When play is more than what it seems

When play is more than what it seems

In Amanda Yap’s class, The Three Little Pigs is not a mere fable. It is a way for the children to create hypothesis, make predications, learn problem-solving skills and appreciate the properties of materials.

Using the example of the little pigs building houses from different materials to protect themselves from a wolf, Amanda gets the children at The Little Skool-House to build mini structures from straws, blocks and twigs to see how easily each of them collapses.

This is more than just play, says the 30-year-old who received the Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Award from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) in September this year. The ECDA Awards Ceremony recognises exemplary educarers, teachers, leaders and centres that have excelled in teaching and learning, and in their innovative practices.

“It’s intentional play, where learning takes place all the time,” Amanda says.

According to research, children learn best through play where there are hands-on and interactive activities. Such play is structured around an objective and clear learning outcomes. Giving children a variety of boxes, for instance, could be a way for them to build their creativity by imagining different uses for them. Amanda is always looking for innovative ways of teaching to engage the children meaningfully.

She is currently enrolled in the Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership course at NIEC. Having worked for nine years in the early childhood sector, she says she has come across certain misconceptions about her profession, like “you need to clean pee and poo all day”.

She laughs, seeing the funny side of this stereotype, but points out that seemingly routine care such as mealtimes, and bathing forms part of the curriculum and offers learning and connecting opportunities, “Children learn to be more independent and build their self-help skills”.

“There’s so much more to early childhood education than what many people think,” Amanda says. “It’s really about growing and developing the physical, cognitive, language and social-emotional development of a child. We help foster creativity and imagination, and nurture character building. When an educator provides quality early childhood experiences, has meaningful conversations with a child and builds a strong relationship, these help to develop the child holistically”.

The biggest challenge of her job is when parents are not on the same page with her, she says. Some parents expect their two-year-old to read and write, or compare their child’s performance with that of other children. In such situations, she will talk to the parents to help them understand that each child learns at a different pace.

Asked how she teaches children who need additional help, she says, “It’s about being—that word again—intentional. It’s about observing each child and understanding his unique needs and how he learns, and then planning experiences to cater to these individual needs.”

The rewards of teaching, for her, lie in the improvements she sees children make. Amanda proudly cites the example of “a very introverted child” taking the first step of initiating a conversation with her peers.

“Even if it was just a simple ‘hello’, it was something big to celebrate.”

Find out more about Amanda and the work she does at https://youtu.be/ENTfmjXZ9yA.

 

A meeting of generations and needs

A meeting of generations and needs

Every fortnight, the halls of Thye Hua Kwan (THK) Nursing Home echoes with chatter between residents and students from Xinmin Secondary School.

As part of the school’s Values in Action Programme, the students befriend the elderly by folding origami, playing carom and engaging in various activities. This initiative originated from one of the SG Cares Community Network Sessions held in September last year at Braddell Heights Community Club, attended by community partners from Serangoon and Hougang towns.

Dr Desmond Ong, grassroots leader of the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Division shared that “people just come together—no agenda—and we just share. We share our problems, what we have in terms of resources and see what we can make of it.”

Xinmin Secondary School contacted the Social Service Office, SSO @ Hougang, initiating a longer-term community engagement programme, instead of one-off sessions. “We want our students to generate a deeper sense of empathy through the Values In Action project,” says Vice-Principal Benjamin Yong.

SSO @ Hougang promptly put the school in touch with THK Nursing Home, along with another partner in the area, NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Silver Circle) at Ci Yuan.  Soon after, partners from the two organisations conducted briefings for the students on how they could interact and engage the elderly meaningfully.

Since the XinminCares programme kicked off in February this year, the residents look forward to the visits by the students, says THK Nursing Home’s CEO Ardi Hardjoe.

“For us, the collaboration is important because we have a duty to the young generation,” he says, pointing out the importance of getting students to understand the experiences and needs of the elderly. Some students, he notes, might not have had much interactions with their grandparents and might be unsure how best to relate to the elderly.

Besides visiting the residents at THK Nursing Home, the students also befriend seniors at the NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Silver Circle). The befriending experience has inculcated patience in the students, as some seniors at the centre may have dementia and often repeat the same questions to the students.

As part of XinminCares, the students also make visits outside the walls of THK Nursing Home. This part of the programme is known as Project Home Alone. The students knock on doors to check on and befriend seniors who stay alone in the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Division.

For Desmond, the highlight of the programme has been witnessing the students’ resilience in reaching out to the seniors, persevering even when they faced initial resistance. This has not disheartened the students.

From Desmond’s observations, the stereotype about the young being part of a strawberry generation who bruise easily is not true and these students deserve credit for their work. They believe in the project as much as the partners, he says.

