Jacob Ballas

No more scheduled play at Cheng Zhu means we need to fill our days with play of our own. Staying at home and playing with toys no longer satisfy this little bud. He was literally bored to tears yesterday. No amount of books, toys or food could stop him from screaming ‘OUT’. I even resorted to television which he showed absolutely no interest in, crying even louder. I considered other scheduled classes like KinderMusik, Growing Up Gifted, Heguru and Centre Stage School of Arts. Then I got enlightened (after seeing the hefty feesI had to pay) that the best things in life are free! The most satisfying experience do not cost any money.
Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden sits on the grounds of Bukit Timah Core in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is approximately the size of four football fields and designed to arouse the minds of young children with interactive pockets of play areas. We paid Asia’s first children’s garden a visit and I am certain it is one big playground we will frequent twelve years on. There is so much to explore here at Jacob Ballas and my favourite quality of this garden is its ability to allow children to play amongst nature – the very fact that all life on earth depends on plants. 
The garden caters to the learning needs of children at every stage in life. A baby will enjoy its serenity, sounds and green overhead as she whisks through the grounds in a stroller. A toddler can explore his five senses smelling nature, touching flowers, birds watching, hearing laughter and tasting herbs. As they grow older, they bag away different insights from the same playground. Now what I really can’t wait to see is for Ewan to climb a tree and monkey away on its branches.
Here at the Magic of Photosynthesis are four podiums brightly painted with a cloud, a sun, water and (YES) a durian! A lever protrudes from each podium which you can turn in circles, lighting up the sun and cloud. Crank the lever on the water podium very quickly and you will see mists exuding form the tree. It excites the children and teaches them the basic knowledge of harvesting energy from human movement. While educating our young, do not stop at “See? Turn the lever and the sun lights up!” but go on with “movement creates energy and energy creates life“. Look how Adriel and Ewan are enjoying this one. 

On the way to the Tree House, stop and find a cluster of herbs you can swipe and sniff. Pinch and rub some brazilian snapdragon between your fingers and let your child sniff its scent from your hands. Some are fresh, some are pungent, some are mild while some are spicy. For a 15 month old toddler, it is a fascinating experience don’t you think? Especially when a friendly gardener comes your way and offer you the watering hose because he sees you staring at him for 3 minutes. That made Ewan’s morning! Thank you for hiring children-loving employees Botanic Gardens! It means a lot to the little visitors that come daily to your humble abode.

I love bridges and a suspended one nonetheless. The Suspension Bridge albeit short (and close to the ground), poses as a long shaky obstacle to a little boy. Ewan crossed it with apprehension but not saying no without a try. I like that spirit! He had a shot at swaying the bridge left and right by moving his body while holding onto the ropes. Very in tune with his understanding of cause and effect I must say. After he made it across, he went full throttle ahead and away from this dangling bridge. He probably thought, “I like stability much better”.

Walking on, we found ourselves in a little tangle of tree trunks. They were trees supported by sticks to keep them from growing any more crooked than they already are. These trees are growing sideways instead of upwards. So much so, they formed a canopy above our heads as we walked under them. A unique sight and Ewan enjoyed his little adventure in the fantasy of this garden. It didn’t matter to him if we were 5 metres away? The nature and its wonders need more time for exploration than simply be hurried through. However, Dora and I couldn’t wait to get out of this area because we were feeding mosquitoes! He even made us wait in a corner while he touched an arrowhead plant and wondered if he could pluck a worm out of the damp soil. 

The highlight of Jacob Ballas – the Tree House. No child will leave this garden without sliding themselves through the red tunnels from a tree. Tree houses are adventures. They are magical and a place children run to for pretend play. There is a sturdy metal ladder for older children to climb up to and wooden stairs for the littler ones. Two slides, one higher than the other. We took the higher tunnel and it was FAST! I hugged Ewan tightly in front of me and we went skidding down and out, thrice. The last one ended with an abrasion on my elbow because I was trying to slow us down. I must admit I was a little frightened we’d fly off at the bottom of the slide! Thank goodness we will be landing on sand if we did. Adriel, Ewan and Mayven had their fair share of fun on the slides and even attempted a choo choo ride. 

We went into maze created by shrubs. Tall enough for children be lost in it and short enough for the adults to look at it at birds eye view. Ewan and Adriel ran into it with no fear whatsoever thinking its just a walk in a park. I was certain they were too young to know what dead ends are. I was wrong. I left Ewan alone in there, watching from the outside. When he couldn’t find me and knew no way out, he cried. I guided him to find his exit, pointing this way and that. When he finally got out, he had a relief look on his face which I was proud to witness.  I believe it is an important life skill to learn how to undo your own problems and not expect mummy to carry him out. Ewan, I will always be your guide but you must first try to stand on your own two feet. 

We ended our little garden episode with water play. I was ill-prepared with no towels and swimwear but that didn’t deter me from letting Ewan play. Baths, rain, pool … as long as there’s water, there will be smiles on those little faces. Ewan loves water but he was careful not to thread into unfamiliar grounds. He didn’t charge towards the water sprouts which I thought he just might. Instead, he stood in one corner sizing everything up, refusing to budge no matter how I beckoned. Eventually, I carried him straight to the fountains and he stood there wondering why this water is sprouting more strongly than his shower at home. It was a funny sight. 
In mythologies, philosophies and theologies, people always relate trees to life. I am steering clear of  religion and their versions of the tree of life. Just looking at the shape of the tree, I have my own rendition of trees and life. The trunk is the unity, showing all people and things as one. Every branch from the trunk goes off in its own direction representing diversity of life. Look at this Mystree standing tall at the entrance of Jacob Ballas. It is beautifully sculptured and I love how it reaches out to an opening in the roof towards the sky. When it rains, rain falls on Mystree. It brunches out people into a crown of glory holding tight onto one another, none letting go of the other. If every human watches out for the next, our world flourishes. We thrive. 
Thank you for creating a great concept garden for families to grow up in.

Visitor Information
Opening hours
8.00am – 7.00pm (last admission at 6.30pm)
The Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden is closed on Mondays (except when it falls on a designated public holiday)

Refreshments are available at the Visitor Centre, Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden.


Admission
Admission to the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden is free. The garden is open to children up to 12 years old. All children have to be accompanied by an adult.


Getting Here
By car or taxi
  • From Dunearn Road – At the Dunearn-Kheam Hock Road junction, turn right to enter NUS Bukit Timah Campus. Turn right into Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden after car park gantry.
  • From Bukit Timah Road – At the Bukit Timah-Kheam Hock Road junction, turn left to enter NUS Bukit Timah Campus. Turn right into Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden after car park gantry.
Parking is available at Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and NUS Bukit Timah Campus.

By bus SBS Bus No. 48, 66, 151, 153, 154, 156, 170, 186 and SMRT Bus No. 67, 171. Alight along Bukit Timah Road, NUS Bukit Timah Campus bus stop.

By Mass Rapid Transit (MRT, Circle Line):Alight at Eco Garden (North end of the Gardens) via the Botanic Gardens Station.

This new station along the Circle Line brings you closer to the junction of Bukit Timah and Cluny Park Road and provides you access to the NUS School of Law and Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden.

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