Swallows and Amazons: Let Children Explore Learning
Preschool Education| Swallows and Amazons

When you teach a child something, you take away forever, his chance of discovering it for himself. – Jean Piaget, Psychologist.

Call them clean-boards, seeds, wet cement or even walking-talking questionnaires, there’s no denying the fact that kids are the most curious souls. The wonder in their eyes, with which they look around, is unmatched and so is their power to explore and learn. Children are always willing learners. They want to feel, explore and learn about the world around them. Life to them, is one big adventure that they love being in. With the world offering them so much to learn, confining them in the four walls of a classroom to ‘learn’, sounds not so exciting.

This was the first thing that the founders at Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten realized and chose a lush green atmosphere, with wonderful full-grown trees shading the outdoor space of over 9,000 sq. ft, to set up the school. This set-up naturally makes children feel like being in an adventure story and prepares them to learn from real-life experiences.

One Big Adventure

Jackie Barkham founded Swallows and Amazons in 2008 with holiday art and music camps for older children with one exceptional teacher, who had taught her children. Her inspiration for the school’s name came from the title of a book she read as a child – an adventure story that touched upon children learning through discovery and exploration, and being open-minded, caring and communicative.

Numbers grew fairly quick and as they grew, Jackie opened up more classrooms and took in more teachers. It was vital to her to make sure that she had the right sort of teachers in place before enrolling more children and not the other way around. The teachers had to eat, breathe and practice the school philosophy of putting the EQ (Emotional Quotient) into the IQ (Intelligent Quotient), and they had to reflect this in their lessons, how they treated the students, parents, suppliers, sub-contractors and each other.

Teachers of Swallows and Amazons create an inclusive, engaging, fun and caring early learning environment. There is no lecture-based learning. So, the teaching staff exposes children to experiences, presenting concepts in ways that they can engage with and understand.

Play is essential for children to develop high-level social strategies as well as physical and mental skills. Here, the teachers know why, when and how to help ‘play’ become an enriching, meaningful learning experience so that children can comprehend and enhance their potential. An enquiry based learning environment is created using the children’s innate sense of wonder and awe to motivate a purposeful play-based learning.

The Working Philosophy

At Swallows and Amazons, educating children is not just about preparing them for Primary 1 or first grade. It is about curiosity, exploration, experiences, self-esteem and interactions. Learning habits acquired in a child’s early years persist into later life. Successful adults tend to be lifelong learners but this habit of enquiry and love of learning depends on an education that rewards exploration and questioning. If a person wants to do something for themselves, they will do it well and derive satisfaction from the experience. If they are simply doing what they are told, it becomes a ‘task’.

The childhood education program lays the foundations for all future learning. At the school’s enquiry based approach, the traditional maths, literacy, writing and foreign language skills are not learnt independently of each other. They are so interrelated that it may be hard to distinguish one from the other. Swallows and Amazons believe in the Erikson Theory (1963) – two stages of development for preschool children as described:

  • Pre-Kindergarten is a period of interest, active exploration and readiness for learning,
  • Kindergarten is characterised by children’s readiness for the challenge of new and exciting ideas and for constructing things. At this stage, opportunities for physical, intellectual and social accomplishment with many varied interactions should be provided.

The outcome of this practice for the child is success and a feeling of “I can do it!”

Together as a Team

Jackie has a team of teachers who work together to ensure that Swallows and Amazons continue to offer an early childhood learning environment which is inclusive, relevant and caring. The support and the contribution of Linda (Head Teacher) and Jeannette (Deputy Head and Curriculum Coordinator) are vital to the day-to-day running and curriculum development. They also help inculcate the school culture and Mission, Vision and Goals of the school throughout the staff and all areas.

As a school, Swallows and Amazons believes that having a strong home-school partnership will enable the children to develop to their fullest potential. Therefore, within the first two weeks that the child begins the learning journey, the teachers set up a “Getting to Know You” meeting. This meeting allows the teachers to learn more about the child and his/her family and parents’ expectations of the school.

An Open Door Policy encourages parents to make an appointment with the teachers at any point in the school year, to share and chat about their children’s development and how the needs of the children and their families can be better met. Parents are also encouraged to participate in the classroom. They can volunteer to be a mystery reader, do an activity or come as a chaperone on Field trips.

Safety First

As children spend a substantial part of their day at the school, a safe environment is a priority for both parents and the school. Swallows and Amazons takes several measures to ensure the same and also enforce classroom rules, room arrangement and constant supervision as ways to avoid injury.

The rules include points such as no hitting, no running inside, etc. Teachers arrange their classrooms so that corners have bumpers and there are no large items of furniture sticking out which may cause the children to knock into them and get hurt. The high teacher to child ratio also helps in being able to maintain good supervision so that they always know how many and where the children are at all times. Only designated persons can collect children from the school, and if there are any changes to this, it must be in writing (email).

Almost all of the teachers are CPR and First Aid certified and have access to the first aid kit at school. At the start of each school session, every child has a health screen on entering the class. During the session, teachers and assistants are always on the lookout for changes in behaviour and appetite which could signal something more serious ahead. The management communicates with parents on a proactive basis and calls them if their child is feeling unwell or has been involved in an accident or bump.

Holistic Development

Through its curriculum and learning environment, Swallows and Amazons encourages children to develop empathy through their daily interactions with each other. It also inculcates the values of open-mindedness and risk-taking as the children approach new and unfamiliar activities. They also encourage the children to build resilience – to keep trying and testing out hypotheses as they continually question and inquire about what they would like to find out.

Measures are also taken to instil and maintain discipline amongst the children. The children are told what to do, rather than what NOT to do. For example, instead of “Do not hit your friend”, they are asked, “please use gentle hands”. Emotionally charged situations like that of anger are dealt with firm yet gentle means.

The team adds, “As the school believes that one’s emotional quotient is important in the children’s holistic development when conflict arises amongst children, we would have them talk about the situation and how it made each other feel. We would also discuss how we can make it a more positive interaction with one another in our community.”

Looking Forward to Nurturing Lives

Swallows and Amazons has held the SPARK (Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework) accreditation since 2012 soon after it was first introduced. SPARK is a quality assurance framework to assist preschools in Singapore in raising their quality. It aims to provide recognition and support for preschool leaders in their efforts to improve teaching and learning, and administration and management processes to enhance the holistic development and well-being of young children.

Jackie adds, “Being one of the first batches of Preschools to be accredited with SPARK is an accomplishment that I am most proud of. Besides, when the Ministry of Education were rolling SPARK out, we were one of the 30 or so preschools that were consulted in the preparation of this Framework. We also provided a training ground for the SPARK auditors.”

The school has been awarded the Singapore Prestige Class Luminary Award, Singapore Excellence Award and The School Green Awards; the Daisy Award for green initiatives.

What started as a holiday camp, is now a buzzing campus with around 80 children and 15 staff members. Jackie is seeking to expand and open more branches to nurture students who will be open-minded enquirers and posses the independence of spirit to explore and maintain their love of learning.

“Our goals are to build on a child’s innate sense of wonder and awe; to keep learning fun, inclusive and relevant; to create confident and independent learners and to make the experience at Swallows and Amazons a happy, caring and safe one,” concludes Jackie.

Recent Posts