Getting the right start

PARENTS these days realise the importance of early childhood education and they don’t need to be coerced to enrol their children in pre-schools.

The question is which pre-school should they send their children to?

If your children are ready for pre-school, you would probably be asking around for recommendations from friends, family members and the online community.

This is one way to narrow down the choices available, but what is good for another child might not be suitable for yours.

Discuss with your spouse and decide on the values which you consider important: emotional intelligence, obedience, academic success, independence, critical thinking, etc.

With a checklist in mind, your search will be more focused. Here are some factors to consider.


Work out a budget to figure out how much you can afford. But beware of kindergartens that are too cheap as it speaks of the quality of the programme.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying, ‘when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’.

That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the expensive schools have excellent quality.

Look at the hidden costs. Besides school fees, there are registration fee, material fee, music fee, sports fee and a host of other costs.

Add them up and divide them by 12 to get a monthly average.


Housewives may be willing to sacrifice a great deal of their time in chauffeuring their kids around town. But is this a wise decision?

Think about the commuting time. Peak-hour traffic can be crazy. Could you car-pool with those within the same vicinity? Does the school provide transportation?

When push comes to shove, are you willing to shift closer to areas with good schools?


Look beyond the vision and mission of a school. The practice may not match with the vision and mission statements.

Consider the school schedule. Young children need time for free play and some unstructured activities.

Are there lots of hands-on activities or is the focus on workbooks?

This ties in to the values that you consider important.

If academic success is paramount to you, workbook galore would float you on cloud nine.


Is the environment conducive for young children? Is there sufficient outdoor space for children to play?

Are there danger areas such as surfaces with sharp corners or stairs with railings which are too wide apart?

Are there proper amenities for children such as child-sized toilets or a well-equipped resource room?


Do the teaching staff have the relevant qualifications and experience?

If you have the chance to tour the school, observe how the teachers talk to the children. Do they treat the children with respect?

Student-to-teacher ratio

You want your child to get sufficient attention from the teacher, so the student-to-teacher ratio shouldn’t be too high.

A good number is 20 and below, but schools which charge cheaper fees might have a higher ratio.


What are their health and hygiene policies? Are their toileting habits sanitary?

Do they screen for illnesses? What are the procedures in case a child is sick or in case of an outbreak of disease?

Parent-teacher communication

How does the school update parents on what is going on in school?

Are you able to communicate with teachers regularly about your child’s progress or issues?


Does the school serve food or do you need to prepare your own food? What kind of food does the school serve?

At the end of the day, you might not be able to find a pre-school that meets all your requirements, especially if you have only a low budget to work with.

Decide what are your must-haves, and if these are met, go ahead and enrol your child at the school.

Lydia Teh is a mother of four and author of 10 books, including the latest, How I Wrote Ten Books. Send comments to

From children’s art to toy

INTERNATIONAL furniture and home furnishing retailer Ikea has, for the third consecutive year, made the dreams of 10 creative young minds from around the globe come true with its soft toy drawing competition as part of Ikea’s Let’s Play for Change campaign.

This year’s winning artwork came from Poland, Germany, Russia, Austria, Bulgaria, Australia, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.

The quirky winning designs have been turned into cuddly plush toys and included in this year’s limited-edition Sagoskatt collection.

All revenue from the sale of these plush toys will be directed towards child playtime and development efforts in dire communities across the world.

Children’s Ikea product developer Bodil Fritjofsson said: “The 10 winning drawings are a lovely mixture of imaginary animals. Simply wonderful personal combinations of colours, shapes, and expressions that spark my own imagination”.

They included a flying unicorn-inspired dachshund complete with rainbow wings to a purple monster with magical horns, with Fritjofsson likening the competition to an invitation into the way little ones view life.

Eight-year-old Caroline from the US created a multi-coloured cloud, showcasing her bright and positive take on life.

