The First Year of Primary School – A Mother’s Reflection

The First Year of Primary School - A Mother's Reflection

My daughter R started Primary One this year. At the beginning, it was exciting, she found most things enjoyable, and I was happy that she adjusted quickly to the environment and found it easy to make friends. As the year wore on, however, the life of primary school unveiled itself to be a mixed bag of things – some good, some bad, some disappointing.

THE GOOD

Faith, Friends & Fun

R’s school is a government school but was founded by Christian missionaries and holds fast to values and principles which I grew up with and which I wanted my children to learn. There is a pastoral staff based in the school and students attend a weekly chapel session. R comes home singing songs she has learnt and I believe her Christian faith is strengthened because of such an environment.

R’s school, despite its Christian background, attracts a mix of races and religions. Having non-Chinese and non-Christian friends has exposed her to cultural and religious differences which I hope will make her more sensitive to the needs of others. Recently,  R’s Hindu classmate invited R and their classmates to her home for Deepavali celebrations. I’m glad R had fun and was able to interact with her classmates outside of school.

R also found several activities in school to be fun, primarily activities that were sports and arts related. She enjoyed badminton and gymnastics sessions, Chinese dance, and speech and drama activities. My girl needs her space to move around and express herself. It’s important that the school has a non-academic programme to let students find and develop their talent. While I wish there was formal training available at the school for music and gymnastics, I know resources are limited and I’m grateful that there are Chinese Dance lessons which R faithfully attends each week.

THE BAD

Books

The weight of the many books – textbooks , workbooks, exercise books – all add up to a considerable burden for a 7-year-old. The haversack needs to be large enough to contain the books, sturdy enough so it doesn’t tear, and padded enough so it won’t hurt the shoulders and back.

The main reason for the need to cart the books to and fro is that R’s classroom is shared with the morning session class (R is in the afternoon session – another contentious point). Plus the fact that there are no lockers for students to use. The school is in the midst of building extensions so that the school can go single session — in 2016. Not sure if there will be lockers or shelving space for books in the future but I hope there will be some alternatives to the book carrying routine.

Weight aside, I wonder how well the books are used. What does my child do with the textbook during lessons? Does she flip the pages, close the book, and then move on to some activity in class? The textbooks  have hardly any activities in them so how does the child interact with the book? Workbooks are, of course, more used to the point of pages being dog-eared.  So why not just have a workbook? Can’t concepts be included in the workbooks? Wouldn’t that make the book worth its weight?

Better yet, throw out the book. English has done away with textbooks and workbooks altogether, focusing on worksheets instead. So why not Chinese and Math? Worksheets are targeted, timely and thin!

THE DISAPPOINTING

Results

Do I already sound like a parent obsessed with grades? I don’t think I am, at least, I won’t use the term ‘obsessed’ but grades are a reflection of how much a student is able to prove what she knows at a given point in time. And at those given points in time called ‘tests’, R proved to be highly competent in English, somewhat average in Math, and hitting the bottom of the barrel in Chinese.

I’m not so much disappointed in her results as I am that she did not reach her potential during those assessments. And to be honest, I am more disappointed in myself for not coaching her to be able to perform her best.

Time was certainly a main factor. R is in the afternoon session, which means not having to wake up too early in the morning. By 8 am, R should be awake. By that time, I’m well on my way to work. She takes her time with breakfast and after that needs her TV fix for the day, for just 30 min or so.

Between 9 to 10:30 am, she might do homework, learn spelling, or if there’s no school assignments, she might pop down to the playground or ride her bicycle. At 10:30 am, she starts to get ready to change into her school uniform, have an early lunch and leaves home around 11:30 am to report for school by 12:20 pm.

At 6:30 pm, school ends and R reaches home around 7:20 pm. By that time, I have returned home from work and finished my dinner. After R washes up and has her dinner, there is a fairly unproductive 45 mins or so of doing homework and other things like learning spelling, doing a book review or whatever tasks scribbled in her pupil handbook. All this with the background noise of her two younger brothers clamouring for attention, and me nagging at R to focus on her work.

By 9 pm, the kids need to be in bed, preferably asleep. By 9 pm, I need some time to myself, preferably in silence. By 9 pm, it’s late enough for all of us.

Such is the daily routine, Monday to Friday.

What about the weekend, you might ask? Don’t I send R for tuition, fill her waking hours with assessment books and makes sure that she’s primed for any test?

I don’t. Sure there are assessment books, and there are more well used closer to tests, but I don’t have a tight schedule of formal learning for my child. I did try a few times, but they did not go down well with R. And I would much rather spend time taking her and her brothers to the library, or run around the playground.

Ah, now I will change, you might think. Just look at her results – R needs tuition, doesn’t she, at least in Chinese?

I’m not sure she does. I think I’ll take her to her to the library more often and encourage her to read more Chinese books.

What about Math? She needs tuition for that. Everyone has tuition!

R needs more focused attention in shorter spans of time, whether for Math, Chinese or English. And that’s what I’ll try to do. And hopefully without the distraction from her brothers.

PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

There will always be the good, the bad and the disappointing in many situations, life changing events and, of course, the long journey of parenting. My journey is on a rocky mountain path but I’m fixing my eyes on the summit – with plenty of lessons to learn along the way.

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Mother, Storyteller – The Phoenix Kite

Mother, Storyteller - The Phoenix Kite

“Mummy, tell me a story!” comes the evening plea. What story can I spin now? I’ve done the fairy tales, the cartoons, the bible stories, even put my kids in tales, and there always has to be one more.

