned. This will become more pertinent in kindergarten but I was happy with the examples of projects I saw. For example, a kindergarten class were learning the parts of the body and each student had created a limb or organ with their parent and then brought it in to put it all together. It was very cute and I love the parent-participation. Project work encourages kids to work together and it reflects learning really well, its fun and it gives a sense of accomplishment. Big thumbs up. I look forward to seeing the projects the school comes up with for preschoolers who will be learning to count and read.
- In the second part of the day, the toddlers do more project work but this time completely in Mandarin – counting, alphabet and science. Once a week, Mandarin is replaced by Japanese.
- Wandering around the classes, I saw lots and lots of art on display. It was almost a hoarders dream, which I guess makes it a bit of a con…?! The school puts a huge emphasis on creativity.
- The school has a very low staff turn over, and the preschool teacher has been there 5 years. This impressed me because preschools have a hard time finding good teachers so I’m happy Cambridge is retaining them.
- Cambridge doesn’t have fixed terms, but instead fees work on a monthly basis which means you can organise your family holidays more easily.
- There is CCTV in all the rooms, except the Japanese room (not sure why).
- Half day includes breakfast and lunch. I like their menus which include lots of fruit and reflects cultural holidays. I prefer my son to have breakfast at home but it’s good to have the option.
- In the first 2 weeks, parents are given daily updates in their child’s book and then after two weeks this is 2 or 3 times a week. From April, there will be an app, where parents can see photos of what the child has been up to that day.
I’ve got two other pros which are more personal, which is that Cambridge is 5 mins walking distance from us, and I have a friend of a friend whose daughter has been there over a year and is extremely happy. These two things make all the difference.
Okay…now for the CONS:
- There seems to be very little focus on music. It’s incorporated into the project work but from the information I was given, it seemed a bit sporadic. I need to investigate further because my son LOVES music.
- There is no outdoor space. The children are taken down to the fountain area in Robertson Quay for their outdoor play. This increases the risk factor even though the school takes a safety pen for smaller kids who haven’t yet learned not to run away. I’ve seen Cambridge toddlers on my early morning runs before, and although everything looked fine and it’s very quiet, it’s just not something I’m happy about. That said, it’s important to note that most preschools in the Orchard/Somerset/River Valley/Robertson Quay area don’t have outdoor space.
- The children are given showers after lunch. I know this is quite common in Singapore and the reason given is that toddlers are encouraged to feed themselves so lunch gets quite messy. But it’s not something Im used to culturally and thankfully you can opt out of it. A few wet wipes should be fine…okay maybe half a packet! I saw some of the kids having their shower and there are lots of teachers around and lots of supervision but I find showers quite dangerous especially with an energetic, strong-willed boy like mine who likes to hop in the bathtub!
- There is only one other black child in the whole school…but she’s in the same class! They were drawn to each other like two magnets, it was very funny and cute. I grilled my tour guide on how she would handle children when they become aware of their differences and her response was adequate…she said the school is 70% expat so the children are used to lots of different colours and cultures. They are just as attracted to children with blonde hair and blue eyes as they would be to a brown kid and they do like to touch each others’ hair and skin. I was (sort-of) happy with that, but I would have liked to see more cultural inclusion and more examples of the childrens’ different cultures being celebrated. However, this may not be such a priority to other parents and quite frankly, this being Singapore maybe 1 black kid is a lot!
- There’s very little information to take away with you. I only had a simple leaflet to show my husband so this made our discussion reviewing the school a little tricky.
- My only other concern is that the preschool teacher was very nice and calm and gentle, but I wonder how she would handle a boisterous, energetic boy? I saw v well behaved, docile children and my son, although adorable and very obedient, just wants to hop and climb and growl. It’s brilliant but I really want to see how gentle, consistent discipline is effected at Cambridge. My son is also the biggest kid in the class already, he’s a rugby star in the making and his energy levels are on 80 where others’ are on 20…I’m not sure if that teacher is ready for him!
Conclusion: Cambridge is a definitely a front-runner. My son’s reaction while there was one of pure joy, although this may be because he absolutely loves to be around other kids. He got involved with what they were doing, the videos they were watching, and joined in with the preschool class as they sang a little girl happy birthday. He was so thrilled he didn’t want to leave. It’s a really good idea to take your child on the tour and see how they respond to the environment. Watching him interact with the teachers, playing a game with an assistant and letting her touch his hand was a bit tear-jerking but on the plus side, showed me that he was comfortable there.
Cambridge seems to strike a good balance between teaching life skills, structured learning and burning energy. If it makes my shortlist, then I will visit again at a slightly different time of day and look more closely at the way they teach their phonics and numbers.
I look forward to touring my next school and comparing the two!
Hope some mums and dads found this helpful.