Caroline, whose cloud character lives in a pink-hued sky, said: “She loves to visit places with more clouds like her where she can spread joy to lots of people”.

Meanwhile, seven-year-old Shane from the United Arab Emirates displayed cheeky innocence in his creation inspired by the timid lion from The Wizard of Oz, remarking: “Even though he’s a lion, he has the name ‘Tiger’, since I was in a hurry when I named him”.

Now, Malaysian children aged four to 12 years can get a chance to have their creations turned into plush toys that will be sold all over the world.

Join the fourth annual Ikea soft toy drawing competition from Nov 3-19, open to all Ikea Family and Småles members.

For more, visit the Ikea Malaysia website.

Out of the box

FROM primary school since the age of 11 to secondary school, Sheena Moh and Teo Jin Hui were both in the same class and after experiencing work in different fields, the best friends of 22 years decided to start a business together and made it their full-time career.

They started Atom & The Dot, a subscription box business based on education for children. Founded for kids aged between five and eight, each box is filled with materials and instructions for arts and science inspired activities and experiments. Kids can do each of the activities by following the instruction book provided.

“Parents are sending their children to tuition centres at an early age, but they also need fun, so we came up with this idea of activities that mix education and fun,” Moh said.

Children would normally feel learning is difficult and boring, but Moh and Teo challenged themselves to curate activities that help kids explore the wonders of the complicated world in the simplest way.

Coming from different backgrounds, both of them have set their minds to ensure their self-funded business will have good results by giving their full attention to it.

They both believe kids should appreciate how art and science work together and be curious of how problems are solved through their subscription box.

“The idea was already founded in US and Japan as they wanted to distinguish the importance of developing art and science together, in order to bring up better-thought students. This is the first time we are bringing it to Malaysia,” Teo said.

“We should be thinking about our kids’ future in a different way; to grow their skills to be equal to our technology and lifestyle,” Moh added.

The 33-year-olds decided to have a little fun with their business since most of the businesses nowadays are related to fashion. They believed that early childhood education is important to develop different ways of learning, and that was how they founded the subscription box.

“Kids don’t really know about magnets and how they work, for example. They just read it in textbooks, but if they see it in the subscription box, they can use the magnet to experiment with some coins, and how they work with each other,” Teo said.

Through this, kids will be surprised to see the results allowing them to think further and question how does it work.

“Although this is a new platform, we are happy we started it. Our aim is to alter the way people think of education for kids,” Moh said.

To bring the business further, they are now planning to do roadshows and promote their subscription boxes in schools.

McDonald’s invites entries to its storytelling contest

CHILDREN, here is your chance to get creative and let your imagination run wild telling stories, without mum and dad getting cross! Besides, you could even win the family (refer prize details) a holiday to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea!

Conditions and requirements

McDonald’s Storytelling Contest 2017 is open to children aged between six and nine, who are Malaysian citizens living in the country. Parents of contestants are required to visit, read the terms and conditions before filling in the form with their child’s details and a one-minute child’s video telling a story. Contest period is until Aug 31, 2017. Late and invalid entries will not be entertained.

Employees of McDonald’s Malaysia, their immediate families, affiliates, subsidiaries, related agencies and suppliers, and/or persons living in the same household, along with last year’s contest winners, are not eligible to enter.

Participants are allowed to send in more than one entry but each must be submitted with a completed entry form and a one- minute video.

Storytelling video

Your child’s storytelling video must meet the 60 second/one minute requirement. Simply video your child telling a story as best he or she can. Facial expression, intonation, imagination, creativity, body language – these and more will surely engage an audience.

Upload the video on Instragram using the hashtag #McDStorytelling2017 (ensure your account is set to “Public”). Complete your registration form at and hope your child will be called for a live audition. Winners at each live audition will then compete at the Grand Finals.

10 gifts for your children that money can’t buy

WE all want our children to have “the best”, and sometimes that might seem like the best prom dress, the best graduation present, the best summer camp experience … the list goes on. But in our relentless focus on the best things, we often lose sight of what’s really important – the gifts that can’t be bought.

