31 January 2013, by Mandy Loh

The Age of Wonder

Cristan’s at a wonderful age, literally!

At 19 months, he is an active, inquisitive, and lovable toddler. His deadpan ways are behind him, thankfully, and he now fills my days with joy because of his ready smiles and infectious laughter.

As with all toddlers his age, the world is a place of wonder and delight, and Cristan has been endlessly curious, exploring anything and everything he can get his hands on. This naturally leads to much mischief and mess at home. Which is why I was intrigued when I came across the Infant and Toddler Atelier, at the Blue House International School.

“Atelier” is the French word for “workshop”, and the Infant and Toddler Atelier, the first of its kind in Singapore, is sort of like an interactive children’s museum or science centre. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, the space provides safe and interesting learning elements with ample opportunities for open-ended exploration.

We attended a trial session on Tuesday, and Cristan absolutely loved it. I had brought him for trial gym classes and parent-accompanied playgroups before, but he was always hesitant and slightly bewildered. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by how well he took to the Atelier!

I believe it is because the Reggio Emilia approach allows the child to take the lead in the learning process, which they do through touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing. Cristan was delighted to be given free rein to poke, pull, dismantle and rearrange Every. Single. Thing, without even a look of disapproval from Momma!

My personal favourite was this mirror-tent, a triangular structure of mirrors that one can crawl into and be mesmerised by the kaleidoscope of reflections.

How many Cristans can you see?

I believe Cristan’s favourite was the light-boxes, where he could flick switches with wild abandon and watch the lights change colour.

Ooh! The light turned from blue to red when I pressed this little green thingy!

In addition to free exploration, at certain segments of the session, the facilitator would gather everyone together for “Connections”, where parents, children and teachers share in a variety of experiences. In our case, we got to try out various percussion instruments during circle time, and also investigate the magical properties of magnets in a small huddle.

Intrigued by his wooden percussion instrument

Another great aspect of the Atelier is their extensive use of recycled materials, to teach both children and parents about caring for the environment. Besides, Cristan LOVES playing with trash…so this was his version of heaven.

Paper cups, Yakult bottles and paper towel cores! Yippee!

The only problem was, Cristan enjoyed himself so much that he refused to leave! In fact, most of the kids ended up bawling when it was time to say goodbye. A good sign, I suppose? I was so enthralled by the charmingly simple yet clever set-up of the Atelier, as well as the novel approach to learning and exploration, that I signed up for a package of 6 sessions immediately. I’m sure Cristan is already looking forward to our next session next week!

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