In an air-conditioned classroom yesterday, a group of excited students formed up in a merry- go-round to recite and act out the verses of an upbeat Chinese nursery rhyme.
The students were actually a group of 30 pre-school teachers who joined the inaugural class of the Skills On Interaction With Birth To Three Years Old In Mandarin initiative launched by the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL) under the Ministry of Education.
The $150,000 programme funded by the CPCLL was introduced two weeks ago.
It was officially launched yesterday for pre-schools, with the aim of introducing the educators to hands-on ways of teaching the language to children, instead of taking the rote-learning path.
By using nursery rhymes, children are able to pick up the language by associating the sounds with the actions - rather than merely memorising the Chinese verses.
"It has taught me more ways to be creative in my teaching, such as using toys to arouse the curiosity of children towards the Chinese language," said Madam Lau Yoke Ha, a pre-school teacher with My First Skool - the pre-school arm of the National Trades Union Congress First Campus Co-operative.
Besides nursery rhymes and toys, she and other participants - registered pre-school teachers - were also shown ways to use handicrafts and memory games to expose young children to the Chinese language.
While the monthly classes - spread across two days - are not compulsory for pre-school teachers, Dr Connie Lum, a member of the CPCLL Pre-school Group, said the reception has been overwhelming. Besides yesterday's class of 30, 15 pre-school teachers have registered for next month's classes.
There are also plans to roll out more sessions to accommodate about 500 registered pre-school teachers in total this year.
At the launch yesterday, Ms Low Yen Ling, chairman of the CPCLL and Parliamentary Secretary for Education,noted that "the early years are the golden period for learning language".
She issued a call for action to stakeholders in early childhood education, including parents, carers and teachers.
"The best gift is to give them a strong foundation in their early years, especially in the learning of language," Ms Low said.