Here’s how Singapore’s first inclusive preschool Kindle Garden teaches its students

December 20, 2017
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    Singapore’s first inclusive preschool, Kindle Garden, caters to children of all needs and abilities, varying from mainstream ability children to those with severe needs. It accepts children between 18 months old and six years old. Monthly fees are around $1,050 before any subsidies.

    In the new year, the school will be introducing tiered rates, based on household incomes of pupils.

    Kindle Garden is now at its full capacity of 84 pupils, with 30 per cent special needs children and 70 per cent mainstream ability children. This is the ratio maintained in all the classes. Now in its second year, the school has 100 special needs children and 25 mainstream ability children on its waiting list.

    Here’s how students at the preschool learn.

    Related: Singapore’s first inclusive preschool Kindle Garden will double fees in 2018

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    The day begins for Kindergarten classes 1 and 2 (left) and Nursery 1 (right). Pupils at Kindle Garden are provided with individualised curricula to cater to their abilities.

    The furniture and layout, from topographical mounds to hammocks to soft enclosures, are designed to help in the physical development of typically developing students as well as those with special needs.

    “The children have to accommodate one another’s needs here, which helps them confront the differences between one another,” said Mr Daniel Cheong (pictured left), who teaches Kindergarten 1 at the preschool.

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    This yellow slide is a favourite among the pupils from different age ranges and abilities who use the playground together throughout the day.

    The older children are encouraged to look out for their younger schoolmates as children of varied abilities enjoy the slide together, waiting for and allowing one another to take turns.

    “Mainstream children benefit more here. As they learn to look out for one another, they become more compassionate,” said school principal Lena Koh.

    About 30 per cent of pupils at Kindle Garden have special needs, and each class maintains this ratio.

    Related: Principal of Singapore’s first inclusive preschool inspired by autistic son: It’s about accepting him into your life

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    The children pretend to be the “big bad wolf” at morning playtime.

    Sophie Sukaimi (far right), four, says: “Clara and Khloe are my best friends in class.”

    Khloe Gan (second from right, in background), also four, has Down syndrome, and Sophie helps Khloe in class.

    “Because she’s shy, she can’t speak properly, so people think she speaks like a baby but she is not a baby. When I tell her to cross her legs, she will. It makes me so happy when she listens.”

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    When Zyann Chew (left), four, joined Kindle Garden in June last year, she spoke only one or two words, says Zyann’s Nursery 2 teacher, Ms Lee Wei Ling. Zyann can now communicate in four-word phrases with confidence.

    “Most of the children help her on a daily basis, during transition time, outdoor time, or when they are playing games,” says Ms Lee.

    She adds that the children model their teacher’s behaviour and seem to adopt it.

    Related: Why Singapore’s autism rate is higher than the world average



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    Kindergarten 1 students (from left) Fong Git Yu, six, Lorraine Lim, five, Rinn Chan, five, and Deng Ming Zhe, five, enjoy their reading time.

    Rinn sometimes needs help reading due to her additional needs.

    Lorraine explains how she helps: “She doesn’t know the words, so I help her say them out loud, then Rinn knows the words.

    “Mr Cheong says: “They look out for one another. They don’t stay away from needs children and don’t discriminate.”

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    Kindergarten 2 pupils (from left) Tan Pin Wen, Phoebe Lew and Alethea Kwek, all aged six, participate in show-and-tell with teacher Jasbir Kaur Dhami.

    Alethea is happy to help Phoebe, who has Down syndrome, read to the class. “I like helping her, it’s nice. It’s difficult sometimes when she keeps flipping the page, but when I ask her to stop, she does,” she says.

    In Singapore, education is not compulsory for children with special needs.

    “I’m going to miss Phoebe, because we have to go to different schools, which makes me sad,” Alethea says, as they will no longer be in classes of mixed-ability children in primary school.


    Related: 8-year-old boy with autism finally gets place in school after dad’s Facebook plea

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    Kindergarten 2 children (from left) Nor Nasa’l Khairil Nizam, Alethea Kwek, Jack Nguyen, Germaine Wong and Chan Ying Long, all aged six, enjoy a cake from the Lien Foundation to mark their last days at Kindle Garden before they go to primary school.

    Ying Long says he is looking forward to more work at primary school, but that he is scared of meeting new girls.

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    Nursery 1 classmates Oriana Yip (left) and Rhea Lim, both three, take a well-deserved nap after a day of activities and running around.

    To encourage independence, all the children lay out and put away their beds and sheets themselves.

    Those who struggle are often helped by their peers. Some bring soft toys with them, to provide some comfort away from home.

    A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times

    (Photos: The Straits Times)

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