As the first Tzu Chi educational institution in Singapore, the Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool was a milestone for the organisation’s mission of education. The preschool’s curriculum is grounded in the guiding principles of the Jing Si Aphorisms, and apart from helping children learn life skills and stimulating their intellectual development, there is also an emphasis on wholesome character development.
The school’s inauguration was good news to young parents living in the densely populated Chong Pang neighbourhood situated in the northern part of Singapore and they accompanied their children on the first day with much anticipation.
Around seven o’clock in the morning, parent Lv Wen Jing was the first to arrive at the door of the preschool with her four-year-old son Yao Jun Yi. Looking adorable in his blue and white sailor suit styled uniform and carrying a blue bag with the Tzu Chi logo, Jun Yi was not shy at all. When the teacher took out the toys, he gamely joined the other children in play. When asked if he liked going to school, he nodded his head without hesitation.
Lv lives about an eight-minute walk away from the preschool and during the renovation phase, had often popped by to check on the progress of the preschool. She is eager for her son to be schooled in a humanistic education system that is steeped in the Great Love spoken of by Master Cheng Yen, and feels that it is most important for a child to have a happy learning environment.
Nurturing Young Seedlings
Standing at the doorway, a teacher confirms the name and class of each child, takes his temperature and does a simple health check. After ascertaining that the child’s limbs and oral cavity are free of rashes and blisters, and his body does not have any wounds, the teacher then requests the parents to sign off on her record book. If the child’s body temperature is above 37 degrees celsius, parents will be asked to bring the child home and seek medical attention.
This daily protocol is followed by all preschools in Singapore and is meant as a health protection measure. It also prevents the transmission of contagious diseases such as Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD), measles, chicken pox etc. As soon as any child shows symptoms of having the disease, medical attention must be sought immediately.
The preschool employs a theme of laminate wood flooring, white walls and wooden cupboards to impart a practical and warm feel to the environment. The Parent Resource Corner comes equipped with a large viewing screen so parents can check up on information related to Tzu Chi’s mission of education, and a multipurpose room not only functions as an interactive space for teachers, students and Tzu Chi Great Love Mothers, it also allows the children a corner to play with toys together after they have reported for school.
Structurally, it is a little different from the open concept design of many preschools as it has floor-to-ceiling partitions that allow the separate classes of teachers and their students to focus on their own activities with the removal of noise distractions. The row of windows that face the corridor have also been designed such that they are at the eye level of the children.
“The children can look out of the classrooms and see the grass, flowers, passersby and changes in the cloud formations; when it rains they can see the raindrops too, thus they do not feel cutoff from the outside world,”says supervisor Wang Xuan Bi. Additionally, with the installation of shutters that can be rolled down over the windows when classes are in progress, the children can focus on their learning. Teachers too, bring their young charges outside the classroom to engage in activities in the garden so that they can be close to nature.
Chairs in the classrooms differ in height to cater for the children of different ages. Those meant for the use of children under the age of two years are shorter than those used for the class of five-year-olds by about six centimetres. This ensures that the children’s feet can touch the ground when they sit, and they can get on and off the chairs by themselves safely with ease.
Teachers and Great Love Mothers Join Hands
Apart from hiring professional teachers, the preschool also boasts the presence of Tzu Chi Great Love Mothers who play an important role. Wang reminded the Great Love Mothers that life education is an important part of the curriculum, thus the children are taught to do simple tasks that are within their abilities for their age group. For example, they remove their shoes and place them inside shoe bags before putting them in the cupboard. Their bags must also be placed in an orderly manner inside the cabinets, and they must bring their own water bottles etc.
Wang also mentions how the teachers would, according to the ages of the children, teach them to do daily tasks such as folding their clothes, blankets and tidying up their bed etc, all of which is helpful to the development of their muscular coordination as well. The teachers encourage, remind or lend a helping hand from the side, and this also allows the children to learn independence and team spirit.
Volunteers Luo Yi Hao and Qiu Hui Ling are Malaysians working in Singapore. They live in Woodlands, a good half hour away by car, yet chose to have their children enrolled at the Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool despite the distance. They have an elder daughter Luo Shi Ming enrolled in the class for three-year-olds, while their two-year-old daughter has registered for the children’s playgroup. Unexpectedly, upon arrival at the preschool, Shi Ming was unwilling to let go of her father and tears began to roll down her face.
In order to reassure the children and help them settle down at school, the teachers employ many different means such as a comforting touch, gentle words and various toys and children’s books to distract them from thoughts of missing their parents. Teacher Zhang Wen Hui also explains that they avoid bringing up the topic of their parents. Indeed, Shi Ming soon forgot her unease and a smile returned to her face as her attention was captured by the colourful toys and books. The teachers also take care to remind the children to share the toys and not fight over them.
Qiu says that while some of the other preschools mostly allow the children to engage in playtime, she hopes that her children can engage more in the learning process at the Tzu Chi preschool, for example, in learning to be prudent in the usage of water, electricity and the food consumption. She reveals that her daughter prefers to eat meat rather than vegetables, hence as the Tzu Chi preschool only serves vegetarian food, she hopes that her daughter can pick up the habit of consuming more vegetables.
Stressing on Wholesome Character Development
Principal Zhang Ai Hong joined the team at the preschool during the early stages of its planning, and was happy to see the project bear fruits with the hard work of everyone. That day, she had her hands full with administrative matters as well as with welcoming parents who came to enroll their children.
“The education system nowadays stresses more on academic performance but grades are not everything. Tzu Chi’s preschool places importance on wholesome character development, ethics and morals, allowing the children to learn social values.”As she spoke about the preschool’s vision, Zhang was glad that she had such an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society, which was in line with her original motivation for entering the educational field.
The preschool has six classes catering to children of different age groups; the infant care class comprising those less than 18 months old, as well as separate classes for two, three, four, five and six year olds. These classes are named “Gratitude,”“Respect,”“Great Love,”“Confidence,”“Determination” and “Courage,”in the hopes of guiding the young pupils towards developing these virtuous qualities. In total, the preschool section has a registration quota of 97 children and 52 have since been accepted. There are currently quite a few children who are in the midst of arranging a transfer from other schools and they will commence classes within April of this year.
Looking forward, Tzu Chi eagerly awaits the day that these young seedlings can grow and flourish in an environment of beauty and goodness, where with the benefit of tender care from the preschool teachers and Great Love Mothers, they will eventually become good citizens with helpful and caring hearts.