By Dr. Jacqueline Chung (Academic Director & Senior Principal), St. James’ Church Kindergarten & Little Seeds Preschool
“There is no virtue at all in clinging as some do to tradition merely for its own sake.”
- The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
I have been thinking about this issue of showering children in childcare centres. It is a practice that is unique to Singapore. Following lunch, and before the children’s nap time, it is usually part of the routine to give the children a shower. Why do we do this?
The most apparent responses that came to the centre leaders I interviewed were these:
- Shower time is mandated by the authorities (note: it is not)
- It has always been this way
- Parents expect their children to be showered so that they are sent home clean
- Singapore is humid, and the children will feel uncomfortable if not showered
- Parents do not have time to shower their children at home
These reasons seem to be thin grounds for a long-standing practice that is difficult to justify when examined closely.
If hygiene is the concern, let us consider this: How dirty can the children actually get in a normal day? If children are involved in messy activities and do get considerably dirty, they can be showered in such cases. Some preschools have already begun the practice of needs-based showering. Children are routinely wiped down but not showered unless there is a need to.
If preschools are worried about failing to deliver on parents’ expectations, therein lies a problem as well. Should parents be comfortable with their children being showered by other people? Why is an experience as intimate and vulnerable as showering being shared with multiple adults?
How has showering in preschools become so prevalent when government-mandated preschool regulations do not consider it crucial enough (for hygiene or other reasons) to make it compulsory? We ought to rethink this.
The issue of intimacy
If a child enters a childcare centre at 18 months and graduates at 6 years, he spends about 5 years being showered in school. Each year, the child would have 2 teachers, if there is no change in staff (which isn’t uncommon). This adds up to a minimum of 10 different people showering the child over 5 years. Would every adult handle shower time as sensitively, respectfully, or lovingly as a parent would?
Children must be taught,
“My body is mine and nobody gets to see and touch my body except my parents.”
One centre leader shared her experience of working in a student care centre. She expressed that some children continued to disregard privacy in their later years because they got used to displaying their bodies while in preschool.
The body is a very private matter, as it should be. Being naked and allowing others to touch one’s body (as children do in the shower) is very intimate. Children must be taught, “My body is mine and nobody gets to see and touch my body except my parents and select caregivers trusted by my parents.” It’s counterintuitive to pass children from adult to adult in their most impressionable years.
A good start here would be to dispel the myth that shower time is compulsory. Where does showering sit in our philosophy of early childhood education and care? How does it impact the child’s sense of privacy? What does it teach children about protecting their bodies from inappropriate touching?
The messages that children pick up from shower time go far beyond “clean versus dirty”. It’s a long-lasting lesson on body awareness that needs to be handled with care. A rushed shower session in the preschool is not exactly the place or time for it.
Recalibration is a very important part of staying relevant. Every now and then, we need to take a step back and ask, “Why are we doing this? What is the value in it? Is it time for us to rethink this practice?” Asking these questions helps us realise why we maintain the practices we do. It also allows us to identify, reconsider, or perhaps even do away with practices we have kept just because they’ve always been around.