When Ms Gan Mong Teng and her husband, who works in the banking industry, moved into their three-storey condominium unit in the west in 2011, they turned part of the living room into a play area for their daughter, then aged two.
Ms Gan says: “We wanted it to be a space where she could spend most of her time, playing, exploring and having fun.”
They installed a detachable swing, which can be replaced with a trapeze or a hammock when their daughter, Xi Lin, is older.
They also put up a magnetic chalkboard for their daughter to draw freely. The board is attached to a cement wall with a smooth finish so that if Xi Lin were to draw on the wall, her doodles can be wiped off.
When their second child, Ling Rui, came along in 2012, they also introduced her to the space where she took her first steps.
Ms Gan became more convinced about the importance of unstructured free play – where children play without interference from adults and with no learning goals in mind – when she attended a talk by Waldorf trainer Horst Hellmann at the National Institute of Education in 2014.
There, she learnt about the use of open-ended toys to promote imagination and creativity in children as well as how being connected with nature is an important element of Waldorf.
Following the talk, she replaced the play area’s plastic toys with those made of wood and natural materials, among other things.
She also added crafting materials such as yarn for finger-knitting, felt wool to make toys and beeswax for modelling.
She says: “Handwork and finger dexterity are an important part of Waldorf philosophy, which views the hands as a reflection of brain development.”
Last year, she cordoned off another play area for her daughters using fabric to turn the space behind the living room sofa into an enclosed area.
“They love the space and would spend hours inside, role-playing with their dolls, pretending to be chefs, mothers or doctors,” she says.
Ms Gan, who co-founded a nature play group called Sprouting Seeds last year, says: “I want our children to have a holistic upbringing and our home to be a place where they can explore their artistic and creative side, so as to balance the more academic things that they learn in school.”
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A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.
(Video and photos: The Straits Times)