(PART 1)

By Asian Beacon

With the dawn of the digital age, especially that of the smartphone and smart tablet, more and more parents are letting their children to be preoccupied with these digital devices as a substitute for a babysitter or even themselves. This has caused a lot of problem in the development of the children’s social and interactive skills that the children needed during their growing up years.

Because of this there is a growing need for children to have a stimulating environment to play, and to learn from play. Seeing the need, a mother of two, Eevyn Chu decided to start The Treehouse Playgroup in Johor Baru in a rented bungalow house to host the children from 9:30-11:30 am.

Treehouse For Toddlers
Treehouse teachers having a sensory session with toddlers who get to play and feel the texture of rice

“A playgroup is very different from a kindergarten. A kindergarten is run in a way that is similar to a classroom setting while a play group allows you to interact with the surrounding environment.  A playgroup is a great way for your children to develop physical skills, promotes, communication and social interaction and problem solving; not forgetting the greatest part, which is to have fun! We are leading them into the basic. This is what children should be doing,” Eevyn stated.

“Initially we started with 4 students. In one and a half years’ time we have now, about 35 in different classes.  There is, the toddler’s playgroup, the infant playgroup, and the preschooler playgroup,” she explained.

Treehouse For Toddlers
Painting time!

She said that children at the age of 6 months to 4 years old, learn mostly through their senses, and therefore need a lot of sensory play.

“Sensory play is all about touch, smell, sight, and sound. That is why we give them a lot of things that have textures they would not usually come across with. We give them flour, mud, and shaving cream for example to play with. All these textures will stimulate their brain, which in turn activate their synapses, and help them to become smarter. Interaction with kids through play also builds their social skills,” Eevyn explained.

Treehouse For Toddlers
One of the kids learning how to climb steps

The playgroup classroom’s setting is like an exploration centre that enables children to explore and engage in the activity they are interested in. It is child-directed with teachers as the facilitators. By doing so, Eevyn believed that it would unleash their potential to think, explore and create things beyond themselves.

“I think for young parents it is important for them to let their child to play, and to slow down on the academics. At this young age, they should expose them to a lot of play activities and sensory play. Instead of just showing them flash cards and the likes as these are very academic. It is through play that they can release their emotions, be creative and socialise,” Eevyn elaborated.

Treehouse For Toddlers
Children get to play "masak-masak" here at the outdoor play kitchen

Eevyn explained that Treehouse is doing this, which is able to create a space for children to express their emotions and be creative through play. It is more like a free play thing with different stations provided, each teaching different lessons. The stations are equipped with puzzles, sensory play objects, and drawings.

“We have weekly theme such as animal theme, transportation theme and so on to make it more exciting. Classrooms too are set up according to these themes. Mothers will have classes together with their children as well as joining them at the playground. All this is to make sure that the children have their interest initiated as they are not force to do it. This is to ensure they don’t sit down and do the same things over and over again,” she added.

Treehouse For Toddlers
Other types of sensory play where the children get to feel different textures and colours

She also explained that children would go to different stations, and do the activities there, the teacher is only there to guide them. They must learn for themselves as it is play base learning. Most of the activities are outdoor, as Eevyn believes that nature helps the growth of the children.

“In the Treehouse we have a farm garden where we do some farming. Here in the garden we grow some edible herbs, and vegetables for the children to try. The reason is because we are trying to bring the whole society back to basic of nature. The kids can just pluck the vegetable and eat it. We also have an outdoor kitchen, where they can cook. They can play using their imagination,” Eevyn added.

Eevyn also explained that they are also planning to expand to another larger venue.

“We have future plans to open another playgroup in a more nature base place. This would mean we are looking into a golf club house, there would be a lot of green surrounding,” she said.

Treehouse For Toddlers
Kids learn to do everything even how to turn of a switch in a safe environment

She recalled that her inspiration to start the playgroup came with the experience of her own eldest son.

“When my son was about three years old, I sent him to a traditional kindergarten. I noticed that he was kind of rebellious. So, I sent him to a play base learning centre. To my surprise, when he came back, he was able to listen to instructions and was more obedient than before. It was then I discovered that the playtime he was having in the playgroup, had allowed him to have some sort of emotional release which he could not have in the kindergarten. In the kindergarten, children are controlled by rules. They are being taught what they can and cannot do. There is nothing fun or interactive there, so they become bored. So, when they come back home, they have no place of release their emotions and affect their behaviour which parents label as rebellion. Most parents would not know how to handle this behaviour and shut them off.  But through playgroups they can release their emotions and in turn become better listeners,” she explained.

To find out more on Treehouse read on in Part Two of Treehouse for Toddlers.

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