Benjamin adds that one indicator of success in the coming years will be whether the youths will still take the initiative to volunteer even after they graduate. He says some former students, who are now in their twenties, continue to actively volunteer.

THK Nursing Home, NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Silver Circle) and Xinmin Secondary School are united in seeing this project through, challenges and all, for the long haul.

Ardi hopes this collaboration, bringing a school and a nursing home together, could set a positive example for other schools.

“We can share our story with others and…they can learn from this.”

 

Supporting caregivers and persons without mental capacity

When someone loses his or her mental capacity, it is sometimes up to loved ones to make important decisions on his/her behalf.

As a geriatric nurse, Priscilla Tan, 38, has seen some family members of her patients caught in disagreements about their loved one who had lost mental capacity. They were missing an important legal document – a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

An LPA allows a person (known as a donor) to appoint someone he or she trusts such as a family member or close friend (known as a donee) to make decisions for them if they lose mental capacity one day.

Knowing the importance of an LPA, Priscilla spoke to her parents about it when her father was diagnosed with dementia in 2016. She explained to her parents the purpose of an LPA and convinced them that it was necessary. This was followed by a six-week wait for the LPA to be registered. This process has now been shortened with the amendments to the Mental Capacity Regulations in August 2019, which halved the waiting period from six to three weeks.

The application fee waiver for Singaporean Citizens making an LPA Form 1, which grants general powers to the donee, has also been extended till 31 August 2020.  For all LPAs received by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) from 1 August 2019 onwards, donors and donees can access the registered LPA online through OPG’s e-services portal. They may also request to share a soft copy with third parties like banks.

Priscilla advises everyone to make an LPA early, before a serious condition like dementia occurs.

For cases where an LPA has not been made, and the person has lost mental capacity, family members will need to apply to the Court to be appointed as a “deputy” so that they can make decisions for their loved ones. Sometimes, this process can be long-drawn and complicated.  Hence, to avoid this situation and start the planning process early, Priscilla will also be making an LPA for herself.

To better support caregivers like Priscilla and safeguard persons without mental capacity, the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System (RERF Committee) has made several recommendations which include:

  1. Making counselling available to those facing caregiver stress, and mediation in the event of disputes between family members;
  2. Training and support for appointed and prospective deputies.

Since her father’s diagnosis, Priscilla says their roles have reversed. “I have become more like his parent instead,” she shared. She observes that often, caregivers share similar concerns. For instance, they face stress caring for their loved ones and worry that they may run out of leave to accompany their loved ones to medical appointments. To help both herself and her father, Priscilla sought community support by enrolling her father in the Memories Café programme at the Alzheimer’s Disease Association. Here, her father keeps active and engages in activities like music and drama, while Priscilla gets to meet other caregivers for peer support.

Priscilla is passionate about raising awareness on dementia and caregiving. She created the Instagram hashtag #MyOrthodoxDementiaTherapy to share her experiences with her father and their journey together.

“I hope to use this platform to reach out to more caregivers,” she says. “The journey can be lonely sometimes and I don’t think anyone would truly understand until they have gone through it.”

To caregivers who are apprehensive about seeking support, Priscilla says, “Don’t suffer alone. Ask for help and don’t stress yourself out.”

Caregiving does not need to be a lonely journey.  You can join support groups which offer a safe and comfortable space to share experiences and learn.

Honouring extraordinary employees with disabilities

In the course of a typical day at the Registry of Marriages (ROM), Angalamma d/o Marimuthu meets about 12 to 15 couples, verifying their documents and answering their queries.

Seeing the happy faces of those about to tie the knot is the highlight of her job, says the 56-year-old customer service officer. After 27 years at ROM, she remains an “extremely hardworking staff” who is always cheerful and smiling, says ROM Registrar Penny Tham.

Angalamma first joined ROM as a typist, before working her way through four promotions to her current position. She is seen by many of her colleagues as an elder sister and mentor at the workplace.

In recognition of her contributions and dedication, she was one of five winners of the Exemplary Employee award at the Enabling Employers Awards (EEA) in July 2019

The EEA, launched in 2011, is organised by SG Enable to recognise organisations and individuals who have committed to integrating people with disabilities in the workforce. Since then, more than 300 awards have been given out. In its fifth edition in 2019, the EEA presented 19 employer awards, 78 certificates of recognition to inclusive organisations, and 14 individual awards.

Angalamma was honoured as Exemplary Employee for making her mark through extraordinary performance in the workplace. This accolade means a lot to Angalamma, who was born with bilateral congenital club foot. She says the award motivates her to work even harder.

“I would like to encourage all persons with disabilities not to feel self-pity because of their disability,” she says. “If you fail at something, try again…The important thing is to put aside disappointment, build up confidence and not be worried about the perceptions of others.”

