Wednesday 11 November 2015

I see many proud parents posting on social media about their children getting award for being top in this or that. This is even more prevalent during the year end where most schools award their top students. 

I am tempted in many ways too to 'shout' it out on my social media sites. I mean we all want to tell the world how proud we are of our kids don't we? 

However, I always hold myself back. At most, I share with my immediate family like my parents, in-laws and my sister. That's it. Unless someone asked me, I wouldn't share. 

It's not that I am not proud of my child but I have my reservations. For one, I've been at the place where my child receives an award, I've also been at that place where other children were awarded but not mine. Let's be honest here, it sucks being the latter. This is especially hard when you see postings of other 'star' kids everywhere you turn except your own. 

As much as I want to shout it at the top of my lungs, I made it a point not to shout too loudly. Because, just because, I feel for the parents whose children didn't get any recognition. I bet they already feel bad enough, I don't need to flaunt and talk all day about my child's prizes. When I'm that parent, the last thing I need is for another mom to come and wave their child's trophy at me. Even when I didn't feel bad about it, I eventually would, if I keep hearing non-stop about this child being awarded for this and that. It is like the people in the world wouldn't let me off until I concede that my child isn't that good as that kid next door.

I don't post about my child's achievements on social media for another reason. If I do it, I feel I will be putting unnecessary pressure on my child. If I post his awards it's like putting him on the pedestal for the world to see. But what if he doesn't get any award the next year? Obviously I wouldn't post a thing on my Facebook. But to me it's akin to pulling him down from the pedestal. Almost like falling from grace. Would people see him any lesser? Would they make unnecessary judgement about him?

I would rather rejoice and celebrate amongst ourselves. Why the need to tell every Tom, Dick or Harry about how well your child is doing? I don't know about the others, I know when I do posts such things, it's for one reason. And I can honestly tell you it's purely for showing off. So that I can solicit praises from my friends. I want my son to have a good image in my friends' eyes. Sure, there may be some who genuinely wants to share. But for most? If we really dig into our hearts, I am sure most would agree with me. Posting about our child's acamedics results is more for our own glory than anything.

Maybe I think too much. I think how such postings would hurt someone else, how people would see my child, how genuine my motive is when I do it. But for me, I will restrain myself. I will not share or be sharing about my son's results on Facebook, this blog or any other social media no matter how well he does. The celebration shall stay within the walls of my family. I want to protect the other stakeholders, especially my own child, it's sometimes not about me, I and myself. Sometimes, it's also about people around us. 

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Exam results and intelligence

And so the examination came and went. It was Sonshine's (and mine as a parent) first taste of a full blown examination. I ended these two years of testing journey with a conclusion that the results don't necessarily point to one's intelligence.
Like most parents, I once deemed that examination is a measurement of one's intelligence. The higher marks you score on paper, the more intelligent you are. I was sucked right into it. During these two years I was obsessively chasing after that one or half mark, tabulating his scores making sure he well pass that (self imposed) 'intelligent' rating . 

But I am starting to see otherwise. I think our examination is testing the child's resilience more than anything. From my observation, in order to do well, the 'good' student needs to have these traits:

1) Good memory. Since it is all about being able to recall what was taught, students with greater memory capacity will straight away have an advantage here. The child who is able to regurgitate all that he has learn in that one year within that one hour and half testing will be the 'better' performer.

2) Be Meticulous- I have heard many, many parents say that their children understands the concepts but fail to do well because of careless mistakes. My child is no exception. Many times he would be able to score that full marks if not for that careless mistakes. So it makes me think that all our kids need, is not to be more intelligent but to be more meticulous.

3) Maturity- I find kids being kids they are not aware of the consequences of not studying hard and have no concept of reaping from hard work. But that said, there are some mature ones who fully understand this and hence work very hard toward this goal.

4) Motivation- Some kids just want to win. They want to grab that first spot. Some are simply self-motivated and driven, period. This trait alone is enough to spur them to work hard to do well.

5) Conscientiousness - Sometimes all it takes is for a child to spend that extra time to study to do well for the paper. I find that it is the hardworking students who usually perform.

6) Parental input- Like it or not, most students who do better have parents who helped them behind the scenes. Some students have parents who sits down with them everyday and revised their work with them. Or other parents who fork out more cash to pay for extra classes. Unfortunately, those who have less parental input generally do poorer and it is not because they are any lesser than their peers. Yes, it is that unfair.

7) Works well under pressure- Sometimes it is not that the child doesn't know he's work. Sometimes, it is because of the stress of completing the paper in a limited time that made  his mind shut down in that one and half hour. The child who can manage the pressure better will do well on paper.

