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.”

 

ECDA Fellows Talk Series

Do you know how to turn ordinary life moments to authentic learning experiences for our children? Build our children’s confidence and resilience to prepare them for transition from preschool to primary school. Use the V.A.L.U.E. model to communicate with teachers effectively to support children’s holistic development. These are some tips and advice shared by eight of our ECDA Fellows in the 2nd ECDA Fellows Talk Series.

The ECDA Fellows Talk Series is a collection of short videos on various topics related to early childhood, such as Mother Tongue Teaching and Learning, Pedagogical Practices, Partnerships and Support and Staff Development.

The EC​DA Fellows programme is one of ECDA’s key initiatives to recognise pinnacle leaders in the early childhood profession. It also expands opportunities for these leaders to further develop their careers to fulfil their aspirations. The ECDA Fellows work closely with ECDA to drive quality improvements in the sector, as well as inspire and contribute to the professional growth of the current and next generation of early childhood leaders.

The World is Your Classroom

It may just be a convenience store, bakery, and a recycling bin to you. But, ECDA Fellow Ong Siew Teng sees them as learning opportunities for the children in her centres. The entire neighbourhood can be a classroom for the little inquisitive minds to have “Authentic Learning Experiences”.

Strengthening Roots

ECDA Fellow Suhana Binte Salleh is excited about the government’s initiatives to expand the provision of mother tongue languages in preschools. She believes in teaching beyond the Malay language. With a creative touch, she helps children understand their heritage and culture to find their own identity.

School Starter

Making the leap from preschool to Primary One can be a daunting experience for some children, but preschools can smoothen the adjustment with different strategies. Learn how ECDA Fellow Seri Rahayu Binte Ariff helps prepare children in her centres for this transition with the “P1 Starter Kit”.

Nurturing Place for All

Novice early childhood educators often face challenges that cause them to burn out and leave the industry. ECDA Fellow Sylvia Yeo has designed an induction programme to help new teachers ease into the new preschool environment and their new roles, with guidance from their mentors. She believes in creating a “Nurturing Place for All”.

The Trusty Teacher’s Assistant

From the moment children step into a preschool, their learning begins. The environment is the third teacher, which opens up educational possibilities for children to express themselves, engage with their peers, and respond with thoughtful decisions. See how ECDA Fellow Melissa Goh jazzes up an environment and grooms it to become a child’s third teacher.

Learning Together

Learning Mandarin may be difficult for children with parents who “grew up in an English speaking environment”. ECDA Fellow Chua Lay Mui believes that parents play a huge role in “cultivating a child’s love for the language”. Learn how she designed activities for parents and children to learn their mother tongue together.

Journey Together

Ms Zaiton, a pinnacle leader and a mother, understands the struggle that many parents go through to balance work and childcare commitments. Watch how preschools can “Journey Together” with parents using strategies (such as the VALUE model) to build positive relationships and enhance children’s learning.

Sparking Change

While many centres understand the importance of raising the standards of early childhood education, the hassle that comes along with SPARK certification drives many away. ECDA Fellow Hephzi Tee spent six months convincing her staff and teachers to embark on the SPARK-certified journey. Today, her centre is happily SPARK-certified with commendation!

Marriage, according to our young Millennials

Asked about her plans for marriage, 19-year-old Tang Wen Yu imagines herself tying the knot in her late 20s or early 30s, once she has completed higher studies and her “finances are secure”.

On the other hand, 23-year-old Fong Yu Yang is already engaged. “Some of my friends don’t really put marriage as their first priority because they have other personal achievements that they want to accomplish first, like a good career or to travel around the world,” he says. But, having been with his girlfriend for seven years, they find that their relationship has not held them back from pursuing their goals.

Wen Yu and Yu Yang are among 30 students who are partnering MSF to redesign our iconic ROM and ROMM Building. It is part of our ongoing collaboration with Institutes of Higher Learning – including Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Ngee Ann Polytechnic(NP) and Temasek Polytechnic.

Wen Yu recalls being slightly “shocked” when fellow participants shared their dreams of marrying early. Although marriage is not yet on the cards for her, she says that the involvement to redesign ROM and ROMM project is special because it gives her a chance to make an impact “on the real world”. “It’s cool to know that we might be married in the very same building that we [helped to] design,” she says.

Currently studying Sustainable Urban Design and Engineering at NP, she says one possible idea for the revamp is replacing the prosaic seats at the waiting area with a comfortable lounge. Perhaps inspired by the coffee culture of her generation, she suggests setting up a café to serve couples waiting for their turn for solemnisation.

As for Yu Yang, he imagines a special area for love locks which couples can attach to bridges, fences and other public fixtures to symbolise their love. If there is insufficient space for this, this feature could be digitalised. Taking inspiration from Changi Airport’s Social Tree, he also suggests creating a similar installation at ROM and ROMM for people to upload and share photographs. Yu Yang is currently studying Engineering Systems and Design at SUTD.

On Valentine’s Day earlier this year, MSF collaborated with the Singapore Memory Project to launch “MyROMStory”, a portal for couples to share such photographs and their memories. MyROMStory encourages couples to remember their special day and inspire those who have said “I do” to re-commit to each other and say “I still do”.

As a designer herself, Wen Yu would like her own wedding to be “decorative, but still very intimate”, with only her close family and friends in attendance. Wen Yu has been with her boyfriend for four years. When he found out about her participation in this project, he was excited like her, she says.

Yu Yang’s girlfriend was also delighted to learn of his participation in the project. They had not previously thought of having their solemnisation in the ROM building, but are now considering it. His participation in the refurbishment project is “going to be a special reason why we should get solemnised and married in the ROM building itself”.