Author: Dr Shen-Li Lee
If you are a parent choosing a preschool curriculum for your child, there are two basic questions you should begin by asking yourself:
- Play-based or academic-focused?
- Child-centered or teacher-directed?
Actually, there is considerable overlap between the two questions since most play-based programs are generally child-centered, while academic programs typically necessitate teacher direction.
A play-based curriculum is based on the philosophy that children learn best by doing what comes most naturally to them – playing. Preschools that subscribe to this philosophy give children the autonomy to follow their interests and encourage them to direct their own learning. By allowing children to pursue a course of learning that is self-motivated, this play-based/child-centered method for learning fosters independence, creativity and confidence.
Academic-focused programs are teacher-directed and focus on imparting specific skills and knowledge to children. The objective of such programs is to prepare children for the rigors of later school life. This type of program may be a suitable choice for your child if you are planning on sending him or her to an academically-intense primary school environment.
Once you decide which type of general curricular approach – play-based or academic-focused – is best for your child, you can begin examining the various preschool options available in Malaysia.
Many preschools in Malaysia adopt a variety of pedagogical approaches and it is impossible to cover every possible combination. This article provides a broad overview of the major preschool curricula widely seen here.
The Montessori program is a child-centered curriculum that offers children the freedom to explore activities of their own choosing at their own pace. The teachers are present to facilitate rather than to direct children’s learning.
Here are the key features of a Montessori curriculum:
- It fosters independence and encourages individualism.
- As the teacher plays a very unassuming role in the classroom, the children are not motivated by the teacher, but by the need for self-development.
- Requisite mixed-age classrooms (typically 2/3 to 6 years old) allow younger children to learn specific skill sets from older children who have mastered them.
- It emphasizes concrete learning rather than abstract learning with the belief that children need to experience concepts in concrete “hands-on” methods.
- It offers a prescribed range of activities from which children can select activities for themselves.
- It offers periods of uninterrupted working time so children have the opportunity to work through their tasks at their own pace.
- It is a child-centered environment. All of the materials are easily accessible. Children are taught to respect and be responsible for the materials they use.
The Waldorf philosophy is child-centered and encourages children to work together in cooperative play. Students participate in activities that engage all five senses such as painting, singing, modeling beeswax, baking bread, construction out of boxes and boards, and pretend play.
Here are the key features of a Waldorf education:
- It is centered on each individual child’s needs.
- The environment is warm, nurturing and home-like, which makes it easier for children to adapt to.
- It encourages children to think creatively and imaginatively and express their ideas.
- It inculcates an appreciation for nature and the world around us.
- Only natural materials are used in the classroom.
- It develops the whole child by placing an emphasis on creative development and character education, rather than on the development of academic skills.
- The same teacher usually stays with the same group of students. Such continuity has been shown to be beneficial for child development.
A theme-based curriculum is an integrated approach to teaching and learning that sees learning as a highly integrated process that is not easily separated into traditional academic disciplines. One example of the theme-based curriculum is the International Preschool Curriculum.
Here are the key features of a thematic curriculum:
- It is an integrated learning unit centering around a theme and the children are taken through a variety of activities connected to the theme.
- It allows children to learn by active engagement with their environment and social connections, which can help them achieve higher levels of learning.
- It is supported by research on how the brain functions and how children learn.
Language immersion preschools allow your child to learn a language you do not speak or speak very little at home. These preschools also follow the common pedagogical approaches to preschool education with the essential difference being that all subjects are taught entirely in a foreign language. The teacher does not offer translations to the students, thereby totally immersing them in the foreign language.
Some preschools offer a multilingual approach, where two languages (typically English and a second language) are used by the teachers. In Malaysia, the common languages taught in language immersion preschools are English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin.
The theory of multiple intelligences was coined by Howard Gardner who went beyond the traditional concepts of intelligence and identified seven types of intelligences.
- Verbal-linguistic intelligence
- Logical-mathematical intelligence
- Visual-spatial intelligence
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
- Musical-rhythmic intelligence
- Interpersonal-social intelligence
- Intrapersonal-self intelligence
Preschools that follow Gardner’s theory offer a variety of learning activities designed to engage all of the intelligences rather than focusing solely on traditional language and math activities.
The whole-child approach embraces the philosophy that education should encompass all aspects of a child’s development – physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language – for the long-term development and success of the child. Preschools that follow this approach aim to provide an environment that:
- Educates and promotes a healthy lifestyle.
- Offers physical and emotional safety.
- Allows each student to be actively engaged in learning while connected to the school and the broader community.
- Provides each student personalized learning, supported by qualified and caring adults.
- Is academically challenging to help prepare your child for success in future studies.
Religious preschools offer similar educational philosophies and curriculum content to other preschools with the main difference being the incorporation of religious content. These preschools are beneficial if you would like your child’s education to emphasize the fundamental teachings and values of your religion. For such schools, it is important to enquire about the schools’ pedagogical approach to ensure that the teaching philosophies meet your expectations for your child’s education.
PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS AT INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS
Many international schools have extended their intake to preschool children as young as 3 years old. If your intention is to send you child to a particular international school, it may be worthwhile considering this option as it will ensure a smoother transition from preschool into that international school’s primary program.
Other curriculum options that have been gaining prominence on the Malaysian preschool scene include:
- The Doman Method, which utilizes flashcards for teaching sight reading, mathematical concepts and general knowledge.
- Right Brain Education, which focuses on tapping into the potential of the under-utilized “right brain” functions.
- Movement Education, which follows the concept of the mind-body connection where physical activity is strongly linked to cognitive development.
Many preschools combine a variety of curricula, for instance, a “Montessori” preschool may offer a largely Montessori curriculum, but also incorporate the Singapore math program and use Doman flashcards for teaching reading. It is essential to visit each and every school you are considering and to speak to the principal and teachers to gain a clearer understanding of the curriculum being offered before deciding on a preschool for your child.