Tuesday, 11 October 2016

GEP 2016

And so he did it.
He made it through to the next round of GEP testing.
No. I did not hot-house him; no out sourcing, no in-housing. Nothing. He made it through by his own.
Any 'studying' would be for his usual SA and CA papers.
That said, it is possible to hot house the kids for the first round. So for those who made it through because they have been hot house for it, well their hard work has paid off.
For those who made it through with no extra coaching, you know that they have what it takes.
I am glad that I did not hot house him. I did not give him any extra challenging papers to do.
I can truly say he did it by his own abilities. Now I know and I am satisfied.
I always had an inkling that he is a high achiever but it was only a suspicion of mine until now. Honestly, It has been a frustrating journey with him. Sonshine typically likes to play himself down. He prefers to play dumb and always appear to be the least intelligent one amongst his peers. Everyday I am left frustrated seeing other children who have lesser abilities overtake him. I feel like he is wasting his potentials away. Frustrating!

He purposely positions himself so that he will never be at the center of attention. Every capabilities of his I witness at home becomes a mere imagination (mostly mine) whenever we step out of the house. And then it shows up again at home! It is like he has two different beings in his body! He once reluctantly told me that everything he knows is a secret. He does not want anybody to know what he knows. How weird is he?
Heck, he did not even tell us about his GEP selection. I don't usually check his school bag but for some strange reason I did it yesterday and found the letter. I waited for him to tell me but he kept it in ALL DAY! It was only after my husband questioned him for a good 10 minutes before he finally revealed to us. He admitted he did not want us to know because he did not want to sit for the exams all because he hates the idea that he has to spend two days at school during his off days. Yep, this is my weird son.
This oddity of his spills over to his school papers. He did not even make it to the top 3 in his class last year but was still within the top 10% cohort in his school. I was quite stumped especially because his school papers are comparatively (A LOT, like by a mile) easier than most schools. My sister always suggests to me that perhaps he doesn't really excel in his school papers the way he should be because they are too easy? Possible logic? So, I was bewildered for awhile. I even convinced myself this year that perhaps I have over rated my child. Perhaps I was 'seeing' things. Perhaps I was the one who has  the two beings in me. One who over rates her child at home and the one who sees the reality outside.
Hence him passing this first round, for me, came as a confirmation- without paying the high fees to see a psychologist for testing (LOL).  My suspicion has finally become a reality after 9 years. Before this, I was always unable to reconcile his true abilities and what I see in his everyday life. I was always baffled, bewildered and lost in wonderment. There had been many questions about his behaviours that are left unexplained. Now it is all falling into place. Every oddity of his can be explained. And finally, the Great One up there is telling me I am not schizophrenic. It is amazing what a blue sheet of paper can do to a mother!
Anyway, I highly doubt that he will get through the second round of test. My niece is in the GEP programme and I have had a peek into what it was like for the second round. I know it is a lot harder. It is where they separate the men from the boys.
I am already very thankful that he got through the first round. Top 10% of the whole Singapore! Quite a feat considering he did all on his own worth!

Thank You Jesus, All Glory to you!
Well done son! You finally proved it. Thank you, that is all Mummy needs to know.
Now you can go on and continue being odd.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Chinese resources for home learning

Mandarin is a subject that sends parents scurrying to tuition centers for help. A lot of us have no clue how to teach and are helpless in the language. I was too when my eldest was due for primary school education and I sent him for Chinese class in panic. However now that he is primary 3, I have sort of figure out how to work around this subject. Hence, my second child is spared of the extra class.
I cannot say that my teaching is so excellent that she has mastered the language. Far from it. Yet, I think she has learnt quite substantially, enough to be able to read and understand simple mandarin text. I dare say she is even better than her brother at this age.

It is possible to teach mandarin ourselves without relying on tuition centers. Of course certain factors are a must like, having some knowledge in mandarin and the spare time as well as patience. If all you have all the favorable factors and you want to teach your own child, here are some useful resources you can consider using. 

I recommend using one main one ie not use every single one simultaneously. Don't confuse and stress the child. 

Here are some recommended book resource one can use to teach a preschooler at home.

我会读 series is a set of mandarin books that comes in varying levels. The simplest level which is the pink series has one word per page. Every word is followed by a picture that explains the meaning of the word. Very much like flashcard but compiled in a book. I think this set is great for very young kids or beginning readers who are especially adverse to mandarin.

