In the first few years of their lives, toddlers will learn to say their first words, take their first steps and make their first friends. Playgroup teachers play a crucial role in their development. With music and games, they help maximise toddlers' learning capability, introduce them to new experiences and help them build up social skills. Young Post talked to Ho Kit-lam, a playgroup teacher with the Child Psychological Development Association (CPDA). Requirements To be a good playgroup teacher, you need to be passionate about children. Ho spends most of her day interacting with children aged between six months and six years. She also designs courses for them. She says she adores toddlers for their charm and sincerity. It makes her happy to see her young students learn to walk, discover new skills, and have fun with their playmates. She says playgroup teachers need to learn to be patient and must always be helpful both to children and their parents. You need to tell parents how each game helps their child's development, how to communicate with their child, and how to solve child-care problems. Qualifications There is no specific diploma or degree programme tailored for teaching children of pre-school age. But if you study kindergarten education, you will understand childhood development better and learn how to handle even younger students. Ho holds a higher diploma in early childhood education and a foundation certificate for hospital play specialists. She is now studying for a bachelor's degree in education in early childhood education at Hong Kong Baptist University. CPDA offers in-house training for candidates to familiarise themselves with stages in child development. The course teaches you how to design appropriate games and develop young children's skills. Work prospects A decade ago, there weren't many playgroups in the city, but they have become increasingly popular among parents. Ho says many young couples today are well-educated and are aware that the earlier they start teaching their children, the more it will benefit their development. Nowadays couples opt for fewer children, which enables them to spend more time on each child. The child-care industry is booming. CPDA's playgroups focus on toddlers' full development. Children learn hand-leg co-ordination, develop independence, and learn to identify shapes and colours. Other courses specialise in music, fitness, phonics or foreign languages. Some courses are taught by Cantonese-speakers, others by native-English teachers. Long-term prospects After acquiring a few years of experience, Ho could become a trainer for new playgroup teachers. She could also find work with psychologists and social workers or design courses for others. Average pay The playgroup industry does not have a uniform salary scale for teachers. Ho says small-sized companies generally pay less, from HK$7,000 to HK$8,000, while larger businesses pay better, from HK$13,000 to HK$14,000. If you have experience and qualifications in teaching in kindergartens, you can expect to get paid even more. A day at work Each playgroup usually lasts from one to 1 1/2 hours. The classes are small, consisting of no more than 10 children plus an accompanying parent. Every lesson starts with 10 minutes of free time to play with toys and mingle with other toddlers. Then, Ho Kit-lam gathers the group in a circle and welcomes them with a song. A class comprising 12-month-old toddlers stamp their feet at the command of Ho's puppet monkey as she teaches parts of the body. They also practise balancing on one foot and walking on a snake-shaped block. In the last activity, parent and child get together to make a simple photo frame for Mother's Day. After class, Ho stays back to answer parents' questions about their children's behavioural problems. When she is not teaching, she designs class activities. She also evaluates with other teachers or assistants how well the lesson has gone and how they can do better.