Finding joy in babysitting her 11 nieces and nephews when they were young was one of the first inklings Mrs Marian Lee had that teaching might be her vocation.

As a result, the 41-year-old — who is a mother of three kids aged six, four and two — made the decision to enter the pre-school industry and has never looked back since.

After graduating with a Diploma in Early Childhood Education (With Leadership) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2002, Mrs Lee went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education (Honours) at the University of South Australia in 2004.

A multi-faceted role

Before taking on her current position as centre head of MOE Kindergarten@West Spring, Mrs Lee spent almost a decade with another pre-school operator — working her way up from a beginning teacher to a trainee principal, principal and, later, as a project officer and curriculum development officer.

But working directly with the children and their families was what she was passionate about. So when recruitment for the new MOE Kindergartens (MK) started in 2013, Mrs Lee jumped at the chance to be part of the pioneering team.

She says: “After being in the industry for so long, it was important to me to align my own beliefs and principles with the organisation’s purpose. I joined MK not only because I believe in MK’s mandate to provide affordable and quality pre-school education, but also because it would provide opportunities for me to work towards a smoother transition to primary school for our K2 children.”

A typical day for Mrs Lee involves meeting the children and their parents at arrivals and dismissals for the various sessions, conducting walkthroughs, interacting with the children, and looking into the operational needs of the kindergarten and training needs of the staff.

Tackling new challenges

A major obstacle of the Covid-19 situation is the difficulty in “safeguarding what is developmentally appropriate for children”, says Mrs Lee.

She explains: “Technology can be a double-edged sword — we use it to complement how children learn, but we also have to ensure that it doesn’t replace concrete learning experiences, which are important in the pre-school years.

“We also had to cope with guiding the teachers on a steep learning curve to pick up IT skills very quickly and supporting the parents — many of whom are struggling with working from home and home-based learning.”

Thankfully, Mrs Lee and her dedicated team managed to overcome these challenges, and even found heartening ways to inject personal touches into their digital interactions with the children.

“For instance, one of my senior mother tongue language teachers, who is not IT-savvy, took the initiative to video herself talking and singing to the kids because they missed attending her lessons,” she adds.

Two-way relationship

But teaching is never a one-way street. Being surrounded by children daily has taught Mrs Lee how to retain a sense of wonder, the art of happiness, as well as the importance of using kind words.

To connect with the children, Mrs Lee tries to engage them to plan for their individual developmental needs and help them succeed, even within a large group setting.

“I won’t say it’s easy, but the journey will be satisfying and full of learning opportunities. As MKs are still a relatively new project, we are constantly challenged to solve problems and do better.

“But the challenges themselves, along with the support of the fraternity, has helped me in my personal and professional growth in more ways than I can count.”