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SGSecure for the young and those with special needs – how innovative storytelling helps young and differently-abled students learn about Emergency Preparedness.

It was the moment that all the children had been waiting for, their chance to play a role in the story that they’d just heard, The Otters of Pulau Kawan.

“Now, who wants to be an otter?” asked the storyteller. 

A dozen little hands immediately shot into the air. 

“That’s wonderful,” said the storyteller, “and don’t worry, there’s a part for each one of you.” 

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We can all play a part: Our intrepid young performers at the launch of The Otters of Pulau Kawan. PHOTO: Kathlyn Pereira

It was a rainy Saturday morning at Tampines Regional Library and about 50 children had gathered for the launch of four SGSecure Stay Prepared storybooks published by Temasek Foundation Cares, a philanthropic organisation that supports innovative, community-based programmes.

Developed in partnership with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Education, the Stay Prepared storybooks use age-appropriate concepts and situations that are empowering and inclusive to share the SGSecure message with young students. 

In The Otters of Pulau Kawan, Retto the otter knows exactly what to do when he’s attacked by Kroki, the mean-spirited crocodile. Helping to tell Retto’s story this morning were students from APSN Katong School, Lighthouse School, MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School and Cerebral Palsy Alliance of Singapore School. They happily took to their new roles as otters, park rangers, fish, mangrove trees and waves. 

“It’s never too early to teach children, especially those with special needs, what to do in an emergency,” said Mr Richard Magnus, Chairman of Temasek Foundation Cares. “When we involve children in Emergency Preparedness early, they’ll have a sense of control and knowledge of how to stay safe during an actual incident.” 

This sentiment was echoed by Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs (and, on this morning, veterinarian to injured otters). “It’s important that children are prepared to deal with a crisis, by protecting themselves and knowing how to seek help,” she said. “When every member of our community plays a part to safeguard our way of life, Singapore will be strong enough to withstand any crisis.”

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Otter authors: Writers Lee Seow Ser (centre) and Hidayah Amin (right) with illustrator Tan Ai Khim at the launch of The Otters of Pulau Kawan. PHOTO: Kathlyn Pereira

The Otters of Pulau Kawan was specially written and designed for students in Special Education schools. According to authors Ms Lee Seow Ser and Ms Hidayah Amin, Saturday offered a wonderful opportunity to see their work brought to vivid life by its intended audience. 

But communicating SGSecure messages to children with special needs wasn’t an easy proposition. “Our challenge was to infuse these messages into a concise storyline that could be easily understood,” explained Seow Ser. “We also wanted to keep our story Singapore-centric, to help children internalise what SGSecure was.”

To understand which pedagogical approaches worked best for young readers, the writers visited schools and spoke to teachers and students. “We wanted to infuse the SGSecure messages in a way that children could grasp, without being didactic,” said Hidayah. “In the end, we chose otters as our main characters because kids – especially those with special needs – can relate to them.” 
 
Among the special features of The Otters of Pulau Kawan and Be Ready! Be Steady! are the use of a dyslexic-friendly font and tactile pictures that encourage children to touch the pages. This year, about 10,000 children with special needs and their caregivers will receive the two storybooks through their schools. 

“We’re trying to impress upon the children the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ message,” explained Mr Mohamed Edhamriza Bin Hamwal, a Senior Teacher with MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School. “Storytelling is one of their favourite activities, and these books are colourful, tactile and easy to read. This encourages role-playing and learning.” 

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Key resource: The Stay Prepared storybooks The Runaway Car and Attack at the Mall have been incorporated into school-based Character and Citizenship Education lessons. About 100,000 Primary 3 and 4 students are expected to receive these storybooks over the next three years. PHOTOS: Kathlyn Pereira

Back at the Library, the children embraced their roles and completed their performance to a round of applause from parents, educators and guests. Among those who were cheering the children on was Ms Tan Ai Khim, the illustrator of The Otters of Pulau Kawan

“The response this morning was overwhelming,” said Ai Khim, who drew inspiration from the bold colours and design of the drawings done by her children. “It really makes us all feel warm and fuzzy inside!”

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 19 July 2018
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