As the child goes up each level, the books will transition into simple sentences and later more complex sentences.

This is another set of simple mandarin books. Unlike the first series, it comes in sentences. It focuses on a particular word per book. It is very simple and easy to read. I reckon that by the end of mastering each book, the child should be able to speak and understand simple, basic mandarin sentences.

I have to add that this set is not readily available. I bought this straight from the publisher during a book fair. Look out for upcoming book fairs and see if you can find them!

This is another series that cannot be bought off the shelf. I think I also bought it from a publisher who set up a cart in a shopping area.

But this is another simple book, with basic sentences. It also focuses on a certain word or phrases per book. The level is more sophisticated than the above series.

This series can be easily found in Popular book shops. Unlike the previous two, it comes in hanyu pinyin and even an English translation. The pace of learning is a lot faster than the above books. Many new words are introduced at the same time. I recommend this for older kids who are already somewhat familiar with the language.

I suspect many kindergarten schools are using this set of books to teach the students. Again, it is not readily available at the main bookshops. But, you can easily get hold of them at the second hand bookshop, Evergreen at Bras Basah. Alternatively, look out for mummies who are willing to sell their copies.

It is almost like a story book with repetitive words with a mix of new words being introduced. It comes with flashcards that is useful to teach word recognition.

Of course, how can I not include 四五快读. It is also readily available at most Popular book stores. I like the systematic pace of this series. However, I do not think it suits any student. I reckon this book is good for children who are speaking mandarin at home and are already very familiar with the language. It is easier for children who are already have a chunk of listening vocabulary to recognise the words in this book. It is not recommended for children who hardly speaks or hear the language.

As I have wrote in another post, this is my favourite Chinese resource for teaching my pre-schooler. This series is akin to the Peter and Jane series. It is very systematic. Like Peter and Jane books, Berries books introduce a few new words in each chapter and repeated throughout the books. A note though, the above book pictured is an older version. Berries has published new books that are a lot more difficult. I find the pace of the new books are a lot faster than the old versions. I prefer to use the old versions as it suits Doll's pace of learning. Currently, this is the book that I am using to teach Doll. I highly recommend this resource.
 The way to use theses resource is to use it like a storybook. First read to your child and then have the child repeat it after you. Have the child read the book everyday at least once. If you want to make sure that she really recognises the words, make your own flashcards or write the words in another medium and have her read it aloud. Make sure she is proficient in the chapter before moving on to the next. Don't skip the pages, don't rush through it, take it slowly according to your child's pace.

Book for Boys

Being a mother to both a girl and a boy, I am quite certain that it's (generally) more challenging to get boys to read than girls. To make it more difficult, it is also hard to find chapter books that would interest them. 

Unlike girls, who read a wider selection of books, boys have a narrower preference in the type of books they like to read. Typically, they prefer comics and slapstick  comedy (with lots of farting). But if your sons are anything like mine, they WILL pick up bad habits and languages from such books. So although I try not to restrict his preference for books, I do my best to 'distract' him away from these books by recommending better (in my opinion) reads. 

It all seems gloom and doom when it comes to encourage our boys to read. But, before you throw in the towel, there are successful stories of boys who love to read. Apart those who naturally love books, there are boys, like my son, who have mothers who orchestrated their boys love for books. Today I'll share my successful story. 

To be fair, Sonshine love books right from the start. I remember when he was still a crawling baby, he wanted me to read a book to him. But I was in another room and he couldn't speak. So he went down on all fours, push the book and crawled all the way to me. Even at that age, he would sit on my lap and have me read books to him. He would stay on my lap for as long as I allowed him to. 

My difficulty only began when he was about 6 year old. I wanted him to transition to chapter books which he showed little interest in then. I suspect like most boys, he didn't like chapter books because it was too time consuming to read all the words and it took too long to get to the ending. He also prefers general knowledge books, those non-fiction, all facts type of books (ok, I think mostly are encyclopaedias). Chapter books were too much of a hard work for him. So what did this mama do? 
How I transition Sonshine to reading chapter books
I started with reading a chapter book aloud to him, yes, word for word, chapter by chapter. It is hardwork but it is worth it. Moreover reading aloud to my son means I get to bond with him AND enjoy a good book myself at the same time! I made sure to choose a book that will grab his attention and I also read it with a lot animation to make it even more interesting. When he was somewhat less resistant to chapter books, I continued to read aloud to him but this time I would always stop at the climax of the story. I would tell him that I will continue the story the next day. But he could not resist his curiosity and did not want to wait for another day to find out what happen next in the story. Curiosity got the better of him and he eventually picked up the book and read it himself. And that's how he began reading chapter books.
Recommended Reads
Finding chapter books for boys (that are not slapstick comedy) is not easy. At least I had a hard time. So, I am listing down some books that Sonshine really enjoyed. As you will see, Sonshine loves books that are quirky and out of this world- he finds them hilarious.  I also think it stretches his imagination which he loves doing. He also love to read about mischievous boys (SIGH).You will also find that he tend to read from the same authors.
 I'll be adding onto the list as he reads more books. I won't be summarizing all the books only a few.
1. Horrid Henry

