Kiddy123’s survey of quality preschools in Puchong took us further south to the neighbourhood of Taman Puchong Utama. And were we glad we ventured all the way there! Our “treasure hunt” unearthed a number of unique preschools for our dear parents. Take a look at what we discovered for you and your little one.
Note: The preschools below are listed in alphabetical order.
Teacher Anis’ eyes sparkle with joy when she talks about the children in D’Garden Educare Centre. We could clearly see that she loves each and every one of them and they adore her. During our visit, each time we walk into a class with her, there are delighted squeals of “Teacher Anis! Teacher Anis!” and the children happily take turns hugging her… even the smaller ones who barely reach up to her knees!
Although she is the Principal of D’Garden Puchong Utama and the Operations Manager for D’Garden’s 10 centres, Teacher Anis makes time for her students. The children are welcome to knock on her office door if something troubles them. “I don’t have children of my own, so all my pupils are my children. If they have a problem, I want them to tell me,” said Teacher Anis. It can be anything from not willing to share a toy to not liking carrots for lunch, and Teacher Anis treats each case with patience and respect.
“D’Garden is a place where children can play and learn in a safe and homely environment. We not only emphasise the academic aspect but also social skills, manners, and living skills. We design our own textbooks and workbooks and have incorporated very hands-on activities that help children learn. For example, we let them see the colours of the actual fruits, they touch, they smell, and then taste the juice of the fruits. During art class, we let them choose their own colours so that they can express their emotions. We also have water play and sand play; we develop their gross motor skills by allowing them to climb, jump, run; we let them walk barefooted on the grass to improve their sensory skills and balance. There are regular training programmes for our teachers where we teach them to be creative in their lessons. Every child is different, and therefore the teaching approach we use may differ from child to child. Our teachers have even taken the children to Tesco to buy groceries, each armed with their mum’s shopping list,” said Teacher Anis.
So much loving thought and care have been taken with all the activities that both children and parents feel as if they are a part of a big family – the D’Garden Family.
When we met Ms Yap Mei Lee, we were a little surprised that Kinderland Puchong Utama’s youthful-looking owner and principal spoke with such confidence and assurance. After all, she has been in the kindergarten business for only four years… However, upon interviewing her, we found out why. Her preschool is supported by programmes that are the result of continuous research and development by Kinderland’s in-house early childhood professionals over the last 38 years. Integrating proven education methodologies from the West with Eastern philosophies of morality and interpersonal relationships, these programmes have been successfully used by franchisees all over Singapore, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Cambodia, besides Malaysia. Good reason for confidence!
Ms Yap’s love for children had motivated her to study for her Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and to teach in various kindergartens over the years. However, her real success story started in 2012 when she set up her own kindergarten using Kinderland’s Integrated Learning Approach. The Theme-Based Curriculum provided a gradually expanding learning experience for her students, from the youngest to the oldest, with an emphasis on hands-on learning.
There is a strong focus on music to enhance language literacy. This is the only preschool we have seen so far that incorporates a music course as part of its syllabus. Besides the usual Music & Movement lessons with percussion instruments, Kinderland’s Children Music Programme provides their students the opportunity to experiment with simple musical instruments, while the younger kids enjoy early exposure to music appreciation. Including music in the school curriculum also helps children to improve their concentration and memory, ability to express feelings better, understanding of the basic rudiments of music, ability to read music scores and appreciation of teamwork.
The kindergarten also has a specially designed health and fitness programme for young children, its KinderFit Programme, which develops self-confidence, responsible habits, team spirit, and a positive attitude towards a healthy life-style.
Another thing that makes Kinderland Puchong Utama stand out is that every one of Ms Yap’s teaching staff is an ECCE diploma holder. “I know how important it is to have trained and qualified staff. Parents have placed their precious ones in our care and that is a huge responsibility. I prefer to pay extra for my staff to ensure that the children have the best care possible,” explained Ms Yap.
