Structured and Free Play – Pros and cons

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Monday 26th of December, 2016


Parents often find it hard to strike a balance between structured and free play. In Singapore’s fast-paced modern environment, many lament the loss of unstructured playtime as children’s lives become ever more hectic, scheduled—and sometimes overscheduled—with activities from piano to gymnastics.

Most of these scheduled games fall under the category of structured play. Other examples are board games and cards games, plus sports like soccer and tennis. Structured play can help children develop self discipline and listening skills. Teacher-directed rules and structure can provide many special rights children with a sense of security and order. But structured play can also be rigid. It doesn’t allow for much freedom to be creative and may prevent children from developing alternative solutions to any issues they encounter.

For most children, free play is key in development. This encompasses painting, building forts or dens, running around in the garden and dramatic play where children act out different scenarios. It’s self-directed and fosters creativity and independence, encouraging children to set their own objectives. All children need to have time for free play as it allows them to relax and discover their own talents and interests. Free play is a democratic process as children need to come to an agreement about the rules before starting a self-directed game.

Free play (think of how you played masak-masak as a child) allows children to use their creativity and imagination to turn everything into something. Evaluating rules and using critical thinking to resolve disagreements in games are higher order thinking skills. It may not look like much at first glance, but as Loris Malaguzzi said, “Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive processes of children than to the results they achieve in various fields of doing and understanding.” All it takes is looking a little closer at children’s games and interactions to see how much they learn from free play.

Process Art – The benefits to preschoolers

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Monday 19th of December, 2016


The process art movement gained traction in the United States and Europe in the mid-sixties, with notable artists like Eva Hesse and Barry Le Va creating sought after abstract works. These process art pioneers emphasised the act of “doing” in art creation and not the end product. Their work was made of perishable and insubstantial materials, which were not meant to last.

Although process art seemed new and avant garde at the time, it is far from a niche interest. It has existed in some form for generations. Traditional tea ceremonies and sand painting are also versions of process art.

For young children, process art has a number of benefits. Besides building fine motor skills—by working with paint, glue or clay—process art can help children relax, focus and gain confidence. There is no right or wrong way to create. Without set instructions to follow, children can make each art experience their own. They are also free to be independent and creative. Making art becomes their choice.

Some process art experiences we offer at The Garden House include easel painting with paintbrushes, fingerpainting, wire working with clay and collage with recycled materials. We display the artwork on the school’s walls. This lets the children know their work is valued and helps to personalize the space. And most importantly, it provides great visual documentation and allows them to reflect on their learning process.

Weekly Highlights: December 12-16

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Dec 16th, 2016


We had so much fun at the Community Morning last weekend. The morning was just for our friends in our neighbourhood! They came to discover and explore The Garden House Preschool and got to know the amazing faces behind our team. In addition, we had delicious muffins and snacks served along with coffee and tea from a barista with a mobile coffee cart.


During the week, we sang lots of songs including Christmas carols.


We worked on crafting our Christmas tree too. Made from boxes, paint and found objects, it was a collaborative project that really helped us get into the spirit of the season.



The iPad Pitfall – should your toddler be using an iPad?

Category : Your Friendly Gardener · No Comments · by Dec 12th, 2016

Monday 12th of December, 2016

How would you fare if you had to go on a weeklong tech fast? No iPad, iPhone, or any other similar smart device – we’re sure we’d do fine if we were honeymooning in the Bahamas, but three years later with 2 (and sometimes 10 while at school) children in tow, the iPad does feel like a godsend. I sometimes wonder how we managed to live without them before they were invented.

I don’t remember the first time I handed my iPhone to my toddlers, but I do know that I LOVE the glorious, uninterrupted silence it brings. When my children are wreaking havoc on an already hectic day my first instinct is to distract (and silence) them with the iPhone. And then came the iPad.

The iPad is small, handy, and can be taken anywhere to keep the children occupied. With hundreds (maybe even thousands) of apps developed for babies to young children, this digital babysitter can be extremely useful especially on long haul flights and lengthy waits at the doctors.

But just because it can benefit a child and aid them in their development in general does not mean that it should replace an entire childhood. My position on this is that screen time should be kept to a minimum, and children should be learning to occupy themselves with their own by an interactive screen.

When you decide to let your child start using the iPad, it’s important to set some ground rules and limitations. In my home, the children only have it for a maximum of 30 minutes a day, and only when they’ve played with their toys, read their books, completed numerous paintings, and frolicked outdoors.

