10 things you must know before signing your child up for enrichment classes

1. WHAT IS ENRICHMENT?
In the context of a child’s education, it refers to activities or classes that enhance learning. These typically extend learning beyond the subjects traditionally taught at schools, and may include art, speech and drama, music, ballet, sports or even a foreign language.

However, in Singapore, parents also think of enrichment as additional learning, or lessons that help reinforce what is taught at their kid’s school – for example, math or reading enrichment, says Jane Ching-Kwan, a child development and education expert, and director at Skool4Kidz, an anchor operator appointed by the Early Childhood Development Agency.

When your kid attends an enrichment programme, he will learn how to think creatively and tap into his imagination. “Enrichment is ideally suited to the way young children learn,” says Brian Caswell, dean of research and program development at Mindchamps. “The key aspects of true enrichment are what we call the ‘Five E’s’ – enthusiasm, engagement, enquiry, empowerment and experience.”

While some parents use enrichment and tuition interchangeably, there is a distinct difference: The former is designed to develop lifelong learners who become active, enthusiastic and passionate towards learning, while the latter is subject-oriented and has a more focused objective of improving academic performance.

Fiona Walker, CEO and principal of schools at Julia Gabriel Education, explains: “You could send your child to English tuition, which works with the syllabus covered at school and prepares him to do well in his assessments and exams.

“On the other hand, you could send him to English enrichment, which may have a much broader focus, covering creative writing, reading different genres of writing and texts, and exploring the language in a fun and interactive way.”

2. WHO GOVERNS THE INDUSTRY?
Private schools that offer academic programmes come under the purview of the Council for Private Education or CPE, a statutory board of the Ministry of Education.

However, centres that offer enrichment and tuition classes aren’t regulated – their courses are not considered academic programmes but supplementary education syllabus, explains Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

It is therefore left to the management of these schools to deliver what was promised in their agreement or contract with the consumer.

3. WHEN IS THE RIGHT AGE TO START?
Four to six is a good time to begin, as long as the enrichment class or activity is appropriate for that stage of your child’s development, says Sirene Lim, an early childhood education expert, and senior lecturer at SIM University.

“The goal is for him to enjoy learning for learning’s sake, by introducing him to new activities – for instance, a sport or an art or music class – to enrich his primary experiences and to see if he shows an interest in these activities.”

If you wish to enrol your child in a reading and writing enrichment programme, Brian suggests starting as early as possible – perhaps when your kid is around age three. “With reading, for example, it’s important to begin early. But this does not mean pressuring or drilling your child,” he points out.

“Children love the sound of words long before they even understand them, so it’s fine to begin early. This is the age of information, and children are inundated from birth by interactive multimedia. “If they are unable to develop a love of reading and writing in their early years, it will be extremely difficult to build that love at a later age, when reading and writing become more demanding and the competing demands of electronic media increase.”

4. HOW DO I KNOW WHICH TYPE OF ENRICHMENT ACTIVITY TO CHOOSE?
This depends on your child and his needs, but it should be something he enjoys, that builds confidence in his abilities, and that enables him to tap into his talents and strengths.

Every kid is different. Knowing what your little one’s needs are is an important first step to choosing a meaningful and appropriate enrichment activity, Jane says.

Some children fare better in music, and others in dance or gymnastics. Yet others might excel in academic-oriented enrichment activities such as reading and writing. What matters most is that your kid shows an interest in the class and gets something out of it.

5. ARE SMALLER CLASSES BETTER?
In general, they are better than big classes, says Fiona. With small classes, the children get more individualised attention, and the teachers have a better opportunity to understand each child, his needs and his strengths.

6. WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR WHEN CHOOSING A CLASS?
Brian warns to watch out for how they are run. “Be particularly aware of which approaches are appropriate for your child, especially if he is under five years old,” he points out.

“Methods based on memorisation and drill are totally lost on this age level – and indeed, for most age levels – and may prevent your child from engaging emotionally with the lesson.”

