Want to enjoy primary school? Find some good friends first

Before Jason entered Primary 1 last year, we did all sorts of things to prepare him. They ranged from teaching him how to order food, to packing his schoolbag, to telling time, and it went on. Then he started school. Each day when I dropped him off in school, I would send him off with reminders to pay attention in class, drink more water, be courteous. How dreary, now that I think back on it.

He didn’t take to Primary 1 the way I thought he would. He would drag his feet to school, saying it wasn’t fun. I found out later he did not have close friends because he rubbed his friends the wrong way, demanding to have his way all the time during group work. In Primary 1, he never spoke about his friends. In preschool, he had never had issues making friends – he always came back with stories about his best friends. So I didn’t think it would be any different in primary school, or that it would be necessary to teach him about friendships. Eventually, my husband and I gave him some gentle reminders about being a team player, about being a good friend to others, and left him to work out the issues.

Thankfully, by the second half of Primary 1, something clicked. It could have been the interclass singing competition practices that bonded the playful boys in his class, or the subsequent sports meet where his competitive streak was put to good use as he strategised the best way his class could win other classes. They didn’t win but Jason made himself a bunch of good friends in the process.

Having a best friend, and a group of close friends, made all the difference in his attitude towards school. I suppose it’s somewhat like having good friends at work. I could totally understand that. From dragging his feet to school at the beginning of last year, he progressed to begging me to leave home earlier every day by the end of last year, so he would have more precious minutes to play with his friends before the school bell rang. And instead of issuing him dreary reminders, I found myself telling him, “have fun in school!” as I dropped him off each day. I was so grateful he looked forward to going to school every day, little else mattered.

“I love going to school,” he would declare, proceeding to list recess breaks, PE and play time before the first bell rings, as his favourite moments. I didn’t bother pointing out to him it wasn’t really school school that he loved.

It didn’t matter what the programme was in school, everything was more fun when you had friends to go through it with you. Anything unpleasant became instantly more bearable: lectures from teachers for talking too much; 10-minute detention during recess, everything became that much easier to get through because he had friends in the same boat. I loved hearing about all the scrapes they got into.

His class was quite close-knit, largely due to their form teacher who rallied them all the time. They finally won the sports meet this year. Many of the parents were enthusiastic and supportive (in the Whatsapp chat group we’re in) and the class even had a year end party on the last day of school, including their teachers and parents.

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The class party was also the last time they were together as a group because the kids are split into different classes next year, after two years.

While their friendship is still going strong, Jason and his buddies have been having playdates during the school holidays. The boys (minus one who is overseas) came over to our place today and did all sorts of boy things, totally out of my depth. Nerf Guns, pillow fight, soccer in the void deck, Beyblades… I got my husband to keep an eye on them!

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They chattered non-stop from the time they came, they argued over which games to play, made much inane talk that only kids their age would get. Bottomline? They had loads of fun and are already planning the next playdate.

They’re in different classes next year. It’s a little too much to hope that they will remain best friends, but here’s hoping these boys will always find firm friends no matter where they go.

The end of Taekwando

It’s funny how some things come back to bite you.

When Jason wanted to learn Taekwando when he was six, my condition to him was that he had to keep at it and not give it up halfway. He said ok and started classes. He has kept at it for three years. There were several times over the last few years when his interest waned, sometimes after he missed a few classes because of a flu bug, or after we returned from holidays. But each time I encouraged him to continue lessons. It was after all, the only class he attended outside of school then.

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Unlike Shannon who is resistant to outside classes, Jason found it fun because there were sparring sessions, the closest a boy could get to “fighting”. I imagined all the kinds of injuries he could get from sparring but kept quiet, because it was good exercise for him, if nothing else. With a voracious appetite, he needed all the exercise he could get.

He learnt at a Korean school for the first two years, and switched over to lessons in his school in this year, after they started offering it as an enrichment. He was happy to switch because it meant he could have fun with his friends who also took up the enrichment. We were happy for him to switch because it meant paying only one-tenth of the fees we used to pay outside!

tkd1Even though the school’s enrichment programme for Taekwando was conducted at night, meaning Thursdays were long days for him, he learnt to cope with his homework. It was a good lesson for him in time management. Somehow, his Chinese teacher would give work on Thursday nights. Initially he would whine and worry about not being able to finish his work on time. By the end of the year, he gamely went for Taekwando at night, and completed his homework on Friday mornings before school. He is in the afternoon session. I will also miss the dinners we have in his school on Thursdays.

After nine belt changes, he is now holding the red belt, one test short of the junior red/black belt. It will be many more months before he reaches the junior black belt. But we have decided to call it a day. So why give it up now?

