Archive for the ‘Early Childhood Education’ Category

Effective practices in early intervention for children with autism

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

A child’s natural setting in early childhood years means his or her home environment, childcare centre and preschool. – NSTP/File pic

The National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) refers to a news portal that highlighted the lack of early intervention services to cater to the increasing number of children with autism in Malaysia.

We, at NECIC, agree that the public and private sectors need to boost efforts to ensure that no child is left behind.

Although setting up centres to cater to the needs of children with autism and other disabilities is an option, it is not the only feasible solution.

Not only is it not cost-effective, it also takes a long time. We would like to highlight constructive solutions that can be implemented as our children cannot wait.

FIRST, integrate early intervention services into childcare centres and preschools. We can only build so many autism-friendly early intervention centres, and the waiting list will be long.

Evidence has shown that early intervention that is conducted in the child’s natural setting is the most efficient.

A child’s natural setting in early childhood years means his or her home environment, childcare centre and preschool.

While we do need more early intervention centres delivering quality services that complement the work of childhood care providers, we should not aim to construct more of them, which can be expensive.

Instead, the focus must be on making early childhood care inclusive by employing therapists to provide services in these settings, as well as making environmental adaptations to buildings to accommodate children’s sensory and physical needs.

This is because childcare centres are places where children spend the most time at, apart from their homes.

Many parents enrol their children with disabilities in mainstream preschools because the learning environment is conducive for their development and inclusive education benefits all children.

SECOND, emphasise training for early childhood educators. Malaysia has a deficit of well-trained personnel to provide quality early intervention services to children with disabiliti

Ideally, these should be transdisciplinary therapists to support all children with special needs.

The skills and knowledge in inclusive early childhood education should be imparted to the early childhood caregivers at their settings.

Thus, resources should be channelled to train personnel instead of building centres.

THIRD, empower parents to teach. Currently, intervention plans are mostly developed by early childhood intervention therapists.

International research has shown the effectiveness of early intervention programmes when there is committed parental involvement.

Parents can be great teachers for children with disabilities because they have a keen observation of what their children need.

They are resourceful and can draw up intervention plans that best meet their children’s needs.

It is time that early intervention therapists shared the teaching responsibility with parents and allow them to take the lead in making decisions concerning their children’s needs.

With limited funding and human resources — factors that plague early childhood intervention services — we need to rethink how the nation is addressing this pressing need.

Datuk Dr Amar-Singh

Adviser, National Early Childhood Intervention Council

Dr Wong Woan Yiing

President, National Early Childhood Intervention Council; consultant paediatrician

Prof Dr Toh Teck Hock

Vice-president, National Early Childhood Intervention Council; consultant paediatrician

Ng Lai Thin

Project officer, National Early Childhood Intervention Council


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Children need to read, play sports

Friday, October 4th, 2019
Children are often exposed to watching videos for an extended time, so they tend to get distracted in school because their mind is not trained to focus because classes can be too ‘static’ for them. NSTP/SHAHNAZ FAZLIE SHAHRIZAL

KUALA LUMPUR: Parents are urged to inculcate real-world interests among their children to break them from the monotony of gadget use.

Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said encouraging “self-regulated skills” such as reading or playing sports would help to improve children’s attention span.

“Children are often exposed to watching videos for an extended time, so they tend to get distracted in school because their mind is not trained to focus because classes can be too ‘static’ for them.

“I believe one of the ways to break this cycle is when parents implement self-regulated skills from young that will teach them to manage their time.

“That way, their mind will learn to develop discipline and explore new interests such as reading,” he told reporters when met after launching the Children’s Literature Festival 2019 at the National Library.

The event, which will end on Sunday, is jointly organised by Book City Corporation, Malaysian Book Publishers Association and Malaysian Board on Books for Young People. It aims at creating a platform to magnify children’s reading material quality.

Bakhtiar also encouraged parents to expose their children to arts and culture.

“When children learn about arts and culture, they will learn to appreciate things as they grow up, and at some point they will start expressing themselves by asking questions (related to their interests).

“Parents should not suppress their children’s interests and creativity. We have to give them the freedom to express,” Bakhtiar said.

By Farah Solhi.

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JKM-registered childcare centres to get 20% off electricity bill.

