SINGAPORE - In a darkened room, a projector flashes moving images of the underwater world as five small children mill around the screen, trying to match plastic fishes with the ones swimming above their heads.
Next door, a group of eight youngsters are busy shoving canned and fresh fruits into their mouths one by one.
"Instead of explaining to them which is healthier, we let them taste the difference for themselves," said childcare teacher Nur Syazwani Sutarman.
These activities are part of a typical day for children attending the first Hampton pre-school on Bishan Street 13. The centre is the PAP Community Foundation's first collaboration with a private operator, EtonHouse, which provides expertise in early childhood education.
The arrangement means parents get a childcare programme offered by a brand-name operator at an affordable price.
They are charged about $727 a month for a full-day programme. Housed at a void deck, the centre is accessible for families living in the heartland.
By contrast, most of EtonHouse's pre-schools are in private estates and commercial buildings.
The centre's curriculum emphasises inquiry-based learning that is centred around projects instead of sticking to a fixed timetable of English, maths or science lessons.
The projects start with questions posed by the children. For example, a child may be curious about the different ways in which eggs can be cooked.
"From there, the kids pick up language skills when learning how to write a menu as well as mathematical thinking about shapes and fractions when cutting an egg mayo sandwich," said Ms Rani Sidhu, director of pedagogy at EtonHouse.
One inquiry-based project could take a few days or even months if the question is extended to other topics such as where eggs come from and what the different types of bread are. Other typical activities could involve pre-nursery children going to the park outside, and later recreating the various rocks they have seen using paper mache.
This approach to learning has appealed to some parents.
"I like their programme as it is not too expensive yet it is very fun and creative," said Mrs Cindy Quek, 39, who has two daughters at the centre.
"The other day, my daughter saw some ants and while the teacher started a discussion on the different body parts of ants, the kids caught some and built them a nest."
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