News must have spread about Ms Yap’s kindergarten because she soon found that she had no more places for children whose parents wish to enrol them. “I was running out of space as parents even wanted me to take in their pre-nursery and nursery-age children,” said Ms Yap. This prompted her to set up a nursery beginning 2016 in an airy corner house on the same row as her kindergarten, with lots of space for the younger children.
After being a school teacher for a number of years, Ms Goh Hooi Sean left her government job to spend more time with her children. But as it turned out, she did more than just that. Ms Goh decided to play a bigger role in her children’s formative years by having her own kindergarten, which her children attended. “Before starting, I asked myself: What sort of preschool would parents want for their children? There were so many methods and programmes available out there. I had to think through what makes a good kindergarten,” said Ms Goh as she reflected back. After checking out the various preschool franchises, she decided to use the Q-dees Starters programme with its “Link & Think” methodology that maximises on the child’s innate brain activity to build meaningful connections. The more the connections, the faster the child learns – and ultimately build a strong foundation for a lifetime love of learning.
Ms Goh said, “I found Q-dees’ Learn and Play Approach to be very effective in providing a good balance of work and play for the children so that learning is not stressful for them. Our programme is also unique in that it has specifically designed in a loving and conducive environment that enhances the children’s learning experience and nurtures them to become confident and independent learners later on.”
Her students’ confidence was indeed very apparent. As we went from class to class with Ms Goh, we found the children to be exceptionally disciplined and quick to respond. We were surprised that the moment we entered a class, the students stood up and chorused “Good morning, Teacher Goh” without being told to. Ms Goh explained, “Here, we emphasise on the child’s social and emotional development. We teach the children good moral values and how to relate positively to people and things around them. This includes having good manners, showing respect, and caring for others and the environment.”
Q-dees also emphasises on all three languages – English, BM and Chinese. Said Ms Goh, “People seem to think that the Q-dees’ strong point is its English Phonics Programme, but in actual fact, we focus on the mastery of all three languages. All these years, we have been preparing our students for international schools, Chinese-medium schools and national schools. My daughter entered a Chinese primary school and she had no problem. Our students are well-prepared when they enter Standard One.”
A plus point for parents is that they do not have to pay extra for the various Q-dees programmes such conversational English or vocal training. Everything is included in the package when they pay the fees. Therefore, the children have the opportunity to learn more things without having to go for extra classes after school.
Shambala Kidz’s Chairman Datin Yenwei is living proof of her belief that a leadership mentality and leadership skills are the keys to a meaningful and successful future. As a teenager, she was already concerned with social issues and volunteered in an orphanage during weekends to make life better for underprivileged children. Today, she is busy organising fun runs to raise funds for charity.
Datin Yenwei’s determination to teach children to become leaders first started when she observed the children in the orphanage. “I saw them grow up without proper guidance and no purpose or direction in their lives. Later on, some of them didn’t even care that their behaviour may negatively affect their future, despite all my attempts at helping and advising them,” she said with sadness in her voice.
“It was then that I realised we must start cultivating a leadership mindset in children when they are still young and teachable; it will be difficult to change their thinking when they are older. Today’s children need to be leaders to survive in an extremely competitive world. With academic qualifications, you can be a worker, but with both academic qualifications and leadership skills, you will become a better worker and a leader. Leaders are people who know their responsibilities, have empathy, and are always willing to lend a helping hand to others. As a boss, I would definitely choose workers who are responsible and ready to cooperate with me and their colleagues to make my business a success,” said Datin Yenwei.
On how she initiated Shambala Kidz: “I couldn’t find a suitable franchise, so I designed my own programmes, with the help of specialists in the various disciplines, to create the right environment and opportunities for children to cultivate leadership qualities and skills. We call it the Shambala Kidz Leadership Development Programme (SKLDP), an early childhood education system that combines training in leadership skills. We took two years to develop SKLDP, which has a total of 18 elements, but it was worth all our hard work as we are now able to nurture our students to become the future pillars of society.