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Deputy of Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh and Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin speaking to the media in Putrajaya. – MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The Star

PUTRAJAYA: Childcare centres will get a 20% discount on their electricity bill if they are registered with the Social Welfare Department (JKM).

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh said at present, only one out of 10 childcare centres have done so.

“We believe there are about 40,000 childcare centres out there, but only 11.9% out of that have registered with JKM.

“Hopefully, this discount will encourage more centres to get themselves registered,” said Yeoh at a press conference at her ministry here on Thursday (Sept 26).


Also present was Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

Yeoh said the ministry acknowledges that child centre operating costs can be steep – even more so with the implementation of minimum wage.

“We hope that this discount will lessen the burden of the operators, and at the same time have more childcare centres registered with JKM. Being registered allows better monitoring of such centres by the ministry, to ensure better safety and well-being of the children,” said Yeoh.

Meanwhile, Yeo said her ministry had set aside RM10mil for the purpose of giving the discount.

“This RM10mil is an estimate, should all 40,000 childcare centres come out and register. This is also part of the Incentive-Based Regulation (IBR) that we have in Peninsular Malaysia,” said Yeo.

The discount is only available to childcare centres that register themselves with JKM in Peninsular Malaysia, and the establishment must be using commercial and not residential tariffs.

The offer will last until Dec 31,2020.

Yeoh added that the government would also consider discussing with Sarawak Energy Berhad and Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd to extend the discount offer to day care centres in east Malaysia.

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Early childhood week to be held next month.

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

THE Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Council is organising the National Early Childhood Care and Education (NECCE) Week 2019 with the theme, “Bringing out the scientist in young children”.

The NECCE Week 2019 has three events lined up to raise the quality and professionalism of the early childhood community.

These are:

  • The Educational Visits to childcare centres and preschools or kindergartens on Oct 4 to share good Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) practices which are being carried out. By experiencing these best practices, the participants will take home what they have experienced as well as give them inspiration on what else they can do to nurture children’s curiosity and develop their science process and thinking skills;
  • The conference on “Bringing out the scientist in young children” on Oct 5 has lined up hands-on workshops to provide experiential learning and will also provide knowledge and better understanding of science, especially the science behind the activities. It is of great importance that the facilitators of the workshop provide the scientific knowledge and scientific explanations of the activities carried out. The plenary session two provides better understanding of the science process skills which children should acquire through carrying out STEM activities. Of importance are the policies and programmes which the Education Ministry is currently embarking on and the plans it is having in the pipeline; and
  • The STEM Nature Walk is being held at Taman Dusun Bandar in Jalan Bellamy. There will be activities related to science for children.

For information, call Roziah at 014 3692421 or visit the ECCE Council Facebook or

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Prioritise play in our preschools

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

COMPLAINTS from primary school teachers that young children are being pushed through preschool without a solid grounding in basic reading, writing and comprehension skills keep growing louder.

Despite the government’s admirable efforts to raise the standard of early childhood education in Malaysia, the number of children who struggle to attain age-specific learning benchmarks keeps increasing.

On the surface, this situation makes no sense. The National Preschool Standard Curriculum (KSPK) is a well-researched roadmap that, on paper, matches its most celebrated contemporaries in Finland and Canada.

What is going wrong then?

In 2017, the “International Journal of Early Childhood Education Care” published a highly-cited study on preschool curricula co-authored by researchers from Malaysia and the Philippines that shed some light on the issue.

The study, titled “Comparing the Kindergarten Curriculum Framework of the Philippines and Malaysia,” identified four key problems with preschools in Malaysia—incompetence and the lack of training in teachers, inadequate English skills, the “wrong” use of play, and poor parental involvement.

But what do they really mean?

First, the study concluded that Malaysian preschool teachers have limited training in making lessons more “interesting and fun”. It is indeed true that in the majority of preschools, teachers only prioritize finishing activity books and worksheets.

Such practices do not leave space for the development of “pre-literacy” or “pre-numeracy” skills which educators should employ before a child can read, count, or even hold a pencil. For instance, the recognition of sounds to vocalize letters contributes to their reading fluency and expansion of vocabulary. And the ability to understand sizes, shapes and patterns gives children a head-start in basic arithmetic.

