1. At the Early Childhood Conference 2019, the Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Desmond Lee announced new initiatives, in collaboration with partners, to support outdoor learning by children in preschools, and to enhance support for children and families under KidSTART.
2. These initiatives build on efforts to improve preschool quality, affordability and accessibility, as outlined by Prime Minister Lee in this year's National Day Rally with greater support going toward low-income families.
Enhanced outdoor learning experiences in collaboration with the sector
3. Learning and playing outdoors improves the health, learning and developmental outcomes of children. To enhance the quality of preschool experiences, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) came together with early childhood (EC) professionals, preschool operators and various government agencies to explore ways to enhance outdoor learning opportunities for children in preschools. These agencies formed the Outdoor Learning Committee in 2018 (details in Annex A) and have, since been developing initiatives to enhance outdoor spaces, to better equip EC educators in conducting more outdoor learning.
More outdoor learning spaces in housing estates, preschools and parks
4. Two new prototypes will be launched in Bukit Batok and Jurong West, to test how existing preschools in HDB estates can tap on the environment outside their centres for outdoor learning. Led by ECDA and the Housing Development Board (HDB), these prototypes were conceived after engaging preschools, educators and parents. The prototype at Jurong West will introduce ways to allow easier access from preschool classrooms to open spaces immediately outside their centres. The other prototype at Bukit Batok will explore ways to make simple changes to existing neighbourhood environments to create outdoor learning trails for children. The amenities developed for testing will be shared by both the preschools and community.
5. The prototypes will be developed and refined based on the feedback from the preschools and communities involved. This initiative will complement ECDA and HDB's work in developing preschools with age-appropriate playgrounds or community gardens nearby, as well as the National Parks Board's (NParks) efforts in developing nature playgardens and evidence-based design guidelines to aid preschools, agencies and developers design and build such playgardens across Singapore.
New training and support for EC educators on outdoor learning
6. To better equip educators on how to provide children with purposeful outdoor learning experiences, ECDA, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) have developed resources and training opportunities for EC professionals. These include a guiding document, "Outdoor Learning, A National Guide for Early Childhood Educators", and an online repository of lesson ideas, known as "Outdoor Learning Experiences", as well as continuing professional development (CPD) courses by NIEC.
7. The educators' Guide and Learning Experiences will be available online to all EC professionals and the public on ECDA's website. They provide practical tips and guidance to help educators identify and seize opportunities for safe, interesting lessons in the outdoors. For a start, educators can browse through 50 Learning Experiences in the online repository. The Experiences have been curated by an evaluation panel consisting of local and overseas outdoor learning practitioners, experts, and EC educators. NIEC and ECDA will continue to grow the repository over time to include ground practices and ideas from the EC fraternity.
8. To support EC educators at all levels, NIEC will also be introducing new CPD courses on outdoor learning in 2020. These will build up EC educators' skills in designing and facilitating developmentally appropriate outdoor learning experiences for children of different age groups - from infants to six year-olds. These courses will be available in both English and Chinese. NIEC will also offer training for centre leaders on how to support their teachers in carrying out outdoor learning.
Greater support and deeper partnerships for KidSTART
More families to benefit from support under KidSTART
9. The KidSTART programme supports parents with child development, monitors the developmental progress of children, and coordinates and strengthens holistic services for families where needed. KidSTART has been piloted since July 2016, and currently benefits 1,000 children from low-income families living in the pilot regions of Kreta Ayer/Bukit Merah, Taman Jurong/Boon Lay and Geylang Serai.
10. ECDA will expand KidSTART to reach another 5,000 children over the next three years. Starting from April 2020, ECDA will expand KidSTART to more regions, so that more families can benefit from the programme. Priority will be given to regions where the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) supports families in rental blocks through the Community Link (ComLink) initiative, such as Kembangan-Chai Chee and Marsiling. Together, ComLink and KidSTART will provide stronger social support to these families and their children. ECDA will also raise the monthly household income ceiling for KidSTART eligibility from $1,900 today to $2,500, so that more children can be eligible.
11. As good antenatal care is critical for child development, ECDA will bring more pregnant mothers onto KidSTART at the antenatal stage by extending our partnership beyond KK Women's and Children's Hospital to also include the National University Hospital on the KidSTART Home Visitation Programme. ECDA will also strengthen KidSTART's network of support for children and their parents in the community and in preschools by working with more social service agencies and preschools. With the support of Temasek Foundation, ECDA is partnering the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) to develop training spanning the early childhood, health and social work fields so as equip more professionals with knowledge required to better support KidSTART children and parents.
GROWING TOGETHER with KidSTART
12. Even as the Government steps up support for children from low-income families, there is active community interest to support these children. MSF, in collaboration with the Community Chest (ComChest), will hence introduce 'GROWING TOGETHER with KidSTART', to nurture this spirit of giving and caring in the community. Under this new initiative, corporates and individuals can join the Government in supporting children with a better start in life, through opportunities such as donating or volunteering to support a specific KidSTART community (details in Annex B).
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT AGENCY