SINGAPORE: Simple obstacle courses made of recycled materials and "music walls" made up of old pots and pans could be making an appearance in some HDB estates as part of efforts to enhance outdoor learning experiences for the early childhood education sector.
Speaking at the start of the Early Childhood Conference 2019 on Friday (Sep 13), Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said outdoor learning has "immense benefits" for the development of children.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has said these benefits include improving the health, learning and developmental outcomes for children.
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Mr Lee noted that last year, an Outdoor Learning Committee was formed by various government agencies - including the Education Ministry (MOE) and the Health Promotion Board - as well as pre-school operators and early childhood professionals, to study how outdoor learning can be enhanced in Singapore.
Two prototypes of outdoor learning spaces will be launched at Bukit Batok and Jurong West to see how existing pre-schools in HDB estates can use the environment outside their centres for such learning opportunities.
At Jurong West, ways will be introduced to allow children and teachers to move more freely from indoors to the outdoors.
"One way, for example, is to create an extension from the centre's window that leads out into an open area for children to explore," said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.
Meanwhile the Bukit Batok prototype aims to create "outdoor learning trails" in HDB estates, for example by creating community learning gardens or simple obstacle courses using recycled items.
"This initiative will complement ECDA and HDB's work in developing pre-schools with age-appropriate playgrounds or community gardens nearby, as well as the National Parks Board's efforts in developing nature playgardens and evidence-based design guidelines to aid pre-schools, agencies and developers design and build such playgardens across Singapore," said ECDA.
Meanwhile, ECDA, MOE and the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) have developed resources such as courses and an online repository of lesson ideas to facilitate educators in providing children with outdoor learning opportunities.
NIEC will also be introducing new professional development courses on outdoor learning next year, which will help build up educators' skills in designing and facilitating appropriate outdoor learning experiences for children up to the age of six.
EXPANDING KIDSTART PROGRAMME FROM APRIL 2020
Mr Lee also announced that the KidSTART programme, which currently benefits 1,000 children from low-income families, will be expanded from April next year to benefit another 5,000 children.
This comes after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced the expansion of the KidSTART programme during the National Day Rally in August.
The programme - which supports and advises needy families on issues such as child development and pre-school support - will be expanded to more areas.
Priority will be given to areas where the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) supports families in rental blocks through the Community Link (ComLink) initiative - launched earlier this year to provide coordinated support to these families - such as Kembangan-Chai Chee and Marsiling.
Mr Lee also announced the monthly household income ceiling for KidSTART from S$1,900 to S$2,500, to allow more children and families to benefit from the programme.
Mr Lee added with the support of Temasek Foundation, ECDA is also working with the Singapore University of Social Sciences to develop training in the early childhood, health and social work fields, so as to better support families under the KidSTART programme.
These are part of efforts to make pre-school education more inclusive, he said.