Why Mandarin comes rst at bilingual immersion preschools.
An all-Mandarin preschool programme? The thought of exposing your little ones entirely to this tonal subject in their early years may seem a little daunting.
After all, the majority of preschools here follow Singapore’s bilingual education system closely, where English is the main language of instruction, with an hour or two of Mandarin lessons daily. But a number of schools now offer programmes that immerse children in a Mandarin-rich environment, not only in terms of academic subjects, but also activities that cultivate a love of Chinese culture.
Dr Lucy Quek, deputy director for early childhood education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, says that listening to Mandarin continually enables young children to respond naturally and spontaneously.
“They may not understand everything at rst, but the tone, facial expressions and body language of the teacher and other children provide some form of inference for the listening child.”
Research has shown that exposure to more than one language shapes a child’s brain, and it increases his ability to switch as well as to stay focused, she adds.
“Parents who place their children in full Mandarin immersion preschools are likely to be speaking English at home. Thus, the child gets exposure to both languages. And, if preparedness for formal schooling is in terms of language competencies, it is a plus point to be in an immersion programme.”
So, how do these programmes work? We speak to some of the schools that offer such experiences.
Chengzhu Mandarin Kindergarten
Billed as a Mandarin kindergarten, this preschool in Buona Vista was launched in January 2016, and is part of the well-known Julia Gabriel Group.
Guided by the belief that kids learn Mandarin best from the environment they are exposed to in their early years, all its lessons and activities, including literacy, maths and even physical education, are taught in that language.
Even the school’s decor is Chinese-inspired: it has a storyhouse – a cosy and colourful children’s library that boasts some 2,000 books relating to different aspects of the Chinese culture.
The little ones are exposed to speech and drama, and Chinese Cultural Arts classes, which are taught by specialist teachers. They are also introduced to abacus and mental arithmetic, which have a strong cultural signicance in Chinese mathematics.
All Mandarin lessons are taught by teachers from China and Taiwan. The Nursery 1 and 2 kids have 100 per cent Mandarin exposure, while Kindergarten 1 and 2 kids have an hour of English a day in preparation for Primary 1.
How much Call or visit the centre. Find out more www.chengzhu.edu.sg
Etonhouse Zhong Hua Pre-School
Similar to the brand’s other centres, Etonhouse Zhong Hua preschool offers the same renowned “Inquire Think Learn” curriculum, but delivers it entirely in Mandarin to pupils in its pre-nursery and nursery levels.
At kindergarten levels, kids move to a bilingual environment with English taught in the afternoon – giving children the opportunity to develop their English skills without losing the strong Mandarin foundation they’ve built.
Following its Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum, the school has ateliers that allow kids to explore the arts, as well as experiment with light and shadows. This helps stimulate wonder and interest, while providing young ones an alternative context to learning, such as exploring topics like length and height.
Additionally, it has a multidimensional programme to help kids develop a genuine interest in the language as well as cultivate a sense of cultural sensitivity.
Children have access to a range of Chinese cultural experiences through Chinese painting and calligraphy, literature, and performance arts such as music, dance, drama and songs.
In addition to its curriculum, the school celebrates Chinese festivals such as the Dragon Boat festival, and lesser known ones like the Chong Yang festival (senior citizens’ festival) to foster a sense of love and respect for their grandparents. Its Mandarin teachers hail from China.
How much Even though the fees don’t come cheap, there are limited vacancies for its pre-nursery and K1 classes. The full-day programme for pre-nursery costs $5,100 for a term of 10 weeks, and $4,900 for the full-day programme for N1 to K2. A half-day programme costs $3,700 and $3,600, respectively. Fees are before GST and government subsidies. Find out more www.etonhouse.com.sg/ school/681-bukit-timah
Joy Little Schoolhouse
A child’s development of language is at its peak during the ages of three to six, Joy Little Schoolhouse believes.
With that philosophy in mind, children are constantly immersed in a learning environment that is predominantly in Mandarin – with only 20 per cent dedicated to learning English in preparation for formal schooling.
From daily outdoor play sessions to subject areas such as maths, sensory integration training and life skills, Mandarin is used as the primary medium of instruction.
The school also has a unique thematic play room where kids can freely explore and learn from the monthly setups that are designed in line with famous Chinese literature texts. Mandarin teachers who were educated in China act as facilitators and interact with the little ones via role-playing.
As part of its Mandarin focus, Chinese cultural classes such as calligraphy (taught by a calligraphy master) and Chinese painting lessons are incorporated into the kindergarten levels.
In addition, the school also hosts a Joy Little Story Club on the last Saturday of each month, where kids can improve their language skills through picture books and role play.