8) Intelligence- But of course. Some level of intelligence is required to be able to grasp and apply the concepts right? But hey! Unless the child has some learning disability, I think all children are intelligent in their own right. Just have a conversation with them and you will be blown away by what they tell you.

I think, however, being intelligent alone will not get a student very far. He needs to posses all or most of the above to be able to perform well. Because an intelligent but lazy or careless student, can still be easily surpassed by another with average intelligence but more motivated, conscientious and meticulous.

What am I saying? I am saying that the exam results say nothing more than the child's personality traits and his state of being. It does not necessarily mean that your child is more or less intelligent than his peers. It could mostly mean that the child is not or is meticulous or need strategies to cope with pressure etc.  The exam results are but a very poor indication of he's intelligence. Because as I said, it is not  always the intelligent students who do well in the exams, it is the students who have a good combination of the above traits.   Let's not get too hung up by their grades and deem that they are less intelligent than that kid next door.


I try to use the exams to hone desirable traits. I try to not tie it to his intelligence.  I tell Sonshine that it is not about him being intelligent or not, it is about whether he is willing to work hard or not. I want to him understand the principles of hard work, about reaping what he sow. Rightly or not, I tie his grades to his willingness to work hard. When he doesn't do well, I tell him it is because he didn't work hard enough or vice versa. I hope he can see that the harder he work, the better the results not just in academics but also in every aspect of his life.

I may sound like some expert or that I have it altogether. The truth is, I don't. I totally go berserk when he loses a mark here and there. I am too ashamed to reveal the number of times I took out on him over that one mark, or the harsh words I said to him. I think I totally lost myself these two years. But thank God for His grace; I am washed by His blood and I can start anew. I wrote all the above not to show that I have it better than everyone. It is but a reflection on how I can change my perspectives in this paper chasing system. Hopefully, it can help someone else but more importantly, hopefully it can help me and the future me. :D

The exams are done, the results are out. There is nothing we can do to undo the mistakes, we can only move forward. For now, let's look forward to the long holidays and just enjoy our children! Yahoo!  

Friday 2 October 2015

RANT to whoever is designing our school's curriculum

Now that Sonshine is in his tail end of his primary 2 (P2) school year, I am somewhat getting the taste of the 'real deal' of our primary school system. Only at year 2 and  I am already brimming with unhappiness with our education system. Yes, I have heard it and read it from mamas who had gone before me. But nothing beats having the first hand experience yourself.
Amidst the many gripes I have, today I will only rant about one aspect of our curriculum that I deem utterly silly and irrelevant- compositions.
Now in P2, students are expected to write a full blown piece of composition. Some schools already started their students in P1. Why the gods up there expect 7/8 year olds to be able to write a story is beyond me. Writing a story is not easy. It entails many skills in one. The child has to juggle all these skills simultaneously in order to write a decent piece of composition.
He needs to have a good grasp in
1) grammer,
2) vocabulary
3) spelling
4) punctuations
5) paragraphing
As if those are not enough, he also needs to have
45 imagination/creativity
6) enough real life experiences  
7) good inference skills in order to properly relate the story and the characters' thoughts and emotions
8) sequential skills (if there's such a thing ie to be able to tell the story in sequence)
To make it even more exciting, the child has to juggle all these and write a good story in what, an hour and half? WHooHoo!
And the real thorn in my flesh is this: the students are not given enough time to master these skills.
Think about it. In kindergarten, the children are only learning to read simple sentences. Some may be learning how to write simple sentences- at most. (I am talking generally here, there are exceptions of course) And then all of a sudden in primary one, they are expected to write a story with the limited knowledge that they have.
The schools don't equip the children enough to write a decent piece of story. If anything, I think at the lower primary level, at the least, we should be focusing more on strengthening the students' individual skill sets like grammar, vocabulary and writing proper sentences. But NO. The gods up there expects them to learn grammar, vocabulary, sentence making AND writing compositions all at the same time. Wow, you really think every child is born gifted huh? And please, are you trying to raise award winning authors in Singapore? Why the need to train our children to narrate a story? Why set the bar so high? What is the point of writing a beautiful story composition this skill (being able to write a story) becomes utterly useless in the working world- well unless you become a writer. So that we can compose better emails? *shrug*
How then can anyone blame Singaporean parents to exhibit 'kiasu-ism'. If anything, the ministry is the driving force behind it. They leave parents no choice but to send their kids for extra lessons. Because the schools are not doing it! And with the extra hours spent in another classroom, it adds more burden to the kids. The kids are stress, the parents are stress. Oh my, are our children and us parents destined to live like this for the next 4 year until PSLE?
TO the gods up there, please for crying out loud. Relook into our curriculum and try to make some sense out of it. And I am not just talking about compositions. The other subjects too! Please be relevant. Please don't throw our children into the sea and expect them to swim multiple laps when they yet to have the know-hows! Make learning gradual, don't throw all out at them at once. The kids are still young and lacking in many life experiences for goodness sake!
-Rant over (more to come, I forsee)-

