An experienced childcare specialist shares tips to help your mini-me cope with the rigours of preschool…


It may seem that your preschooler is simply doing nothing but playing in kindergarten daily, but they are actually acquiring a lot of skills in the process.

EtonHouse preschool principal Melissa Leong, explains that play is vital to your child’s all-round development. “[Because] play is the natural way in which children learn and connect with, and build an understanding of the world and the people around them.”

Indeed, your mini-me is picking up skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, while exploring their creativity and imagination, through playtime activities.

Putting your child in preschool also lets them experience how to interact socially with their peers and teachers, even as they develop an understanding of the importance of routines and boundaries, Leong adds.

Needless to say, your peewee’s time in preschool can leave an indelible impression on their hearts and minds. In fact, Leong, 31, still keeps in touch with a student she taught in 2008

“It makes me feel special to know that we still remember each other and that we have seen each other grow in the last decade!”

“I applied for the [Early Childhood Diploma] programme, met the committee for an interview and I got in! I guess curiosity does open doors for us!”

Reflecting on her decade-long career, Leong says that she entered the childcare industry “really by chance”. After secondary school, she had wanted to do something arts-related.

However, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic advertisement about their Early Childhood Diploma programme sparked her curiosity as to what it would be like to work with children.

“I applied for the programme, met the committee for an interview and I got in! I guess curiosity does open doors for us!”

Leong has advice for parents who are wondering how to help their child cope with separation anxiety and tells SmartParents how preschool teachers deal with demanding parents…

Hello, Melissa! Can you walk us through your day?
I’ll get to work by 8.30m ― my day usually ends around 5pm. In the mornings, I am usually at the reception area helping out with visual checks on the students as it gives me a chance to greet and welcome the children and catch up with their families and caregivers. Sometimes you can also see me at the dining area. It is my favourite place to be as that is where everyone — teachers, students and families gather in the mornings. Thereafter I would make my rounds around the classrooms, to conduct observations and to interact with the children, and sometimes offer support to teachers. In the afternoons I would make time to have a dialogue with the teachers, and by 5pm, I bid goodbye to the children and catch up with parents and caregivers caregiverswho swing by to pick them up.


What do you love the most about your job?
I love being involved in the multiple roles I play. I find joy in little things like welcoming children, their families and my colleagues to our premises on a daily basis. I enjoy building relationships with people ― it’s fundamental to the success of the school. This includes gaining children’s trust, helping teachers reach their potential, and understanding the needs of each family.

How do you manage demanding parents?
I always try to put myself in the parents’ shoes to understand the position they are coming from. We recognise that we have a great responsibility when parents entrust their children to our care ― it’s not something that should be taken for granted. Hence, I think it’s important for schools to build a strong relationship with parents ― one that is based on openness, mutual understanding, respect and ongoing dialogue.

At our school, we have an open door policy ― we encourage parents to discuss any of their concerns or feedback with us. We know that parents and teachers must be equally committed to working together to support a child.

What are some misconceptions people have about your job?
That I am uninvolved in the preschool’s day-to-day operations because I delegate the roles to other staff members. In fact, I am actually very involved in almost all aspects of our operations ― from the administrative to the curriculum and staff matters. But, delegating is also important in order for the team to feel involved and be part of a bigger community. Every staff takes on an additional role ― administratively or helping to look after a shared space in school. Without delegating the responsibilities, I wouldn't be able to go on leave and rest!

Go at your child’s pace, not yours! Do not compare your child’s progress with other children. Your child will show you when they’re ready.”

Where do you get inspiration for lessons and activities?
I talk to friends, colleagues and parents for ideas. Networking within the industry is important, especially when we need ideas, resources or help.

What can parents do to help their child to cope with separation anxiety?
Talk positively to your child about the new things he or she will experience in class.

Children will take their cue as to how to react to this anxiety, based on your response. Then, reassure your child that the teacher is there to assist them. Remember to share the teacher’s name with your child, so that they begin to build a relationship with this new adult in their lives. Please don’t tell your child that the teacher will scold them as this might scare your child.

What is your advice for parents as regards potty training their kids?
Go at your child’s pace, not yours! Do not compare your child’s progress with other children. Your child will show you when they’re ready.

How can parents perfect their goodbye ritual?
Depending on the preschool, some might have a policy where you stay until your child is ready for you to leave, so it’ll help to check the school’s policy. Whatever the circumstances, it is important to indicate to your child that you are going and when you will be back. After which, you need to leave immediately. If children sense your indecision, it will not help them settle down. Refrain from saying that you are going and then pop back to see how things are going in the classroom. It’s really unsettling for your child and can prolong the point of separation.

It’s always better to go and then ring the school and ask the teacher for feedback if you’re anxious as to how your child is settling down in class. Similarly, please do not ‘sneak’ away when you believe your child has settled down. It is very important in terms of maintaining trust with your child and for the child to be able to develop trust in the teacher.


When a child misbehaves in class, what do you do?
When there is a conflict between children, it’s important that we don’t jump to conclusions. It is important to give children opportunities to explain their reasons and get them to listen to others’ thoughts. We also try to encourage them to use verbal and negotiation skills, rather than expressing themselves through physical action.

Sometimes, it may also be necessary to help children to calm down. A good way is to get them to count from one to 10 and breathe in and out while doing so. It is essential to guide the child on reflecting on their actions. So, we’ll also try to ask questions to help the child understand how he or she could have handled the situation better.

Any activities parents can do with their kids to build up their motor skills and creativity?
Bring them out to play! There are many locations and facilities that are children-friendly. Arrange for a playdate, so that your child can also play with other children while the adults mingle and catch up! Children can easily keep themselves engaged when given the right tools and materials. Sometimes, all your child needs is just some loose bits like paper, bottles and markers and their creativity and imagination will drive them to play.

“Ms Melissa, can I fold you, in the same way I fold my napkin, so that I can keep you in my pocket and bring you home?”

What about a work experience that has left a deep impression on you?
I remember bits and pieces of conversations I have had with children. They can be silly or sometimes insightful. Sometimes, children speak with so much depth, it amazes me. When I was a new teacher, I usually worked till the school closed, so I was able to spend time with the same few children. Once, this child came up to me and said, “Ms Melissa, can I fold you, in the same way I fold my napkin, so that I can keep you in my pocket and bring you home?”

What keeps you going as a childcare teacher?
I am incredibly inspired by children and feel a great sense of belonging to the school community. I like that we get to partner with various community members to enrich children’s learning — recently, we invited Guide Dogs Association, for the second time in two years, to talk to children about the use and purpose of guide dogs to aid visually- impaired people.

I truly believe that if we use and assert our voice as one, we will be able to raise awareness and be change agents of the world. This motivates me to constantly engage our teachers in driving change within our school because even a small change can impact the wider community!

Complete these sentences:

* The one superpower I’d like to have is… Making myself invisible. I really like the idea of having an invisibility cloak, just like Harry Potter!

* If I didn’t become a childcare teacher, I would have been… In drama productions for children!

Photos: EtonHouse Preschool

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