Tiny tots getting a head start in science

At the PAP Community Foundation's Sparkletots Pre-school @ Sembawang, children in Kindergarten 2 were able to build a simple electrical circuit in groups of five with little help from teachers.
At the PAP Community Foundation's Sparkletots Pre-school @ Sembawang, children in Kindergarten 2 were able to build a simple electrical circuit in groups of five with little help from teachers.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Pre-schools get resource kit and teachers trained as part of project

A programme that introduces pre-schoolers to science even before they take the subject formally in Primary 3 is proving a hit with children and teachers.

The Science Centre Singapore (SCS), in collaboration with the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), has been training preschool teachers to teach topics such as electricity to children six years old and below since 2014.

A total of 3,250 children from 65 pre-schools have gone through the programme.

The effort is one of the ECDA's Innovation Guidance Projects, which encourage partners to explore new ways of learning in pre-schools.

Each school under the programme receives funding of up to $4,000, which goes towards the costs of learning materials and professional development courses for teachers.

SCS distributes resource kits to each pre-school that contain materials centred around themes. For instance, an electricity kit contains components to build a simple electric circuit, like connecting wires and electrical motors.

STOKING INTEREST EARLY ON

It is about how the subject is taught... If you create an interest and enjoyment in learning, the children will love it.

MS YOGESWARI RAGHAVAN, principal of Sparkletots Pre-school @ Sembawang

A kitchen chemistry kit consists of parts such as plastic test tubes, cylinders, petri dishes, goggles and Plasticine. These aim to help children discover physical and chemical properties such as density, concentration and solubility.

This year, in addition to electricity and kitchen chemistry, SCS is introducing two more topics: Tinkering - which refers to experimenting and using different tools and objects - and magnetism.

Trainers from SCS - who are former physics and chemistry teachers - help the teachers plan lessons and arrange school visits for them to learn from each other.

After a year of implementation, some pre-schools take on the role of mentor centres, which help to guide other pre-schools joining the programme later.

Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, SCS' chief executive, said the resource kits "provide a fun yet comprehensive introduction to the basic principles of science".

The initiative, he said, aims to stir the curiosity of pre-schoolers through exploring science, technology, engineering and maths activities.

Ms Yogeswari Raghavan, principal of PAP Community Foun- dation's Sparkletots Pre-school @ Sembawang, which adopted the electricity project, said her centre wanted to try something new for the children. It already exposes elements of science to them through plant experiments and topics such as the water cycle, the human body and transportation.

"Science is discovering things around them... it is something they can explore on their own," said Ms Yogeswari, 38.

In their first lesson, her Kindergarten 2 children were able to build a simple circuit in groups of five with little help from teachers.

Over the next 18 weeks, teachers went on to talk about electrical safety and appliances as well as the concept of conductors and insulators by testing different materials.

Ms Nurharyati Mohamed Ansary, 28, a senior teacher, said parents reported that their children started to get curious about how appliances worked and even compared batteries in items at home.

Agriculture business owner Toh Teck Ming, 40, said his son, now in Primary 1, enjoyed the lessons so much last year that he tried to dismantle an electric toy car at home to see how batteries work.

"It made him very excited... he knew that the battery can light up a bulb and can also run a motor. He related both concepts," he said.

Ms Yogeswari said: "It is about how the subject is taught... If you create an interest and enjoyment in learning, the children will love it,"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Tiny tots getting a head start in science'. Print Edition | Subscribe