Below is a list of intangible gifts we can give our children, which help nurture healthy children, so they can reach their full potential. These gifts will help children develop the best qualities: being respectful, responsible, resilient and compassionate.

1. Your time, presence and connection

You may spend a lot of time with your children and still not really be there for them. Children need your presence. This means “tuning in”, listening, responding from your heart rather than your head and observing your children with no agenda. In other words, being present and experiencing their beauty and the joy they create in your life. When you are truly present, they will feel your love.

2. Feelings

Feelings are not right or wrong – this especially applies to uncomfortable feelings. Expressing feelings is healthy and allows a child to get support and to learn problem solving. When parents don’t accept their children’s feelings, there is a consequence: Children disconnect from themselves, and this creates unhappiness as well as misbehavior.

3. Unconditional love and acceptance

Make sure your child knows that if given a choice of all the children in the world, he or she is the one you would choose, quirks and all.

4. Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important parenting tools, and it’s essential for healthy relationships.
Parents need to communicate empathy at every age, especially in the difficult moments. Empathy means letting your child know that you understand how they feel (even when you don’t “like” it).

5. Limits and boundaries

Despite their protests, children need and want limits. Clear, consistent limits and rules based on
your values, provide safety and security. Setting limits teaches children the critical life skill of setting healthy boundaries for themselves.

6. Boredom

When children are given the gift of down time and even boredom, they have the opportunity to look inward, to discover themselves, their feelings and their needs. Down time creates an opportunity for them to “take action” in their lives rather than have “action” come to them. It is through down time that creativity emerges and children learn how to be alone without being lonely.

7. Struggle and disappointment

While it is natural for parents to want to protect their children, it is important for them to allow children the freedom to make their own decisions. They need to experiment, make mistakes and fail (yes, fail). If we jump in to solve their problems or rescue them, we deprive them of critical learning opportunities. Through struggle, confidence is built, self-discovery deepens, and perseverance and problem-solving skills develop.

8. Conflict

Conflict pushes many parents’ buttons. Because limit-setting and discipline often cause anger and conflict, many parents find themselves avoiding it altogether. However, conflict is part of life and it is OK. In fact, it is through conflict that children learn to understand their emotions, control their impulses, take responsibility, express themselves authentically, move towards solutions and develop empathy.

9. Chores and responsibilities

Chores and responsibilities help children feel valuable to the family. They learn that they are accountable and that there are consequences when they don’t keep their end of the bargain.

10. Mistakes and imperfection

Teach and model for children that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to be imperfect.
Children learn more from what we do than from what we say. When we make mistakes, it is important to apologise, take responsibility for our actions and repair the mistake.

Bullying at school: ‘children can redirect insults to their advantage’

FRENCH therapist and author Emmanuelle Piquet sees some 2,000 children each year who are victims of bullying at school.

Ten years ago, she founded France’s Chagrin Scolaire centers, which work to help children face up to bullies and deal with schoolyard confrontation. Kids learn defense strategies in a course of three sessions, based on role-play activities.

Is bullying becoming more of a problem in schoolyards?

Yes, I have seen a “popularity syndrome” growing in recent years, beginning at primary school. Kids must certainly not be friendless or uncool or they risk being marginalised.

They must absolutely be in with the “right” crowd, be very popular or benefit from the aura of a popular friend.

A more recent phenomenon is parents becoming increasingly concerned about their children’s social relations at school, sometimes even more than their grades.

Mothers, for example, closely count birthday invitations, fearing that their children might be left out.

These worries are passed on to children, who fear finding themselves alone on a bench in the playground.

What types of violence are most frequently encountered by the children you see?

Isolation is what comes up most often.

Being the child who no one plays with, no one speaks to, no one wants to hold hands with.