Even as he kept at the lessons, it became clear he enjoyed the fun he had with his friends more than the sport itself. He has hardly ever practised the strokes at home. Meanwhile, he has picked up many other types of sports on his own. Next year is when he starts CCA in school. He wanted to join soccer, but said he would also continue with Taekwando, since we had always told him to keep at it. From the training schedule he brought home, it looked like each CCA had up to two days of training each week. Four days a week on CCA is far too many, to me. I would rather he has time to play at home, to do nothing, to catch up on anything else he might want to do.

So ironically, my husband and I were the ones who suggested he give up Taekwando. He was reluctant at first, but said it was because he would miss his friends. Well, he will still get to hang out with the same friends either in class or in school, so we reasoned to him he would not miss them that much. So he agreed. He had his last Taekwando lesson earlier this month. Here’s hello to new adventures!

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Homemade Oreo ice-cream cake

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I’m using the term homemade rather loosely, because I didn’t really “make” any thing that went into this cake. It was simply putting some ingredients together, just like Jason’s Minion cake. We celebrated Shannon’s birthday in advance with my in laws and I realised after googling for ideas that I had enough at home to make an Oreo ice-cream cake. Actually, it’s a cake without any real cake in it. The biscuit does soften slightly though. It took just 15 minutes or so to put together, once you have gathered all the supplies needed. I did it the day before the party so it would be sufficiently frozen.

Items needed:

A springform cake pan (cake pan with removable sides)

Pack of Oreo cookies – enough to line sides and to crush for the topping

Cookies and cream ice-cream or any preferred flavour

 

Directions:

Start with a clean, dry cake pan.

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Line the sides and bottom with Oreo cookies. I halved them for the bottom layer but left them intact for the sides.

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Picture below is a little dark, but there are oreos at the side of the pan. Fill with ice-cream of your choice. I had 3 half tubs of various flavours at home and poured them all in – chocolate, cookies and cream, and macadamia nut. I thought it tasted fine. :)

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Smoothen the top and ensure the gaps between Oreos are filled. At this point, don’t let inquisitive kids get near the springform pan, in case they ask what the clasp at the side of the pan is for, and proceed to open it before you can answer. No prizes for guessing what happened. Let’s just say a cake pan dripping with ice-cream was not part of the plan.

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Crush remaining Oreos and pour on top. Cover it and pop it into the freezer until the party.

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The side Oreos stick out because I didn’t have enough ice-cream to fill it to the top. I decided it would be part of the design!

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IMG_0019Here are the kids with Ah Ma.

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The cake is hard to cut through, but melts really fast. An alternative to a springform pan, would be to use cling wrap on a normal cake pan so that you can pull up the frozen cake easily.

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Shannon turns 5!

Shannon had just one request for her birthday – to take the double-decker bus! So we did, just the two of us, while the boys were in school. She had a small celebration in school with her friends, and we set off to look for a double decker bus to take. Where we stay, the double decker buses ply the roads during peak hours, so we ended up taking a single-deck bus to town, with the plan to take the double-deck one home.

Here she is, all decked out in her Princess Sophia outfit from her eryi, my sister. It’s a dress she has worn for three out of four days since she was given the gift! I asked if she wanted to change out of her outfit for our outing and she gave me a firm “no”. You’re only five once, so yes, I went along with her, trying to ignore the amused smiles she got throughout the day.

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With no plan in mind, we decided to alight when we saw these white carriages outside Ion, which formed the perfect backdrop for a princess who loves to take pictures.

wpid-imag0965.jpgWe had already had lunch, so she got a frozen yogurt treat. After popping into a couple of shops, we started making plans to take the bus back. It’s the journey, not the destination, right?!

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We waited for 5 single-deck buses to pass, before a double-deck one came along. 

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All excited at the thought of taking a double-decker bus.

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And finally, when the bus rolled in, she queued happily, tapped my EZlink card, clamoured to the upper level, and settled down in a window seat.

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She chattered non-stop, asking dozens of questions.

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She declared it “the best day ever”, after the bus ride. :)

Taking a leaf from my friend Tracey, I enlisted Shannon’s help to bake cupcakes for her school celebration the day before.

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It was a simple job, using a packet of cake mix.

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She loved how they turned out, but found them too sweet for her liking.
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Apart from the princess dress, her other favourite gift is a Nerf Rebelle gun from her korkor. I casually mentioned the idea of him getting her a gift, but he ran with it, and decided to get her a girl’s version of his favourite Nerf gun. He searched high and low (determined to get the best deal), since he was using his savings, and finally settled on one from Amazon, and we ordered it, together with a pack of pretty bullet refills.