You should also consider the scientific research behind the enrichment programme, he says. “Make sure that the learning methodologies and content have been scientifically validated to ensure a positive learning outcome.”

Seng Choon of Case advises: “Before enrolling your child at an enrichment centre, you should research the school. Consider its reputation, the size of the class, the credentials of the teaching staff and the course materials provided.”

7. WHAT FEE-RELATED QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK?
You should find out what the fees include – if they cover materials and any equipment your kid may need, like musical instruments or dance costumes, for example. One thing to keep in mind is that fees are no indication of quality. “Just because a class is expensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better,” says Fiona.

“What you should look for are the quality of the teachers and the programme itself. Do the teachers engage and inspire your child? Will they know how to support him in the areas your kid may find more challenging? Is the curriculum or material they are working with solid and progressive?”

Seng Choon of Case adds: “You should also take note of the terms and conditions of the agreement carefully. Look out for important terms such as ‘refund policy’ and ‘termination policy’. For example, will the school refund you the cost of unutilised lessons if classes are cancelled through no fault of the parent or child?

It’s your responsibility to work out the options available in the event of such incidents.” Each year, Case handles about 60 to 70 complaint cases about the education industry, including those involving tuition centres, enrichment centres, fine-arts schools, linguistic schools and so on.

“The complaints usually centre on the failure to honour the agreement and refund issues,” he explains. “For example, the agreement may state that the consumer is entitled to 10 lessons within three months, but only eight were conducted within that period.

“Alternatively, a school may have promised a refund after cancelling its classes, but failed to provide this to the consumer.” If you find yourself in a similar situation, contact the school and try to resolve the dispute on your own, he suggests. If that doesn’t work out, you may approach Case for help, or file a complaint with the Small Claims Tribunals.

8. HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CHILD IS BENEFITTING FROM IT?
If he enjoys the activity; is happy at the end of each session and looks forward to the next one; demonstrates competency in the taught skills; and shows no signs of negative stress before, during or after the class, then he is benefitting socially and emotionally from it, Jane says.

Sirene adds: “Another way to tell if he’s getting something out of the class is to observe whether or not he incorporates what he has learnt into his daily playtime or home routine – for example, he may hum tunes or repeat the movements or skills he has learnt.

“If he has to be forced, repeatedly, to attend the class, then you should try to figure out what’s wrong. Is it the activity he does not enjoy, or is it the teacher or his peers that he finds intimidating? If it’s the activity, then drop the class.”

9. MY KID DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ENJOYING THE CLASS OR LEARNING ANYTHING. SHOULD I TRY ANOTHER PROVIDER OR DROP IT ENTIRELY?
Jane suggests stopping the class and finding out what else he might enjoy doing. If you know for sure that he loves a particular activity and you sign him up for that, he will be more likely to enjoy the course. He will also feel a greater sense of accomplishment, which will motivate him to continue.

Before you take your child out of the class – if that’s what you decide to do – you may want to try and interest him in the activity at home, says Brian. If, for instance, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying his reading enrichment class, try reading to and with him to develop his love of learning.

“Create a stimulating learning environment and make the experience fun for him, and he might realise that he is getting the same out of his enrichment class. If this strategy fails, then it’s a good idea to try another provider or drop the class entirely.”

10. HOW MUCH ENRICHMENT IS TOO MUCH?
You’ll know your child has too much on his plate when he no longer has time to bond with you and the rest of the family, or attend play-dates and social functions, such as his friends’ birthday parties.

Time with the family and social interaction are important for children, says Jane. So if Junior’s classes are eating into this time, you might want to cut down on his enrichment activities.

Another clue: Your child is stressed from having too many classes, and feels like he has to be up to the mark with each of them. If this happens, says Brian, he may lose his enthusiasm for learning and develop an aversion to the class or activity in question.

On the other hand, if your child is really into the activity, and other areas of his life – like his health and family relations – are unaffected, then he can probably manage his busy enrichment schedule.

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