How can teachers do it? Well, through play of course, where children learn shapes using concrete objects and not flashcards, and such learning is reinforced by “scavenger hunts” to find these shapes in their environment.

The incompetency among teachers, however, cannot be helped if their poor attitude underscores the problem. As I’ve written before to the shock of many, Malaysian preschool teachers who genuinely care about their profession are few and far between. For many, early childhood education was not their first or even second career choice.

When we don’t do what we love, isn’t it natural to resent going beyond the call of duty? This is one of the major reasons why the otherwise stellar play component of the KSPK curriculum is scarcely implemented.

Parental indifference also plays an outsized role in diluting the effectiveness of KSPK. It is unfortunate that many treat preschools as glorified daycare centers and not incubators of future academic excellence.

They routinely drop off and pick up their children either too early or too late, and have begun demanding recently that the timings of preschools align with their work hours with scant regard for the rest and bonding needs of their young ones.

Moreover, many wholly ignore their co-responsibility in educating children and the great value of positive reinforcement at home. What is worse, they resist the idea of play in preschools as a valuable tool for learning, believing instead that rote memorization is most useful in higher education.

Yet, it is hard to completely fault them when the labor market still relies on test scores as its primary filter of fresh graduates instead of evaluating their potential to innovate—something Malaysia desperately needs as it transitions into Industrial Revolution 4.0.

This leads to the last major issue highlighted in the journal: the “wrong” use of play. You see when we hold up Western countries as role models of early childhood education, we conveniently divest our thoughts of the massive influence of play-based learning in raising their quality of pre-schooling as a whole.

Time and again, academic studies have proven the “right” use of play multiplies the ability of young children to excel in higher education and social life, not least because they develop the right sides of their brains first.

When structured toward specific objectives, play-based learning raises children’s language skills through conversation and curiosity, supports “pre-literacy” and “pre-numeracy” that rapidly improve their reading, counting and writing abilities, develops the social and emotional skills imperative to building and maintaining healthy relationships as adults, and most significantly, turns them into creative problem-solvers.

Unfortunately, while KSPK is a fantastic curriculum, its monitoring and evaluation have routinely been found wanting.  If play has failed at preschools in Malaysia, we all share the blame for preventing our children from achieving their full potential.

Which is why we must act now. First and foremost, there is a dire need to lower the student-to-teacher ratio so we can move from quantity to quality in early childhood education. This will require the regular influx of new and better trained teachers.

Next, public awareness campaigns aimed at breaking the negative stereotypes surrounding play-based learning are also very important. Parents and teachers must realize that when structured around clear objectives, play is far more beneficial to the mental and emotional development of young children than rote memorization or mindlessly filling worksheets.

Above all, the government must develop a detailed set of guidelines on play-based activities that are standardized throughout KSPK preschools and rigorously monitored.

Such a policy will have two major benefits. First, it will free up teachers to focus on effectively conducting play-based learning activities instead of first having to brainstorm and map them. Two, it will signal to parents that standardized play legitimately helps their children learn better.

For the above reasons, prioritizing play in preschools is common sense and we must act now for the good of all Malaysian children. This is our national duty

By: Jerrica Fatima Ann.

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Why kids should play more

Monday, July 1st, 2019
Playing has physical, social, psychological and academic benefits for children. FILE PIC

IT is said that a healthy body has a healthy mind. Anyone who has seen children at a playground knows they are the happiest when active — whether it is playing informally, competitively or for fun.

However, today’s education is largely academic. This needs to change to ensure balanced development by inculcating health consciousness in students.

With increasing emphasis on academics and rapid advances in science and technology, parental pressure has been driving academic training, albeit at the cost of health and fitness of youth.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said the levels of physical activity may start to wane as early as 7 years old.

As children get older, it can be a challenge for them to get adequate daily physical activity. Hence, parents and schools must take initiatives to inculcate a culture of “playing” from early childhood.

Parents and schools should team up to encourage sports among children.

As a high percentage of children attend schools, in this context, there is an urgency to strengthen physical education and sports in our education institutions. This calls for the integration of physical education, sports and other recreational activities in schools to create a healthier generation.

But why should we take steps to encourage physical education and sports? At the community level, recreational clubs offer more activities to keep them active. Clubs offer pathways to consistent training and competitive tournaments. Parents contribute by liaising with local clubs at junior and youth levels.

