Keep calm and carry on? Get me out of here?

Keep calm and carry on? Get me out of here?

How hard could it be?

In the wake of the childcare centre abuse allegations this week, my editors sent me to observe childcare teachers in action. I was nonchalant initially, even though I am not exactly fond of kids.

But maybe the predilections of those dearest to me would rub off. My grandmother used to babysit for a living, my mother is an infant care teacher, my aunt used to work at a childcare centre, and one of my best friends is pursuing a Diploma in Early Childhood Education.

I spent three hours with a class of three-year-olds at a childcare centre in the west of Singapore.

And left with a healthy respect for the teachers.

I arrived at about 3pm, just as nap time was over, and was greeted by a sea of grumpy, teary-eyed kids who had just woken up.

Think you can handle one child crying?

Try five. The class had 15 kids, and there were two teachers with me.

The children were well-behaved enough - but only after they wiped their eyes and were placated with the promise of food.

The braver ones started talking me, and held my hand. They even tried to share their toys with me. Aww.

I was starting to enjoy myself playing with the children, but I then heard wails.

What new horror this time? This was barely 30 minutes after I'd joined the class.

Two girls were fighting over a toy. Accusations turned to tears, but a teacher was there in a heartbeat, with a patient - if not weary - smile to break up the fight.

Me? I was cringing in a corner, hoping the girls will stop crying soon.

If it had gone on for much longer, I'd probably would have capitulated.

Thankfully, tea was served. And toys were abandoned as the class sat around a table, waiting as patiently as you can expect little kids to wait.

The teachers served up juice and paper plates of biscuits, and for a while it was peaceful.

Until a plastic mug of juice got overturned and the little ones started milling around me, while one of the teachers cleaned up the mess.

I tried to entertain three children while the mess was being cleaned up, but it was really trying.

Two were telling me how to play with their toys - talking over each other - while the third regaled me with tales of his favourite cartoon character. I was swamped, trying to pay them equal attention.

Thankfully, a teacher came to the rescue and swept the children into a classroom for reading activities. While she read to them, the other teacher kept an eye out for mischief.

You'd hardly expect three-year-olds to sit quietly in a room for long, and before the teacher was halfway into the book, the natives were getting restless.

A few started whispering loudly, while another group started poking each other.

And as I watched the two teachers try to engage the children while maintaining order, I found myself marvelling at the patience they must have to do this on a daily basis.

While it is endearing to see these young ones beaming at you, it is a challenge to ensure that your (many) charges get fed, entertained, educated all at once.

One of the teachers I spoke to, who didn't want to be named, says: "It's no wonder most of us have white hair."

"It's very rewarding when you see the children learn, but sometimes, it's just very stressful. The kids are so full of energy, and sometimes they are so focused on having fun that they turn a deaf ear to our instructions."

Ninety minutes in, and I was ready to bolt. Don't get me wrong. The kids are wonderful and the teachers, great.

Me? I was a wreck.

Childcare certainly isn't for the faint of heart.

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