A bilingual immersion preschool? The thought of bilingual immersion in your kid’s early years may seem a little daunting.
After all, the majority of preschools here follow Singapore’s bilingual education system closely. English is the main language of instruction, with an hour or two of Mandarin lessons daily.
But a number of bilingual preschools now offer programmes that immerse children in a Mandarin-rich environment. Not only in terms of academic subjects, but also activities that cultivate a love of Chinese culture.
Dr Lucy Quek, deputy director for early childhood education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, says that listening to Mandarin continually enables young children to respond naturally and spontaneously.
“They may not understand everything at first, but the tone, facial expressions and body language of the teacher and other children provide some form of inference for the listening child.”
Research has shown that exposure to more than one language shapes a child’s brain, she adds. It increases his ability to switch as well as to stay focused, she adds.
“Parents who place their children in full Mandarin immersion preschools are likely to be speaking English at home. Thus, the child gets exposure to both languages. And, if preparedness for formal schooling is in terms of language competencies, it is a plus point to be in an immersion programme.”
So, how do these programmes at bilingual preschools work? We speak to some of the schools that offer such experiences.
Chengzhu Mandarin Kindergarten
Billed as a Mandarin kindergarten, this bilingual preschool in Buona Vista was launched in January 2016. It is part of the well-known Julia Gabriel Group.
It’s guided by the belief that kids learn Mandarin best from the environment they are exposed to in their early years. That’s why all its lessons and activities, including literacy, maths and even physical education, are taught in that language.
Even the school’s décor is Chinese-inspired. It has a storyhouse – a cosy and colourful children’s library that boasts some 2,000 books relating to different aspects of the Chinese culture.
The little ones are exposed to speech and drama, and Chinese Cultural Arts classes, which are taught by specialist teachers.
They are also introduced to abacus and mental arithmetic, which have a strong cultural significance in Chinese mathematics.
All Mandarin lessons are taught by teachers from China and Taiwan. The Nursery 1 and 2 kids have 100 per cent Mandarin exposure, while Kindergarten 1 and 2 kids have an hour of English a day in preparation for Primary 1.
Find out more here.
Etonhouse Zhong Hua Pre-School
Similar to the brand’s other centres, Etonhouse Zhong Hua preschool offers the same renowned “Inquire Think Learn” curriculum. But this bilingual immersion preschool delivers it entirely in Mandarin to pupils in its pre-nursery and nursery levels.
At kindergarten levels, kids move to a bilingual environment with English taught in the afternoon. This gives children the opportunity to develop their English skills without losing the strong Mandarin foundation they’ve built.
The bilingual preschool following a Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum. It has ateliers that allow kids to explore the arts, as well as experiment with light and shadows.
This helps stimulate wonder and interest, while providing young ones an alternative context to learning, such as exploring topics like length and height.
Additionally, it has a multidimensional programme to help kids develop a genuine interest in the language as well as cultivate a sense of cultural sensitivity.
Children have access to a range of Chinese cultural experiences through Chinese painting and calligraphy, literature, and performance arts such as music, dance, drama and songs.
The school also celebrates Chinese festivals, even lesser known ones like the Chong Yang festival (senior citizens’ festival), to foster a sense of love and respect for their grandparents.
Its Mandarin teachers hail from China. Find out more here.
A child’s development of language is at its peak during the ages of three to six, Joy Little Schoolhouse believes.
With that philosophy in mind, children are constantly immersed in a learning environment that is predominantly in Mandarin. Only 20 per cent dedicated to learning English in preparation for formal schooling.
From daily outdoor play sessions to subject areas such as maths, sensory integration training and life skills, Mandarin is used as the primary medium of instruction.
The school also has a unique thematic play room where kids can freely explore and learn from the monthly setups that are designed in line with famous Chinese literature texts.
Mandarin teachers who were educated in China act as facilitators and interact with the little ones via role playing.
As part of its Mandarin focus, Chinese cultural classes such as calligraphy (taught by a calligraphy master) and Chinese painting lessons are incorporated into the kindergarten levels.
In addition, the school also hosts a Joy Little Story Club on the last Saturday of each month, where kids can improve their language skills through picture books and role play.
Find out more here.
Mindchamps Chinese Preschool
This bilingual preschool offers the same curriculum and activities as Mindchamp’s other centres, but its Chinese lesson hours are longer, and most of its enrichment programmes are conducted in Mandarin.
As preschoolers progress to kindergarten levels, they shift to a more bilingual environment in preparation for the academic requirements of formal schooling.
Kids are exposed to at least two hours of Mandarin daily. Core enrichment programmes such as Music for the Mind, Neuromooves and Gourmet Moments, are all taught in Mandarin by Chinese teachers who are degree holders and have undergone 200 hours of training and accreditation.
The school also has a Chinese Culture Appreciation programme, which gives preschoolers an insight into China’s history and culture through activities such as clay modelling, Chinese opera, Chinese painting and calligraphy, and tea appreciation.
Find out more here.
All four Odyssey bilingual preschools offer a Chinese Language Immersion programme as part of the curriculum, where children across all levels have constant interaction and exposure to Mandarin daily.
Unlike the other preschools, every class has a designated full-time Chinese language teacher who remains with the students throughout the day, and converses with them entirely in Mandarin.
Toddlers from 18 months to three years old have more exposure to Mandarin, thanks to the early-years Chinese language immersion programme; where its day-to-day interaction, curriculum and projects are taught in the language.
In N2, kids move to a more bilingual environment where they have equal exposure to English and Mandarin.
This helps them gain proficiency in both languages as they prepare for primary school.
As part of its Chinese lessons, children as young as two years old are introduced to Chinese phonics and vocabulary, while kids from four to six years old acquire skills such as reading, penmanship and writing. Many of its Chinese teachers are from China.
Find out more here.
Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Pre-School
An initiative by one of Singapore’s largest clan associations, this bilingual preschool is housed in a stand-alone building. It has 12 classrooms and two special rooms – an art room, and a music-andmovement room; which can accommodate more than 200 kids.
N1 and N2 children have 80 per cent Mandarin exposure; the ratio drops to 70 per cent in K1 and 60 per cent in K2, when they are also introduced to English spelling in preparation for Primary 1.
It also has a Living Skills programme, which immerses the little ones in a Mandarin environment, where they learn to listen, speak and read the language through various activities like games, gardening, and music and movement.
Children are also taught how to write Chinese characters and hanyu pinyin.
These classes and activities are conducted by Chinese teachers from China, Taiwan and Singapore.
Structured classroom lessons such as language and literacy, arithmetic, discovery science, and arts and crafts are taught in both languages, while indoor motor-skill development activities and physical exercises are led by class teachers in either language.
Children in the kindergarten levels will also have show-and-tell presentations in both languages. The school enrols kids from three to six years old.
Find out more here.