Mega childcare centres, which can take in more than 300 children each, will be playing a greater role in the early education sector here.
Two of the four upcoming centres will be in Punggol and will have 1,000 childcare places each.
These mega centres, run by anchor operators, will open by the middle of next year to meet the demand for affordable childcare, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
Childcare anchor operators are government-appointed and get grants and priority in securing sites in Housing Board estates for setting up the centres, but must cap fees at $720 a month for full-day childcare, among other criteria.
Besides the two in Punggol, the other centres will be in Sengkang (offering 400 places) and Bukit Panjang (300 places).
A centre in an HDB void deck can usually take in about 100 children.
NTUC's My First Skool will run one of the Punggol centres, and another in Bukit Panjang; PAP Community Foundation will run the other Punggol centre; and Skool4Kidz will run the centre in Sengkang.
The centres are in addition to five originally slated to open last year. Three - in Punggol, Woodlands and Yishun - opened last year, a fourth in Sengkang was opened this month and one in Jurong West will open next month. The centres are all being located in estates with high demand for childcare services.
The ECDA said the new centres will be integrated with the community and the environment. For instance, the Sengkang centre, which broke ground yesterday, is in Sengkang Riverside Park.
The two-storey campus has a cocoon-like structure, designed to be like a "rolling hill that seamlessly blends into the environment", and has a built-up area of 3,600 sq m, almost four times that of an average centre.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said at the ground-breaking ceremony that siting the centre in a park - a first - allows children to easily take part in physical and outdoor activities. "This enhances the children's well-being and development, and nurtures their appreciation for nature from a young age," he said.
Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, welcomed the Sengkang centre, and added that more are needed. "Many parents tell me they have been placed on waiting lists for six months, and even 12 months," he said.
Among all the towns, Punggol has the highest proportion of residents aged below five, at 11 per cent. The figure for Sengkang is 8 per cent.
Banker Andrew Lee, 36, approached five centres and waited for more than six months before enrolling his two children in a childcare centre in Punggol that offered 500 places. "Pre-schools I approached told me I was placed on a waiting list, and some could not give me a definitive answer on how long I had to wait," he said.
Added Sengkang resident Jon Lim, 29, a communications executive: "It is convenient to have these centres on our doorstep, but this must come with a nationwide push for flexi-work schedules so parents can spend most of their day with their children in their formative years."
Registration for the four new mega childcare centres will open in the second quarter of this year.