SINGAPORE: See, smell, hear, touch and taste what nature has to offer - this is what Singapore's first childcare centre in a park will offer when it opens its doors at the end of this year to 400 children aged between two months and six years.
The two-storey facility at Sengkang Riverside Park will be run by anchor operator Skool4kidz, and is one of four mega childcare centres that will be built by the middle of next year, announced the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) on Wednesday (Jan 18).
Two centres will be in Punggol and will take in 1,000 kids each, and one will be in Bukit Panjang and will take in 300 kids. Together, the four new centres will provide 2,700 infant and childcare places.
The Skool4kidz Campus @ Sengkang Park will be about four times bigger than the average childcare centre in Singapore. It will also have learning spaces that are integrated with nature, like a Butterfly Lodge where kids can learn about the insects’ biology, and children will be served fruits and vegetables harvested from the centre's own garden. The centre will also tap on the National Parks Board’s (NParks) expertise to incorporate educational materials on Singapore's biodiversity.
“Anything you do with young children in the early years of their lives leave a very lasting impact on their development. A lot of what we do with our children don’t start young enough,” said Dr Jane Ching-Kwan, director and curriculum consultant of Skool4kidz.
“We have got a lot of research that points to the very positive relationship when children interact with nature. It carries on not only in learning, but also to their overall psychological, social, mental and physical growth.”
Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said ECDA is constantly looking into ways to provide better learning opportunities for children.
"This centre at Sengkang Riverside Park is the result of a partnership with NParks, so that our children can easily participate in physical and outdoor activities. This enhances their well-being and development, and also nurtures their appreciation for nature from a very young age,” he said.
DEMAND FOR CHILDCARE PLACES STILL RISING
Another five mega childcare centres are being built in estates like Jurong West, Woodlands and Yishun – areas with higher demand for childcare due to the larger number of young families, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
Sengkang West Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min said demand for places in childcare centres is still growing, and “the consensus is that we need to build more childcare centres”.
“Many parents have given feedback that they have been placed on the waiting list for the past six months, to even 12 months. And even with the completion of some of the new childcare centres, they are still deprived of a place. That tells us that the demand is still there,” Dr Lam said.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development is carefully tracking the demand for childcare places, said Mr Tan.
“We’re working very closely with HDB, all the new estates. Clearly, we continue to build childcare centres in the void deck. But we’re looking at various locations – parks is a new development and something we’re quite excited about. We’re tracking very closely and reviewing the demand as it evolves. So we’re very much on track,” he said.
Parents interested to register their children in the four new childcare centres can do so from the second quarter of this year at www.childcarelink.gov.sg.