This was the series that got him liking chapter books. The key thing is the content of the book, it is funny and Henry is every boy's dream because he is so mischievous (but never gets away with it).
2) Wayside School, Louis Sachar

This is not your ordinary school. The teacher is a little quirky and perhaps even dabbles with a bit of magic. The children are a little quirky themselves. School days are never normal here. This story is sure to entertain anyone who picks it up, young or old. I give it a all ten fingers up!
3) George's Marvelous Medicine, Road Dahl
4) Matilda, Road Dahl
5) The Witches, Road Dahl
 6) Danny the Champion of the world, Road Dahl
7) Gangsta Granny, David Walliams

How cool is it when your white hair granny turns herself into a thief in the night! Okay, for parents it is not that cool. But that is why Sonshine loves this book. Things that are not okay and normal in real life is suddenly made a reality in this book. He loves it!
8) Billionaire Boy, David Walliams
9) Mr Stink, David Walliams
10) Awful Auntie, David Walliams
11) Demon Dentist, David Walliams
12) The World's Worst Children, David Walliams
I think this book is written specifically for boys. You know boys who love to talk about farting and all that? Each chapter is about a child with different grotesque habits, one who drools non stop till it floods the street, one who plays the trumpet with her fart etc. I can almost hear now the parents and the girls are going EEEEWWWW and the boys going OOOOOOO. Yep, boys kinda books. (Honestly, I found it funny myself! LOL)
13) How To Train Your Dragon series, Cressida Cowell 

I am surprise that Sonshine is loving the books in these series. Of all the books he has read, I think this is the one that really sucked him in. Sonshine is a thrifty boy who never allows me to buy him books, instead always insist that I borrow the books no matter how much he likes the book. But this, this is the only series that he requested me to buy. I am surprise that he is absolutely loving this book because the setting is a little different, something that he has no clue about nor has interest in (he doesn't like dragons and pirate and all that stuff). Yet he is so drawn into the book- he can read 3 to 4 books simultaneously at the same time!  
I hope to add more onto the list!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Chapter books for emerging readers (Preschool years)

Ever since Doll has learnt to read comfortably, I've been in search for chapter books for her. Yes, I'm very eager for her to start diving her nose into chapter books. I don't insist my children to read so that they can improve English grade, I'm eager because I want them to discover the pleasure of reading. I love to read and I enjoy being yank into another world that I otherwise would never know nor experience. I don't read to better my English and I don't think my English is that great. I just think reading is so pleasurable, relaxing and enjoyable that I want my children to experience themselves as soon as possible! Nothing pleases me more than seeing my kids bury their faces deep into their books. Whatever comes after that (improve their English) is of course a bonus but it's not my primary focus. 

I've managed to find a few chapter books - with much difficulty. I generally scour through the library and the various bookshop shelves one after another just to look for chapter books for Doll's level. I'm looking for chapter books that are relatively thin, with easy to understand context and a storyline that appeals the girl. Yes, i suppose with those criteria, it makes it difficult to find the right one. Still I'm very pleased that I managed to find quite a few, I am even more ecstatic that these books come in a series! Yay, that helps to lighten my search load! I'm listing them here for sharing. I won't put an age category to these books because it very much depends on which level is the reader. But in general, if the child can read Peter and Jane books at level 9 and above, these books should be perfect for them. 

1) Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin

This series is all about moral values and everyday life. Great pick for parents who want their daughters to read and get some moral education. The words are relatively easy to read and understand. Doll can read almost the entire book all by herself. This is one book that I need not read to her.
2) My freaky family, Rude Ruby
Don't be fooled by the title of the book. It is nothing immoral or mischievous about this series. I love this set because the stories are simply twisted in a funny way. It is so ridiculous but really entertaining.

