With Little Olive Tree (FMC Farrer Park) officially launching in January 2024, we spoke with Centre Leader, May Ten, to find out more about her journey in the preschool sector as well as her approach to education. Hi, May! How many years have you been in the preschool ministry?
As of this year (2023), I have been a preschool educator for 20 years and counting. I have been working in my current preschool at Foochow Methodist Church for 13 years. How did you first start working with children? When my children were younger, they had to attend Sunday School in church. I volunteered to be a Sunday School teacher when my two sons were younger and attending it. All the teachers were clueless, and frustrated cos we did not know how to manage children. I usually get very stressed when everything is very chaotic. I decided that I should just go and study and get certified so that I could be more effective.
After studying and implementing certain things, we started to know what is developmentally appropriate. At first, I didn’t like children who were very challenging, but as I continued to work with them, I realized I miss them during the school holidays. I would keep thinking about ways to help, care for and affirm them. What made you eventually join the preschool sector?
I had never thought I would work with children. I recall that when I was a young Christian, there was one minister who prayed over me and told me that one day I would will work with a lot of children. In my mind, I thought, “No way!” After serving with Sunday School for a while, my son said, “Mom you should go and work in a preschool!” At that point, I was a stay home mom. So I did, and here we are 20 years later. Previously before my boys came along, I was a beautician and make-up artist. I like to create things, and when you do things like fantasy make-up you get to meet a lot of different kinds of people. I thought that when I left, all my industry knowledge was wasted, but it comes in very handy during concert time till this day!
What keeps you motivated to stay in the preschool industry?
Once in a while, I tell my boys that I need a career switch, though I still want to work with children. I wanted to leave many times because of the challenges, but I haven’t heard God say “go” yet. It really is a calling. The challenges helped me to grow as a Centre Leader and also spiritually - my faith has certainly been stretched. Most importantly, I have learnt to accept children for who they are, as children are very precious to God.
Why are you still in a faith-based preschool? The reason is because I get to be part of bringing families to Christ, even though I may get paid more elsewhere. We are also able to create a loving environment for both children and parents which makes them feel supported. Amongst the team, I am thankful that we can use the Word of God to encourage each other when we have disagreements. Once, a parent moved their child to another preschool, but felt that the atmosphere was too academic and cold. In the end, they brought the child back as they felt like they really could feel the love at our preschool, as it is like a family where everyone is always laughing and singing. During another incident, a father told us he had ‘backslided’. He had walked into church to watch his son’s Kindergarten Sunday performance during service, which brought him back to the faith. Currently, he is still serving in the church. There also was this child from a pre-believing family who was in the hospital, and when we went to visit her, her grandpa allowed me to pray for her. He told me, “My granddaughter always insists that we give thanks before our meals!” Sometimes the small things make a great impact. These are just some encouraging moments that keep me going.
What is your view of the child? Children are a precious gift from God and it’s our responsibility to care for them. I have two sons but as they grew up I started to see myself as a steward, as they are not my own, but God’s. That makes things easier for me - seeing them through the eyes of God. I tell that to my teachers also. We might miss a lot if we view them based on their issues or challenges. I am reminded to extend more grace, as I am a sinner and God extended it to me first. I don’t see the children as a burden, but I always think “How can I help?” In addition, a child is like a sponge. It’s a nature versus nurture thing. For kids, they learn a lot from the environment and people around them by observation. If we reinforce negative behaviour, then that’s what they’re gonna do. We ever had children who did not come from emotionally supportive families, and it really showed in their attention-seeking behaviours. After digging deeper, we realised that they just needed more love and affirmation, so we started to be even more intentional towards caring for them in school.
Children are a precious gift from God and it’s our responsibility to care for them...We might miss a lot if we view them based on their issues or challenges. I am reminded to extend more grace, as I am a sinner and God extended it to me first. I don’t see the children as a burden, but I always think “How can I help?”
Why is early years education so important for a child? A lot of a child’s personality is formed during these early years. Be it independence, or values like being honest. For me, the main focus cannot be just academics - character and values are essential too. In our centre, we teach responsibility, sharing and resilience through daily tasks and exercises. It’s harder to change habits when they’re older if they don’t really have it inculcated in them. For example, when they first come in, they won’t share their snacks with others. Then, when they get to N1 (3 years old) they start to share. In fact, some of them shared in a way that was slightly shocking but funny – once a child shoved half a grape into my mouth after eating one half.
There was once a child was doing some colouring and suddenly burst into tears, telling us, “I did the wrong colour! The face cannot be green!” At that time we didn’t have anything like Avatar and stuff like that right. She couldn’t accept it. So we tried to explain to her that art is up to her own expression so she can use any colour she likes. But she wanted to re-do it so we erased it. So through incidents like these, we allow for them to ‘fail’ or overcome their difficulties and try again. We would then affirm their efforts. Thus, it is important to shape their character before they go to Primary 1. It’s not a one-time thing and it takes a while to teach such life lessons.