Tablets or any smart device (who knows what will be released next?) should not replace human interaction and playtime; activities like playing and running around outside, building things with bricks and Lego, or baking with mum should always take precedence. I’m no saint but I try my best to strike a healthy balance – and if I desperately need 20 minutes of downtime, I always have that last resort.

Your friendly neighbourhood gardener,

Weekly Highlights: December 5-9

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Dec 9th, 2016

It’s officially the festive season. And this week, we built a Christmas tree out of cardboard boxes. Everyone pitched in, helping to paint the boxes and the teachers piled them up to create our tree.

We had lots of fun playing in the sand too. And we built moats and explored how to work with sand and water.

We ran around the garden. And watered the plants. We did plenty of nature play.

We had some wonderful meals too. One of our favorites was pasta with roasted tomato pesto.


Postnatal Depression

Category : Uncategorized, Your Friendly Gardener · No Comments · by Dec 5th, 2016

Monday 5th of December, 2016

Postnatal depression (PND) isn’t often discussed here, but it’s a real issue that happens to more mothers than we think.

I’ve never experienced PND myself, but I’ve had friends who have struggled with it. PND isn’t just postnatal blues, or “baby blues” as we often call it. Most mums experience baby blues to some degree – unexplained mood swings and tearfulness brought on by hormonal and psychological changes in the body post-delivery. Doctors tend to give this a few days (to two weeks maximum) to clear up, and most mums usually do.

What postnatal depression really means
Both Kandang Kerbau Hospital and the is over the counter Singapore Associationfor Mental Health estimate that about 10-15% of mothers are affected by PND. PND usually appears within the first six weeks of delivery, but it can occur later. Doctors diagnose PND once symptoms persist for more than two weeks, but the tricky thing is that many mum go undiagnosed.

What causes postnatal depression
There are many factors that can lead to PND – both young mothers under 21 and mature mothers are at a higher risk, particularly when the pregnancy is unplanned or complicated. The support system of the parent is important – the more worried, fatigued, or anxious a mother is over caring for her child, the higher the risk of PND. Past psychiatric history is also a definite factor.

How to identify postnatal depression
Mums – and even fathers, to a smaller extent – often experience tearfulness, fatigue, and sleeplessness. Loss of concentration, high irritability, and a lack of appetite are common. PND can also result in hostility towards spouses and/or the baby, and a constant feeling of being alone and a failure as a parent. In severe cases, suicidal thoughts can occur.

How and where to get help
Many PND sufferers choose not to get help because they are afraid that they will be deemed unfit to care for their children and their children will be taken out of their care. But external help is important for parents with PND to recover!

The most immediate thing you can do if you suspect you have PND (or if you know someone with PND) is to start talking. Talk to a partner, family member, midwife, support group, doctor, or counselor about how you feel.

For those with moderate or severe depression, doctors will recommend medical attention that involves a full assessment, management plan, therapy, and often antidepressants. The KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital offers consultation and treatment.

Being a parent is tough but you don’t have to do it alone – our green community is here for you too!

Your friendly neighbourhood gardener,

Weekly Highlights: November 28-December 2

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Dec 2nd, 2016

It rained quite a bit this week. But that didn’t stop us from playing at The Garden House. We found new and creative indoor experiences. As Loris Malaguzzi said, “Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, eyes and their ears, the resources of their forms, materials, sounds and colours.” We certainly had ample opportunities to use all our senses to explore this week.


Our Basils class (3 to 5 years) did plenty of dancing. We explored whole body movement through balancing and jumping.

art-resizedAfter exploring cookbooks, they also had the chance to draw different dishes and create beautiful pieces at our art atelier.


Our Cili Padis (18 months to 3 years) explored painting on different surfaces (paper, concrete pillars and mirrors), learning about various colours and textures.

construction-resizeThe toddlers worked together. Using construction blocks and Lego, they built roads for toy cars as well as a bright yellow giraffe.


Healthy Recipes for Children: Warm Quinoa Salad

Category : Your Friendly Gardener · No Comments · by Nov 28th, 2016

Monday 28th of November, 2016

Quick, easy, and healthy recipes make up my kitchen arsenal – with two toddlers it’s almost impossible to attempt anything else. My children adore this quinoa salad, and if you’re pressed for time you can also prepare it ahead and serve it cold.

