St James Kindergarten (Gilstead) School Tour

Just got back from St James Kindergarten (Gilstead) school tour today. I must said I am very impressed, which is not an easy feat considering I have visited Eton House (Thomson) and The Blue House.

St James Kindergarten (Gilstead).

St James Kindergarten is probably one of the most popular preschools in Singapore. It is one of those schools where parents registered their kids the moment they obtained their birth certs. I, as a non-local born who totally have no idea about Singapore's education system, only found out about it when one of the mummies mentioned in passing remarks.

I got curious, and dig more about it. Only then I found out about there are 2 types of preschools in Singapore. The one that are most widely available, frequently found in the HDB void deck, office spaces etc, and listed in ECDA database are Child Care Centre. They provide 7am-7pm childcare services with 2-3 hours of curriculum offered in the morning and afternoon. They spend substantial amount of their time napping, eating, getting cleaned up etc.

Another one is the traditional Kindergarten, which offers 3-4 hours of lessons with a short snack break.

Needless to say, Child Care Centre is getting more popular as more parents are working full time now.

However, my limited experiences after visiting a few Child Care Centres near my place is that they are getting commercial and the teachers are not particularly passionated. I can't really fault them as the need to increase Child Care spaces is urgent and preschool teacher is just not the most prestigious job in Singapore where one can attract the best talents.

But I missed the loving and caring environment I enjoyed when I was in Kindergarten and I wished Babe to experience that too.

On the other hand, I wonder whether there is a need for Babe to have lunch and nap in school when I can just take care of her myself.

That's why my preschool search turns to church-based Kindergarten, on the presumption that teachers are probably more caring and they will instill more character values to the child. This is where I found highly positive reviews about St James Kindergarten. (You can read all about it at KiasuParents)


The House of St James Gilstead.

Okay, enough background. So today both hubby and I ended up at grandeur-looking St James Gilstead. It is the third and latest campus of St James Kindergarten which they only acquired in Nov 2015.

St James Gilstead compound is divided into The House (which is the majestic mansion), The Annex (which is a single storey U shape building surrounding The House, and The Multi-Purpose Block (which is a double-storey standalone building).

All the classrooms are currently housed in The Annex. In the area between the House and the Annex are the Sand Play area and the Water Play area. Sand and Water Play is getting more attention for early childhood education as they are great for sensory, imagination and community development. I know some mothers will not consider a preschool without Water and Sand Play. For me, I wasn't that particular but nevertheless they are definitely an added bonus.

It was the pre-nursery activity time during the tour and we can see kids are enjoying their time there. Each area is spacious enough to fit a classroom full of children.

A pre-nursery classroom at St James Gilstead. They are multiple dried branches and leaves decors scattered around the classroom. 

Compared to the other two campus (based on the pictures on the website), I like the abundant use of woods and natural elements in the classroom decoration at Gilstead. Natural classroom environment is highly recommended in both Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches. It allows the children to connect closer to the mother earth.

My personal experience is that I found that a neutral background allows the kids to focus on the work they are working with without being distracted by bright loud colors at the background.

As we walked through the classrooms, hubby commented they remind him a lot of The Blue House, which is one of the most beautiful compounds we ever see. St James Gilstead is not as over the top as The Blue House, but it is a lovely environment nevertheless.

We were then ushered to The Multi-Purpose Block. The Block is still empty for now. The first storey has a large hall which double up as a music studio. The hall was lined by half panels windows where you can see a green field outside. Apparently St James Gilstead's lease includes the green field too, thus opening some avenue for nature exploration.

At first I have some reservation on St James Gilstead compared to St James Harding for the lacks of greenery. Finding out they actually have a backyard with some trees did ease my mind. There is no concrete plan on what to do with the area yet. I think it might be a great area for some farming activities.

The greenery outside the hall. 

The lower storey of the Multi-Purpose Block will house an Art Studio, a Sensory Studio, a Recyclable Construction Studio and a Light Studio. I was pretty surprised and delighted upon hearing this. I came across the idea of Light Play and Recyclable Construction when I was visiting The Blue House. They have a lovely atelier stocked with all the recyclable materials for the kids to tinker with. On the other hand, Babe enjoyed playing with Light Box every time she attend her Playgroup at The Blue House Infant and Toddler Atelier. So, I think these few studios is a great addition to the kids' learning environment.

The tour ended at the The House, which was built in 1920 as a wealthy merchant's family home. It is currently not utilized yet as more time are needed to work around the conservation rules. Eventually it will house some classrooms. And I envision the ground level, which has a grand hall with some lovely 1920's mosaic floor tiles, will make a lovely piazza - a community area where children can interact and works can be displayed.

Outside The House are a large field with 2 separate playgrounds and a swimming pool. The swimming pool will be used for Aquaducks Swimming Enrichment Program.

Swimming pool at St James Gilstead.
The playgrounds.

At the end of the tour, the principle Jacqueline gave a round up of St James' three campus: Harding, the original St James campus, is rustic and feels somewhat out of Singapore; Leedon, is very modern; Gilstead, is grandeur.

She described St James Gilstead as still pretty much a blank canvass which provides a huge opportunity to transform together with the children and parents. She mentioned this is how Harding developed. I found out after that the children built 2 of the 4 playgrounds in Harding.

In conclusion, I love St James Gilstead environments: The beautiful mansion can instill some sense of beauty. There is plenty of outdoor play with Water, Sand and 2 fields with playground equipment. And the field behind the school provides opportunity for nature exploration.

I love their facilities planning, where the classrooms are filled with natural materials for use, decoration and exploration. I also love the incorporation of Light Studio, Construction Studio, Art Studio and Sensory Studio into the school facilities. They are not ready yet. I hope to see them once they are and I am eager to find out how they will include them into their curriculum.

And I am fascinated by the idea of engaging children and even parents into the school development. This is the first time I hear such concept. Although Hubby suspect the extend of their involvement, but I guess for any kids, the chance to build something substantial (like the playground in Harding) is going to be an experience they reminisce for life.

Overall, the tour is very facilities focused. Not much has been introduced regarding the curriculum, which I think can be improved. We don't get to interact with the teachers as it is a school day. I can only fall back on reviews to convince myself that this is a good choice. We do have a friend whose child is in St James Gilstead currently and she loves it.

First published on 31 March 2016.


  1. After extensive research, performing my own inspection of the various facilities. I finally enrolled my child in this Phoenix pre-k. Doing extensive research was important for me.

  2. Hi, are you able to enrol to St James at the end ??

  3. I am Keen to know parents who are able to help me enrol here. Please contact me at


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