Should you send your child to kindergarten or to a childcare centre?
When parents have kids who are nearly pre-school age, the choice between a kindergarten or childcare centre may loom.
Which is better? For working parents with no alternative care arrangements, childcare would be the default option. However, for parents who do have the option, be it the care of grandparents or a nanny, a dilemma may arise.
When our 4.5 year old (nicknamed Barnacles) was two, we faced the same question, and went through the pros-and-cons thought process. We eventually enrolled him in a childcare centre just before he turned three years old. We hope that the following points, which we considered, will help other parents trying to make a decision.
Length of Daily Programme
At the childcare centres we visited, most offered full-day hours with drop-offs allowed from 7am, with a half-day option ending at noon or 12.30pm. In contrast, the kindergartens offered a choice between a morning and an afternoon session, with each session lasting three to four hours. While we generally preferred a morning session, we found that the kindergarten lesson start timing of 8am or 8.30am was a bit too early for us. For parents who need the time to run errands while the children are in school, there is also limited time to do so if the session is just three hours (also, many shops apart from supermarkets would not be open at 8.30am).
For Barnacles’ school, we find the lesson timings quite well-spaced. We drop him off at school at about 8.30am for outdoor play until 9am, followed by assembly and lessons from 9.30-10.30, 10.30-11.30, and 1-2pm (with lunch in-between from 11.45-12.30pm). We pick him up at 2pm when school officially ends, and the other children staying on start to rest/nap. We preferred the spacing of lessons as compared to a kindergarten, and the slightly longer lesson hours were also a positive for us.
One of our top considerations when selecting a pre-school were the teaching principles and methodology. We did not want a completely play-based curriculum, nor an extremely academic one, hence finding something in-between was a priority. We especially liked the childcare centre we chose due to the flexibility it offered in developing each child’s skills in line with their strengths, as well as fluidity between levels (eg by teaching a child capable in a certain topic at a higher level). There is also a good amount of hands-on work to develop their fine motor skills.
For parents choosing an ideal school, do be sure to speak to the principal or person-in-charge about the teaching methods, as well as tour the school to observe the classes in action. First impressions definitely do count, so if you get a bad vibe, it might be an indication that it is not the right school.
For parents with older children in primary school, having their pre-school-aged children in kindergarten may be useful as most kindergartens follow the MOE school holiday timetable. This means month-long school holidays in June and December, as well as week-long March and September holidays. Planning family vacations may thus be more straightforward when it comes to timing.
Childcare centres have longer hours and charge fees monthly, as compared to kindergartens that charge by the term. Due to the longer hours, childcare centres typically charge higher rates. For parents who want a more budget-friendly option, kindergartens may offer a better choice. However, it might be useful to note that Singaporean working mothers are able to get a $300 subsidy for childcare centre fees ($150 subsidy for non-working mums with children in childcare), but this subsidy does not apply to kindergartens as they are classified as schools.
If you are keen on having your child learn enrichment activities such as dance, gymnastics or a martial art while in pre-school, then a childcare centre might be an ideal option. Barnacles’ school offers several optional enrichment classes in the mid-afternoon after the children’s rest time, of which he attends one a week. A few childcare centres we enquired at offered enrichment activities as part of the curriculum, at no extra monthly cost.
One of the plus points for us as we do not have a helper is that Barnacles gets to eat lunch in school, which means one less meal for Mummy to settle. As he has some dietary restrictions, we were lucky to find a school willing to accommodate his needs. In contrast, most kindergartens provide a snack break in-between lessons, but do not provide a main meal.
A good friend shared with us that her reason for choosing a kindergarten over childcare was her view that, for parents who lack alternate childcare arrangements, they were more likely to send sick children with a cold or a cough to school. We thought this was a good point, and are thankful that the centre we enrolled our kids in pays keen attention to this and ensures that children with a fever are sent home. Parents also get constant reminders about not sending their children to school if they have a cough or a cold.
We made the decision to choose a childcare centre as we liked the pedagogy behind the teaching and programme offered at the specific centre. Our next-best choice would have been a kindergarten that offers longer programme hours (e.g. 8.30-2pm), as compared to the typical three-to-four hours at most kindergartens, but were unable to find any nearby. Our 4.5 year old is enjoying his days in school, a far cry from when he first started, so we hope this bodes well for when our 20 month old starts school!
Mummy and Daddy Daycare are the pseudonyms of a Singaporean husband and wife who are raising two young boys aged four and one, nicknamed Barnacles and Kwazii from the children’s Octonauts series. Get into the minds of this couple who describe parenthood as a lifetime adventure – you are always learning something new! Whoever said parenting was a walk in the park?
Other articles by Mummy and Daddy Daycare:
10 things discovered while holidaying with our children in the UK
Mummy and Daddy Daycare’s favourite children’s products from head to toe
Mummy and Daddy Daycare’s plan for a long haul flight with two young kids