Creative Thinkers Kindergarten

It's early in the morning and a steady stream of students begin to arrive at Creative Thinkers Kindergarten.

Some of them wear a seemingly normal white t-shirt, until closer inspection reveals different words and messages in bold black letters. One reads "I LOVE SPIDERS", in obvious reference to his passion, while another girl is spotted with a chocolate-inspired phrase, "IT'S BROWNIE TIME". Some are slightly more cryptic, such as a skinny but spirited boy who displays a solitary word - "QUIET".

With a few minutes to go before class, the K2 students aged between five and six waste no time and start to chat amongst themselves. "What is that?" asks someone while pointing to the strange words and shapes on Kieran's t-shirt. "Hero Factory," Kieran replies enthusiastically, pointing at the group of geometric shapes on his t-shirt. "It's a Lego robot. He is very strong!"

"I wanted the students in my class to express their feelings and ideas onto the tees and show it to everyone. Whenever we have a theme. I get the K2 students to think about it and express their thoughts with the letters on the Tees." explains Ms Sakinah, who is also the Principal of the kindergarten. "I like it when children are able to communicate confidently and care for one another through creative experiences."

The t-shirt called - The Tangram Tee, is aptly named for the seven reusable shapes that come with it. Those familiar with the ancient Chinese puzzle will immediately recognise the geometric shapes which is used to form silhouettes ranging from animals to boats. The t-shirt also allows the wearer to affix letters, which explains how Ms Sakinah's students come to school with a different message each week.

Fabricate - the company that designed the t-shirt is currently running a pilot program with Creative Thinkers Kindergarten. Through the pilot, the Singaporean company hopes to study the effectiveness of its Experiential Learning Framework (ELF). The framework works specifically for preschools to compliment their existing curriculum and covers a wide variety of topics ranging from creative thinking to word literacy.

This is opp-tune as the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been calling on schools in recent years to engage their students more creatively in the classroom instead of relying on traditional methodologies. One of the guiding principles of the MOE framework for kindergarten curriculum states that children need to be immersed in language-rich environments.  This involves activities which foster the use of English in everyday, authentic situations in order to help them acquire the necessary communication skills to express their needs, thoughts and feelings.

"The current MOE framework for kindergarten curriculum suggests that school resources and materials be non-restrictive, to allow children to be as creative as they can be." explains Ms Laureen Lee, a specialist in early-childhood education. Ms Lee who lectures at Ngee Ann Polytechnic feels that the Tangram Tee creates a dynamic learning environment in the classroom that stimulates social interaction and creative thinking. She goes on to elaborate, "As children wear their messages, the entire classroom scene becomes swamped by authentic environmental print, each child reading words of another's shirt- making sense of his message and his intentions. Fabricate encourages children to articulate their thoughts and feelings using different mediums of expression encourages children to creative and original. " 

Back at Creative Thinkers Kindergarten, the theme of the week is 'community' and Ms Sakinah begins a lively discussion by soliciting responses from her class. The students begin to spell out certain words on the board and begin to attach letters onto their own t-shirts.

"I don't have any more 'I's!" exclaims a student, searching through his stack of letters. A classmate laughs out loud and announces to the class, "What? Ryen said that he does not have eyes!" Several other students catch the reference and begin to snigger. "Here. I have an extra one," offers Tia, picking up one of own letters and helping to slap the alphabet in the right place.

The process of placing the letters on their t-shirts is trickier than it sounds as the K2 students have to form the letters reversed, from their point of view. Despite this challenging difficulty, many of them manage to do it correctly through practice and help from one another. A spokesperson at Fabricate agrees that it may not be easy at first, but stated that this was part of the learning process to develop spatial awareness and hone fine-motor skills.

The results are encouraging after implementing the Tangram Tees for a school term. "The students learn to spell, identify shapes and most importantly they communicate better. They take note of their missing letters whenever they share," observed Ms Sakinah. "The quiet ones tend to speak up more with the spelling and using of letters between one another."

Sarah, a student in Ms Sakinah's class enjoys the creative process and spends some time thinking about what to put on the t-shirt. "I get to decide the design of my t-shirt every time I put it on!"  Similarly, Mrs Maureen Tan noticed her son's interest in the t-shirt over time. She also found that he was more proactive at learning how to spell and demonstrated some resourcefulness by forming words with the limited number of letters he had. "I asked Samuel whether he likes the tees. He said he did because he can tell people about his toy through his t-shirt."

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