Two safari kid kindergarten children, playing in ball pit

Malaysian Digest - Looking For A Pre-School : A Parent's Journey

KUALA LUMPUR - Few things are more important to a parent of a toddler than the choice of their child’s first structured environment. According to your priorities, each prospect pre-school is evaluated on variables at differing levels of importance, and sometimes there is value in comparing and contrasting the different aspects of a pre-school that draws each parent to it.

Lara Hassan, a stay at home mum, shared her experience with her 2-year-old daughter, Nik Jenna, who had only spent a few hours a week at playschool before she kept an eye out for a pre-school. She comes from the perspective of looking for a place that she felt comfortable leaving Jenna. “I was looking for a pre-school that had teachers. I had been looking in my area, Subang Jaya, for a good place for Jenna, but I honestly couldn’t find one that I liked,” she explained.

Lara felt that Jenna needed an experience that was a departure from the pre-schools of her childhood, so she kept in a warm, fun-loving environment in mind during her search. “I wanted Jenna to have a fun experience, so that she could learn naturally, rather than feel like it was an obligation. To me, the priority was that she’d socialise and learn to be independent,” said Lara, further sharing that Jenna is her first child, so just getting her used to being around other kids was important.

A story-telling session at an international Safari Kid pre-school.

Sharing her experience with attending a pre-school open house, she said, “We walked in on the day of the open house, and you know, Jenna had been asking me to let her go to school for a while now; and she liked it very much,” shared Lara, going on to say that Jenna found the swimming pool fascinating. “It was a nice-looking place, well done-up and the teachers were close-by to the kids,” she expressed.

Lara noted that she did have concerns about ensuring that Jenna’s peers would be down-to-earth and expressed relief at the vibe that the school projected. “It was important that the environment was one in which I’d want Jenna to hang around, one that reflected the values I hold,” she noted, adding that with the New Pantai Expressway (NPE), she could get Jenna to school in fifteen minutes or so, especially as Jenna’s classes start at 11am, after the worst of the traffic has died down.

A swimming session at Safari Kid Asia’s pre-school in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.A swimming session at Safari Kid Asia’s pre-school in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

Lara shares that Jenna found herself very comfortable at the pre-school. “She liked them so much at the open house that she was giving them hugs! It was a little tough during the first week of attendance, when she’d cry as I was leaving, but now she doesn’t cry anymore,” she expressed. Lara agreed that she felt pretty connected with the school community.

“I talk to all of them [the teachers] at the school, and when Jenna comes home, she tells me what she does everyday. She’s learned quite a few songs, too,” Lara says, smiling. “The principal regularly emails me - and there was a week where Jenna was not well and didn’t go to school. This stuff counts for me, you know.” The same appears to be the case for Jenna herself.“ While she was ill, I’d tell Jenna off for not blowing her nose properly, asking her to use a napkin. Then Jenna goes to back to school, and comes home to tell me that her teacher scolded her for the very same thing!” she said, laughing.

When asked about safety as a concern, Lara explained that she had not baby-proofed her own home, and Jenna had learned to navigate the space safely. Every parent has a different approach to safety, depending on how many caregivers there are, and the number of young children in the household etc. Some international pre-schools have a certain level of adherence to safety standards. They childproof the building and the grounds, with appropriate barriers to risk areas like staircases, swimming pools. Most teachers at these pre-schools are trained first-aiders.

Purvi Nihal Shah, mother to a young man named Hriday who has just turned three explains that he’d been going to a center which focused on simple activities like rhymes and colours, and was generally more play-based. Purvi began to actively look for a pre-school that offered something different to that, so that Hriday could start concentrating on phonics and writing. “I was looking for a curriculum that would increase his development, shifting away from just recognition-based learning,” she explained. Purvi found out about an open day from an expatriate magazine, and brought Hriday along for the visit.

“It was really nice how the teachers approached the kids,” explains Purvi, going to on to say how she met the team behind the pre-school at the open house. Purvi who lives in KL Sentral, now makes a 15-minute commute to drop Hriday off at 9:30, and picks him up for lunch at 1. “Every day, the teachers talk to me when I go to pick him up. They’re very friendly, and give me lots of information,” she said, adding that she gets plenty of pictures on her mobile phone [via Whatsapp], as well as a weekly update from the principal, on Friday. “I can see the difference in Hriday’s behaviour, he’s much better now. He shows me his paintings - he is very proud of his schoolwork. Even when I help him with the smallest things, he says thank you,” she expressed. Purvi finds that from this term alone, Hriday is speaking to people with much more confidence, doing so clearly and using several sentences in a row, adding once more: “I can see the difference.”

Christine Yong, a business owner, has been sending her child Rehnay, aged 2 ½ to a toddler class for almost a month now. She had been looking for a place to send Rehnay, with a strong focus on environment. When asked what she would not compromise on, Christine had clear ideas. “Cleanliness is very important. How teachers present themselves played a large role in my choosing of a pre-school,” she expressed firmly. “Safety is a priority to me, but I had my first encounter with child-proofing when I went to this pre-school,” she said, adding that she is very careful with safety in her household, having done home-studying with Rehnay thus far.

Christine travels nearly an hour from Kuala Lumpur to get Rehnay to her 2-hour classes daily. Chancing upon some newspaper coverage, she attended an open house. “It looked interesting, and I felt it was worth a try,” she said, going on to agree that the size of the class and teacher-student ratio was of importance to her. “I wanted there to be enough students in a class so that Rehnay could socialise, but it’s important that the teachers can keep an eye on them, they’re not that grown yet,” she explained.

Jigna Doshi, principal of Safari Kid Asia’s Bangsar outlet explains that it’s important to have a healthy staff of teachers who are trained in the syllabus that each pre-school is using. “Also, make sure that any new pre-school you’re looking at is poised to respond the intakes of students to come. My teachers are excited about more students joining our classes. We’re lucky to have had such good response from the open house! We had to start an early class by popular demand,” she laughed.

In an uncertain world, and with a child whose life is inherent with possibilities, you want to make sure you’ve got your bases covered. Some parents prioritise a warm, adventurous environment; some favour structure and a strong tradition of cognitive skills; others are concerned with security and steady surroundings for their fledgling children. No matter the angle of your search, a truly good pre-school endeavours to tick all the boxes, and puts the safety, comfort and development of your child at the helm of every effort.

May your journey in looking for a pre-school educate you on your path as a discerning parent as much as it will surely lead to the thorough education of your child.

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