THIS end of the year, if you are the parent of a pre-schooler, and especially if it is your first pre-schooler, be prepared for a headache. Finding the right kindergarten for your child next year may leave you in a frenzy, as it is a decision that will bring either joy or heartache to both you and your child.
There are various types of kindergartens throughout the country – KEMAS kindergartens and those run by the Education Ministry (which are normally annexes in schools), individually-owned entities and franchised ones.
How can parents make the right choice when it comes to a kindergarten that can fulfil most, if not all, of their child's needs?
First, they would need to be acquainted with their child's learning needs. At this stage of life what DO they need? Is it all about learning the ABC's and 123's or is there more?
According to National Association of Early Childhood Care and Education Malaysia (NAECCEM) vice-president Judith Loh, childhood is an important stage of development as this is when children's characters begin to take shape and it is important that they are guided in the right way.
“Growing children need to be involved in activities that enhance total development. A child's social, emotional, cognitive and language needs have to be given equal emphasis.
“We cannot stress on only one aspect and neglect the others if we want to develop a well-rounded child who will be secure in any environment,” she says.
Eveleen Ling, Kindergarten Association of Malaysia (KAM) chairman says the National Preschool Curriculum (NPC) provides a base for developing a holistic and balanced child. “The main focus of NPC is building a child's language and communication skills and this is followed by reading and writing skills.
“What is different with the NPC is the emphasis on a child's socio-emotional development.”
A useful guide
All kindergartens are required to use the NPC. KAM vice chairman Lina Yeoh says kindergartens usually teach more than what is required in the NPC as the curriculum is not rigid. “It provides a platform for all kindergartens to build upon.”
Before choosing a kindergarten, parents must have a clear objective of what they want for their child. What are they looking for? Do they want a playschool environment? Are they looking for one which emphasises on academic development?
Mary Raj who has been running Tadika Megah in Cheras for more than 15 years, says parents have differing views of what a good kindergarten is.
“Very few parents say, 'Let a child be happy' in a kindergarten, or look at socialising as an important aspect of a child’s development. Some parents are not interested in certain approaches, such as the use of music in learning.
“They want their child to be able to read, write and count well before they enter primary school. Not all kindergartens will be able to fulfil their demands.”
There are many approaches to pre-school learning and parents need to be aware of the different philosophies used by the various organisations and individuals that run kindergartens. Parents should look for one that fulfils their expectations.
However, Loh says, “parents should look for something that is either complementary or different to what the child is already familiar with at home.
“If the child does not have any siblings, he may lack playmates and his communication skills may be stunted. Parents should look for schools where the child would have more opportunities to communicate and play.”
Kindergartens come under the purview of the Education Ministry and are monitored on a regular basis. This is to ensure that they adhere to the guidelines set by the ministry.
“Parents should thus make sure the kindergarten is registered with the ministry,” she adds.
According to an official from the ministry who did not want to be named, parents can verify with the respective state education departments whether a kindergarten is registered or not.
Raj says that the Federal Territory Education Department (JPWP) checks randomly to ensure that the kindergartens adhere to the guidelines set by the ministry.
“Not only do we have to get a permit from the JPWS, we also have to get health and safety approvals from the local council and fire services department. This is to ensure that the child is in safe surroundings and is well-taken care of.”
Loh concurs, saying that the safety aspect is important: “Parents should be assured that the building is not a fire hazard and meets the regulation set by the Fire Services Department and the environment is not detrimental to the health of the child.”
Every kindergarten must have at least one emergency exit, according to Raj, in case of emergencies.
“If the kindergarten is registered, you know that the centre meets certain qualities.
“If it is not registered then you are not guaranteed of quality. The teachers, who may not be qualified, could be teaching without knowing the appropriate needs of the child,” adds Loh.
Yeoh says that every kindergarten must have a business registration licence which is obtained from the Registrar of Business.
According to Raj, kindergarten teachers need to get a teaching permit from the state education department to teach. At the beginning of each year, every kindergarten has to provide details of their teaching staff (qualifications and health report) and submit reports about their facilities and safety features to the state education department.
To obtain a teaching permit, the teachers must have a minimum qualification of SPM or its equivalent. Ling adds that teachers should ideally have relevant early childhood education training. .
“Retired or ex-school teachers do not necessarily make good kindergarten teachers as they are not trained to handle young children. Those with early childhood education training will have the expertise to deal with young children.”
The right environment
Space is another factor in choosing the right kindergarten. This is because children have very short attention spans, about 10-20 minutes at a time, so they need room to move about when they feel bored.
Teresa Tuam, principal of Tadika Si Manis and Holistic Child Development Centre in Kajang, says a conducive environment is important for effective learning to take place. Children need an environment that is not intimidating in order to feel comfortable, relaxed and happy.
“The area must also be comfortable, well-lit and well-ventilated. There should be learning centres inside and outside the classroom where materials are arranged according to activities, for example, a language centre, a cognitive centre for maths and science, an art centre, a manipulative centre, a sand pit, an outdoor play area and a role-play centre.
“Children need to explore, experiment and interact with the environment according to their individual pace.”
Loh says that an area should not be crammed with furniture as there will not be enough room for children to conduct any activity.
The environment also has to be child-centred and child-friendly, with children being able to access what they need for activities, for example books, toys, games etc.
“Furniture has to be appropriate to the child's age and size.
“If the chair is too high, the child will face difficulty sitting on it or will be in danger of falling off,” adds Loh.
Parents should also know that each kindergarten is only allowed to take in a certain number of children based on the size of the premises.
According to Raj: “The number of children per room is determined by the size of a room. The relevant authorities can query us if the number exceeds the permitted level and there should also be enough toilets and washrooms.”
What children want
Quality care is also important as youngsters need nurturing to develop the right kind of behaviour. To this end, the teacher student ratio is vital.
According to Loh, the ratio should be one teacher to ten for children above the age of four. Children need more care and attention at this stage. If the ratio of students per teacher is too high, then the child may not be getting the right kind of nurturing.
Raj says that children are actually looking for a second home when they come to a kindergarten and teachers need to show them love and care.
Adds Tuam: “We look for qualified teachers as they have the experience and the expertise, and also those who are mothers because they will be able to handle children better.”
Thus, parents have to look for an environment that fosters love and care between teachers and children, as children flourish in a loving and caring environment.
Find out if the teachers are long-serving and if there is a low turnover. According to Raj, “Children do not like changes in teachers every two to three months.
“It takes time to be comfortable in a new environment and frequent changes upset them.”
The culture of a kindergarten should not be overlooked either. Parents should decide the kind of environment they would like their child to be exposed to, whether it be racially mixed, or religious based, or neither.
Parents can also find out whether the kindergarten caters to slow and advanced learners, and how they, as parents can get involved in their child’s learning. They can also make enquiries on the kind of activities the kindergarten plans to carry out throughout the year.
Fees will, of course, vary from kindergarten to kindergarten, so parents should make sure they get their money's worth. In this respect, convenience to both the parent and the child should be taken into account.
If the kindergarten is cheaper but is too far away, transport might be a problem. Raj says that this problem can be offset when kindergartens help to arrange for transport for the children.
Lastly, check the reputation of the kindergarten. Tuam suggests that parents ask around and from people’s responses, they should be able to make an informed decision.
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