SINGAPORE - Her mother was a kindergarten teacher and Mrs Janice Bay knew from a young age that she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher too, having watched and accompanied her mother through the years.
So when she was 17, she joined the same kindergarten, at which her mother worked and which she had studied in, as an assistant teacher.
Now 31, she received the Early Childhood Educarer Award (Outstanding) award at the Early Childhood Conference on Friday (Sept 13) for excelling and innovating in her profession.
She was among 22 educators and centres who received their Early Childhood Development Agency Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Development from Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.
"They are role models who can inspire the early childhood fraternity. This is how we can give every child a good start," said Mr Lee at the event at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.
For Mrs Bay, the award has been 15 years coming. She knew it was her dream job when she joined The Ascension Kindergarten. It was where her mother worked, and where she grew up.
"I would stay for both sessions every day, join in her staff meetings and lesson preparations, and got to know the environment and staff very well," said Mrs Bay, 31, who is expecting her first child.
She is now the lead teacher at the kindergarten, and teaches the Nursery 1 class for two- to three-year-olds.
"I'm excited to receive the award. In Singapore, it seems like the less qualified teach the younger children. But these awards recognise the importance of the early years," said Mrs Bay.
She recounted an incident where her patience and pedagogy resulted in a unique experience for her pupils. A child had brought a leaf into class which he kept in the classroom for a week, and it became a "prized item that all the kids would check on every day", she said.
"They realised it got more and more brown each day, and I used this situation to teach them about the life cycle of the leaf," she added.
Ms Mohamed Elias Ilaheenisa, 32, switched careers six years ago, after having spent some years as a paediatrics nurse. She is now a senior infant educarer at PAP Community Foundation's Sparkletots pre-school at Pioneer Block 694.
She received the Promising award in the same category as Mrs Bay. "I thought nursing was my passion but when I entered the wards, I saw children in pain and parents panicking around me. I realised it was not what I wanted," said Ms Ilaheenisa.
"I was always interested in working with children, so I found infant care," she added.
At her centre, she tries her best to create something interesting for her pupils.
She was in charge of creating an "infant maze", where she used recycled materials like cardboard boxes to create a mini playground for children to take part in activities that develop their fine and gross motor skills or cognitive skills.
"The award makes me feel like what I've done is worth it. I hope it will motivate new educarers, and I want to be a role model to them," she said.