Playing has physical, social, psychological and academic benefits for children. Regular physical activity also provides health benefits.


The relationship between mind and body has been acknowledged scientifically.

Research has proven that physical activity can impact cognitive skills, attitudes and academic behaviour, all of which are important to improve academic performance. These include enhanced attention in class, as well as improved behaviour.


When children play with others or engage in team sports, it creates a sense of belonging and encourages them to work with others. It teaches them to accept winning or losing graciously, which builds a strong team spirit.


Some children fantasise about growing up to become celebrities and athletes. The irony is that many children are unhealthy due to sedentary lifestyles.

Sports and physical education are the best ways for children to lead a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activities reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis, and improves metabolism. Children who are physically active are likely to grow into physically active and emotionally balanced adults.


By making physical education and sports engaging and inclusive, children learn respect for themselves and others.

It teaches them team-building skills, critical and creative thinking and makes them more participative and responsible.


Physical education and sports are an important part of holistic schooling. Physical education
as an education tool can contribute to the development of children.


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Fostering best practices in early childhood studies.

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019
(From third left, middle row) SEGi College Subang Jaya deputy principal Calvin Chan, Teo and Early Childhood Care and Education Council president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng with the scholarship recipients in a group photo.

(From third left, middle row) SEGi College Subang Jaya deputy principal Calvin Chan, Teo and Early Childhood Care and Education Council president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng with the scholarship recipients in a group photo.

PARTICIPANTS at the Seventh Annual Early Childhood Education (ECE) Conference 2019 received RM200,000 worth of education sponsorship in the form of scholarships and course vouchers.

The amount made up for eight scholarships for the Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Years Education, a 3+0 programme conducted by SEGi College Subang Jaya in collaboration with the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom, as well as 300 ECE course vouchers, which provide additional rebates for the Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Years Education programmes at the college.

Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching launched the two-day conference themed “International Curriculum Pedagogy and Implementation”.

In her keynote address, Teo said the conference provided an opportunity for professionals from other countries to share experiences and curriculum practices implemented in their respective countries so that local practitioners and students could learn from their successes.

“To ensure the private preschools meet the national quality standard, the government established the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Council in 2001 to increase the level of professionalism in the private ECCE sector.

“Working with the council, the ministry will implement a quality standard and inspection mechanism for ECCE centres, harmonising qualification requirements across the sector,” she said.

Teo said it is crucial to provide existing teachers and principals with greater resources in the form of support and professional development.

“It is also important to make teaching a profession that is vibrant and rewarding, so that it will attract and retain the very best talent that Malaysia has to offer,” she added.

The conference showcased several keynote presentations by an international panel of experts in the field of early childhood.

They were Hayley Peacock, director and owner of Little Barn Owls Nurseries in the UK; , Prof Pan Shih-Tsun, Faculty of Child Care and Education dean at Hungkuang University, Taiwan; Xu De-Cheng, children’s visual art specialist, Taiwan; and Zhu Su Jing, Soong Ching Ling Kindergarten principal, Shanghai, China.

The keynote presentations covered significant areas of interest while addressing challenges and opportunities in early childhood care and education ranging from outdoor learning initiatives to multicultural curriculum for preschoolers.

Selected ECE practitioners and students from various universities and colleges also had the opportunity to present their unique project papers and initiatives that were aimed at enhancing the teaching and learning process at preschools.

They were selected based on the uniqueness of their projects and specific learning processes and outcomes that met the set objectives, which explored current and emerging practices that enhance learning experiences for young children across various spectrums and educational approaches.

The conference served as a significant milestone for SEGi College Subang Jaya, as two of the selected presentations were by their own second year Bachelor of Arts students in in Early Years Education, Crystal Wong, 21 and Loo Sau Fun, 44.

“Early childhood educators must be open to learning and getting acquainted with the latest trends in the field.

“Conferences are perfect avenues for them to learn best practices and explore diverse ways of working effectively with young children and their parents,” said SEGi College Subang Jaya Faculty of Education head Carolyn Choo.

The annual conference, which serves as a platform to share best practices in ECE and engage stakeholders to establish and promote a progressive and innovative culture in education, was attended by some 350 early childhood educators, preschool operators, curriculum specialists, academic leaders, teachers and students.

