Preschool education has become essential for modern life as research has shown that school readiness is an important factor in getting children ready to be successful in the competitive global market. In Singapore, the government has invested greatly in developing early childhood professionals and promoting the benefits of enrolling young children to preschools. This move also enable mothers to continue in pursuing their careers.
Currently, there are more than 3,000 childcare centres with teachers holding different levels of early childhood professional qualifications in Singapore. While different centres are providing different curriculums and programmes, most centres adopt the traditional approach in delivering their lessons.
The traditional preschools use the structured based teaching approach where teachers are the ones that direct and control children’s learning. The goals of such approach are often result oriented and children are expected to follow the pace set by the teachers.
Children are placed according to their age and their classrooms are normally set up with different labels as forms of instructions. Their names are also labelled on chairs and tables as well. There are different learning corners placed in the classrooms for children to further explore the themes of the term through playing with the materials being offered.
A typical day in the classroom of a traditional preschool is start off with a big circle time for the teachers to introduce the day’s activities. The main lessons are prepared for the whole class and are also conducted in this form of setting to teach all the children at the same time. During the lessons, children are expected to seat quietly on the floor and pay attention to their teachers. At the end of the large group lessons, the children will have to attempt the worksheets covering the lessons. Those who finished their worksheets correctly and early are then allowed to visit the learning corners which are sometimes designated by the teachers. Children who could not do their worksheets or complete them on time will face negative comments from their teachers or friends.
There are fewer Montessori Preschools found in Singapore comparatively. This could be due to a higher cost of operations, as the teaching materials are generally expensive, and the shortage of well-trained and experienced Montessori teachers. The Montessori Approach sees children as eager learners and can initiate learning in a well-prepared and support environment. The materials are designed for children to explore and work with according to the holistic developmental readiness and needs. The materials are also self-corrective whereby children could spot their own mistakes and correct them. The emphasis is on hand-on independent learning and self-construction by means of interaction with the environments. This approach also discourages conventional measures of achievement, eg, grades and tests for young children. Children are placed in mixed age group and they are given the freedom to choose the activity and the materials that they want to explore. Through these activities and experience, the children learn about how things operate and the world around them.
As the children work on their own without any disturbances by others, they develop concentration, patient, and discipline over time. Their self-esteem, self-help skills, cognitive skills as well as social skills are developed through the interaction of materials, environments, friends, and adults.
As the materials and environment are prepared according to the individual child’s needs, all the children would ultimately reach the goals of their developmental needs before the enter their actual primary school journey.
In Comparison, the Traditional Preschools do not take consideration of the individual child’s developmental needs and interest. With the standard curriculum and lessons for every child to follow, the emotional needs and the cognitive development of children are not taking into considerations. Whereas for the Montessori Approach, it strives to encourage children’s love for learning and becoming learners for life. As research has reported that children who are being respected and valued during their early years, they are more positive and confidence to face and take up the challenges in the later part of their lives.