Sun, 03 Aug 2003

Babies and their parents go through their paces at playgroups

Sri Ramadani, Contributor, Jakarta

"Good morning Nasywa, how are you?," said a teacher to the 16- month-old child as she was brought into class.

She then helped Nasywa and three other infants touch pieces of paper, tearing them up and pasting them on another sheet.

Their sensory learning activities ended with them singing the song, Eensy, weensy spider.

"The activities are useful to develop their self-control skills," said Sri Astrianti, assistant manager of classes at Cikal family learning center at Jl. Kemang Raya No. 70, South Jakarta, which offers baby learning classes for children aged six months to 18 months.

In Jakarta, where many parents are determined to give their kids a head start on the race of life, even babies barely a year old are getting into the educational act.

"Nasywa's self-confidence is better now," said her mother, Chandrika Purwarini Setianingsih, who has been sending Nasywa to the classes for five months.

"We stress sensory and motoric learning activities to help babies in their growing-up process," said Sri Astrianti.

The daily program schedule is divided into greeting time, gross motor or sensory learning activity time, free play time and story-telling time. There are special programs such as aquarobic activities, music listening activities and massage on every Friday or Saturday.

The enrollment fee is Rp 1 million; tuition fees are from Rp 200,000 per once-a-week attendance, Rp 350,000 per twice-a-week attendance and Rp 500,000 per three-time-a-week attendance. Parents can also choose a drop-in option if they do not want to stick to a firm schedule.

Parents, who must attend the classes or send their nanny, receive daily and monthly observation reports.

Another institution offering the classes for infants is Discovery Center, which has a "Parents and Toddlers Program" for children aged one year to 2.5 years.

"He has fun because his mother can be there. He has free play and open activities that are organized well," said expatriate Kelly Murphy, whose son started the classes at 18 months old.

According to the center's principal E. Shang, toddlers can play directly with educational toys and play equipment, learning motoric, language and social skills through interaction with teachers, parents and other children. Toddlers should be active and the environment must be set up in a safe and inviting way.

The curriculum follows a Western method on how to prepare children to enter preschools.

The center recommends that babies should be accompanied by their parents while they are playing with educational toys and using play equipments in the outside and inside areas that have been set up for toddler exploration.

Babysitters are not allowed to accompany the babies because the program is designed to provide a special time to learn together for parents and their children.

"They are only allowed to accompany the babies if the parents are temporarily busy," said Shang.

Parents who want to take their children to the drop-in program do not have to pay an enrollment fee for the Rp 30,000 class.

Yet, how young is too young in getting children started in the educational cycle?

"It is useful as long as the schools can create an environment that is conducive to children's growing-up process, involving the mothers' active role because of the heightened emotional bond between a mother and a child, and stress learning materials that suit a child's personal needs," said psychologist Seto Mulyadi, better known as Kak Seto.

But the chairman of the Mutiara and Mentari Foundations and the National Commission on Children's Rights said that it would be wrong if the parents were simply trying to keep up with the Joneses in the latest educational fad, or if the classes were a dumping ground while they went off on other activities.

"The incorrect attitude of the parents would make a child feel that he was abandoned by his parents," he added.

Contact Cikal at tel. 71792730, and Discovery at tel. 765- 7040.