"All the coaches in Shambala Kidz are either diploma or degree holders in early childhood care and education. They are well-trained to help each child develop communication skills, presentation skills, planning skills, financial & time management skills, and to execute projects. Our classes are small, one coach to 10 students at the most, so that every child gets individual attention.”
We were truly impressed by the children when we visited the classrooms. The students greeted us politely and continued calmly with their work, undisturbed by our presence. Such poise and confidence at such a young age! Datin Yenwei smiled, “It is because we believe in them. When we show children that we believe in their abilities, they gain confidence and are eager to learn. We also encourage parents to practise that principle. When their parents believe in them, children can succeed in almost anything.”
The spacious 3-storey school was equally impressive. It was bright and squeaky clean, with a CCTV in every room and a security guard on the ground floor. We saw a beautiful hall with a stage for the children’s weekly presentations and dance classes, a mini golf course, a special indoor pool for water play, etc. Datin Yenwei is also determined to keep her students as healthy as possible. Strict measures are taken every day to keep the whole school almost germ-free and there is not a single processed food in the meals menu; everything is made from scratch in their spacious kitchen. Indeed, at Shambala Kidz, every care has been taken to provide the best environment to develop our future leaders!
Sri Mentari Puchong Utama 9 is the second kindergarten started by Lam Yoke Ying and Elaine Choo to offer an effective and comprehensive Trilingual Teaching Programme, i.e. English, Bahasa Melayu and Chinese. Altogether, they have five centres in Puchong.
Laments Ms Lam, “Nowadays, teachers in secondary schools complain to me that 50% to 60% of their students are poor readers, especially in the English language. The sad thing is that once the children are not good in reading, they will be slower to learn or acquire knowledge -- mainly because they may not understand what they read – and this will affect all their other subjects now and later on. Parents must realise the importance of reading and encourage their children to read.”
The two ladies have made it their personal mission to inculcate good reading habits among children today. Besides the National Standard Preschool Curriculum, they use their Trilingual Teaching Programme to start children with reading as early as 3 years old. According to Ms Lam, by the time they are 5, her students can read books without any problem.
“At Sri Mentari, the main difference with other kindergartens is our reading programme. We start them young so that we can build a strong foundation in reading. We use flash cards for the 3 to 4-year olds and readers for the older children. At first, they memorise words, then later, short sentences. Unlike others, we not only teach names of objects but also words like “I”, “you”, “is”, “are”, etc, so that they can form sentences. And we make sure we don’t use baby language with the little ones. We talk to them in short but complete sentences, not “We go school”. All our reading books tell stories in dialogue form so that the children can learn to speak by using those sentences in their daily life. For those children who are slower readers, every morning before lessons start, we have one-to-one reading sessions so that they can catch up with the rest,” said Ms Lam.
We realised how effective Sri Mentari’s reading programme was when we observed a 5-year old confidently reading aloud a book that would probably be a reader for a Primary One or Two student. All in all, before going to Primary One, a Sri Mentari student would have finished reading 20 English books, 10 BM books and ??? Chinese books.
Besides their emphasis on trilingual teaching, Sri Mentari is well-known for its 7 Mentari Edu Scheme, which teaches the children to be creative, disciplined, confident, observant, independent, enthusiastic about learning and to think smart. “We use these seven characteristics as a basis for making sure that all our students are ready for Primary School. When they develop these characteristics, they will not stressed by their new environment and the new school work when they start Primary One. Our reading programme also gives them the confidence to handle all three languages, so they have no problem with learning and doing their work,” added Ms Lam.
When we visited Tadika Kristal Cerah, it looked like your usual neighbourhood kindergarten. But after talking to the principal Ms Carmen Lau, we realised that parents get more than what they are paying for. Her love for children led Ms Carmen Lau to teach in a Montessori kindergarten immediately after high school and, later, to take her diploma in early childhood care & education, and diploma in child psychology. Today, her concern is not only about her students’ academic performance but also about their thinking, attitude and behaviour. She is very concerned that children today get angry easily and are loud, rude and hyperactive. She sometimes even checks what diet they have at home to see whether it has any relationship with the child’s behaviour.
