Trehaus: Two parts preschool, one part co-working

By EdgeProp Singapore | November 29, 2019 3:00 PM SGT
Kim: If you ask me what kind of business Trehaus is, I would say it’s an education business, first and foremost. (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Placing a co-working space inside a preschool is certainly uncommon but the people behind Trehaus at Funan Mall say their space might be the thing to win over busy parents and their kids.
Occupying 12,000 sq ft in Funan Mall on North Bridge Road, Trehaus – which opened this August – is perhaps one of the first co-working spaces to cater to working parents. The new space comes three years after co-founders Dr Elaine Kim, Tjin Lee and Elizabeth Wu set up their “proof of concept” in Claymore Connect on Orchard Road after receiving $500,000 in seed funding from investors.
The co-founders admit that creating such a family friendly space was conceived mostly through trial and error. Despite the tireless observations and endless tweaking to the work spaces, almost two thirds of the new space are set aside for children. Kim says the idea came to her while working at Claymore Connect where “she was running the kids’ creche at that space and saw what they enjoyed doing.”
“We saw how much the children like to run around, and what excited them at different ages,” she explains.
At Trehaus, almost two thirds of the space are set aside for the children (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)

Treading the fine line

At the new location, a dedicated sound-proof studio was carved out to separate working parents and their children. “We have a studio where, if they really need to shout and jump, they can,” she says.
The office suites are tucked at the opposite end, just beyond the reception area. In the work zone, there are phone booths, a hotdesking space and four other private office suites. For a less formal working area, parents can also work from the in-house cafe. The pantry acts as the segue between the office spaces and the kids’ area, with a dividing glass wall that allows parents to glance and keep track of their children.
However, Trehaus’ new preschool is set to be its main revenue driver. Calling itself a “Silicon Valley inspired preschool”, it costs $2,568 per month for a full-day programme, and $2,354 for a half-day programme. Enrolling a child under the full-day programme will set back parents by $31,198 a year, after adding in miscellaneous fees and a refundable deposit.
For a less formal working area, parents can work from the in-house cafe (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
The preschool, which accepts ages 18 months to six years old, started operations this October and has now taken 12 children under its wing. Kim’s youngest son, three, is enrolled there, so are some of the staff’s children.
Over at the co-working space, the entry level hotdesking option at the co-working space costs $480 for a 10 day-access or $580 per month. The rate for having a fixed desk costs $880 a month.
Trehaus has even rolled out its membership to firms, specifically to “forward-thinking companies that really believe in diversity inclusion [and] retaining talent,” says Kim of mothers who typically leave the workforce after having a child. “The moment they heard what we’re doing, they just signed.”
However, she declined to name specific companies but claims that one of their private suites has been snapped up by a “a tech giant who has a main office in the CBD area”.
Trehaus’ preschool has a waitlist for December (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)

Improving early education

Despite this foray into the co-working space craze, the priorities for Trehaus are clear.
“If you ask me what kind of business Trehaus is, I would say it’s an education business, first and foremost,” says Kim. Not surprisingly, the company has gone to great lengths to “putting the kids first”. Class sizes, for instance, are kept to a strict teacher-to-child ratio of one is to five. “No other school in Singapore has that kind of a ratio,” she says.
Kim admits that the uncompromising adherence to the teacher-to-child ratio has landed them with a waitlist for December. Based on Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) stipulations Trehaus could take up to 120 kids but she says: “I don’t think we will ever go beyond 100. We want the kids to have that space... this comes back to what’s best for the children.”
Smaller classes also mean more attention to the children who will be exposed to a unique syllabus.
The preschool, which accepts ages 18 months to six years, started operations in October and has now taken 12 children under its wing (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Over the last two years, Trehaus has been working with education experts from esteemed institutions such as Stanford’s Bing Nursery and Khan Lab School in California to design an early education curriculum unlike other childhood education pedagogies like the Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches.
Taking in the best elements of all that is available, Trehaus’ curriculum, coined ‘The Littles’ Programme’, is themed after six jobs – CEO, engineer, philanthropist, entrepreneur, creative and chef – and aims to instill skills like logical reasoning, experimenting, creative-thinking and the basics of coding.
In one such project, kids are taken through the basics of setting up a baking business for a duration of three weeks. Through the process of baking and selling, kids learn addition, subtraction, measurements and weights. “We take them down to the supermarket and that’s where they do market research,” Kim explains. After that, they set up a stall and sell their pitch to people, helping build their confidence and public speaking skills along the way.
The office suites are tucked at the opposite end of Trehaus, just beyond the reception area (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Apart from that, Trehaus is also turning early education on its head by mixing up the age-group in classes. Instead of filtering children out by age, they participate in the same activities, only differentiated by four different learning levels. “Older kids learn best when they teach younger kids and younger kids learn better when they’re following older kids,” reasons Kim, who herself is the mother of three boys.
With such an exacting syllabus, it then should not be surprising that Trehaus is also picky with its teachers. “It’s not just about credentials or experience, but about how loving [and] nurturing they are,” Kim explains. She believes teachers should act as second parents, loving the children like their own. “And because of that, they’re able to individualise the learning to the needs of that child.”
The pantry separates the office spaces and the kids’ area – the glass wall allows parents to keep track of their children (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)

Early days

Before Kim – who is the daughter of Singapore Member of Parliament Dr Lily Neo – became the Trehaus ambassador, she was (and still is) a doctor working in palliative care at St Luke’s Hospital. “My patients, none of them ever said ‘I wish I’d worked harder’, [instead] they say, “I wish I had spent more time with my family,” says Kim, a serial entrepreneur who is also known for being a freelance writer and philanthropist.
The experience pushed her to “create a space that made it possible for parents to be present when their children are growing up. That’s why we started Trehaus in the first place, to solve my own problem.”
Looking ahead, the team is looking to set up a similar space in Bangkok. For further expansion plans, “we are looking at institutional funding,” says Kim.
But she adds that it is still early days: “I mean, we just opened two months ago... we also want to make sure that [Trehaus] is on its path to profitability.’’
So, are they on the way to breaking even? When asked, Kim laughed but declined to give specifics. Her only reply: “Cannot tell. But I can tell you it’s a very realistic horizon.”
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