You’ve heard of a student exchange programme. Now take a look at this exchange programme for teachers, one run by Busy Bees, a global early educational organisation.
Under its Talent Exchange Programme (TEP), selected staff get to go on learning stints and work attachments at the company’s more than 600 pre-schools worldwide.
Last year, senior teacher Jochebed Chen (pictured, left) found herself in a very special preschool in a farmyard setting — the lush, three-acre Follyfoot Farm in New South Wales, Australia.
There, she got to work closely with the outdoor educator, whose roles included educating children on how to care for animals and their habitats, as well as nurturing positive dispositions in children towards animals.
During her four-week stint at Follyfoot Farm, she not only harvested fruits and vegetables from the edible garden with the children, but also built a frog habitat and worm farm that would eventually become organic fertiliser for the plants.
Such learning experiences are key to the TEP, which offers participants a working attachment in another cultural context.
Says Busy Bees’ head of human resources Rodziah Shaari: “The TEP allows our staff to broaden their outlook and approach towards the early childhood industry, share best practices and enhance their motivation and morale by providing development opportunities.”
For Ms Chen, 27, the exchange was a unique opportunity to learn from a different educational environment and the experience led her to reflect on the ways that she could bring some of these practices back to Singapore.
She says: “Land is scarce in Singapore, and I wondered how I could encourage in the kids the same sense of curiosity and wonder evoked by the great outdoors.”
With the Covid-19 situation affecting opportunities to learn outside, Ms Chen was inspired to try new ways of bringing the outdoors into the classroom. Hence, when the children returned to school after the circuit breaker in mid-June, she brought an ant farm into the classroom to safely encourage an interest in the outside world within the premises of the school.
“Even though ants are commonly seen in daily life, it was interesting to see how the children observed, reacted and became curious about these little creatures through close observation, exhibiting a sense of wonder,” she says.
EVOLVING WITH THE TIMES
Twenty-five-year-old curriculum specialist Beatrice Lim (pictured, right) also had the opportunity to participate in the TEP last year, where she was posted to a Busy Bees branch in Burpengary East, Queensland.
There, she was part of a project targeting the issue of mental health in young children, and had the opportunity to visit the Child and Youth Mental Health Service to find out how the state of Queensland promotes mental health and well-being among children and families.
The trip could not have been more timely — Ms Lim explains that learning more about mental health has proved useful during the pandemic.
As Covid-19 shifts a large part of learning from school to home, she recognises that the children’s home environment and the increased proximity and time spent with their parents now play a much bigger role in their learning and growing process.
“There are invisible factors that can affect one’s mental well-being, whether it’s stress, family troubles, neglect, finances or the current Covid19 situation,” adds Ms Lim.
As part of her role in collaborative planning among educators, parents and community partners, a key focus for her was to ensure the well-being of her charges during the home-based learning period.
One of the things that she highlighted to parents was to focus more on the process of learning rather than the results achieved at the end. She encourages having more open-ended activities such as using arts and crafts to make learning letters and numbers more fun and interactive, and for parents to communicate and acknowledge their child’s efforts during these activities so as to build self-motivation and confidence for learning.
“Acknowledging attributes like risk-taking, being open-minded to others’ perspectives or being a confident communicator builds up a child’s resilience when facing obstacles and has a lifetime effect on their mental well-being even when they enter adulthood,” says Ms Lim.