Angalamma’s upbeat view on life is buttressed by supportive supervisors and colleagues. When she is not attending to couples, she is at her workstation tabulating statistics and collating returns from marriage solemnisers. Her colleagues ensure the path is kept clear of obstacles so that she can physically move around with ease and peace of mind.

Colleagues have also arranged files and cupboards at a convenient height for Angalamma to access them. If she has errands to run, she can turn to her colleagues for help.

When asked what advice she would give to employers looking to be inclusive, she says, “Show encouragement. Be patient.”

Better ComCare Long-Term Assistance for the Vulnerable

Due to complications arising from diabetes, Mdm Habibah Binte Hamdi had to amputate her leg a few years ago. Despite her physical condition, the 64-year-old attends to her daily chores independently. She enjoys interacting with the children from the kindergarten located on the ground floor of her HDB block, where she lives with her brother and his family.

She is committed to taking care of herself and living a full life, even if she requires help every now and then. “I try to be as independent as I can,” she quips.

Mdm Habibah was placed on public assistance after she was certified permanently unfit for work in 2015. She receives monthly cash assistance through the ComCare Long-Term Assistance (LTA) scheme. This helps with her daily living expenses, including food, rental, utilities, Service & Conservancy Charges, clothing, transport and communications.

To better support families and individuals in need like Mdm Habibah, MSF increased the cash assistance for ComCare LTA in July 2019. The increase means that one-person LTA households will receive $600 per month, up from $500 previously.  For a household with two LTA beneficiaries, the rate will increase from $870 to $1,000. Larger household types will receive higher amounts.

Increasing the cash assistance rates is only a part of MSF’s efforts to provide more comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated support to low-income and vulnerable families.

MSF is also simplifying the financial assistance processes for clients so that they no longer have to be assessed separately for MediFund when they visit public health care institutions.

Whenever Mdm Habibah heads to Changi General Hospital for check-ups and medicine, she is relieved and thankful that she needs to only show her LTA card (also commonly known as the Public Assistance card) for free medical treatment.

This arrangement reduces the stress for individuals who may be faced with multiple needs. Samuel Chua, Mdm Habibah’s social assistance officer from Social Service Office @ Tampines, says this has positively impacted the lives of many ComCare clients. “They can focus on their health and well-being.”

Samuel says Mdm Habibah’s independent streak comes from being part of the Merdeka generation – those who grew up during the turbulent years from 1950 –  1959 and contributed to Singapore’s development.

In recognition of their efforts, the government announced the Merdeka Generation Package at the National Day Rally in 2018. Mdm Habibah will receive a $200 Medisave top-up every year, from 2019 to 2023, among other benefits of the package.

Besides helping with Mdm Habibah’s medical expenses and appointments, Samuel also works with community partners, such as mosques and the North East Community Development Council, to invite Hdm Habibah to their events to keep her active.

Since meeting Mdm Habibah two years ago, Samuel has bonded with her.

When asked what it was like working with Samuel, Mdm Habibah joked that he has become more handsome over time.  She also shared that Samuel would arrange to meet her when she makes her way to SSO for review of her assistance at the drop off point and assist her after each meeting.

“That’s the kind of person he is, always ready to help.”

 

KidSTART: Kickstarting better child development

KidSTART officer Lee Wei Qi finds joy in “being on the ground, and working directly with parents and young children”. As part of the Home Visitation Team of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA)’s KidSTART programme, she makes her way to their homes, to equip and empower parents in caregiving.

Since the programme started in 2016, over 900 children have received KidSTART support, in the pilot regions of Kreta Ayer, Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong, Boon Lay and Geylang Serai.

One of KidSTART’s guiding principles, as Wei Qi puts it, is “Parents are the children’s first teachers.” It is therefore crucial to equip parents with the knowledge and skills to nurture their children effectively and independently.

One parent who has benefited from KidSTART support is Nurhidayah Binte Abdullah, a mother of three. Initially, she had allowed her children excessive screen time on the television and their electronic devices, thinking that games and videos would suffice as learning. Following Wei Qi’s visits and advice on the importance of outdoor activities, use of language to engage children and the harmful effects of excessive screen time, she now regularly brings her children to the playground, conversing with them as they develop psychomotor skills.

From being completely silent during Wei Qi’s initial visits, Nurhidayah’s three-year-old daughter is now chatty and vibrant. “When we go outdoors, they are running, climbing and observing things around them,” says Wei Qi, explaining the importance of developing a child’s different senses for learning.

KidSTART’s methodology in this area is guided by the Abecedarian Approach, which is evidence based and developed in 1972 by Dr Joseph Sparling and Dr Craig Remy. Its hallmarks include turning everyday experiences into opportunities for learning, conversing and adding educational content.

KidSTART officers, like Wei Qi, also teach parents songs and rhymes that can be incorporated into daily routines to enhance the quality of interaction for parent and child.

