The building of two new mega childcare centres in Sengkang and Punggol will open up places for 1,000 more children by the middle of next year.
The Sengkang centre, which broke ground yesterday, will be run by NTUC First Campus' My First Skool. E-Bridge Pre-School will run the one in Punggol, for which construction will start next week.
Both are anchor operators appointed by the Early Childhood Development Agency. Anchor operators get government grants and priority in securing sites at Housing Board estates to set up centres, but must keep fees below $720 a month, among other conditions.
Each of the two new centres will have a capacity of 500, well above the average of 100 for a typical centre in a HDB void deck.
Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said the increased capacity of these "mega centres" was "very significant".
At the ground-breaking ceremony for My First Skool's centre yesterday, Mr Tan said: "Sengkang in particular is a very young estate, and there are a lot of new flats developing here. This will be very welcome by the young families in this area."
On top of My First Skool's regular curriculum, the 2,500 sq m centre will focus on giving children an early start in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).
Ms Thian Ai Ling, My First Skool's deputy general manager, said it is exploring Stem-related facilities such as gardens for children to do outdoor project work, and a solar panel roof to teach them about sustainable energy.
The Sengkang site will also host an early intervention centre by the Asian Women's Welfare Association (Awwa), the first of its kind here to be co-located with a childcare centre. The Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children centre will serve up to 300 children with special needs, who will visit the centre for therapy services.
Awwa chief executive Tim Oei said: "Previously, our special schools and regular schools were separated. We are moving to a better integrated model where we can have joint events (with the regular centre), such as National Day and Racial Harmony Day."
Mr Tan said the co-location is an important development as it allows children with differing needs to interact with one another, noting: "We can build a more inclusive society."
For parents like Ms Mariana Idris, the arrangement will be ideal. The 31-year-old housewife said she "went through hell" trying to find childcare for her two children.
Her elder daughter, Nashrah, four, is autistic and currently goes to Awwa's Lorong Napiri centre after three others failed to work out. Her two-year-old daughter, Nadhrah, secured a place at a childcare centre in Sengkang only after a six-month wait.
Ms Mariana, a Punggol resident, said it is a hassle to send both girls to different centres every day. "In new estates, it is very difficult to find childcare. More such centres in these areas would be good."
The Sengkang and Punggol centres will be open for registration next January. Three more large childcare centres with a capacity of 300 each will be built in Jurong West, Woodlands and Yishun by the end of next year.
This article was first published on Aug 12, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.