Next, there is a kind of token bullying that involves giving mean nicknames, or giving labels like being “too good” at school or “not good enough” .

There is no typical profile of a bullied child.

Any child can be in a situation of vulnerability like, for example, when a parent loses their job or a grandparent dies. The bully is more likely to be a child who is quick-witted and has a sense of humuor, which usually makes them popular.

How can a child stand up to a bully?

We first of all help children let go of the idea that they can’t do anything to change the situation.

Next, they can learn to use the bully’s insults and attacks to their advantage.

Humuor and self-deprecation are infallible arms when it comes to breaking the popularity and power of a bully.

For that, children must learn to accept an attack and to use it.

The aim is to ridicule the bully in the act of bullying and in public, without getting personal.

Sometimes looking the bully in the eye can be enough to diffuse a confrontation.

Can you give an example?

Social networks can often be the source of attacks and mocking, but they can also be a powerful means of defense. We had one young girl that the other kids called Zlatan [Ed.: in reference to soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic], which isn’t very nice when you’re 16 years old.

This young girl therefore changed her profile picture to a photo of Zlatan. It was a way of saying “Go on, bring it on, I find that funny too.” That soon calmed the bullies down. It’s not fun anymore when the victim stops rising to their jibes.

What advice can you give to parents?

You shouldn’t take any action without the agreement of your child, so as not to reinforce their vulnerability.

Don’t ask too many questions in the evening to avoid creating anxiety-inducing situations. If the child lacks the self-confidence to stand up to bullies or to talk back, you can try role-playing at home, with mom or brothers and sisters playing the bullies, so that the child gets the hang of replying. — AFPRelaxnews

Children who play ‘make-believe’ perform better in creativity-related tasks finds new research

NEW UK research from has found that make-believe fantasy play could boost children’s creative thinking.

Carried out by researchers from Oxford Brookes University, the team presented their findings at the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Psychology Section annual conference, currently taking place (Sept 14-16) in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Using interviews the team assessed the play of 70 children aged 4-8 years old, and to what extent their play involved the following make-believe situations:

» pretending in a way that mirrored real-life (e.g., having a tea party or pretending to be a teacher);
» pretending in a way that involved events that were improbable in reality (e.g., fighting a lion and being unharmed or going to school in a helicopter); or
» pretending in a way that involved impossible events (e.g., going to wizarding school or playing with an elf).

The children were also asked to complete three creativity tasks.

In the first task the children had to think of as many things as possible that were red, in the second task they had to think of as many ways as possible of moving across the room from A-B, and in the third task they had to draw both a real and a pretend person.

The team’s analysis of the play and the tasks revealed that children whose play involved higher levels of fantasy also received higher creativity scores across all three tasks, however creativity was found to be stronger on the first two tasks rather than the third drawing task.

Lead researcher Dr Louise Bunce commented on the results saying that although fantasy play is linked with higher levels of creativity, the team do not yet know the direction of this relationship – children who engage in more fantasy play may already be more creative, or higher levels of fantasy play may result in higher levels of creativity. However she concluded that, “None the less, these results provide encouraging evidence for parents and teachers who could consider encouraging children to engage in fantasy play as one way to develop their creative thinking skills.”

Meanwhile a 2014 study out of Michigan State University in the US found that outdoor play could also stimulate creativity. The small study of 10 children found that those who spent five to 10 hours a week playing outdoors showed strong imaginations, creativity, and curiosity, as well as a deeper appreciation for nature. In addition the team also found that the children were also more peaceful, thoughtful, and expressed feelings of happiness, while research out of Canada’s UBC in 2015 found a similar positive impact of outdoor play on creativity, and social development. — AFP Relaxnews

Creating healthy sleep habits in infants could help prevent childhood obesity

US research out this week suggests that teaching parents techniques to help encourage healthy sleep habits in their children could help to prevent obesity.

