Looking to give his six-year-old daughter a headstart in primary school, engineer Stephen Lee, 36, paid more than $1,200 to send her for specialised classes to get her ready for Primary 1.
Over the last six months, Chloe, who will start at Holy Innocents' Primary School next month, attended weekly preparatory lessons in Primary 1 subjects - English, Chinese and maths - on top of her regular kindergarten classes.
These small-group classes, run by Learning Journey Education Centre, introduce concepts taught in Primary 1 and clear misconceptions that the children may have even before they step into primary school.
"We wanted her to be better prepared for primary school so as to lessen her burden when school starts," said Mr Lee, who also has a son, aged two. He has since observed improvements in his daughter's writing, spelling and reading.
We wanted her to be better prepared for primary school so as to lessen her burden when school starts.
MR STEPHEN LEE, 36, who paid more than $1,200 to send his six-year-old daughter for specialised classes to get her ready for Primary 1
These preparatory classes, which can last from a few weeks to a year, are growing in popularity.
With these classes, the school children are better prepared mentally on what to expect, and that helps them to cope better.
MS GRACE TAN, 34, founder of Learning Journey Education Centre
More than 25 pre-schools and educational centres have started offering such programmes in recent years, citing higher demand from parents who have become more aware of the benefits of such classes and are more willing to spend on their children's education.
Most centres which run these preparatory classes say they have raised their intake by at least 30 per cent from last year. A handful have even observed their intakes increase by three to five times.
While some centres have opened up more slots due to the higher demand, others are oversubscribed and have waiting lists.
The classes are designed to help pre-school children transit to primary school life, build up their basic skills such as spelling and reading, and clarify their doubts on concepts covered in Primary 1.
Fees range from $350 for a short 10-week course to more than $2,500 for a year-long programme.
One centre, Learning Journey Education Centre, has noticed a 50 per cent increase in the number of children in its preparatory programmes, compared to last year.
Centre founder Grace Tan, 34, said: "With these classes, the school children are better prepared mentally on what to expect, and that helps them to cope better."
The fee for 12 sessions per term is between $420 and $660, depending on the number of subjects.
Not all children learn at the same pace, Ms Tan noted. So, the centre has kept its classes small - with only six children per class - allowing its teachers to devote more time to answering the children's questions.
Sprightly Learning Campus, which started offering preparatory classes in 2013, has also seen a jump in its intake. It has 20 children attending its preparatory courses this year, five times more than last year.
The centre in Boon Lay offers two types of preparatory classes: a year-long programme, which covers English, Chinese and maths, and costs $198 monthly; and a short 10-week programme, which costs $345 but covers only one subject.
Co-founder Jolyn Low, 24, said: "The transition from an informal learning environment in kindergarten to a more structured classroom teaching in Primary 1 may come as a culture shock for most children."
While a handful of parents sign their children up for such classes to give them a headstart, most are worried about how their young ones would cope in school, she noted.
Some children may already have a good foundation built in pre-school, but others who have not grasped basic skills may struggle to keep up in school, she said.
"Many parents believe that by building a strong foundation, it would be less stressful for their child in Primary 1," she added.
To help the children focus on what is taught and to make learning fun, the centre relies on learning tools such as flash cards, and incorporates music into its preparatory classes.
It also teaches concepts using everyday objects, which are easier for the children to relate to. For instance, a teacher may use an ice cream cone to help the children learn and identify shapes from different perspectives.
Centres like Academia English and Writing Centre, Mind Learning Cove and Learning Studio Asia said that such preparatory classes allow children to grasp the correct fundamentals at a young age.
Academia English and Writing Centre founder Johann Loh, 31, whose centre offers a year-long English preparatory programme, said: "It is far easier to lay the right foundation and get it sorted out from the start, rather than attempting to undo the bad habits, grammatical sloppiness and wrong vocabulary associations later on."
Experts, however, warned that these courses, offered to children at such a young age, may be counterproductive.
Dr Nirmala Karuppiah, an early childhood and special needs education lecturer at the National Institute of Education, said these classes may "over-prepare" young children for primary school.
"They may become bored and uninterested in learning. Once that happens, it is difficult to make them love learning again," she added.