Should you send your toddler to Playgroup?

If your toddler is currently being cared for by yourself/grandparents/a domestic helper, you may be asking yourself this question. Some parents choose to keep their children at home until they reach 3 or 4 years old and send them directly to kindergarten or a full-day childcare.  For us, my dad helps to watch Elise during the day when I have to work from home. She prefers him over anyone of us, but watching a child for a full day gets extremely tiring. Not all caretakers know how to educate young ones and they just throw the kids in front of the television for hours. 

He often resorts to using the tablet to educate/entertain her. He told me that he doesn’t know any other way to engage her in learning (honestly, that’s not his responsibility either). I’ve seen him stretched to his limits when Elise is overly tired and throws an uncontrollable tantrum (wriggling out of our arms, wailing, not wanting to walk or sit in the stroller etc.) and he has burst out at her before in frustration. When I first started working from home, I had all these ideas for sensory play and exploration at home, home-schooling according to some Montessori approach… let’s just say I overestimated myself. There ARE SAHMs who do an excellent job of managing the house and manage to implement a weekly thematic curriculum with various learning materials and tools.

I attempted to replicate a few activities like coloured water play and sensory play with kinetic sand (not sure if I recommend – the sand flew EVERYWHERE). I’d let her colour and paint, bring her out to indoor playgrounds and for play dates once a week or so but there was a nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing enough with the lack of themed learning especially at this age where she’s curious about everything. 

To save our sanity, I enrolled her in a 3-hour playgroup. She’s been there for two weeks now and IT HAS BEEN THE BEST DECISION EVER. Having her disappear for 3 hours to a safe environment with activities which aid in her learning is A+++++. My dad gets to recharge and read the papers or watch television without Elise switching it off and I get peace to do work or clear up the clutter (never-ending task because I just keep buying more things…). In the afternoon after she has her lunch and milk, she naps for about 2 to 3 hours so we actually have 5 free hours in total. Our moods are visibly lifted and her screen time is lessened. 

The 3 hour playgroup begins with the pledge and national anthem, music and movement in both Chinese and English. There’s snack time in between, then they learn about alphabets, colours or numbers. The last hour is for Life Skills, where they learn how to put on their shoes and work on their motor skills (egg transferring, threading, cutting paper). There’s a school uniform that she’s required to wear so it actually feels like school. Her uniform is a pinafore and she looks like Sailormoon! 

We’ve noticed that she is vocalising more, pointing out alphabets, numbers and colours she has learnt in school. She has always been sociable and her teacher tells me that she runs up to sit on her lap when she’s teaching. When told to go back and sit down, she’ll pout. She’s the tiniest and youngest in class, resulting in her receiving a bit more attention than the others. I can’t complain, because I get frequent photo and video updates of her in class. 


Pros

  • Frees up time for caregivers
    We save our sanity and get to do what we want when the kid is in school – run errands, relax, read the papers, nap, work…
  • New social circle for child
    They develop a new identity as a student and they learn about social structures, socialise with peers, listen to teachers and develop their self-esteem as they absorb new knowledge.  
  • Exposure to new activities
    In just two weeks, she has brought home two pieces of artwork – a ladybug with black stickers which she pasted over the dots for the letter ‘L’ and a mouse headband for the letter ‘M’. She has also been demonstrating to us how she jumps and hops (the milestone for jumping is 24 months). 
  • Peer Pressure
    Kids have a great sense of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, so you’ll find that that same kid who insists to be spoon-fed at home eats on his own without complaint in school. It’s uncool to be a baby amongst other babies. That quiet kid will become a rapper.

Cons

  • Viruses spread easily
    There’s no avoiding it especially when the place is fully air-conditioned. The children are screened before they enter the classroom but some illnesses are contagious before symptoms appear. We’ll just cross our fingers and take it as it comes (plsplsplspls no chickenpox/HFMD plspslpls)

Tips for Adjusting your Child to Playgroup 

  • Familiarise the child with the environment
    Before she officially started school, we brought her to the door a few times to watch the students enter the classroom and told her that she’d be doing the same soon. I also used this time to observe how the children reacted to the teacher to see whether they liked school or not. I noticed that the teacher greeted each student by name and none of the children displayed signs of fear.It’s common for children to cry when they first attend school. Elise survived the first week without complaint, but she cried during the second week when we dropped her off (stopped within 10 minutes, according to the teachers). Our neighbour’s child was frightened and even vomited but she now enjoys school.
  • Start with parent-accompanied classes
    Elise has attended MyGym and Kindermusik classes before. Such classes introduce the child to the concept of classes and an instructor.
  • Have enough sleep
    Insufficient sleep = cranky kids. We wake her up about an hour before school starts and ensure that she has her bath, breakfast and some quiet time before bringing her to school.

Overall, this arrangement has been working well for us. Elise comes home from school exhausted so it’s easier to put her down for naps, she’s more confident with her new skills which she shows off to us (damn haolian) and we all have energised spirits to watch her. 

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