Singapore's largest pre-school operator will be organising more field trips for the children under its care, to enrich their learning experience.
From next year, PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots will also offer structured learning programmes at subsidised prices, in areas such as speech and drama, sports and social etiquette.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is also the PCF executive committee chairman, said these offerings come on top of the standard curriculum, and are meant to "give children the best start in life".
She was speaking to the media yesterday on the sidelines of a field trip for 60 children from a PCF pre-school centre in Sengkang to the Bee Amazed Garden in Yishun, where they learnt about honey bees.
Mrs Teo said: "The world is a big place. As early as we can, we want to expose our children to the wider world, develop their sense of curiosity and encourage them to ask questions, read and have diverse interests.
"It's all part of enriching their experience. The earlier we do it, the more we open up their minds."
The five-and six-year-olds could go on field trips to the KidZania indoor theme park or the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa, for instance.
43k Number of children at PCF Sparkletots centres. About 6,000 will be involved in the field trips during the school holidays this year.
360 Number of centres. Of these, 73 will be involved in the outdoor education programme this year.
PCF chief executive Victor Bay said parents need only pay a nominal fee of about $3 to $6 per trip, to cover costs such as transport.
PCF Sparkletots has about 43,000 children across more than 360 centres.
Mrs Teo said that, for a start, the outdoor education programme would involve about 6,000 children from 73 centres, over the school holiday period this year.
If the experience turns out to be good, PCF will extend it to more centres and children, she added.
News of the PCF initiative follows the setting up of an inter-agency task force, headed by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, to help children from disadvantaged families to realise their potential.
A key part of the task force's work will focus on children in pre-schools and primary schools, as research showed it was especially critical to intervene in the early years to give a child a good start in life, The Straits Times reported last week.
Asked if PCF's focus on outdoor learning was part of the Government's move to level the playing field in pre-schools, Mrs Teo said: "Starting early is very valuable - you want to give children the best start in life, and by that we mean all children.
"Broadening the availability of affordable and quality childcare is one part of it, but it's not the only thing happening. You need interventions on all fronts and you need to consider the various aspects."
Mrs Teo added: "It is always about uplifting every single child and making sure that whatever starting lines they're at, they have the opportunity to have the richest and the broadest learning experience."
Ms Janelle Kok, 31, whose five-year-old daughter went on the trip to Bee Amazed Garden, said it was an eye-opening experience for the children.
"At her age, she's starting to develop curiosity about things happening around her. I think these trips are more helpful because they leave a deeper impression on her. Classroom learning is more theoretical," said Ms Kok, who works in sales.
PCF Sparkletots teacher Siti Aisyah Rahmat, 31, added that learning takes place best in an authentic setting.