Wei Qi and her team are currently working on a guide with more tips for KidSTART parents to incorporate into their routines. One challenge is customising resource material to make it more accessible to parents, she says, joking that the English in some of the existing textbooks is “a bit cheem” (Singlish for profound).

With her fellow KidSTART colleagues, Wei Qi is also looking to incorporate infographics and localised examples as illustrations for learning. For example, instead of telling parents to bring their children to the backyard, as is common in Western countries, they would tell them to bring their children to the void deck or playground.

It has not always been smooth-sailing for the KidSTART home visitor. Wei Qi says that when she first started, some parents would challenge her, questioning her ability to teach about parenting given that she is not a parent herself.

However, over time, the former early childhood educator and preschool principal managed to build rapport with the parents and they began to see how Wei Qi was able to engage them and their children through her warm, intentional interactions and extensive knowledge of early childhood development. They saw for themselves how well their children responded to the techniques taught by Wei Qi and eventually “let their guard down” and trusted her.

Besides giving individual attention to parents, KidSTART also leverages on peer support through its Group Connect sessions. At these sessions, parents are invited to connect with one another and are happy to exchange telephone numbers. Knowing that they all have common concerns, such as tackling sibling rivalries and ensuring child nutrition, helps to bond the parents too, says Wei Qi. KidSTART also works closely with community partners and if families require additional support, they are referred to Family Service Centres (FSCs) and Social Service Offices (SSOs)

Parents who have completed the programme still keep in touch through a WhatsApp group they created. They share baby items with one another and set up play dates among themselves. They have built their own social support network and are independently keeping their networks going, something which KidSTART supports.

For Wei Qi, KidSTART is not a one-way process. “As much as we are sharing parenting strategies with them, I think we as officers also learn a lot from the families—they are very resilient…despite the stresses they face in their lives.

“Seeing their love and care for the children is really touching and inspiring.”

Community support – key to successful probationer rehabilitation

Toh Yue Sen, a 25-year-old Sports and Exercise Science student at Republic Polytechnic, hopes to get a degree after completing his diploma. A decade ago, pursuing an education was the farthest thing from his mind.

Back then, as a teenager, he had committed theft and robbery and was ordered to reside in Singapore Boys’ Home for two years. A few years later, he was remanded in prison for acting on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender.

During the prison remand, Yue Sen met Selina Yeo, his Investigating Probation Officer. Guided by Selina, he re-looked at where he was headed and took stock of his life prospects.

“I cried because I was touched when she talked about my family, my sisters,” he says. He realised how his incarceration would affect his loved ones and was relieved when he was placed on probation by the Court.

That was just the start of his rehabilitation. Supported by MSF’s Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service, Yue Sen started to make positive changes to his life.

He performed community service at a welfare home at Pelangi Village where he befriended elderly residents. He viewed his time there as “a gift” instead of a mere assignment, thanks to the friendly staff and residents. Yue Sen’s parents told Selina that he became more patient after serving at the home.

Yue Sen’s class advisor, Cass Lim, in ITE College East also played a crucial role in his rehabilitation. She recommended him for various courses and worked closely with Selina to guide him. With their support, Yue Sen became a role model in his fitness training course at ITE, where he was selected to be the class discipline master. He was also awarded the National Youth Achievement Award in 2018 for his leadership qualities and exemplary conduct in school.

This network of coordinated care across organisations is a key focus in MSF’s community rehabilitation efforts. To support probationers in their rehabilitative journey, MSF collaborates with many corporate and community partners to provide them and their families with diverse types of support. Strong community and family support were key factors that supported a high probation order completion rate of 84% in 2018.

Yue Sen shared that his parents played a big part in his rehabilitation. His father began taking an active interest in his boxing hobby, and supported him during a competition in July 2015. This helped to bond the family together.

Selina says Yue Sen’s parents acknowledged and supported his efforts to change himself, which improved their relationship. Yue Sen shared that he is now able to communicate openly with them without worrying that they may end up arguing or disagreeing with one another. He added that poor family communication could be the reason why some probationers struggle.

“Successful rehabilitation really starts with the family,” adds Selina. Recognising this, MSF is collaborating with Functional Family Therapy LLC to implement Functional Family Probation that focuses on the involvement of everyone in the family to strengthen support for the probationer.

Selina says some probationers do not succeed in rehabilitation because of the lack of family support and unconstructive engagement. “If the probationers are able to focus on developing better relationships with their family and commit to being constructively engaged in their studies or at work, it will encourage them to make amends and be more responsible.”

Yue Sen is committed to staying on the right path. He says he leads a “normal” life, going to school and working part time in the Food and Beverages industry.

His teenage follies and time on probation have taught him about the consequences of wrong decisions, and he is determined to stay out of trouble.

“It’s not worth my time.”