As parents, we all want the best for our children, especially when it comes to education. When it comes to early learning, however, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It takes some research and evaluation in order to determine what works best for your child.

What are the early learning programmes available today? What are the factors to consider when deciding on a suitable programme for your child? If these are some of the questions that are on your mind, read on.

The difference between academic and play-based learning

Focused on structure, routine and skills development, academic programmes are typically designed to prepare children for formal education in future. From letters and sounds, colours, shapes and numbers to handwriting practice, children are systematically taught skills essential for classroom learning.  

In contrast, the focus of play-based learning is centred round children and their interests rather than skills and classroom drills. Through hands-on activities, observation and behavioural modelling, children learn social skills as much as functional ones. Here, the teacher adopts the role of a facilitator, enabling children to explore and discover freely.

Early learning philosophies and programmes

Montessori

A relatively familiar name, the Montessori method focuses on letting children learn at their own pace, regardless of age. Guided by the teacher, children are nurtured and engaged through creativity, a process of self-correction and hands-on learning. The goal is to develop the senses, practical life skills and character, in addition to academic ability.

Reggio Emilia

Open-ended, project-based and child-led, the Reggio Emilia approach is characterised by a distinct focus on exploration, community and self-expression. Activities are designed around the ideas and interests of the students, where learning results from collective observation, questioning and experience. If a child asks how long it takes for fish to grow, the teacher may suggest that the class keep an aquarium in order to find out together.

Waldorf

Based on the teachings of Austrian writer Rudolf Steiner, the Waldorf approach combines structured routine with creative, hands-on group learning. Activities like baking or gardening are set and scheduled for children in mixed-age classrooms run by Waldorf-certified teachers. What differentiates this method is the absence of the use of media technology (computers, videos) and academics (homework, tests, handouts).

A framework for Nurturing Early Learners

In 2013, Singapore’s Ministry of Education launched the Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) framework as a guide for local preschool educators. Via teaching guides and resources, the NEL curriculum caters for young learners between four and six years old. Integrating creativity, sensory and interactive experiences together with academic exercises, it encourages children to be active learners while teachers facilitate.

Understanding what works for your child

Regardless of the learning approach, it should be a positive environment that helps your child to build confidence and self-esteem. Select a programme that complements the child’s personality, needs and interests, and what you value for his / her learning experience.

Ultimately, what matters most is that your child is engaged, stimulated and encouraged to develop intellectual curiosity alongside key social skills. The best programmes and teachers impart experiences that benefit young learners socially, psychologically and intellectual both within and outside the classroom.  

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