The new study, conducted by Penn State College of Medicine researchers, could lead to a new intervention technique to help tackle the growing levels of obesity worldwide.

The team studied the use of the intervention using data from the INSIGHT study (Intervention Nurses Start Infants Growing on Healthy Trajectories), a longitudinal trial study which looks at how responsive parenting intervention can prevent obesity.

A total of 291 mother and baby pairs were recruited, with the mothers randomly assigned to one of two groups.

One group was given obesity prevention education that covered sleep-related behaviours, bedtime routines, improving sleep duration and avoiding feeding and rocking to sleep.

The other group, a control, were given safety education about preventing sudden infant death syndrome.

The study showed that the infants of parents who had learned the bedtime techniques went to bed earlier, had a more consistent bedtime routine, and slept for longer than the infants whose parents had been given safety education.

The infants were also more likely to self-soothe to sleep without being fed, and were less likely to be fed back to sleep when they awoke during the night.

And at 9 months infants who both self-soothed and went to bed by 8pm slept for on average 80 minutes longer or more than those whose bedtimes were after 8pm and did not self-soothe.

In addition, the team saw that the intervention also had a positive effect on obesity as well as sleep, with the babies in the bedtime techniques group gaining weight more slowly than the control group, and less likely to be overweight by age 1.

Commenting on the findings lead author Ian M. Paul had this advice for parents, “A lot of parents try to keep their babies up longer, thinking that then they’ll sleep longer at night and they won’t wake up. We found that’s not true. When parents keep babies up longer, they just sleep less.”

“If you want your baby to sleep longer and better, put them to sleep earlier. Regardless of what time you put babies to sleep, they wake overnight. If we don’t set the expectation that they’re going to be picked up and fed, they learn to soothe themselves back to sleep.”

In addition to helping prevent obesity, better sleep habits also have added health benefits for both parents and children, with lack of sleep previously shown to have a negative effect on a child’s development and parents’ psychological well-being.

The results of the study can also be found online in the journal JAMA Paediatrics. — AFP Relaxnews

Study suggests mothers of young children should cut down on screen time

AUSTRALIAN researchers are encouraging mothers of young children to avoid all forms of screen-based activity (tablets, smartphones, etc.) in order to reduce their anxiety levels, which can already be high due to busy days and broken nights. Mothers could even try a “digital detox” to help avoid burn-out.

A recent study, published in the journal, Plos, has linked the amount of time spent on screen-based sedentary activities to the risk of developing anxiety. Women aged between 25 and 34 present the highest risk, since this age group is more widely connected to the internet and social networks.

Researchers from Deakin University in Australia studied 528 Australian mothers with an average age of 37 and with children aged between two and five years old. Almost 30% of them showed signs of anxiety.

The mothers were given a questionnaire asking them how many hours they spent using screens (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.) during their leisure time and at weekends. Their anxiety level for the previous week was measured using a predefined scale of anxiety criteria.

The results showed a clear link between long periods of leisure time spent on a computer or handheld device and higher anxiety levels. What’s more, anxiety levels were found to increase with every hour spent using such devices. However, the study found no link between watching TV and anxiety symptoms.

The researchers also found that physical exercise did not counteract the negative effects of these new technologies. Even mothers getting plenty of physical exercise, but spending long periods on a computer or handheld device, were still at higher risk of anxiety.

It can be difficult to change behaviours in a population with such strict time constraints. However, the researchers suggest that mothers could try a “digital detox” to limit their screen time. This could even be made into a challenge among friends to give moms more of an incentive to switch off.

The scientists suggest breaking up sedentary lifestyles that include too much screen time by going for a walk or doing a few stretches, for example. It can also be useful to set a maximum time limit for using handheld devices, such as 20 to 30 minutes, before switching to another activity or taking a break.

Finally, to reduce stress levels and improve the quality of family life, experts recommend banishing tablet use in bed, at mealtimes, on trips or excursions, or when on holiday. — AFP Relaxnews