You need:
½ block of haloumi
handful of chopped mint
handful of frozen peas
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 cups of quinoa

Boil the quinoa and let cool.
While the quinoa is hanging out, grill your haloumi until brown on both sides. Slice the grilled haloumi into small pieces.
Add the olive oil to a pan.
Over low heat, combine the grilled haloumi, frozen peas, chopped mint, lemon juice, and quinoa.

Et voila – now sit back and be prepared to serve seconds.
Your friendly neighbourhood gardener,

Weekly Highlights: November 21-25

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Friday 25th of November, 2016

Every week at The Garden House offers a range of opportunities to play and learn. This week, we toured the garden, worked on our upcoming cookbook and made lots of art indoors and outdoors. As the founder of Reggio Emilia’s educational philosophy Loris Malaguzzi said, “The wider the range of opportunities we offer our children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.” Playing with food, sand, paint, water and toys, we had the chance to explore different forms, materials, sounds and colours. Here’s a quick recap of what we did.

Ms Nurul took us on a garden tour. She showed us herbs like sage and thyme as well as some spicy chillies. We learnt to be gentle with the plants and not to pluck fruit and vegetables before they are ripe.


We had yummy snacks including lots of fruit, applesauce, smoothies and muffins. We always ask for seconds of bananas.


We drew with colour pencils, painted with poster colours and made lots of art. We all produced unique pieces, each showcasing our individual creativity.


We had plenty of fun outdoors with sand and water too. There’s nothing better than exploring our natural environment, with the teachers to guide us along.


The “terrible twos”: handling toddler temper tantrums

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Apr 14th, 2016

Thursday 8th of January, 2015

As a mum of two toddlers, I have to admit that on some days, the “terrible twos” well deserve their reputation. But as an educator, I’m constantly reminding myself that there is actually no medical proof of this ‘terrible twos’ stage. It’s a constant struggle, but I try my best (sometimes very, very hard!) to remember that the reason why my toddlers throw tantrums is because they’re at a point where they understand more than they can express. That’s when children start to bite, cry, whine, scream, kick, hit, throw things, and even hold their breaths.

As a parent it’s important to understand why these tantrums happen so you can nip the problem in the bud, so to speak. Toddlers can’t always express themselves coherently, so be patient and try different approaches to calm them down. Our son was throwing tantrums when he was tired and couldn’t express or recognize that he was tired. So when he’s in a mood, I take him aside to say, “I know you are tired, I get tired too…” and give him alternative options for him to express his feelings. It’s not an overnight solution, toddlers don’t have the greatest memories so don’t be frustrated when you find yourself doing the same thing after every tantrum. Keep at it (even I remind myself this!)

Teaching children has taught me that temper tantrums don’t have to be a “thing” that toddlers – and parents – endure. My greatest tip is to plan for your toddler’s moods. Yes, I am sometimes faced with ugly meltdowns in public, but I try as much as possible to prepare for situations. If I know they will be uncomfortable and try to seek attention, I present them with alternatives like books, toys or a snack. I cannot emphasize how important sleep is to young children; if your toddler throws tantrums when they’re tired, plan to tackle activities after (or after) naptime. Don’t push their limits by taking them out of the house when they’re tired.

What I often see are parents giving in to their children when faced with a screaming toddler, especially in public. I admit – I’ve done the same. Sometimes you pick your battles! There are times when you are frustrated, tired, and frankly, embarrassed that your toddler is acting out, especially in public. But I have learnt from experience that giving in to your child when they’re kicking and crying is only going to teach them they will get what they want when they throw a tantrum. Instead, wait till your child has regained control over their emotions before comforting them. Don’t take your frustration out on your child either – this just leads to an escalated tantrum.

I know there are many (hypothetical) ways to avoid temper tantrums – I’ve spent many late nights Googling for solutions too. One simple trick that I do is to try to give my children control over small things. Of course, one has to be smart about these things – and I’ve learnt that the option ‘no’ should be cut out of the equation as much as possible. For example, when asking what they would like to wear, give them options between two outfits. Or ask them if they would like to brush their teeth before or after their bath (note: don’t ask “would you like to brush your teeth now?”). Giving them ownership over these small decisions will build their independence and decrease the likelihood of tantrums.

Remember that at the end of the day (tantrum-filled or not), it’s important to remind your toddler that you love him or her. The last thing you want is for them to start throwing tantrums to seek negative attention because they feel you don’t care!

Your friendly neighborhood gardener,