A pre-school set up to promote inclusion, where children with special needs learn alongside other children, has become oversubscribed just three months after it opened in January.
Likely the first fully-fledged inclusive pre-school in Singapore, Kindle Garden offers 75 places, of which up to 30 per cent are for children with special needs.
Currently, 55 places have been taken up, with 20 set aside for next year's K2 children - so this year's K1 children can have places next year.
The centre, run by voluntary welfare group AWWA and funded by the Lien Foundation, already has a waiting list of 100 special needs children and 25 other children.
AWWA chief executive Tim Oei said he was initially concerned that there would be low enrolment.
He added: "When we put up the banner, the community walked in. We took great pains to say that there are kids with special needs. But that was not a hindrance (to parents)."
Izaan Tari Sheiki, 32, an executive director in a bank, enrolled his three-year-old child in the Lengkok Bahru centre as it is near his home.
"I was wondering if the curriculum would cater just to children with special needs but I liked the idea of personalised care," he said.
"I also notice my daughter being helpful to others. Kids need to be taught from young to accept differences among people."
AWWA director J. R. Karthikeyan said lesson plans at the pre-school are personalised for different learning needs. While children "experience the same lesson", the learning goals that each child is expected to meet would differ.
The facilities at Kindle Garden are also designed such that children with special needs can learn alongside regular ones. For instance, there is a toy car big enough for a child on a wheelchair to enter and play in it with able-bodied friends.
Currently, 14 other pre-schools take in children with special needs under the Integrated Child Care Programme - but this is only for those with mild to moderate disabilities. They do not offer therapy and each has just up to 10 special needs kids.
In comparison, Kindle Garden admits children with mild to severe special needs, including those with autism. It has a speech therapist, occupational therapist and early intervention teacher among its 12 staff.
Its fees are $980 a month for full-day childcare before GST, slightly higher than the industry median of $856 as at January.
Children with moderate to severe special needs benefit from the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (Eipic), but 70 per cent of the 2,600 children in Eipic centres do not attend pre-school due to the severity of their needs or a lack of suitable pre-schools.
Khloe Gan, three, who has Down syndrome, used to attend an Eipic centre before going to Kindle Garden.
Her mother Chan Bi Yi, 34, a manager in a trading company, used to pay about $700 a month but Khloe spent just six hours a week at the Eipic centre. Now, she pays $748, after government subsidies, for full-day childcare at Kindle Garden.
"I was concerned if the centre could handle her, but there are therapists around, so it's okay," she said.
Meanwhile, from now until April 14, the Lien Foundation is inviting people to give views on how to make Singapore more inclusive for children with special needs. They can do so at: http://bit.do/Inclusive
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