Kindle Garden

By Elisa Choo

I had the privilege of attending the film launch of a documentary on Kindle Garden, Singapore’s first inclusive preschool.

At the panel session, Mr Lee Poh Wah, CEO of Lien Foundation quoted the tagline of ECDA and MOE (Pre-school), which was “A Good start for every child” and “A Strong start for every child” respectively, and asked: “Really? Every child?” So Lien Foundation embarked on this project with AWWA, commencing operations in January 2016.

Mr Karthikeyan, a Director at AWWA said :“Inclusion is not the same as integration (See explanation here). Inclusion is not merely just about caring for kids with additional needs, it also encompasses the shaping of both flexibility and quality in thinking to allow for a wholehearted acceptance of diversity”.

The two videos demonstrated what that inclusion looks like. It showcased what Kindle Garden does and can accomplish in the development of children – all the children.

For children with additional needs, I have known Arthur since young – his parents are personal friends of both me and my husband. I knew of their struggles and saw how unresponsive he had been in the past. I was amazed at what I saw in the video – at the way he interacted with his friends and teacher. I saw him again after the video screening and tested it out – I called out to him as he ran past me “Hello Arthur!” and he turned back, looked at me and said “Hello”, in a heartbeat – natural and spontaneous. What a joy. He has been transformed, after spending one and a half years at the school.

For children without additional needs, I was inspired by the stories told by some of their mothers – Sze Ai (Pinwen’s mum), and Jennifer (Lorraine’s mum) – how the environment taught their children acceptance, empathy and compassion – and I saw that through the children’s interactions in the video.

“In a typical environment, the children only learn to compete with each other”

“In the mainstream environment, they take for granted that every child will speak at their speed, but that is not true”

“Empathy and learning teamwork is something that can only be learnt from an environment of peers and not from parents down to children”

I feel the work that Kindle Garden does goes beyond giving the children with additional needs a positive learning environment. It gave them friends, a sense of self-worth and hope for acceptance in society (beyond their immediate family). It taught all children that in one way or another everyone has needs;it also gave them the precious practical opportunity to practice patience and to be able to “wait for one another”.

Singapore puts a lot of emphasis on excellence and efficiency in our education and work culture – and that is good and necessary. But true excellence and efficiency happens when we waste not an ounce of our resource – and that includes every one – every child – whatever struggle and needs they may have.

Every one has a treasure inside us – we just need someone to come along and unearth it. So blessed are those who are placed in a position to discover that treasure in someone, and to polish the pearl till it shines. The folks at Kindle Garden did that for those little children in the past 2 years within this experimental childcare environment. I pray that it will be able to continue, and may the movement spread so that there will be more pre-schools emulating its vision. Hopefully in time to come, many primary schools shall properly embrace such a mindset too.

This post was first published over at the Give Them Roots And Wings blog on 1 December 2017. It is reproduced with permission.


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