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Summing it up

BabyDoll can somewhat do simple mental sums. She is especially good with numbers within 10. She is able to figure out that 5+2 is 7, or 5+3 etc. But oddly, she cannot do 18+2 or 50+2 LOL. I think the bigger numbers intimidates her.
To be able to do simple addition and subtraction, the child must be very strong in her number order. She must know what comes before and after a number. With that she should be able to do simple sums like 5+1 or even 14+1.
Obviously, Doll isn't strong in her number order when it comes to numbers beyond 20. I felt she just needed a macro view of the number order.
I could use my Daiso blocks but I was too lazy to arrange 100 blocks of wood. I recalled I made this colourful 100 board for Sonshine and decided to use this instead.
I rummaged through my shelf and was overjoyed when I found it!
I simply used colored paper to make each row and divided each row.  I then used circular sticky labels and stuck on the paper. I wrote down the numbers on the labels and viola it is done!
Here's how I helped Doll 'see' and make sense of simple addition above 30. I wrote down the sums.
Let's take a look at 63+2
I gave her a counter, a male fairy counter that is. And told her that 63+2 means, she already has 63 sweets and I gave her 2 more. I had her place her counter on the number 63, the number she had to start with. And told her since she needed to add 2 to 63, she needs to move her fairy up 2 spaces. You will notice this is a bit like playing a board game.
It helped her very well. She continued to the rest of the sums I wrote for her.
by She also dabbled on more sums on her Kindy book. She did herself by using the number chart above.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Comparing readers

I have five sets of purchased readers and one set of readers that Doll brings home from school. Unfortunately for my pockets, I don't use them all. I discovered some were not suitable for teaching Doll to read while some others were right up my alley. Here is my comparison of the readers I have at home. (All of my readers are purchased from Popular bookshop)
This set of readers focuses on sight words.
As you can see, at the top right corner of each booklet, there is an indication of which sight words a book is emphasizing.
The other reader set I own is the 'First Little Readers'. Its target audience is for beginning readers. I suppose that means those who already have some foundation in reading.
A peep inside one of the books.
These two sets are very similar. Most of the words are repeated throughout the books. I bought these readers as I had thought it would be a good start to teach Doll new words.
Now, here is why I have stopped using these two sets for Doll. First, I felt that these readers are not suitable for beginning readers. The words used are too sophisticated (for the lack of a better word) for young readers. I was expecting more like 'This is a ball, this is a doll' type of sentences. But alas it isn't (see picture above). This means, the child must already know quite a good number of words before embarking these readers. Or otherwise, it means the teacher has to spend a lot of time drilling on one book before she can move on to the next. It can be quite tedious.
I found that the books introduce too many new words in a particular book. Although the sentences structure is more or less the same, but the new words only appear once throughout the book. For instance the above picture, the sentence structure on the two pages are the same except for the words 'dragon' and 'astronaut'. So these two words are newly introduced words but they only appear in those two pages.
I would not recommend it if you are teaching a very young reader to read. When I say young, I mean like he or she is just starting out. These readers are not suitable for these group of children. Constant drilling may be required and this may bore and tire the child.  I may use it for more mature readers to further increase their reading vocabulary. Or those who learns to read easily by sight, like my son.

For the same reasons, I do not like the readers Doll's school uses. I thought the introduction of new words were going at too fast a pace especially for children who is just learning to recognise words.