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Early childhood education

Monday, April 15th, 2019

Early childhood education is beneficial for children ages 3, 4 and 5. It’s also often referred to as pre-school, pre-kindergarten, day care, nursery school or early education.

Early childhood education prepares young children for their transition into elementary school. Sending pre-school-age children to one of these early childhood education programs can make a positive impact on her and give her a head start toward a bright future.

Why is Early Childhood Education important?

The capacity of your child’s brain to soak up new learning peaks when your child is 3 years old.

At this point in your child’s life, she has the highest potential for learning new things.

While attending an early childhood education program, your child will improve her language and motor skills, while developing the learning and cognitive skills necessary to move on to primary school.

Attending a quality early childhood education program can benefit your child’s health as well.

Approximately 60 to 70 per cent of pre-school-age children attend an early childhood program or child care programme out of the home.

In addition, your child’s socio-emotional development is less likely to be adversely affected, with a decreased chance of needing behavioural or mental health care once she enters primary school.

Importance of Screenings

One of the many benefits of your child receiving an early childhood education is the opportunity to participate in early childhood screening.

This screening is provided for 3- to 5-year-olds and tests things like health, cognitive development, speech, vision, hearing, coordination, emotional skills and social skills.

Screenings can identify any development or health issues that need to be taken into consideration, to prevent learning delays.

Where can you study Early Childhood Education?

The Diploma in Early Childhood Education (ECE) is offered by the Open University of Malaysia (OUM).

The   programme at OUM  contributes  to the all-rounded development of ECE teachers by updating their knowledge, skills and attitude as ECE professionals.

The programme is tailor-designed for Early Childhood principals, administrators, teachers, care takers, childminders and those involved with young learners to ensure that they have the necessary and enriched knowledge about child development and assessment, curriculum content, children arts and music, learning and pedagogy, health and safety, and ECE-centre management skills.

Entry Requirements

The Normal Entry requirements are:

i. Pass SPM/SPMV/MCE or its equivalent, with minimum a credit in 3 subjects; or

ii. Pass UEC with minimum Grade B in 3 subjects; or

iii. Pass O-Level with minimum Grade C in 3 subjects; or

iv. Pass SKM Level 3 in Early Childhood/ Preschool Care and pass SPM with minimum a credit in 1 subject; or

v. Pass Community College Certificate equivalent to MQF Level 3 in related field and pass SPM with minimum a credit in 1 subject; or

vi. Pass Early Childhood Education Certificate (MQF Level 3) in related field with a minimum CGPA of 2.00; or

vii. Pass STPM or equivalent with a minimum Grade C (GP 2.00) in 1 subject; or

viii. Pass STAM with minimum grade of Maqbul; or

ix. Other qualifications recognized as equivalent by the Malaysian Government.

Note: Matured students above the age of 20 years with working experience can also apply provided they pass the APEL Assessment Test conducted by OUM.

Tuition Fee

The total tuition fee For the Dipolma programme at OUM is RM 12, 780.  The Duration of the course is four years. Financial aid is available to those who are eligible from:


2) EPF (Account 2)

3) Education or Personal Loan from commercial banks

4) HRDF (subject to employer’s eligibility)

5) OUM Flexible Payment Scheme.

The OUM Advantage

Those who are interested in pursuing the Diploma programme with OUM have the added advantage to “ Word and Study”.

If you are a school leaver or an adult interested in this programme you can work and take up this course on a part-time basis. For details contact the nearest OUM centre.

by Krishnan
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Permata will now be called Genius

Monday, April 15th, 2019
Education Minister Dr Maszlee said, adding that the decision was made by the Cabinet to make the programme more competitive. NSTP/ROSELA ISMAIL
By Azzman Abdul Jamal - April 15, 2019 @ 5:10pm

NILAI: The National Permata programme (Permata) will now be called Genius as it is set to undergo a rebranding process, according to Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

“Eventhough its role and functions remain the same, several programmes within it will be enhanced in terms of quality,” Dr Maszlee said, adding that the decision was made by the Cabinet to make the programme more competitive.

Dr Maszlee was speaking after attending a programme at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Desa Cempaka, here, today.

