SINGAPORE: Enrichment classes for children in Singapore are getting more eclectic - ranging from TV acting to mixed martial arts or sewing - these lessons seldom come cheap.
At the Singapore Media Academy (SMA), its popular term-long programmes Mandarin Nurturing Course and Bubbling Talents (English) weave language learning into games and the performing arts.
"It makes me less shy," said six-year-old Ho Ge Bin, who has been at SMA since he was three. "I learn new words and when I go back to school, my teachers will teach it and I already know it. So my teachers and friends are very impressed."
A term-long programme here costs about S$900 or almost S$40 per hour, which is more than two times the cost of speech and drama classes at community centres. For the parents of the 442 students who signed up this year, its unique selling point is the media-based curriculum. This term, students recorded a variety show, which was shown at a screening for parents.
One of them, Ho Ge Bin's mother Michelle Cheam, said: "I think the teachers play a very important part for him. He has done other speech and drama classes before, but he still prefers SMA.
"If you send him for tuition like for Math, Chinese and English, that is something I will be able to do at home. But sending him to a place like SMA, I will not be able to hold classes like this and let him have the platform to perform and have the different character role-play."
Six-year-old Arielle comes from an English-speaking home and her mother Geraldine Cheng Hua Yong said the Mandarin classes have helped her to express herself.
"This is a fun class, so it is not so stressful where you have to learn the correct strokes, learn what the proper characters are, how to write it. This is I guess to help more with spoken Mandarin and to learn more of the Mandarin phrases," said Ms Cheng.
Mother of three Clarissa Choh has been sending her children to a mixed martial arts school for three years. She pays S$300 every month for each child, who can take as many lessons as they want. This compares with about S$20 to S$40 an hour for martial arts classes elsewhere in Singapore. But she said it is worth every penny.
"I find that whatever they learn, the programme teaches them discipline," said Ms Choh. "They are taught when to focus and when they go off in pairs they learn how to be mindful of each other. The mindfulness spills over to the home, and discipline and focus spill over to the schoolwork."
According to the school, parents often see an improvement in their children's grades after they start practising mixed martial arts. Its kids' programme, which started in 2000, has about 300 students. To cope with the increasing demand, a new branch was set up more than a year ago. It started to offer the kids' programme at another of its gyms. The company added that 85 per cent of children who sign up yearly, continue on the following year.
Sew Into It, like its name suggests, teaches children how to sew. Though the outfit is only a year-and-a-half old, it has coached more than 100 kids. A two-hour session costs S$50 per child. The sessions are held in groups of four either at their homes or at Sew Into It's shop at Kreta Ayer.
"Through sewing, they develop patience and are also more attuned to design so it develops their creativity. Most important of all, with their finished product they get a great sense of satisfaction so they can take home something that they treasure," said mother of two Caroline Lee.
Ms Joanna Tan, who pays S$50 for each of her three daughters for private sewing classes, said: "It makes them more adventurous and they are not so scared to try out new things. They might be going rock climbing this week. Or they might be doing Japanese cooking the next week."
These schools specialise in the areas they teach and teachers are also industry practitioners. But an Early Childhood Education expert said whether children really benefit from the activities depends on a host of factors. These include whether they like the classes, how they are conducted and the children's home environment.
"It's not measured by the cost of the activity, but the type, the nature of activity and whether the children enjoy the activities," said Ms Tian Foong Chue. "Facilitators need to be very skilful in allowing children that space to express themselves and allow children to learn to construct their own knowledge.
"If parents can spend time with them, going through activities together to build that bond and give children that space to explore their feelings and for them to develop their confidence, I think there is no difference, you don't have to spend so much money.”