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In an educational climate that favours Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, it is easy to dismiss the arts as a superfluous frill. But some preschools in Singapore are going against the grain by incorporating a good dose of arts into their curriculum.
Here, we ask the experts what every parent should know about this learning approach, and how it helps boost development.
Your preschooler gets to experience different art forms
At an arts-integrated preschool, kids may try their hand at specialised art forms that are usually not available in mainstream preschool programmes. For instance, kindergarten children at Kinderland’s preschools are introduced to weekly keyboard lessons taught by professionally-qualified music teachers under its Children’s Music Programme.
Over at Nafa Arts Preschool, little ones learn fine arts skills and techniques such as music theory, plaster of Paris (a material commonly used in the field of arts) and ballet movements, its group principal Allison Wong shares.
Not your typical art or music enrichment
In a conventional art and craft class for example, the main objective is to have kids interact with art materials and learn certain art techniques and skills.
But arts-integrated preschools don’t just have arts education in mind, says Stacey Toh, executive principal at My First Skool (MFS) at Block 119 Edgefield Plains, a childcare centre that offers a niche arts programme in partnership with the National Arts Council called Holistic Education through the Arts.
Rather than allocate a specific time and lesson for art, many preschools with an arts focus incorporate it into the children’s daily routine, classroom activities and lessons. For example, arts experiences are integrated into about 70 to 80 per cent of lessons and activities at MFS at Blk 119 Edgefield Plains, which adheres to the curriculum framework by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and NTUC First Campus’ MFS, Stacey shares.
This means, your kid gets ample opportunity to flex his creative and artistic muscles. Immersing arts and music in a preschool programme provides a good balance of experiences in different learning areas, says Cindy Pat Thomas, curriculum specialist at Kinderland.
Expect dedicated learning spaces designed to encourage creativity and inspiration
For example, MFS in Blk 119 Edgefield Plains was specially designed to facilitate teaching and learning in the arts. Key centre features include workshop spaces that allow kids to explore various media and art materials, courtyards in between classrooms and a gallery to showcase children’s artworks.
At Nafa Arts Preschool (Bencoolen Campus), which boasts an open concept, classroom walls with glass panels and child-friendly passageways create plenty of opportunities for interplay and interaction. Dedicated areas have also been set aside for its fine arts programme, including an atelier for visual art, a dance studio and a music studio.
It’s not all play and no work
So, your kid seems to be having a ball of time making art in school. Should you be worried that he’s not getting enough academic exposure?
These concerns are unfounded because academic skills like reading, writing and Math will not be compromised even as your little one gets ample arts exposure, the experts say.
Although the arts are interwoven into the lessons, teachers continue to adhere to a set of learning objectives guided by MOE’s kindergarten curriculum framework.
When learning about AB patterns (an early maths skill), for example, kids may also work on an art technique like relief printing, Stacey shares.
“Through this activity, children learn to cut out shapes on recycled cardboard with the guidance of a teacher and print them according to the AB pattern. In this way, we meet several learning objectives in a single lesson,” she says.
Exposure to the arts helps your kid develop and learn better
An arts-integrated curriculum enhances academic learning, and there are numerous studies to support this, Allison shares. Singing, dancing, drawing and role-playing are art forms intuitive to young kids, which makes learning meaningful and relevant to them, she says.
In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Arkansas, students who participated in an arts programme at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art showed stronger critical thinking skills when analysing a new painting.
Music also boosts kids’ brain development and their learning processes in other non-music subjects, says Cindy of Kinderland.
“Studies have shown that immersing music in preschool programmes help to improve children’s memory and concentration span, and encourages more expressiveness and attentiveness,’ she adds.
It is also important for parents to understand that literacy skills cannot develop without kids reaching certain milestones first, the experts share.
“Kids don’t learn to write immediately. They need to work on their finger muscles first to be able to hold a pencil properly for writing. And one of the ways to do so is to expose them to activities like painting, colouring and cutting,” Stacey explains.
Plus, children exposed to numerous arts experiences also have better social emotional skills, Allison shares. Besides building selfesteem, group activities also help kids work out important social skills like taking turns, sharing and negotiating ideas.
“Understand that art is a process – it helps the child be ready for school and for life,” Stacey says.
Look for programmes supported by trained artists and/or teachers with special arts training
When considering an artsintegrated preschool, Allison advises parents to look for centres with specialised art teachers. Nafa Arts Preschool’s fine arts programme, which covers the following art forms music, visual art, speech and drama, and dance, are taught by its own industry veterans.
In Kinderland’s Children’s Music Programme, classes are conducted by qualified specialist teachers. And over at MFS at Blk 119 Edgefield Plains, artists selected by the Arts Council train and mentor early childhood teachers. Both artists and teachers work together to develop arts content and lesson plans.
“As these artists selected are also early childhood educators themselves, they are able to understand the work of an early childhood professional,” Stacey says.
It may take time for your kid to appreciate art
What if your kid doesn’t fancy art? This does not mean an arts-integrated curriculum is not suitable. Instead, this could mean that your little one needs more time and exposure to appreciate art, says Allison.
Stacey adds: “Kids are inquisitive by nature but may be afraid to try a new activity because it is foreign to them.”
Consider your child’s learning style and look for a programme that caters to different needs.
“Some children learn better from listening or from actual hands-on experiences while others learn from observing teachers and peers. For example, the Children’s Music Programme in Kinderland preschools enables kids to listen, observe and interact,” says Elvia Husein, a music specialist there.
3 arts-integrated preschools to check out
Art, music and movement are integrated into Kinderland’s preschool curriculum, providing kids with a sense of connectivity between art-focused activities and the concepts and skills of other learning areas.
The chain runs a unique Children’s Music Programme that uses a ﬁve-step system (listen-singplay-read-write) developed according to children’s developmental stages.
Each week, pre-nursery and nursery kids get an early foundation in music through 60-minute lessons conducted by specialist teachers. During these group class sessions, they are encouraged to express themselves musically through singing, rhyme recitation, rhythmic movement, music stories and ensemble playing.
Kindergarden 1 and 2 children are introduced to weekly keyboard lessons to further develop their hearing, singing, keyboard playing and notation reading skills.
Nafa Arts Preschool
The ﬁrst arts-themed preschool in Singapore, Nafa Arts Preschool’s unique curriculum inspires learning and growth through the arts.
Interwoven into an academic curriculum based on the Ministry of Education’s kindergarten curriculum framework, Nurturing Early Learners, its ﬁne arts programme covers art forms including music (keyboard and introduction to a variety of instruments), visual arts (two- and three-dimensional art), dance (creative movement and ballet) and speech and drama.
Kids are also immersed in a bilingual (Chinese and English) environment throughout the day, which gives them a solid foundation for language acquisition.
My First Skool (MFS) at Blk 119 Edgeﬁeld Plains
This Punggol preschool offers an arts-integrated programme that was created in partnership with the National Arts Council to nurture creativity and love of the arts in kids from a young age.
Lessons are co-developed by teaching artists and preschool teachers to enhance and support children’s learning and development.
The centre was specially designed with an artsbased approach in mind. Expect dedicated workshop spaces, courtyards in between classrooms and a gallery to showcase children’s artworks, all of which create an inspiring environment for free thinking and creativity.