Image credit: Dreamkids
With today’s emphasis on a holistic education, getting good grades is no longer enough to succeed, nor is it an indicator of future success. There has been a trend in recent years to equip students with 21st century skills to prepare them for the challenges of a rapidly changing world. It’s the need to ensure the young of today grow up to be confident adults that led Dreamkids to introduce a course on social entrepreneurship for its preschoolers.
But are children at that age ready for such concepts? After all, social entrepreneurship doesn’t strike us as a topic that young children are expected to learn, so when we heard of Dreamkids’ course, we were curious to know more. We speak to Jocelyn Goh, Vice Principal of Dreamkids, to find out how social entrepreneurship helps children be socially aware while developing invaluable life skills.
Why does Dreamkids offer a social entrepreneurship course for preschoolers?
In the next 15 to 20 years, we forsee that there will be a new set of skills required for a new set of jobs that will require children to problem-solve, rely on smart technology and think out of the box. That is why Dreamkids decided to pilot this social entrepreneurship programme to impart skills that will prepare them for the future.
How do you teach the concept of social entrepreneurship to children, especially those as young as preschoolers?
We explain to the children that social entrepreneurs are people who are passionate and recognise issues in the world that need to be addressed. Not all children are born social entrepreneurs, but because they are young they have a natural drive and innovation to come up with new ideas, so we want them to believe that they have the ability to change and shape the world. It’s about instilling in them the belief that they have the power to make a difference.
What social issues do you hope this course will address?
We have done three projects so far; Dads for Life, Wish Upon A Foundation and our current one is Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Alex’s Lemonade Stand is interesting because we want the children to know that there are other children who are less fortunate than them and have to go through struggles, and let them know what they can do to help this group. We teach them about empathy and social issues such as difficulties in communicating. Through this project we also teach them how to improve their communication skills like smiling, making eye contact and having clear speech.
How is the social entrepreneurship course structured? What are classes like and are there tests?
Because the children are still very young, it’s difficult to test or assess their understanding of the course. Social entrepreneurship covers a lot of things like resilience, empathy, communication skills and independence, and these are actually part of our existing school curriculum. These are our every day attributes. In terms of big projects like raising funds, they are done as holiday programmes. We don’t have tests to determine whether a child is suitable for the course. We want them to participate as much as possible.
How long is the course?
We teach social entrepreneurship to children five years and above because younger children won’t be able to understand the concept fully. We bring the children out sometimes to give hi-fives to strangers. Once we brought the kids to Raffles Place MRT station. Despite their young age, their actions can bring a smile to a stranger’s face and they can make a difference to someone’s life. We started this initiative at the start of this year and we have different on-going projects.
For Dads for Life, the children painted mugs and sold them. Our second project was with the Wish Upon A Star Foundation. We felt the kids were ready and capable of doing more, so we decided to write to Alex’s Lemonade Stand. We chose a cancer charity because we want the children to know about issues outside of Singapore.
What has the response from the children been like?
They liked it! They kept asking me, “Are we really going to sell lemonade?” And I replied, “Yes, we are going to sell lemonade!” They were very responsive and asked questions like “How do you think we make the lemonade?” and “How many lemons do we need?” They’re very enthusiastic, partly because we expose them to the world around them, plus we teach them to be out-going. Since they’re so young, they are like sponges and absorb everything. They keep asking, “What are we going to do next!” So I’d say they are quite receptive.
Are there post-activity sessions where the children are encouraged to share what they learn?
After the first week of selling lemonade, we’ll gather input from the children and assess their performance, such as whether they meet their sales targets. We discuss areas for improvement and talk about what they can do better, aside from making flyers and manning the stand. The children are evaluated halfway through the course and towards the end, we’ll ask them what other projects they want to be a part of. We want them to make decisions and be involved. We get them to discuss as a class because everyone’s view is important. These skills should be imparted to them from young, so that when they grow up they will be able to work with others in the workplace. We give them a lot of autonomy. If they fail, we ask them why they think they failed and the lessons they learnt. We don’t try to influence their decisions but provide guidance.
Is Dreamkids the only preschool offering a course in social entrepreneurship?
I think Cherie Hearts has a social entrepreneurship course as well, but I don’t know if they carry out activities in public. Some preschools have similar courses but they keep learning within their premises. I believe Dreamkids is the first to venture outdoors. We love to do crazy and fun things!
What is the curriculum structure like? How is the course put together?
We draw up a lesson plan and discuss what to cover each week. It acts as a guideline for the teachers. We don’t follow it strictly as we have to be flexible in certain situations. For example, it might rain on a particular day that the class is supposed to head out, and the teacher needs to substitute that lesson with another one. Our teachers all have experience in teaching social entrepreneurship which helps them facilitate lessons and outings. We have an evaluation system where the teacher reflects on each lesson to see if the children are able to keep up, and build on that to improve subsequent lessons.
How many children are there in a class?
The current class size is five students.
That’s a small class.
Yes, that’s because we don’t have many older children as most them of the older kids are settled in other schools.
Social entrepreneurship requires a lot of interaction and is not something that can be wholly taught in a classroom. There’s a lot of hands-on activities involved. The children need to be emotionally stable to understand what it’s about. Parents play a part too and need to believe in our teaching philosophy.
Dreamkids provides programmes for children aged 18 months to six years. To learn more about their programmes, visit their website.