Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) fellow Tan Beng Luan 64, strongly believes that a pre-school teacher’s role — interacting with children and attending to the development of their senses — necessitates human touch, especially during creative activities.

Ms Tan feels that each child is different and the learning needs of everyone have to be addressed individually. “The teacher will have many ways of praising or encouraging the child, such as giving a hug, a high-five or a pat on the head,” she adds.

A seasoned professional in the fields of the arts, heritage and culture, Ms Tan realised in the mid-1990s that children in Singapore were not given many opportunities to develop their creativity. Leveraging her 11-year experience as a heritage researcher with the National Archives of Singapore, as well as her art administrator role where she assisted late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun and choreographer Goh Lay Kuan, she decided to be the change in the education industry.

Ms Tan founded Creative O Preschoolers’ Bay in 1998, an arts-focused pre-school that includes two to three hours of arts engagement with professionally trained arts practitioners per week, and also emphasises active learning. The 1,754 sq m space has two studios for activities, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, as well as sand and water play areas.

One of the signature activities at Creative O is an annual three-day-two-night camp for K2 children on St John’s Island. Preparation begins three months prior to it, with the little ones helping to plan the menu, packing list, timetable, duty roster and activities. The six-year-olds are also involved in figuring out the potential safety concerns.

Other aspects of the children’s education revolve around character building and embracing the many facets of Singapore’s multi-cultural society.

Ms Tan says: “As the Chinese saying goes, it takes 10 years to grow a tree but a hundred years to nurture a person. Educators must continue to plant seeds without expecting a harvest; we must continue to believe in our education philosophy and do our best to help the children and parents.”