For the first time and in a mark of greater inclusivity, a childcare centre has been located next to an early intervention centre for children with special needs, with some sharing of resources.
The centres in Fernvale Link in Sengkang were officially opened yesterday by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who called the partnership a "very important milestone in the integration and inclusion of children with special needs".
Both centres are the largest of their kind for the organisations that run them. The pre-school by NTUC First Campus' My First Skool can admit 520 children; the early intervention centre by charity Awwa can serve up to 300 children aged six months to six years old.
In another first, My First Skool and KidsSTOP - the Science Centre Singapore's attraction for children - yesterday signed a three-year memorandum of understanding to collaborate on a "high-quality yet affordable" science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) learning programme for 300 children from the pre-school.
Said My First Skool deputy general manager Thian Ai Ling: "We believe in constantly looking out for new and innovative learning opportunities for our educators and children. Working with partners is one key way to make this happen."
My First Skool and Awwa said their centres will meet the growing needs of families in Sengkang, which has one of the highest proportions of residents aged four years and below, at 7.6 per cent.
They said the side-by-side location also allows for planned activities for children from both sides to learn and play together. Playing together teaches children to accept one another's differences and be comfortable interacting.
The number of pre-school children that NTUC First Campus' My First Skool in Fernvale Link can admit
The number of children aged six months to six years that the Awwa Early Intervention Centre in Fernvale Link can serve
Since the pre-school and Awwa centre started operations in January and May respectively, their children have had organised play sessions together. They also celebrated Hari Raya Aidilfitri together last month.
Mr Tan said: "These collaborations will inculcate acceptance and understanding of peers with special needs... and will go a long way towards achieving a more inclusive society."
He said he hoped that the children's parents, too, would learn to understand and accept others who have special needs.
Currently, the pre-school and early intervention centre have enrolled about 400 and 140 children respectively. My First Skool and Awwa said they will explore possibilities of locating other centres together.
Meanwhile, in the partnership between My First Skool and KidsSTOP, teachers have been working with KidsSTOP's science educators to design Stem-based activities for the pre-schoolers, who can also use Stem-related resource kits from KidsSTOP.
About 2,000 pre-schoolers from NTUC First Campus will get to access KidsSTOP and the Science Centre each year, said Ms Thian.
KidsSTOP's deputy director, Dr Lee Song Choon, said: "KidsSTOP hopes to encourage and inspire these young minds to explore their environment in a more in-depth manner."
To further offer children a science-related environment, the pre-school is the first childcare centre to have solar panels installed.
Ms Thian said: "The kids learn about energy conservation, but how do they know that it is indeed happening? This is to make learning come alive for the children."
Engineer Tie Lok Tiing, 38, who has two children in My First Skool, said he finds the Stem activities creative. "We need not wait for the kids to be older (to learn science), at this young age, they can start to be exposed to the sciences."