We recently visited Singapore preschool Between Two Trees’ new location at Loewen Gardens and were blown away by the gorgeous facilities, thoughtful curriculum and dedicated staff.
Since opening in 2009, Between Two Trees Preschool has gained a devoted following of both local and international parents who praise its warm sense of community, interdisciplinary approach to learning, and emphasis on a beautiful, natural environment. It’s unlike any other school in Singapore, and the opening this year of Between Two Trees Early Learning School at Loewen Gardens (Dempsey Hill) looks set to further elevate their mission for children 18 months to 6 years old.
Arriving at the school is like a wonderful assault on the senses: all you hear is quiet birdsong, punctuated with the occasional giggles of children in the front yard. You smell the freshly cut grass, and the jasmine that lines the school’s quaint picket fence. You see their beautiful heritage black and white building, which they’ve renovated with spacious, sun-filled classrooms and tactile materials. The first thing you think is, My child would be lucky to spend time in a place like this!
The entrance is a mix of books and Reggio Emilia-inspired areas for blocks, dramatics, literacy and light play, along with soft furnishings imported from Reggio Emilia. In this bright, communal space children from different age groups play with one another in a fun and unstructured environment before returning to their dedicated classrooms (each with evocative names for Singapore trees like Bamboo, Sugarcane, Rambutan and Nutmeg).
While the school is certainly influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy, it also draws on the approach of Bing Nursery School, a lab school at Stanford University in the United States that’s on the cutting edge of child development and education research (in fact, it’s often leading it!). As at Bing, B2T’s curriculum incorporates five basic materials into classroom work: blocks, clay, water, sand and paint. A number of the school’s faculty have visited Bing and consulted with its professors.
But, the school’s founders and co-directors Charmaine Teo and Koh Hui Hua, point out: B2T is neither Italian nor American, it’s Singaporean! So while it incorporates Reggio Emilia’s “provocations”, beautiful environments, and project-based approach, along with Bing’s classroom materials and emphasis on exploration and discovery, it also has an extremely strong Mandarin programme.
Each specialist class is led by two co-teachers, one of whom is a native speaker and only communicates with the children in Mandarin. Children also spend one hour each day on “structured learning” (vs. two hours of project-based exploration), where they cover core subjects like English, Math, Chinese and visual arts.
Although B2T’s students are about 50% local and 50% international, many parents understandably want to make sure their children are adequately prepared for primary school by the time they leave. Between Two Trees has now been around long enough that they can point to the successful outcomes of their project-based approach: throughout the three stages of a project (provocation, investigation, and reflection) children make noticeable leaps in their vocabulary and concept comprehension.
For instance, the students recently learned all about shoes, from role-playing a shoe store, to visiting a real cobbler’s shop, to measuring their own feet to make shoeboxes. It was all real-world experience and the kids had a ball, but in the meantime they used their imagination, honed their fine motor skills cutting leather, and used math to calculate measurements.
As much fun as the students have inside, they may have an even better time outside. As at B2T’s original location, students work with a farmer to cultivate their very own edible vegetable garden. Each classroom has an outdoor area for sand and water play. And the incredibly lush back garden space is being developed into a playground with the input of current students. (Their #1 request: “a slide that goes through the trees” – we weren’t kidding when we called this the school of kids’ dreams!).
Between Two Trees Early Learning School currently offers half-day morning classes at the Pre-Nursery, Nursery, and Kindergarten levels. They also have a wonderful parent-accompanied baby class for babies 6 months and up that features sensory exploration and lots of singing and dancing!
To find out more about this very special school and everything they do for children to thrive, contact Between Two Trees to set up a visit and get more info, mama!