3) Amber Brown
This is a book about a girl and her best friend, Justin. There are aplenty of puns in this book that can be hard for a 5 year old to understand. But still, Doll loves this book as she found some parts funny.

4) Early readers, various authors
This book tickled Doll funny bones. The words are also easy to read and understand. Doll didn't need much help reading this book. Personally, any book that Tony Ross writes or illustrates is always funny and entertaining!

There are many other titles under this series, we have read Rainbow Magic, Emily Mouse's Birthday Party etc.
5) Cowgirl and Cocoa, Betsy Lewin
This is a book I just picked out from the library. Doll has yet to read it but I've browsed through the content and I am certain that she will love this series too. It is about the friendship about a girl and her horse and their adventures together.
6) The Gaskitt stories, Allan Ahlberg

This series is a tad difficult for the 5 year old in my opinion. It is not that the words used are bombastic or anything but there are multiple storyline going on simultaneously which eventually converged as one. For instance, one chapter focus on the mom, another on dad, then another on the kids and the last on the cat, the cycle gets repeated until they all merged into one ending. It can be quite hard for the young minds to keep up. But Doll likes this series, I suppose the stories are pretty interesting.
7) A Faraway Tree Adventure, Enid Blyton
I read this title written by Enid Blyton when I was a little girl. I remember being totally drawn in by the enchanting story and yet not entirely comprehending the magical content. But I know I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was eager for Sonshine to try but hesitant because I don't know if he likes it. So I was ecstatic when I found out that the story is being made it into a simpler version. This means Doll can read it too! And as expected, like the little girl that I was, she too got drawn in by the magic of this book. I am a happy mother seeing my own daughter enjoying the same story that I had once loved.
Most of the above books come in a series. I love books in a series because it makes the search for similar chapter books easier. I may return back to this site and add on to this list.

How I teach mandarin at home

Most, if not all, of Doll's kindergarten friends are attending tuition such as reading, mandarin and math classes. But Doll has none of that. Occasionally, I do get a bit jittery, wondering if she is missing out. Yet at the same time, I refuse to start her so early on tuition, it's just not right for me. I also refuse to allow all those tuition centers to capitialise on my fears and suck my money out from me.

But truth be told, I did try her out for a trial at a popular Chinese tuition center. I have  heard raving reviews of the center and never once heard of any kid who dislike the school. I was confident that Doll would love it there, even more so when I saw her skipping to the class with excitement. Who knew, she came out bawling and later resisted any suggestions to attend such classes. It's not the center's fault. She cried because she felt she couldn't keep up and got worried. 
It seems that all signs are pointing toward no tuition for her. Hence I try to do what I can with her at home to help her keep at pace with her peers. I don't aim for her to be advance, I just want her to be prepared enough for primary school. Neither do I have hour long lessons with her at home. We are usually done within 15 minutes- almost daily, well I try daily. 

One of the obvious aspect is for her to read in both languages. As with my earlier post, she's well into reading and I don't need to worry about that anymore. But mandarin is a challenge because we aren't fluent in mandarin. My husband speaks no mandarin. And I speak, ok but not -rich-in-vocabulary mandarin. So yeah, we are in trouble. Yet, I refuse to send her for Chinese tuition- yet. Like getting her on the road to reading English using Peter and Jane series, I got her to learn to read Mandarin using books published by Berries tuition center. 

These books are meant for students attending the courses by Berries. But non students like me, can get hold of these books second hand. I bought mine from another mummy but I noticed the second hand book shops at Bras Basah sells a ton of them too! It's easily available. 

Like Peter and Jane books, I task Doll to read the berries books aloud everyday. Whilst she reads a page a day from Peter and Jane books, she is to read a chapter repeatedly everyday from Berries book. Once she is proficient in that chapter we move on to the next chapter. We have now completed book 2 of k1 level (mine are the old version) and are now on to book 3 ( there are 4 books in all). 

Now there are many many Chinese readers resources out there but Berries books are my number one choice. Like Peter and Jane books, the words are repeatitive and new words are introduced at a gradual pace. It aims to build the child's vocabulary slowly, one chapter at a time. Over time, the child would accumulate enough words to read a simple Chinese book by herself. 

As she recognizes more words, it is also easier to communicate with her in mandarin. At least now she has a bank of mandarin words in her brain and she can understand alittle. I can't say she can understand a lot (she complains that she doesn't understand her Chinese teacher at school) but we will get there- I hope (gulp). 

