WhichSchoolAdvisor.com talks to head of school Carolina Sam and co-founder and CEO Dr Elaine Kim about Trehaus’ plan to give mums and dads the space to work productively while their children can play and learn safely and happily – all under one roof. We discuss how Trehaus is offering parents an innovative alternative to early childhood education, why pre-school education needs to change, and how children will be learning everything from gardening to public speaking in a unique curriculum.
Trehaus at City Hall in Funan Mall is a first-of-its-kind co-working space with on-site childcare and education. What inspired you to branch out from your existing co-working space and playgroup in Orchard Road?
Dr Elaine Kim: Our first space at Orchard was a co-working space with a crèche, so working parents could work close to their children and not have to choose between family and career. With our Funan concept we saw a chance to establish our education focus, and move away from co-working; we see Trehaus as so much more than a co-working business.
We evolved the existing Trehaus model to meet the needs of working parents in the city – bringing a space helmed by Trehaus School to them and providing a business club for them to work from, while their children receive a world class early education at Trehaus School, or are cared for at the nurturing crèche.
In line with the mission to stay ‘Ahead of Change’, we want to help parents raise the next generation of change-makers with our future-forward approach and Silicon Valley-inspired curriculum. Parents who enrolled their children into our Trehaus School can gain access to our on-site business centre. If they are at their own company desk, our strategic location means that they can join their children for lunch and be involved in their learning journey. We also offer corporate memberships for SMEs and MNCs so their employees can be close to their little ones in school while they get some work done under the same roof.
Trehaus School is described as a “Silicon Valley-inspired pre-school” for children aged two months to six years. What makes this so different to other pre-schools in Singapore?
Carolina Sam: We believe early childhood education today needs to change. As educators and parents, we often ask ourselves – how do we prepare for our children’s’ tomorrow? We teach children competencies and skills, core values and qualities that deal with what they need for the social and economic situations that they may encounter. Mainstream education has been mainly focused on head intelligence, but there is so much untapped knowledge and wisdom in our heart intelligence in fostering the whole child.
We not only prepare our Trehaus children to be Primary One ready but we want them to have the thirst in learning, the curiosity in reaching new heights and the ownership in education. Children are natural learners filled with curiosity and our mission as educators and parents are to foster that curiosity, not to kill it. We don’t ask our kids “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but instead, we ask “who do you want to become to make the world a better place?”
Trehaus has a low teacher to student ratio of 1:5, and you describe your teachers as “second parents to the children”. How are you using such small class sizes to enhance learning at this young age?
Carolina Sam: At Trehaus School, we think of ourselves as a mini university for children, where learning is child-led with teachers facilitating exploration rather than teaching direct instructions. When parents walk into our school, they will find that children are learning and exploring unconstrained by the confines of a traditional classrooms. For example, instead of seeing a packed classroom of 20 sitting at a desk listening to a teacher teaching by only drilling and repetition, parents might find a small class of five children and their Chinese teacher learning to write stroke orders on sand inside our mini beach!
What can parents expect from the Littles Programme that your ‘curriculum’ is based on?
Carolina Sam: Children are naturally curious, creative and have the hunger to learn. They learn best when they are having fun, immersed in a supportive environment and taking ownership in their work. We have created a curriculum to foster that creativity and fun in learning through our project-based Littles’ programme.
We focus on our children’s self-discovery journey as much as their outcome. What we offer is a holistic education that incorporates the best elements of research-based pedagogies to create a child-led, play-based curriculum adapted to meet the needs of each individual child.
Our project-based programme focuses not just on acquiring knowledge, but emphasizes developing skills – skills that are going to be crucial in the economy of the future, understanding that most jobs of tomorrow do not even exist today. We recognise that creativity, critical thinking, curiosity and adaptability are key, and the currency of the new era is social capital and personal character.
Of course, our kids will learn to read and write and do math in the process, but it’s all going to be such fun; it turns the traditional idea of learning in school, on its head.
How would you describe your parent community at Trehaus?
Dr Elaine Kim: In Trehaus, the community of like-minded, passionate, supportive and driven parents and professionals is one of the best things about our modern village. This is a community of parents who are very driven and successful and unwavering in the belief that you do not have to compromise on quality family time in order to have a successful career. We are all part of a growing group of parents who understand the need of work-life integration.
We want to build the network of trust, care and support that other schools don’t offer because it all ties back closely to what we truly believe in – that raising a child takes a village.
How does the design of Trehaus School and its facilities support your unique Littles Programme?
Carolina Sam: Within the school, we have thoughtfully designed the space to provide learning opportunities and fun at every corner. Our open plan classroom is designed like a little village, and kids buy supplies for projects from the supply store with Trehaus currency which they draw from the Trehaus bank. The kids have access to an indoor playground with sand pit beach house and rock wall, as well as an outdoor edible garden and futsal court. There’s a concert hall for kids to present their projects, practice public speaking or display their creative flair through song, dance and theatre.
We also conveniently use our parents at the business centre as test subjects and customers for our Littles Programmes. For example, in our Little Entrepreneur programme, children first gather their own planted herbs from our Urban Garden during our weekly Garden Care time. In the lesson, children are tasked to sell their own herbal teas. We do a market visit in a supermarket to study price points, marketing brands, packaging designs and learn about our clientele.
After graphing those collaborated findings as a class, we learn how to public speak during our Little Assembly time to learn how to pitch and sell to our parents at our business centre across the hall. We then design our own tea bags on our iPads, print them, do first batch of taste testing and learn to sell them for real money at our pop-up booths. In between, children will learn collaboration, creativity, grit, design strategies and even compassion as raised funds will go to a food bank charity.
We also have designed a Family Club and crèche where parents can bring other members of the family and siblings for extra-curricular classes after school or during the weekends. We believe choosing the right school for the early formative years is monumental – and the environment that our kids grow up in is crucial – so we really have put effort in creating a space that children will love and be loved in.
Do you have plans to branch out into primary years education in the future?
Carolina Sam: Trehaus at Orchard started as a co-working space with a childminding crèche for kids aged two months to 18 months. As our kids started growing up past 18 months, parents who loved our space and our crèche asked us to start an education programme so that they could continue to stay in our space. We foresee that as our kids grow older, we will meet the same requests from parents for more, and perhaps we will grow with our kids and start primary (and one day even secondary) education.