Permata, a programme for early childhood education in Malaysia, was the brainchild of Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Following Pakatan Harapan (PH) taking over the federal government from Barisan Nasional (BN), assurance was given that the programme would be retained but an audit would be conducted and improvements would be considered.

By Azzman Abdul Jamal.

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More than an activity

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

HE was an adventurous and independent toddler who loved spending time in the great outdoors.

That was when Farin Mikhael Farid, who turns four this year, resided in Texas in the United States.

In 2017, his family moved back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for an opportunity in career advancement and that was when his behaviour took a 360 degree turn when he struggled to adjust to life here.

From being a “curious little explorer”, Farin Mikhael became aggressive and clingy.

Participants get to play with sand, mud, water, paint and take part in many fun outdoor activities that will spark their development.

“The relocation took a big toll on him and he began to withdraw himself from society. People raised concern on how he behaved wherever we went. He became timid and anxious up to a point he will scream and throw some serious tantrums when he felt threatened with unfamiliar situations,” said mother Nina Syafina Mohamed Shukor, 28, who was working as an engineer in the US.

Devastated to see the drastic changes in Farin Mikhael, the mother of two resorted to multiple methods – including consulting a therapist, enrolling into different schools – to return her eldest son to his former cheerful and active self.

“He hated therapy and refused to cooperate. Then I introduced him to outdoor messy play. It was a miracle to see how he began to channel his energy through play. It took us about six months with constant commitment to finally see him shine again,” said the engineer-turned-fulltime-mother.

This inspired Nina Syafina to start WhatAMess Kids, a company that organises outdoor programmes for children (10 months to seven years-old) based on creative messy play.

The activities are conducted on a weekly basis. Activities for special needs children are conducted as well.

“All our programmes, which are held in a safe, controlled environment, are designed for play therapy and sensorial development. Children get to play with sand, mud, water, paint and all sorts of activities that will spark their development.

“Playing is crucial for children seven years and below to develop confidence.

Putra Shaffy Firaas (second from left) and mother nur Fairuz bonding through play.

“It also enables them to pick up valuable life skills such as resilience, bravery, curiosity, adaptability and social skills that they can’t get from formal education,” said Nina Syafina, the creative director of WhatAMess.

She added that WhatAMess will soon be opening an outdoor sensory park in Kuala Lumpur.

Parents, she said, gave positive feedback but one in particular stood out.

“There was this sweet little four-year-old boy who wasn’t doing well in school, showed no interest and was unable to focus in whatever he did, until he joined messy play activities.

“We noticed that he became a completely different person – curious, adventurous and would actively participate in the activities,” she shared.

Noting that the concept of learning through play is relatively new in Malaysia, she said it is time for parents to “strategise” on current teaching methods so that a well rounded generation that can strive in school and out of school can be raised.

“Play is never a waste of time and money,” she said, adding that it is important for parents to be “part of the equation” in a child’s development journey.

Nina Syafina (right) believes that play is never a waste of time and is crucial in a child’s development.

“Not all parents have the opportunity to have playtime with their children, thus we create a platform where parents get to spend solid time to play with them under a controlled environment,” she said.

Parents Naleni Selvaraja, 38, and Nur Fairuz Mahusin, 36 – both who have sent their children to take part in WhatAMess’ activities – shared Nina Syafina’s sentiment.

Naleni, who is expecting her second child, enjoyed watching her son, Sajjviin Saravanan, three, “make a mess” during outdoor activities organised by WhatAMess as well as other establishments.

“He knows that it is alright for him to do so at such activities, and he knows the house is not a place to make a mess in,” she said.

Playtime, she added, helped develop Sajjviin’s communication skills besides enabling her to realise he has a knack for transportation vehicles.

“Children imitate only what they see in vision. Parents wouldn’t be able to tell the internal talent of children – each one is special with various talents.

“I think these activities are brilliant as they keep the children occupied as well as allow their creativity to flow,” said the finance analyst.

She encouraged parents to sign their children up for more outdoor activities.

“I find Sajjviin to be happier when he is spending time outdoors,” she said, adding that outdoor activities were also a great “distraction” from electronic gadgets.

“It is hard to prevent children from using gadgets because we are also using them. If we keep him in the house with a gadget, he might not learn as much as when he is exposed to a real thing,” said Naleni.

