A CLASS OF THEIR OWN
Learn how you can create a sensory-rich learning environment at home from these mums and teachers from Kinderland infant-care centres.
Preschool isn’t enough for some parents. They believe that learning should continue at home, too.
Parents here who are proponents of home learning say the practice has been growing in recent years, as more people document their activities on social media platforms.
thile home-learning parents have their detractors, who view what they do as being “kiasu”, they say their objective is not to make their children smarter, but to expose them to a sensory-rich learning environment where they learn through play, and make learning is fun.
To facilitate such an environment, these parents consider their children’s interests, which could range from nature to construction, and spend time and effort coming up with interesting, hands-on activities based on a chosen theme.
At times, they choose topics and create activities that help to build conﬁdence in their children. This could be in areas that the young ones are observed to be weak in, or matters that their children are fearful of, such as dentistry (ahead of the child’s ﬁrst trip to the dentist).
Home-learning parents also say they enjoy the process of planning the activities, as
well as doing the activities with their kids. Four mothers share their experiences. MY KIDS ARE MY STUDENTS
Stay-at-home mum gacinth Liew’s home-learning activities with her two young children are fun and colourful, and even adults are involved because of how interesting they are.
The best part? They do not cost much, says the 31-year-old (pictured right).
Her learning tools are everyday items such as paints, beans, trays and scoops, many of which are bought either online from sites such as Taobao and Amazon, or from shops such as aaiso and Ikea.
The items generally cost less than $10 each and some of them have lasted for years, she says.
gacinth started homelearning activities shortly after her ﬁrst child was born in 2014. But what she did then was “very random”, she confesses.
“At that time, there was no learning objective, theme or organisation to what we did. ”
tith the growth of social media platforms in recent years, however, she got to know other like-minded parents, who were either based here or overseas. Through their posts and her own research, she started to learn how to structure activities for preschoolers.
These days, her activities are grouped by themes, each of which covers areas including literacy, craft, sensory play and Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.
rnder Stem, she enjoys conducting visually engaging experiments with her children – aaryl, four, and Charlotte, 18 months. Her husband, 32, is a bank employee.
lne example of such a simple experiment is the “Skittles bxperiment”, which involves pouring warm water over the hard sweets after they have been arranged in a circle.
tithin minutes, the colour runs from the candies and the result is a beautiful pinwheel of colours, thanks to diffusion.
Another example is the “Magic Milk bxperiment”, where drops of food colouring are added into a tray ﬁlled with milk. Then, she asks her children to use cotton buds – which have been dipped in dishwashing liquid – to gently touch the surface of the milk.
Because of the chemical reaction between the soap and milk fat, the colours begin to separate and swirl outwards.
gacinth says: “Both experiments will not fail to amaze children. It’s all about science, but to them, it’s magic.”
In 2016, she set up Instagram and Facebook accounts ,@ our little play nest, to document her ideas and activities. lver time, the account has developed from a personal log to one that is now focused on sharing with parents how they can connect with their children through play.
“I want to let parents know that what I do is not rocket science. It’s what every parent can do,” she says.
“The activities don’t cost a lot and don’t require a lot of preparation time.”
thile she spends about an hour or so daily reading up on what to do and creating her lesson plans, the actual activities can each be executed in just ﬁve to 10 minutes.
The former secondary school teacher says she misses her teaching days.
“My children are my students now,” she says. “I don’t need them to be smart, but I do these activities in the hope that they will love learning and always ask questions about everything.”
IT’S LIKE GIVING THEM NEW TOYS
To any parent who thinks preparing home-learning activities is tiresome and difﬁcult, Lim Sing Yun, 37, has this to say: It isn’t.
The mother of two sons aged four and two would know, having done it for close to a year.
By trawling through the Internet and social media platforms, she has found free printables on myriad topics from the solar system to dinosaurs, which appeal to her children.
“There are a lot of people creating these materials who are happy to offer them online for free,” says Sing Yun, who works as an in-house legal counsel.
