For children enrolled at NTUC First Campus' My First Skool in Segar Road, pre-school is a walk in the park. The 3,000 sq m centre located in Zhenghua Nature Park was officially opened yesterday with space for 400 children.
There, outdoor learning is incorporated into the children's curriculum - part of a pioneering initiative that aims to equip them with knowledge of local plants and animals.
A partnership between My First Skool and the Nature Society of Singapore, called Every Singaporean A Naturalist, will see children learn and appreciate nature by using the park as their classroom. As part of the initiative, children will monitor the 35 species of birds in the park and its surrounding nature reserve.
At the centre's opening, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said the Government is looking at more opportunities for pre-school children "to not only learn in the classroom, but to also enjoy the great outdoor classroom, such as in nature areas and parks".
He added: "Going outdoors has many benefits, compared with just learning in the classroom. You make use of nature, you make use of biodiversity as a teaching tool, using nature to teach about values, to teach about certain behaviours and principles you want to bring across."
The new campus is the second large childcare centre to be located within a park. The first is Skool4Kidz's, situated at Sengkang Riverside Park. Experts have said that outdoor experiences help children develop independence, resilience and problem-solving skills.
Ms Thian Ai Ling, deputy general manager of My First Skool, said: "We developed these programmes with the deep appreciation that outdoor and nature-based learning is important for holistic and healthy early childhood development - from building resilience to developing collaborative and communication skills, as well as a sense of curiosity and care for the community and environment.
"This also provides both physical and mental health benefits, assists gross and fine motor development, and develops in our young children a lifelong love of the outdoors," she added.
The centre's opening brings My First Skool's enrolment to 20,000 children across Singapore. Over the next five years, 40,000 more pre-school places are expected to be added by various providers across Singapore, especially in estates with more young families.
Large childcare centres have intakes three to five times that of centres at Housing Board void decks and are set up in areas with high demand. There are currently nine large childcare centres run by various anchor operators in Singapore.
As with other childcare centres run by anchor operators, monthly fees at the Segar Road centre are $720 for full-day childcare, $1,275 for full-day infant care and $160 for kindergartens.
The new childcare centre has been welcomed by parents such as Madam Idirah Norain Mohamed Ali. "I was really impressed by the space and how they make use of nature as a learning space," said the 37-year-old administrative assistant. "My five-year-old daughter comes back and tells me about the rain system, sunbirds and ants. It's great that she's learning about the world that we live in from a young age."