“How about a story about ….” I pause to think. “…. the girl and the kite?” She nods in excitement.

“Once there was a girl who loved kites. She made small kites and big kites. One day she decided to make the biggest kite she could. She gathered bamboo sticks and very thin paper to make her kite.

Her kite was a bird, not just any bird, but a phoenix. Now, a phoenix is not a real bird, just an imaginary one, like the unicorn.

After she finished the structure, she painted on the bird. Soon, it was completed. The girl finished the biggest kite she ever made – The Phoenix.

English: The Phoenix Firebird Deutsch: Der Pho...

English: The Phoenix Firebird Deutsch: Der Phoenix Feuervogel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When there was a strong wind, she took the kite outside. She ran and ran and ran, but the kite didn’t fly. She tried again. She ran and ran and ran, but the kite still didn’t fly. She tried once again, she ran and ran and ran, and finally the kite took off into the sky. She held on to the string so that the bird wouldn’t fly off. She moved the kite forward and backward, left and right. The Phoenix was flying high in the sky.

Then suddenly, the kite got stuck in a tree. Oh no! It was a very tall tree and she couldn’t climb the tree to get the kite. She was very sad. Then there was a strong gust of wind and shook the kite off the tree. The kite flew into the sky. The bird was free! The Phoenix was flying high!

The girl was so happy. She was so happy that she let go off the string and now the bird flew off into a distance. The girl was not sad. She knew that someone else would take care of her kite.

Much further away, there were some children playing in the field.

‘Look up! What’s that?’ cried one.

‘It’s a bird! A big bird!’ shrieked another.

‘No, it’s a kite!’ exclaimed the third.

The children were very happy that they found a kite. And they had a fun time playing with it.

The End.”

“Do you like the story?”

“Yes, you are a great storyteller!”

“Really? I’m a storyteller?

“Yes, you should go to the library and tell stories to the children.”

I smile. She starts to close her eyes. We sleep.

The End.

Generation iY – the best is yet to be

Generation iY - the best is yet to be

I had the privilege of being in the audience of Dr Tim Elmore’s presentation on Generation iY when he visited my school yesterday. Tim’s work (with Growing Leaders) is about  instilling values in youth who will be leaders of future generations.

I was informed, moved and challenged to view the Generation iY with different lenses and help them develop values to be leaders, not in the sense of being heads of organizations, but having a leadership perspective, i.e. being personally accountable and having a significant influence on others.

According to Tim, Generation iY are those born in the 90s, a group he categorizes as confident, social, tech savvy, family oriented and influential. With a life paradigm ,”life is a cafeteria”, their life is a buffet and the sum of their life is picking and choosing what they like. This generation is markedly different from my generation (Gen X) and even the earlier Gen Yers who were born in the 80s.

While this group sounds like they have everything going for them, Tim also pointed out that Generation iY are generally self-absorbed, display low empathy and ambiguous about the future at best. Of the seven reasons that Tim listed for this unique Gen iY personality, I strongly identified with two of them: parenting style and media & technology.

Media & Technology – Made for Them

My students are Gen iY and as a whole, their life seems to be always in the here and now. They are particularly emotional (or emo as they call it), taking admonishments badly and making the trivial the highlight of their day. You could call it adolescence, you could call it one generation lamenting about the next, but as Tim pointed out, the Gen iY is the first generation that doesn’t need to ask adults to get information. In fact, with the Internet so firmly entrenched in our daily lives, it has become a part of their living environment, especially since they were born into a world that already had it.

These kids are “always on”, wired up, and they learn lessons from what they consider the wonderful world of the internet. A student of mine said that she learns about life through Tumblr, though inspirational quotations blogged by people she doesn’t know. These catchy observations of life seem to shape her emotional response, never mind that those emotions will surface at some other point in time. By then, there will be another blog post or twitter update to fix that problem. Please tell me I’m not the only one disturbed that the values and attitudes of this Gen iY (or whatever name you want to give them) are guided and molded by anonymous strangers, distant acquaintances and friends whom have been influenced by the anonymous themselves!

Parents, where are you?

I think parents have a part to play in this unreal world of character building. Or to be precise, the absent parent is at least partly responsible for this state of affairs. At least in Singapore, the idea of a stay-home parent or grandparent is becoming rarer and so the kid has no human being, let alone a parent, to connect with at home. Or maybe parents are too tired after a day’s or work to connect with their child who may not be in the mood for connecting with his parents. I personally know of friends with teenage kids who struggle with not being there for their kids, or when they are, their kids aren’t. In fact, I think I’m connecting more with my friends’ teenage kids on Facebook then they are with their own kids at home! But let’s make it clear, I’m not their mum and I can’t parent them. (Anyway, I have my own post Gen iYers to parent!)

Be Intentional & Purposeful

I don’t think we can  confiscate media & technology and ground kids on a permanent basis. You’ll be screaming for your iPhone if it happened to you. So whether you’re a parent or a teacher, we need to focus on the what we can deal with – the young lives of Gen iY – and do so  intentionally and purposefully.

It’s not a 3 minute answer and it’s not something you can buy online. It’s about making use of the teachable moments, modeling positive behaviors and responses and making every effort to have a real (not cyber) dialogue with them. I like what Tim said about being responsive and demanding. We need to be sensitive to their needs but we also need to exercise our judgment and have high expectations of them so that they can grow into  “the best versions  of themselves.”

It’s a challenge I’m taking up. Shall we do this together?