As well as being a childcare centre that can cater to more than 140 children, The Caterpillar's Cove is a living laboratory for early childhood researchers.
The "model" centre in Jurong East was launched in May but opened its doors to the media for the first time yesterday. Now gaining momentum with more than 30 children and six infants on board, the centre is the second branch of The Caterpillar's Cove.
The first is at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Both are run by childcare centre operator NTUC First Campus and allow academic staff and trainee teachers to carry out their research in an authentic pre-school environment. The Jurong branch is next to NTUC's new Seed Institute campus, which trains early childhood teachers in diploma and degree courses.
Together, they cost $1.85 million. With the new addition, the institute will train about 7,200 pre-school teachers every year, up from 5,600. In the middle of the childcare centre's play area is a wooden shed where researchers and teachers can observe the youngsters at play.
The centre has adopted other innovative designs with the help of Singapore firm Lekker Architects. Designed to look like a schoolyard, it has an outdoor sandplay area and its pillars have been made to resemble trees. During story time, children sit on tiered blocks and stools so they can get a clear view of their teachers. They can also get a grown- up's view of the outside thanks to a periscope that allows them to peer out of adult-height windows.
Dr Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte, Seed Institute's deputy director for professional practices and The Caterpillar Cove's centre director, said there is a lack of local research in the early childhood sector. "A lot of research that is cited is from somewhere else," she said. "This (closer collaboration with Seed Institute) will strengthen the kind of research we can do, and also the research we've already done."
Research publications from projects at the centre can be used as reference texts in diploma courses, and experienced teachers will share their expertise through workshops at the institute.
The Lien Foundation has also commissioned the Seed Institute to conduct three studies costing $1 million in total over three years.
Dr Teo-Zuzarte said: "Hopefully, some of the things that we're sharing will trigger new innovations that teachers can contextualise and use in their own settings."
This article was first published on Oct 16, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.