Kiddy123 continues our quest to answer the question most frequently asked by our almost 30,000 monthly website users: “What are the good kindergartens in my area?” This time, Kiddy123's team surveyed the neighbourhoods in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, made a selection of five preschools there, and interviewed the principals. Read on to find out what these educators believe early childhood education should be.
(Note: The preschools are listed in alphabetical order.)
Brain Champs Kindergarten combines the best of both worlds – the Montessori methodology as well as traditional teaching methods. Principal Karen Wong says that Montessori’s learning materials attract the child to work with his/her hands and from there understand the concepts being taught, while the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) provide the academic foundation for their entry into primary school.
“Our students already know how to read and write before going to Standard One. It is very important for them to have this strong foundation, especially those children going to Chinese schools who must be well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead,” said Ms Karen.
“At Brain Champs, we build on what the child knows and add on as we go. Here, learning is a gradual process. The child learns in a safe environment where his intellectual abilities and self-esteem grow hand-in-hand. We also believe in developing the brain together with the hands and the mind. We not only focus on the academics but on social skills, living skills and creativity. We teach them about living in a community to which they can contribute, where they share things and help one another, especially the weaker ones,” she added. Ms Karen believes that the early years are the crucial time for good moral values to be instilled: “By the time a child is six, most of the character is already formed. We must start nurturing good values while he or she is still teachable.”
The kindergarten focuses on learning English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia. It uses Jolly Phonics to teach English in a way that is fun and multi-sensory, while the Odonata Chinese system is used to enable children to learn up to 1200 commonly used characters. Optional enrichment activities such as Science & IT, Mental Maths & Abacus, Drama, Music, Creative Art, Gospel Adventure (for non-Muslims), and Leadership and are also conducted each week to complement the children’s day-to-day learning.
First Steps with Montessori’s founder and principal, Ms C N Geetha Wijesuria, is one of the earliest proponents of Montessori education in Malaysia, with a quarter of a century’s experience behind her. Ms Geetha tells us: “We are a child education provider and caregiver founded on Dr Maria Montessori’s philosophy that a child can develop his intrinsic capabilities in ideal environmental conditions of freedom and discipline. Here, every child is respected as an individual and is allowed to develop at his own pace.”
Does this mean the child can do whatever he likes? Ms Geetha explained: “Actually, the educational environment has been carefully prepared to provide him with the appropriate stimuli for social, intellectual, creative and communicative skills. Therefore, the child is allowed to freely explore the possibilities within that prepared environment. There are five areas of development in our curriculum -- Practical Life Exercises, Sensorial Training, Mathematics, Language and Culture -- while extra-curricular activities include Music & Movement, Art & Craft, and Outdoor Play, which includes water and sand play.”
Will the child be ready to enter primary school? Said Ms Geetha, “We have our Pre-School and Pre-Primary Curriculums where the children will be gradually eased into structured syllabus in a classroom setting. We focus on building strong foundations in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, Mathematics and Science.
“However, while we keep in mind that a child has to be prepared for primary school, we must also allow him the necessary time, space and experiences to be ready for the challenges ahead of him. Our emphasis is not on how fast or how well he can perform compared with children of his age. I believe it is totally wrong to pressure a child to conform to popularly expected standards. Every child is an individual, a precious individual. First Steps’ emphasis is on ensuring that he gains confidence, independence and enthusiasm for learning -- factors vital for his wholesome development. Yes, our children will definitely be ready for primary school… and it will be after a beautiful and enjoyable pre-school experience here.”
Smart Reader Kids Bandar Utama is one of the franchise centres under Smart Reader Worldwide, the largest chain of child enrichment centres in Malaysia. Yuzliyanty Yusof and Gail Rodrigues, the two principals, started the kindergarten in Bandar Utama in 2001, just two years after the Smart Reader Kids concept was launched, catering to children from 3 years to 6 years old. Since then, their centre has been receiving Smart Reader Worldwide’s Gold Award almost every year.
Says Puan Yanty (as she is often called), “We are an innovative and fun English-medium preschool with a reputable and internationally recognised syllabus. Our teachers are our greatest asset. Not only are they experienced and well-trained (we are supported with regular training by Smart Reader Worldwide), they are committed to helping our students learn and succeed. That’s why the children still remember their teachers after they have graduated from kindergarten and moved on to primary school. We can spend extra time on children who need more attention because our teacher to student ratio is low, usually one teacher to 10-15 students. If a class has more than 15 students, we will always have two teachers.”
