These three terms are all it takes to baffle first-time parents in Singapore who are looking for care arrangements and/or an early learning programme for their children during the tender years. But what is the difference between these early childhood education providers and which one should you opt for?
A Preschool Programme
In Singapore, preschool is used as a general term which refers to any institution providing early childhood care and education services.
On the other hand, there are two types of early childhood education providers who offer preschool programmes, namely childcare centres and kindergartens. Statistics that were updated as of July 2015 shows that there are 1,196 childcare centres and 499 kindergartens in Singapore (Source: ECDA). All matters related to the operations of childcare centres and kindergartens are regulated by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
So how do childcare centres and kindergartens differ? In the list that follows are some factors that differentiate childcare centres and kindergartens:
Age Group of Children
Childcare centres: Typically cater for children from 18 months to 6 years old. Some childcare centres also provide infant care services for babies from 2 months.
Kindergartens: Enrolment in kindergartens is only open for children between 3 to 6 years old.
Childcare centres: The type of services offered by childcare centres varies from centre to centre. Most childcare centres offer the option of a full-day programme which operates on weekdays from 7am to 7pm, and a half-day programme which runs from 7am to 1pm or from 1pm to 7pm. Some childcare centres may also operate on Saturdays from 7am to 1pm. On top of these common programme structures, there are a handful of childcare centres which offer flexible programmes as well.
Kindergartens: Kindergarten programmes usually last for 3 hours a day on weekdays and can run either from 8am to 11am or from 12pm to 3pm. The exact timing may vary from kindergarten to kindergarten.
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Childcare centres: Some childcare centres follow a specific early education approach (e.g. Montessori, Reggio Emilia or Waldorf), while the rest adopt a mixed approach with the addition of local elements to give pre-schoolers a smooth transition to primary school. The focus of the programme could also range from an academic to a play-based one.
Kindergartens: Kindergarten programmes are generally academic-focused, with the objective of preparing children to meet the challenges of formal education.
Closure of Centre/School Holidays
Childcare centres: Childcare centres are closed on Sundays, half-day of any 3 public holidays and an additional 5.5 days in a year (2.5 days will be used for staff training).
Kindergartens: Kindergartens follow the same school terms and holidays as primary schools, based on the dates released by MOE.
Childcare centres: As childcare centres offer comprehensive care, children will be given 2 meals (breakfast and lunch) and 1 to 2 snacks (morning/afternoon, or both).
Kindergartens: Due to the short duration of the kindergarten programme, children will be given light snacks in between lessons – no meals will be served.
Childcare centres: Singapore citizen children whose mother/single father works 56 hours or more per month qualify for subsidies on their childcare fees. The subsidy amount is dependent on factors such as household income and type of childcare programmes that their children are enrolled in.
Kindergarten: School fees for kindergarten are not subsidised. However, families whose household income do not exceed $6,000 may apply for financial assistance.