I don't just get her to read the books. I know over time she may be just memorizing the words. So I made our own flashcards. I made sure she knows each and every individual word. I would even ask her what the word means and what other words can it be paired up with  i.e she reads "生" and she's expected to say "生日的生"。

That's not the end. I even came up with my own worksheet according to her reading. I want her to be very sure in what she reads in the book before moving on. In the worksheet I created, I set questions to test her words recognition. I deliberately put words that look similar and test her to see if she can distinguish the two. 

I also set word order questions where she has to rearrange the words in the correct sentence structure. 
And also, comprehension passages. All the words in the passage are words that she has learn to read and understand from the book. 

I seriously think it's more stressful for her to be taught under me than going to the centers. Yet, she refuses to budge and wants me to teach her instead. Oh well. 


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Peter and Jane, mama's best friends

So Doll has just completed Peter and Jane book 8A, now moving on to 9A. Yes the supposedly dry and boring Perer and Jane books that are sold at Popular book shops. I've to say, I'm pretty surprise myself that she managed to plough through each and every page and books from 2a all the way to 8A.

Peter and Jane books can be very dull for preschoolers. Quite evidently, many parents bought the entire series wanting and hoping their kids will learn to read but failed in doing so. I would think the primary reason is that the content in this series can come across as uninteresting as oppose to Julia Doanladson, Dr Seuss , Eric Carle etc books. I'm quite certain if I had tried this series on my son, it would not have succeeded. He would have hated the repetitive words and unappealing storyline.

Yet, it's precisely the repetitive page after page that got my Doll on a roll to reading. Truth be told, I think reading this series enabled her to read comfortably now. She feels so empowered by her new found skill that she has started to pick up books and read aloud to herself word for word without my assistance. She can now read Amber Brown series mostly on her own. No, she doesn't attend any phonics or reading classes by the way. I owe it all to Peter and Jane. Thanks kids! 

She started with book 2A, skipping 1A because it was too easy for her then. I only bought one book at a time as I was quite prepared that she would give it up by 4-5A. But she took me by surprise by religiously reading the books, one page a day. So I journey on with her and got just one more book which begets another 'just one more book' and another 'just one more' until now.

But before you rush out of the door to get the series, know this first. Peter and Jane series is not suited for every kid. As I mentioned most kids find it rather flat. And when the content is unattractive to them, it is likely they will put up a wall on your attempts to get them to to read the books. One probably needs to get hold of more vibrant reading resources instead. 

It's not easy to tell if your kids would like Peter and Jane series. Between my kids, I would have thought that Doll would have a stronger resistance to it. Her personality is that of an extrovert, she needs loud, colorful and attractive things to hold her attention. Peter and Jane series would have been the last of my expectations to teach her how to read. But look now, I was utterly wrong. On the hindsight, my son would have abhor it because he hates to learn by repetition.

So I am incline to think children who hates to learn by repetition will not like the series. If I've to point a finger to it. I think Doll took it very well because it systemacally taught her to read. 

If you are not in the know, Peter and Jane books are written in such a way that (1-3, depending on the level) new words would be introduced in each page. And each new word is peppered all over the books repeatedly, making it harder for the kids to forget the words. This slowly gives the child confidence in reading. I suppose with each page 'conquered' Doll felt more at ease in reading. With that confidence, it propelled her to read other books which gave her greater confidence knowing that she could actually read any book! 

Also I think Doll progressed relatively fast because she reads it aloud everyday. The more regularly she sees the words, the more she remembers them effortlessly.

So if you're itching to try it, I suggest that you buy one book at a time to test the waters first. It may seem more economical to buy the entire set but you would lose more if your child decides she won't have any of the books. Instead of buying brand new ones, get second hand books. You can easily find Peter and Jane books at the second hand book stores at Bras Basah. It cost only $1 per book. The books condition aren't too shabby either. So what's there to consider? I've been going there to buy the books, one at a time, and I've to say I barely have any difficulty finding the levels I want. 

If Peter and Jane series don't work for you then keep on hunting. There are many resources out there that are equally effective. Some may learn better the phonics way. It's more important to find one that fits your child. For some kids, like my son, you don't even need any resources or tuition. You just need to read aloud to them everday and they will naturally pick up from there. Don't give up, keep on swimming, I mean finding!