She simply prints what she wants to use, which saves her the effort of creating her own materials.
She usually comes up with a learning theme for her children, so that it gives her a focal point when searching for materials. She also supplements the planned activities with library books on her desired theme.
The family usually does these activities after dinner. “It’s part of family bonding,” says Sing Yun, whose 38-yearold husband works in a derman chemicals company.
She puts together her ideas after her children go to bed. The preparation process is fun for her and it gives her something meaningful to do “rather than surﬁng social media aimlessly” after the kids are asleep.
In April last year, she started an Instagram account, @playfull.sg, to document her home-learning activities with her children. “It’s a form of memory keeping. It’s nice to look back on what we’ve done together and to communicate with a community of like-minded parents,” she says.
“ainosaur bgg” is an activity she says is a hit with her children. She learnt about it from another home-learning parent’s Instagram account.
The activity entails stufﬁng a plastic dinosaur ﬁgurine into a deﬂated balloon and then ﬁlling up the balloon with water. After this is done, the balloon is tied up and put in a freezer.
then the water turns to ice, the parent can cut away the balloon skin and what is left is a dinosaur “trapped” in an “ice egg”.
The child is presented with the frozen egg and his objective is to melt the ice and “rescue” the dinosaur.
To keep her children occupied with the same activity for a longer duration, Sing Yun usually freezes several such eggs at one go.
“I’m happy to see that such simple activities can keep my children purposefully engaged,” she says.
“I feel that I’m giving them new toys each time, without actually having to buy something new.”
IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING
The home-learning lesson plans for their children may sound intimidating, with learning objectives that encompass everything from literature and mathematics to personal and physical development, as well as expressive arts, design and understanding the world.
But mothers Tiffany Lim (pictured above, right), 29, and Sylvia Lye (pictured above, left), 31, say it is all about engaging the senses and having fun in the process.
Tiffany, a secondary school teacher, says some parents have asked her: “thy do you try to teach your children so much?”
To which she replies: “It’s not about being kiasu (the fear of losing out), but about learning through play and having fun.”
Sylvia agrees. “I wish I (could have done) all these activities when I was growing up.”
She adds that planning the home-learning activities helps make her time as a stay-home mother “fruitful and meaningful”.
“My daughter is learning things in school, but it’s easy to just let the days go by. In this way, I am spending meaningful time with her, helping to scaffold her learning.”
Beneath the mothers’ academic-sounding, broadbased learning objectives is also a belief that whatever they do should engage their children’s ﬁve senses.
For instance, they worked on a Chinese New Year theme earlier this year. Some ideas they toyed with include reading books to their children on the festival, teaching them about wodiac signs, letting them smell and peel oranges, crafting their own Chinese drum, as well as baking cookies.
Tiffany adds that to encourage sensory play, she runs sensory baths for her children.
Apart from toys, slices of fruit, ﬂower petals and pandan leaves are sometimes thrown into the mix, depending on the learning theme.
She encourages her children to smell, touch and play with the items as they bathe.
The two friends, who met when they were students at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, have three children aged from two to four between them and are behind the home-learning Instagram account @2mamas4kids, which they set up in March 2016 and where they share their activities.
They try to be authentic in their posts by showcasing not only activities they did successfully, but also those that did not work.
Tiffany says: “te don’t want parents to have a ‘try once and must succeed’ kind of mentality.
“Sometimes, the child is not interested or not ready to do a certain activity and that’s ﬁne. tait and try again some time later.”
In the process of executing their activities, they are able to see what their children are good at and what they enjoy – or do not enjoy – doing. They change or tweak activities to encourage their little ones to tackle activities that may not play to their strengths.
The mothers are committed to home learning for now, noting that children’s interests will change and develop as they grow.
Sylvia says: “This period is but for a season. I want to make the best use of my time to learn alongside her in her early years, while I have the energy to do so.”