Sunday 23 June 2013

Pre-schoolers with learning delays get help

Ministry's pilot scheme finds early intervention can help them level up
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

NEGLECT - through the overuse of technology or a lack of time spent engaged in active play - can result in developmental delays in young children.

However, a pilot programme run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Development Support Programme (DSP) has found that mild learning delays can be arrested.

Through repeated, regular learning cues, children can even level up to be equal with their peers. The key is early intervention.

The year-old programme involved 300 children from around 90 pre-schools.

Based on its results, the MSF intends to spend $4 million a year on schemes to benefit up to 2,000 children in pre-schools nationwide.

With just an hour a week's tuition from learning support educators, a group of about 290 children aged four to six improved nearly 100 per cent in language, literacy, handwriting and social skills.

Parents are invited to sit in on the sessions.

Mr Teo Soon Min, a father of two, said his younger son completed the DSP for speech and literacy delays last June.

"He is more confident and willing to speak up now," said the 36-year-old retail manager.

"We learnt how to guide our son better. We would spend more time talking to him, correcting him and encouraging him."

Mr Teo noticed that the six-year-old had spent more time with technology than his elder son, who did not have developmental delays.

Children were identified for the pilot group by their teachers and received a 12-session plan tailored to their needs. They spent each weekly one-hour session with a learning support educator, matching pictures to words and playing alphabet games.

Nearly half of those who completed their sessions achieved their learning objectives. Further sessions were held for those who did not achieve their goals.

Parents can improve their children's learning through interactive activities such as playing with dolls or cars, reading or playing sports with them, said Dr Tammi Quek, a consultant with the Child Development Unit at the National University Hospital.

"It is through unstructured play that children learn about their environment, social skills, problem solving and explore new interests."

They also develop through interaction with adults and their peers, and improve their motor skills by, say, climbing up structures.

Long periods of screen time have been associated with poor attention levels, she added.

"Parents may use electronic devices to keep their young children busy or to stop them from crying," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, a director at the Singapore Children's Society.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, said of its results: "The encouraging result from the pilot gives us confidence to roll out the programme to support more children in more pre-schools and regions, even as we continue to make improvements."

Having fun - and teaching too - during playtime

HOW to seize teaching opportunities during playtime:
To develop language skills
Play an "I Spy" game using simple four to five-word sentence structures in speech with children.

Locate, identify and describe the object - for example, "I spy a red ball". Encourage the child to repeat the sentence and find another object to describe.
To encourage literacy
Children can use materials such as paint, sand and plasticine to practise writing letters of the alphabet. To reinforce learning, adults should also read together and play word search games with pre-schoolers.
To develop social skills
Get learners to describe their feelings to increase self-awareness and self-esteem. For example, when using a story book with a young child, pose a question like: "This sounds like a sad part, how should we make our faces look?"
To improve handwriting
Try to ensure that children write in a correct posture and use a comfortable and efficient pencil grasp.

Help them to differentiate similar-looking letters by forming letter shapes with fingers. For example, clench both fists while sticking out the thumbs to make a "b" and a "d". Ask children to identify them.

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