Choosing an International Preschool
A guide to choosing a nursery school or international preschool in Singapore, with a helpful checklist of points to consider...
by Katie Terry, Director of Rain Trees Kindergarten
Choosing the right kindergarten for a child is a very personal decision for any parent. A child’s first school and making the actual first choice of educational establishment for a child can be a daunting task.
There are 15 key points for parents to bear in mind when selecting an international kindergarten. The following are factors to be considered:
1: Childcare or kindergarten?
In Singapore childcare centres, regulated by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), are designed to cater for the needs of working parents. They operate from 7am to 7pm and predominantly prepare children for local Singaporean schools. Kindergartens and preschools, regulated by the ministry of education, tend to operate for fewer hours and each school will target slightly different demands. There are a number of preschools in Singapore that primarily cater for children from the international community.
2: When to start school?
In Singapore preschool education is not mandatory – although the vast majority of parents will send their children to a preschool. Parents need to decide when is the best time for their child to start. This is a very personal decision and depends on the circumstances and preferences of the parent. International kindergartens typically cater for children from 2 years upwards and usually allow for a gentle introduction to school by offering half-day sessions for 2, 3 or 5 days a week. It is also common for children in age ranges 2 to 4 to start mid-way through a school year and schools will be able to accommodate this.
3: Which location?
Distances are not great in Singapore but nonetheless location is an important factor in making a decision about which kindergarten to use. Parents are advised to look in the first instance at preschools within 20 minutes’ drive of home or alternatively close to their place of work if that is more convenient.
4: Great visit and research experience?
First impressions do count. If the preschool doesn’t have a well- designed and informative website, is not timely in providing information requested and doesn't give parents a full visit to the school then this may not be the best place to place a child. The golden rule is to expect, and if necessary demand, transparency in all of your dealings with a school.
5: Quality and experience of teaching staff?
Classroom teachers matter. When visiting a school it is entirely appropriate to ask about the experience of the classroom teachers, how long they have been with the kindergarten and what their previous experience has been. In some circumstances parents may even want to arrange to have a quick chat with the classroom teacher most likely to teach their child. Parents should let the kindergarten know this request in advance of the visit as it might impact on your visit time.
6: Curriculum, approach and ethos
Parents should expect an international kindergarten to be able to demonstrate that it has children at the heart of their ethos. A fun, caring and secure environment combined with a well-developed curriculum will provide the ideal platform for the start of children's educational journey.
7: School history
All things being equal parents would prefer a kindergarten that has been in business for a number of years and has shown it can consistently meet parental expectations. When you visit kindergartens it is a good idea to ask for information on the curriculum that is followed and to provide examples of a typical day at preschool.
8: Trial a school – playgroup
Whilst it is not practical for a child to trial in a class another way to assess a school is to enrol in a playgroup that some of the international kindergartens offer. This allows parents to get a feel for the school, to see how a child settles and then asses when the best time to start is.
9: Siblings & term dates
If parents have children in preschool than it is natural to look to the existing school for their younger siblings when they are ready – especially if you have had a positive experience already. If parents have children in Primary / Secondary school in Singapore then one factor to consider is how well the term structure and term dates coincide with that school. A perfect match is rarely possible but typically kindergartens that offer 3 terms a year are able to be more closely aligned to the international primary and secondary schools.
10: Reporting & communication
As in many walks of life, kindergartens are becoming increasingly professional in their reporting and communication on progress. International kindergartens use a range of tools that may include some or all of daily planners, weekly newsletters, photos of children, staff performance assessments, regular school reports as well as school notices.
11: Power of recommendation
Personal recommendations are very important as well as being able to see recommendation from existing and past parents (ideally on the website of the preschool). Parents may also want to ask the school to put them in touch with current parents to ask them about their experiences.
12: Diversity of children
Parents from the international community will typically want to send their children to a school that has other children from their home country yet at the same time offers a diversity of cultures and nationalities.
The key factor to consider in any facility is security and safety. Kindergartens in Singapore are required to be inspected and approved by the Civil Defence Force. Other factors that parents typically look for is a green outdoor space that is well integrated into the classroom setting. As Singapore has grown over the decades it has become harder and harder to find kindergartens with outdoor space.
14: Fee levels
It goes without saying that many people have budgetary constraints which will influence their choice of school. There are significant differences between individual international kindergartens.
15: Register early
Popular schools will often develop waitlists and therefore it is a good for parents to register early once they have decided on their school of choice. Registration fees are payable but parents are not contractually committed to the school and could always choose to send their child to another school. If they do not register, and leave their decision later they may find that they cannot get a place at their preferred kindergarten.
Last but not least its important for parents to trust their instincts and make a choice they are comfortable with. Every parent has their own likes, dislikes and personal circumstances to factor into the decision. Approaches to selecting the right preschool will also vary: some parents like to “boil the ocean” whilst others are happy to work from a strong recommendation from a trusted friend.
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