“For some years now, I noticed that children are getting harder to handle. It could be the sugar content in the canned drinks or milk formula they consume, or the processed foods. Here, we try to give them healthy food. Also, first thing in the morning, we have exercises to calm the children down before starting their lessons. We also use the Brain Gym movement-based programme to enhance the children’s visual, auditory and kinaesthetic skills, which helps them to learn better and with less stress,” said Ms Carmen.
Her teachers have been trained to resolve issues that the students may have, but she will personally step in to counsel the children whenever necessary. Every day, before school dismisses, all teachers must submit a form that records which child was absent and any unusual incidents or behaviour that happened in class. ”Most parents focus on academic performance, but in actual fact, a child’s attitude is most important. If his/her attitude is bad, there is no point having the best education. Once the child has learnt to control his/her anger and behave properly, her/she will be able to relate to people and learning will be no problem.”
This added service has resulted in more and more parents sending “difficult” children to Ms Carmen for counselling and, today, she has expanded into her third centre. “I sympathise with parents. They sometimes really do not know what to do or how to help their child. With working parents, it is even more difficult as a lot of time and patience is required to counsel the child. Here, we do the best we can, but, at times, we may have to refer the child for professional help,” explained Ms Carmen.
To provide greater peace of mind to her students’ parents, Ms Carmen is using technology to keep them updated on their child and his/her progress in school. Tadika Kristal Cerah’s LittleLives Technology helps parents keep track of what time their child arrive and leave school, monitor the child’s health visually (rashes, fever, weight, height), have a portfolio of their child’s special moments in school, keep track of their child’s learning progress (lessons are uploaded into the portal), get updates of happenings or upcoming events in school, and tap into e-learning resources and interactive apps. With such added value, it is no wonder that her centres have expanded so quickly.
After operating a kindergarten for eight years and observing how children behave towards their parents, siblings, and others around them, Tadika Mesra Sesama principal Rose Heng made up her mind to bring back the moral principles and virtues that were taught by Confucius, Mencius and other ancient Chinese sages thousands of years ago. She sold off her kindergarten and spent two years in China to study their teachings and even taught in a Confucian school. Today, she is using the Qing Dynasty classic book Di Zi Gui (Standards for Being a good Student and Child) as a guide for her students.
Said Ms Heng, “Nowadays, children do not know how to behave and interact with those around them. That is why there are so many social problems today. Once they know the standards for being a good son/daughter, brother/sister, student or employee, they will know how to be a good person. To me, learning moral principles and virtues are even more important than learning the other school subjects. Without good morals and virtues, all your education will be wasted. When you work, your boss won’t look at your A1s, but rather how well-behaved, responsible and hardworking you are.”
Besides the usual subjects such as Bahasa Melayu, English (Phonics), Mandarin, Reading, Maths, Art and Gym, her students will recite the Di Zu Gui with practical sessions on the teachings. They also learn Chinese classical poems and ancient stories on being dutiful to parents. As an added bonus, when the child completes the Di Zu Gui, he/she would have memorised a total of 1,080 Chinese characters. Ms Heng said, “When my students enter Chinese-medium schools, they find that they do very well in Chinese because of our training. We make sure that every child is able to read and recite the whole Di Zu Gui together with some writing work. I use story books to teach moral principles and virtues to the children as they will remember them better. But before the children proceed to the next book, I will check whether they truly understand the principles behind the story.
“I also tell parents about the Di Zu Gui so that they can help the children to put the principles into practice at home. If parents pamper them, children will develop weak characters and one day when the parents are old, they may find that their children do not take responsibility in caring for them. To keep our family system from disintegrating, we must teach the children while they are still young.”
Ms Heng has a challenging task ahead of her in changing the mindset of a whole generation of children. It has not been easy for her to introduce a new way of thinking by going back to the ancient ways but the success of her children in international level recitations of the Di Zu Gui must have encouraged her to go on to fulfill her vision of a better and more caring society.