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So yes, Shannon is now five. She still loves her Friend, loves dancing, and helping me around the home. My type of girl. :)  
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Tuition – yes or no?

Last Sunday, I wrote a column for The Sunday Times, about my struggle on whether or not to send Jason for Chinese tuition. While it was a personal column, it was sparked off by a story on parents asking for MOE to regulate the tuition industry. They were reacting to the case of former GEP tutor Kelvin Ong, who made a comeback two years after he was found to have made false claims about himself and charged high fees providing tuition that claims to get kids into the Gifted Education Programme.

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To me, it was obviously parents’ demands driving the tuition industry, that allow bad eggs like Kelvin Ong to thrive. So MOE can try to regulate, but as long as parents and students want tuition, tutors – both good and bad, will survive. Yet, as a parent of a school-going kid, there have been many times that I, too, was tempted to send my child for tuition. Not the type of lessons that prepare kids for the GEP test. That is clear to me. Either a child is gifted, or he’s not. Preparation skews the accuracy of the test and it is the child who will have to bear the consequences in the end.

I’m thinking about help for Jason’s Chinese, specifically Chinese composition. We speak mainly English at home. Despite my husband’s best attempts at speaking Mandarin to them, the kids are still more comfortable in English. Jason can speak basic Mandarin with little problem, although certain vocabulary may stump him. Listening comprehension is manageable. He does fine in his Chinese spelling, as long as he remembers to learn it. But composition is a different ballgame altogether. It immediately exposes his lack of ease with the language. Sentences are basic and at times awkward when strung together. Chinese characters are written wrongly even with a dictionary on hand – he picks the wrong word. Phrases are written the way he would have said them in English.

Perhaps we could have done more to provide an environment more conducive for the language. Like us, Jason reads English storybooks. In the foreseeable future, Shannon too. I think it might be only a matter of time before he needs extra help. I’ve finally checked out one enrichment school, but am still reluctant to sign him up for classes. Lessons start in December! Why? Why not let the kids enjoy the holidays? It’s to give them a headstart apparently. I asked if he could start in January instead. I was told, “You can try your luck at the end of December to see if we still have slots.” No reservation of slots is allowed. In fact, signing up for classes happen on a certain day, and it’s on a first-come-first-served basis. As a newbie to this tuition game, I was shocked.

There have been many responses to the column, with parents sharing their views. Some wrote in to STForum, some messaged me. They all make a lot of sense, even though they are in two different camps. Many are parents with grown or teenage children, who have been through the same dilemma. One said she did not believe in tuition and felt her elder child suffered for it. Her younger children were given outside help and found it very useful. One said she decided on Chinese tuition just for the extra language environment for the child. Yet others spoke about how their children did not have tuition, and are doing fine now in university. They were glad they did not follow the tuition crowd. One said I should know my child best, so I should trust my gut instinct as a mother to know what is best for my child. This one spoke to me: “Hold on to your resolve. There is only one thing you need to remember: Learning does not happen only in the school or only in the tuition centre.”

And that’s true. I truly believe in that. Sometimes when I get caught up in the kiasu mum mindset, I forget, and it takes a reminder from a kind reader to jolt me. All parents want the best for their child, me included. And so follows the thinking, why settle for an A, if a child has the ability to score an A*? And then it’s easy to justify going down the tuition track. But, there are always trade-offs. What if, the chase for the A* comes at the expense of something else more important in life, like values? Or family time? Or play time? Of course I want my child to do well, but more importantly, the child must want to work for the subject. Am I thinking of getting tuition because he is unmotivated for the subject? Quite possibly. I think the tuition question would be an easier one to answer, if the child is motivated, hardworking, yet still needs extra help.

While I was mulling over this last week, I received another reminder – a Thank You card via Raffles Institution, from a group of students I spoke to during the Pre-U seminar earlier this year. RI was the organiser of this year’s Pre-U Sem.

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The topic I was given was Trust, and I shared with them my thoughts from the perspective of someone who used to cover the education beat, as well as from the perspective of a mother. The students’ questions were insightful, and covered a wide range of topics. From the students’ responses, what might have left the deepest impression on them was my sharing on what’s best for my kids, and ironically, why I resist tuition for them!

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I happened to ask Jason about this one day. “So how?” I asked him out of the blue. “I can’t decide either,” he replied. “I like both football and taekwando.”

So while I was wondering about tuition, he was in a dilemma over something else altogether – CCA choices! I think it speaks volumes.

As for the tuition question I still don’t have an answer to – it’s now a $1.1 billion question, based on the latest statistics!

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