Given my penchant for details, I was expecting to do a great deal of painstaking research when the time comes to choosing the all important first “school” for DZ. I did some reading and asking around on the various approaches adopted by Singapore pre-schools and once I made the decision of putting him in a Montessori based learning environment, I was able to quickly narrow down my search to a few establishments in our vicinity.
Nestled inside the quiet residential estate of Sunset Way are three Montessori schools, of which I shortlisted two for a school visit. Located on the second floor of Clementi Arcade, Brighton Montessori did not appeal as it was fully air-conditioned and lack outdoor space. Both Little House and Early Years are equally dedicated to the Montessori style of teaching and have a nurturing environment. The children seem well adjusted here, we were happy with what we saw. We eventually went for EYM as the school fees are more reasonable, and housed in a single-storey bungalow next to a public park, it has a slightly more spacious compound and easy access to Sunset Way playground. Inside the school, I especially appreciate the thoughtful way each area is demarcated for its intended purpose.
It was last January when we first toured the school. I paid a deposit the following month and secured a place for the more popular morning session. Typical kiasu Singaporean parent at work? Perhaps. But it sure is a huge load off the mind to have settled the pre-school issue early. There are plenty of information available out there on the philosophy of a Montessori education so I will not delve into its merits and other debates here. There are concerns among some parents on how a Montessori child led approach will fit into the local education system when the time comes for the child to enter primary school. Pedagogy aside, all I hope for at the end of the day is that this will be a place outside of the comfort of home where my son will blossom into his own little person. A place where he will spend meaningful time playing, learning and just enjoying those precious early years.
Now a peep into a Montessori classroom. These were taken during the transition program organized by the school last December. We spent an hour there each time and were there for a total of 3 visits. The pictures are hung at a child’s eye level and materials are displayed neatly on low shelves to allow easy access. There are some basic ground rules about behaviour and tidiness, but beyond these children are free to choose whatever activity they wish to work with. When they are finished with an activity, they are expected to put the materials back where they belong.
One of things I noticed about DZ when mingling with a group of children is that he tends to play better with an older kid. This school practices both the same and mixed age grouping. Except for the N1 children who spend more time in their dedicated Playroom as seen from above, the other levels move around the various areas for the different classes. There is The Hall where most of the Montessori tools and equipment are located and where the N2, K1 and K2 do their “work”, The Foyer where Music and Movement lesson is held and the Chinese room. Outside, there is a lovely, well-manicured Playgarden with specially curated work stations, sandpit, bird feeder, miniature fish pond and rabbit hutch where the children spend a good amount of time mingling, exploring and even having their snack alfresco.
And here is a shot of my 2yr 4mo old getting acquainted with P.J. the school pet rabbit and Ms. Maha, his favourite teacher showing him around the Playroom on his first visit. He was a little reluctant to leave our side in the beginning but warm up to the new environment soon enough.
Day 2 of orientation: after helping him unfold and lay the mat which means that a child has marked his/her “territory” and work scope, he proceeded to play with some blocks which he picked for himself. All this while I sat on a stool right outside the classroom just observing him. He looked up and around once or twice but did not make a big fuss when he couldn’t see us. The session ended with another round of fish and rabbit feeding. It looked like we had a happy camper.
Poh Poh came along on the last day and together we sat observing him from afar as he busied himself at the sandpit at the garden. After the first 10 minutes or so, he hardly looked for us. We left school on a good note and a promise to return soon again. It is my greatest wish that he would settle well and love the school which we picked for him.
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