Even as greater government efforts to improve pre-school education are under way, more pre-schoolers have been doing their bit to improve the lives of others.
A record 34,000 children from more than 550 pre-schools are helping out in community service projects this year, as part of the Start Small Dream Big initiative by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
The initiative lasts for six months each year and concludes this year with a finale event at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre on Oct 6, which marks Children's Day this year.
Last year, 20,000 children from over 300 pre-schools took part and raised more than $150,000 for charity. In 2015, when the initiative was started, 8,000 children from some 150 pre-schools raised over $100,000.
The projects this year supported various causes, from children with special needs to the elderly to the environment. The children also helped in different ways: Some packed goodie bags of essential items for the elderly, others prepared healthy food for kidney dialysis patients, and yet others made and gave out encouragement cards.
At childcare centre My First Skool in Block 140, Serangoon North, pupils contributed items during a donation drive in June for beneficiaries of Kheng Chiu Happy Lodge, an eldercare home.
About 20 K2 pupils packed goodie bags, which contained items such as coffee mix sachets, Milo, cream crackers and toothpaste. About 20 K1 pupils then visited the home to deliver the goodie bags to residents and perform songs for them.
Executive principal Wendy Ong said: "Parents are children's greatest role models, so it was a great experience to get parents to work with their children to get items for the donation. Children learn the values of being kind and giving."
At Good Shepherd Convent Kindergarten, K1 pupils visited patients at a nearby National Kidney Foundation dialysis centre in Bedok. They sometimes went in smaller groups of 15. By the end of Project Be Little Envoys and Shepherds of Service (Project Bless) on Aug 22, each child had visited the same patient four times. The pupils prepared and presented craftwork such as paper tulips, food such as yogurt fruit salad, and performances for the patients.
Said pre-school teacher Margaret Spruyt: "It was not a one-off event as we wanted to inculcate our kindergarten's core values - compassion, teamwork, gratitude, respect, zeal and integrity - in our children in a sustainable way.
"The children looked forward to visiting and showcasing their performances... They would ask when their next visit was and what kind of healthy food they could give."
Dialysis patient Chin Ah Kiff, 69, said: "I'm very happy that the children came to visit us. Their bright smiles and kind gestures have cheered us up."
Meanwhile, at childcare centre Seeds D' Learning House in Joo Chiat, the children made encouragement cards and flower-shaped craft items. About 30 children went with their parents to distribute these to passers-by in nearby Marine Parade Central and Paya Lebar MRT station, to show kindness to them and encourage them to be kind too.
Centre director Jenica Ong said the centre came up with the idea for the project and named it the Ripple Kindness Project, after a quote by Mother Teresa, who once said: "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."
The centre also raised about $2,140, which it used to buy food items and pack these in bags for needy families in Marine Terrace.
Participating pre-schools told The Straits Times that involving children in community service projects helps to inculcate positive values which can be taught even in simple acts of charity.
Ms Ong from Seeds D' Learning House said: "Charity projects are important if we want to raise our kids to be generous, appreciative and grateful, and they are especially important in this entitled world."
Mrs Spruyt agreed, saying: "We need to expose the children to social issues and charity work so that the future generation of Singapore will grow up into compassionate, loving and caring citizens."
Ms Ong from My First Skool said: "Charity projects elicit pre-schoolers' goodwill to help and contribute to society... In children's everyday life, values are taught through every interaction and expression made by people around them."
- For what other pre-schoolers have done for charity, go to www.startsmalldreambig.sg