Enrolling her only child Putra Shaffy Firaas Shah Fezan, 7, into WhatAMess’ activities was also Nur Fairuz’s way of keeping his contact with electronic gadgets to a minimum.

“He needs to know that he can have fun outdoors. Besides, it is also a good bonding time between parents and the child,” said the mother of one.

Nur Fairuz encouraged parents to adopt a more open mindset towards learning through play.

“Such programmes allow children to explore and express creativity freely because the environment at home does not allow mess. It coaxes the children to come out from their comfort zones, break out of their shells to get to know others, besides clinging onto the parents.

This is good for only children like Firaas as he can mix around with his peers,” she said, pointing out that children nowadays often spend their playtime at indoor playgrounds in shopping malls.

She also noted that programmes such as WhatAMess is a “2-in-1” where parents and child get to enjoy.

“This programme is of course for the children to enjoy the fun, it is also a meeting point for the mummies to have a get-together. It is a destresser for mothers, especially those who are juggling packed working schedules,” said Nur Fairuz.

A healing mechanism

On a more serious note, play therapy (see table for more information) is a proven method that allows children to discover how to express themselves through play.

According to one of its pioneers Virginia M. Axline, “play therapy is a vital opportunity for children to ‘play out’ those feelings – hatred, loneliness, anger, fear, failure or even feelings of inadequacy”.

Hils Learning principal Tracy Ho said the common misconception parents have towards play therapy is that they think it is teaching through play.

“What play therapy does for the children is to provide a platform to express themselves and tell their story, it’s not to help them improve their academic results directly,” she pointed out.

There must be a reason why a child is not falling for adults’ tricks to do academic work and are not responding to other interventions, she noted.

“Play therapy is used to address the root cause of the issue, which is more or less an emotional blockage to learning.

“It is also about letting children try new things and taking risks rather than saying I don’t know how to do it so I’ll avoid doing it, or completely shutting down from a particular subject or activity that doesn’t tickle their fancy,” she said.

Ho added that play therapy is especially helpful to children who have experienced some form of trauma, were bullied, or struggle with self confidence because they have learning difficulties or are struggling academically.

“It is much more helpful than thought counselling especially for young children who may not be able to pinpoint the exact emotion they are feeling.

“Through play therapy, they are able to express their story through toys (characters),” said Ho, a qualified and registered play therapist at Play Therapy International, Academy of Play and Child Psychotherapy and Play Therapy United Kingdom.

Play therapy is also helpful to those who have language development delays or are on the autism spectrum because they can tell their story without the need for them to talk, she added.

Hils Learning is a centre in Kuala Lumpur that specialises in providing learning support services to children.

It offers services from educational testing, learning support, social thinking, counselling, training programmes, play and filial therapy, among others.

Play therapy also ties in well with social thinking, which Hils Learning also provides.

Zac Mu’tamir, the centre’s expert in developing social awareness in children, noted that social thinking can help a child understand verbal and nonverbal social cues; understand and regulate emotions; foster and maintain peer relationships; work in a group; comprehension; understand a different point of view; and initiate and maintain conversations.

He said he goes by his “bible” – the Zones of Regulation (see table) to help children express themselves better.

“We get a lot of children who come to us not knowing how to express themselves. They will have a meltdown, break something or shut down because they don’t understand how to tell an adult what’s going on.

“We teach them how it feels like and what your body does when you are angry, or other emotions. Does your heartbeat race, do you clench your fist when angry? This way, children can better identify the emotions and body language tied to it, then we move onto helping the child calm down,” said Mu’tamir who was trained under Michelle Garcia Winner in the Social Thinking® Clinical Training Programme 1A in Santa Clara, US.

However, Ho recommends filial therapy as the best way to help a child.

“Filial therapy is a relationship therapy in which the therapist uses the parents as the main agents of change in the lives of the children.

“Filial therapy has the highest efficacy. When parents apply what they’ve learnt from it at home, it permeates into the family system which is very powerful. However, filial therapy requires effort, time and commitment from the parents,” she said.

She explained that in filial therapy, parents receive training from a registered play therapist to conduct special non-directive play sessions with their children.

Initial play sessions are held under the therapist’s direct supervision.

Once parents are competent and confident in conducting play sessions, the therapist supports them in transitioning to unsupervised play sessions at home.

By Lee Chonghui
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