What is unique about the Smart Reader Kids concept? Puan Yanty says, “We use the Smart Reader Creative Teaching Methodology which not provides a fun and exciting learning programme but also enables children to imbibe good moral values. Throughout the learning process, children are taught to reason out problems, find answers and look for solutions on their own. In addition, we always make sure the children are ready for the next level before we proceed.”
Subjects taught under Smart Reader Kids are: Smart English, Smart Bacaan, Smart Maths, Smart Science, Hygiene/Moral, Pendidikan Moral, Art & Craft, Kinder Cooking, Smart Music, and Smart Computer. Optional subjects are Smart Mandarin and Fardhu Ain. After school, the centre also offers Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia tutorial and an Intensive English Programme.
Ms Grace also believes that children should be exposed to learning as young as possible: “Dr Andrew Meltzoff (an expert on child development) says that children learn more in the first five years of their life than they will ever learn in any other 5-year period. As such, besides focusing on the 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), we emphasise the 4Cs – Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking and Collaboration. This means that our kids are equipped with life skills, can think through things, and care about the Earth and their community. We also incorporate multisensory and multiple intelligence (MI) materials into our curriculum; every child has his own set of materials from International Proven Education Systems.
"Our kids learn a lot, yet in a fun way without stress. For example, Mandarin is a challenging language for children if we use the traditional approach. But amazingly, our students can master all three languages using our right-left brain, animated approach! Parents find it very effective while the kids love it and want to learn more! As such, our students are well-prepared to go to any school, whether Chinese-medium, international or national."
While we were there, Kiddy123’s team saw multisensory and MI learning in action. A group of three- and four-year-olds stood on the porch holding umbrellas while a teacher sprayed water on them from a high ladder (besides learning “r” is for rain, these city kids learn how rain feels like). Another group went to a nearby park to hug trees and walk barefooted on the grass -- an activity under Tadika Aktif’s 2016 theme “Importance of Trees and Appreciating Nature”. We saw children expertly using robot kits to build and programme robots. We saw a tiny little girl confidently holding a microphone and singing her heart out. Definitely 21st century kids!
The Star Children House (TSCH) in BU11/7 is one of the 12 kindergartens under the TSCH Group. With a history of 27 years’ experience in the development of early childhood education in Malaysia, the TSCH Group’s kindergartens have become the kindergarten of choice for many parents who want their children to be fully equipped and ready to enter Chinese primary schools.
TSCH Group Managing Director Madam Tan Saw Sim says, “All these years, we did not spend a single sen on marketing and advertising as we believe that our excellent syllabus and qualified teachers will speak for themselves. True enough, many parents got to know about us by word of mouth. From only one centre in Wangsa Maju, we have now expanded throughout the Klang Valley due to the overwhelming response from parents. Most importantly, we want more children to have the opportunity of a good foundation in early childhood education. Our intakes are always full. Why? It is because of our experienced and well-trained teachers. Until today, I personally undertake the task of screening and selecting every new teacher. A good teacher will have three essential qualities. Firstly, and most importantly, she must love children. Secondly, she must have the children’s interests at heart. Thirdly, she must be committed enough to take extra time and effort for any child who needs help. We continuously train our teachers to provide the best education and guidance for every child. Today, we are proud to tell the world TSCH’s students can read, write and speak fluently before going to primary school.”
TSCH (Bandar Utama Branch), with about 160 students, is one of the biggest kindergartens in the suburb. Principal Eu Lang Lang says, “The teaching method adopted by TSCH promotes the total development of a child. For social and emotional development, we encourage the children to interact with one another and teach them values such as sharing and compromising. We encourage communication and conversation in English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia to enhance the children’s vocabulary and their ability to express themselves. We provide lessons involving art, craft and music to expand their creativity, and indoor activities and outdoor games to develop their motor skills and coordination. Nutrition also plays an important role in a child’s development. Parents are very happy that we provide high quality, nutritious and delicious food to the children during recess time. Besides that, parents often tell us that they are very grateful to be kept informed about their children’s work and performance in class.
"Every year we enable our children to build their self-esteem and confidence by providing them the opportunity to perform on stage. Our annual concert has now grown into a really big event and is the highlight of the year for both our parents and children. Parents are touched and impressed by their children’s world-class performances, while the children are proud to show off their talents by performing for their parents. It is not an easy task for us to organise such a grand event, but the results are worth all the hard work.”
Do let us know
Kiddy123 hopes these ideas on early childhood education have helped you to assess the choices available out there for your child. Please see our list of kindergartens in Bandar Utama and let us know when you find others that are worthy of mention.