Anchor Image: Elaine Kim with her husband John and their three children.
Elaine Kim, a practising doctor in palliative care, loves children so much that she has three, and co-founded a business involving children as well. Together with her venture capitalist husband John Kim, they are parents to eight-year-old Kyan, six-year-old Luke and three-year-old Nathanael, who’s affectionately known as Nate.
With her passion for children, she co-founded Trehaus, an innovative space that brings office, preschool and family club together so families can work, learn and play under one roof. It is helmed by Trehaus School, a Silicon Valley-inspired preschool and childcare that is changing early education in Singapore by focusing on building character and future skills, while allowing parents to be present in every step of their children’s learning journey.
On top of these roles, she is co-founder of CRIB, a social enterprise that empowers women by helping them to become successful entrepreneurs.
I have loved children since I was a kid myself, which is why I often get asked why I am not in paediatrics. But I also have a heart for and desire to care for the elderly, which is why I went down the path of geriatrics and eventually palliative care.
I fell in love with children over and over again because… when my first child Kyan was born, motherhood was just so precious, so beautiful and I discovered the endless capacity to love a child. I could not imagine loving a second child as much. But when Luke our second was born, the love was multiplied not divided; and so it was for our third child Nate.
I’m with kids… Every day, at home and at work. We created Trehaus so working parents would not have to choose between career and family. Weekdays are spent at the business club office and school here. Nate and I can read together in the little library at Trehaus School and we can have lunch together at Trehaus Cafe, even when I’m having work meetings. So I’m with kids all the time and I love it! On weekends, we are often here as well, when Trehaus transforms into a private members’ family club . There’s something for everyone in the family — my elder one can go for coding class here, while the second goes for soccer, and the youngest can run in the playground. I’m catching up with friends in the café, while my husband gets his work done in the business club. Yet, we are all together under one roof.
My favourite parts are… all the moments I have with my children, the precious interactions and cherished memories that make up the fabric of our family. That’s why not having to miss out on their growing up years and spending special moments with each of them means so much to me.
The biggest legacy I can have is… to leave an impact on the next generation, so they have the kind of values and character we want them to have. This is the kind of impact that can change the future. It is such a blessing to be in the position to raise changemakers as a mother, educator and entrepreneur.
The toughest part is… between finding that balance in my life and really giving everything my all. Entrepreneurship is so tough as it pushes you in different directions. You need to work so hard to find success, while at the same time, wanting to give everything to your children – all your time, all the best opportunities… It’s a constant challenge to be the best entrepreneur and the best mother at the same time.
The number one rule is… you can’t always be so hard on yourself — you need to look after yourself as well. You can have a career and be a good mother as long as you are super thoughtful about prioritising correctly. There’s a season when I’m full-on with my work and there’s a time when I’m full-on with my children. I protect my family holidays as I feel that I can focus fully on being present with the kids when I travel with them. If the environment and culture allow for it, work-life integration and work-family balance is a real possibility. That’s why we set up Trehaus – to provide an ecosystem with that environment. Also, Crib allows women entrepreneurs like me to have that kind of support. The organisations that I’d started are to help others find that balance and to make it all possible.
What’s most fulfilling is… knowing that all these hardships and hard work will also help other parents enjoy precious moments with their children. I literally just came from the playground at Trehaus. After hugging Nate, I came back to work to do this interview.
To me, education needs to be more about… raising changemakers, which is our motto at Trehaus. Rather than rote learning, we should be raising them with skills that are important for the future – like having empathy, grit, resilience, team spirit, kindness, care for others, creativity and adaptability.
So education today includes… inculcating values and nurturing skills to prepare people for life and the future. We spent the last two years writing our programmes and curriculum to find ways to cultivate these values, skills and characteristics in the next generation. Our Little CEO programme, for example, develops leadership skills, confidence and executive function; Little Entrepreneur aims to inculcate entrepreneurship skills and design thinking; while the values cultivated in the Little Philanthropist programme gets kids thinking about what can we do to make our world better.
I think children need to… play, period. That’s the best way to learn, and there are so many different ways to learn through play.
I’ll recommend you to… join Trehaus. If you are a working parent (whether a father or mother) with a young child, I speak from experience when I say that being able to work in a place where you can be part of your child’s life is a precious gift. Our business club is not just for entrepreneurs or freelancers – many of our members today are employees of MNCs that have chosen to take a corporate membership which allows their staff to work flexibly from our space. If they believe in inclusion and diversity, Trehaus provides a cost-effective and innovative solution for these companies to provide flexible work arrangements and work-life balance to employees while maximising productivity.
My tips for picking the earliest forms of education for your children are… find a place where your children are loved and happy – neurodevelopmentally, kids don’t learn until they feel secure with their caregivers. So one of the most important things is whether the people bringing up your children really love your children. At Trehaus, for example, the teacher-child ratio is one is to five. It’s not the norm to have such a high ratio but it’s so important to us because research shows kids will only learn if they have a secure attachment, and we want our teachers to be like second parents. It’s also why we have very high standard for teachers we bring on board Trehaus School – apart from their credentials, we look for teachers who are caring, nurturing and love the children like their own.
The environment is also important – kids learn so much from it. In other pre-schools or childcare centres, you can’t go beyond a certain point or visit after the Open House day. We want to be different by welcoming parents here to be with their children any time of the day. This is so that learning goes on from school to home, and vice versa seamlessly. Nothing is taught behind closed doors. The kids learn well from going to a school where there’s openness and trust. When they see their parents come in, they don’t cry for their parents because they feel so secure and at home here, and are engaged, curious and learning through play. My kids don’t cry when I have to come and go because they are so happy in school. In the traditional form of schooling where direct instruction is the main mode of teaching, it doesn’t work, but with our pedagogy, this unparalleled parental access is a welcome benefit.