However, it has proven to be quite effective for Doll so far. Doll is learning to read from these readers, surprisingly. I credit it to the teachers who constantly read the same book to the kids for a term, day in day out. And even, extracting some words to teach the children and drilling in the words everyday.
Now that is my point, such readers require massive amount of work and time. For the teachers to do this in school is ok but for lazy parents like me, it is just too much work.
The other reader I own is Bob books. I used to scorn at these books when Sonshine was learning to read. I thought it was too simple, boring and too slow. Also because, he didn't learn to read by phonics more by sight words. But now that I have a different learner in Doll, I cannot help but think this set of reader is fantastic. In fact, it propelled her into reading.
I  highly recommend Bob books for children who are learning to read by phonics. These are especially suitable for those who are learning to blend CVC words. These books give very good opportunities for the child to practise blending and also give them the confidence in reading. When Doll realised she could read the entire book all by herself, it gave her massive confidence in reading. After this, Doll's reading went up by many notches.
Another set of readers I used to roll my eyeballs at is the Peter and Jane series. I had forgotten this was the same reader my teachers used in school to teach me to read. Because of Doll's learning style, I had re-discover the beauty of this series.
Why is this set of readers so popular? Unlike the first two readers I mentioned, Peter and Jane books start off with very simple words. Words that a child can easily relate to. The new words gradually appear and get repeated (like crazy) throughout the book.
I like that they restructure the sentences using the same words. This erases the possibility that the child is memorising. Let me explain. For the first three readers I mentioned, the sentence structure is the same throughout a book. When a child 'reads' it, like when Doll comes back and rattle off her school readers, it makes one wonder if the child is memorising the words (because it get repeated) or she can really read each and every word.
However, in Peter and Jane series, the structure changes but the words are the same. So it forces the child to really look at the words rather than going by the 'rhythm' (like reciting nursery rhymes).
I guess each readers have it strengths. My comparisons are solely based on Doll's learning ability. For her learning style (need repetition and lots of practise), she needs Bob books and Peter and Jane series are the best fit. However, the first three readers are excellent for children who read by sight and pick up reading easily, like my son. To find out which readers suit your child best, you got to know what kind of learner he or she is and then pick out the readers that is most suitable. Well, I had to do a lot of trial and error on that as one can see! But I am glad that I have finally found what works for Doll! Yay! 

Friday 18 September 2015

Reading Mandarin with Wood

One of the things I am adamant to do is to expose Mandarin to Doll. We don't speak Mandarin and are not fluent in the language. Because we are not a mandarin speaking family, it is natural that Doll is adverse to the language.
Mandarin is a difficult language to learn because it cannot be decoded phonetically. The words are pictorial so, it is either you know the word or don't know the word. The other challenging thing is a word can morphed into a totally different word in its pronunciation and meaning with just a few added strokes. It does not help that the intonation of some words are very close to one another.  To learn Mandarin, the only way to go is to memorised the symbols and its sounds. (Psst, that is why I also believe we can learn to read English the same way- purely by sight. It is equally effective)
So anyway, before Doll started school this year, she rejected Mandarin books and had little interest in it. Thanks to the exposure she gets in school, we are fortunate that she is liking the language and sometimes attempts to speak in it, albeit gibberish.
And so, this opportunistic mama capitalised on her growing interest and quickly swoop in to teach her.
So here's what I have been doing.
Doll's school uses these mandarin readers to teach the kids. I notice most kindergarten uses these series too. I don't think the teachers expect them to really recognise the words. The thing is I disagree with their teaching style. Somehow the kids memorises the book without really recognising the words. That is like a thorn in my flesh. I cannot accept that. So whenever Doll brings these readers home, I would make sure she recognises each and every word. Since she is already familiar with the book, it is easier for her to remember the words.
But the good thing is, by term 3, she is beginning to consciously remember the words. Makes my job a lot easier. I just need to revise with her.
I also use these babies to teach her simple words and expose her to the language sentence structure. I like it because the words are repetitive and very simple. It helps that that fonts are large, somehow it makes it easy on the eyes.
We have completed two books and we are on our way to our third.  

I bought this cylinder of Chinese wood blocks for Sonshine actually. But I never got the chance to use it because I couldn't find the right time to use it with him. So I kept it for the longest time until now.
The set includes wooden blocks with Chinese characters on them. The purpose is to combined the characters either at the side or top or bottom to make a word.
Doll learnt these two words in our own reading books. I took these out to give her a visual on how different these two words are. Good thing, she is not confused and could read these words instantly.
And so my brains got itchy and I realised I could also use my Daiso wooden blocks to make my own! The silly thing is that that set does not have all the words I need. So I made my own.
And here's my advice.
You don't have to buy the learning aid at all. You can make your own, it is cheaper and more satisfying!
Again, these were the words she has learn in her school. Since these words look so similar, I made these blocks to help visually discriminate the words. Again, she did not seem to need it as she could read the words however how I slide the wood block.
Onward with our learning!

Thursday 10 September 2015

Counting to 100

Apart from reading, Doll has also been dabbling in a little bit of counting.
I am sort of a lazy parent. I always like to take short cuts. The thought of teaching her the numbers from 1-100 number by number tires me. So I thought of a way to get this done quickly.
She knows her numbers from 1-30 and I sensed that she saw the pattern ie. after every tenths you start with a 1,2,3 etc. To give example, after 20 is 21, 40 is 41 and so on. What she did not know is what comes after the ninth etc. 39, 49, 59,79.
Instead of making her count from 1 to 100, I used my favourite DIY number blocks. I laid out the blocks in sequence, but I left out the tens column. Laying out the blocks gives her the visuals to the number order.
I showed her where to place the tens. I also showed her the pattern. I showed her that after the 40s it is the 50s and then 60s etc. It was easy for her to grasp because she knows her order from 1-10 (I hope I am making sense here).
I also made my usual printables as a follow up to help her drill deeper into her . >O<
I also got her this book in haste. I am fortunate that she enjoys doing such 'work'. She automatically asks for it when the brother is doing his. Ah, the beauty of peer pressure.
But I soon realised she cannot quite do the whole book. I had wrongly thought that kindergarten 2 level is about counting and simple additions. But I was wrong. There are questions similar to number bonds. So it looks like we have to sit out on this one for awhile. 

Monday 7 September 2015

Teaching Doll to read, my journey

I know plenty of Singaporean parents are eager to start their young children to read. So, I will be doing a recap on how I started on Doll. 
But a word of caution, don't be too caught up with it and stress yourself or your child. Remember this, they will eventually learn to read- it doesn't matter how fast or slowly they get there.
However, I believe in exposing the children to read at a very young age. I believe it is possible for even toddlers to recognise simple words. All they need is exposure. Just remember the rule, don't push it. Only go on if your child is ready AND willing to learn.
Doll was definitely ready to learn. When I started her at 2 years old, she could recognise the words I taught her. I started her on reading by sight. I made printables and did activities with her some of them were:
This was one of the printable I made for her to recap what I taught her. I wrote about it here.
Getting her to fix up this 3 letter-word puzzles
(This puzzle can be found in Popular book stores)
Matching objects to the word cards. You can read more about it here.
LeapFrog: Letter Factory
Another thing I did was to let her watch Leapfrog's Letter Factory. It comes highly recommended not just by me but many other parents. I let Doll watch this and she picked up not only the letter sounds but also the alphabets. And that was it, my job was done in teaching her letter sounds, HA!
I love this DVD because the songs are super catchy and it gives superb visual aids to help the child remember the letter sounds. For instance, to help the child remember that 'c' makes it sound, they designed 'c' looking very very c-c-c-c-cold. Sure way for kids to remember!
I continued to teach her to read by sight by making her match printables like these. As she matched the cards, she learnt to recognise each of the words. By the way, I have put this printable for anyone to download. Just click on 'free printable' at the top of the page and select 'weather'. You can also read about this here.
As she picked up more words, I slowly got her to read very simple sentences. I also needed her to understand what she was reading. That's why I did activities like the above to make sure she knows exactly what she is reading.
With all the words she learnt at home, it was enough for her read simple sentences. You can read about it here. By now, she has already turned 3.
Somehow, in between, I became complacent and weary that I sort of slacked for a quite some time. When I was jolted back to this, I tried many ways to speed up her reading vocabulary.
I frantically purchased guided readers like these hoping I could use it as a 'textbook'.
 I even made word cards extracted from the books. Unfortunately, I was lackadaisical and lazed off again. So we didn't see much progress for a while. Also because she started school this year, I had lesser time with her. While I could plan the activities for her, I simply couldn't squeeze in time to teach her. So this year, at 4 years old, we got derailed from our tracks.
I dabbled a little on phonics. Beginning with 'at' words (because she could read the word 'at'). She did beautifully but I stopped there. So for the entire year we did little.
But, we are fortunate that Doll's kindergarten is doing a great job teaching the kids to read. Although, I don't think the children are expected to actually read, the kids do pick up a few words here and there.
By now, I am eager for doll pick up more vocabulary and at a faster pace. I continued to make her read by sight. And yes, I bought another set of readers.
I taught her by the only way I know how- by sight. However, I felt that it was too slow. And she didn't seem to recognise the words as fast as before. She needed a lot more repetition before she can finally remember. 
Moreover, I found out that she could not visually discriminate similar looking words, like 'Monday' and 'monster' both looks the same to her. It got quite a dread doing this because result was slow on top of the limited time we have.  
Until recently, when I saw how my 2 year old nephew could easily read (because of phonics). I turned back to phonics. I never quite believe in phonics. My son and I did away with it so for years , I scorn at the method. But through Doll, I finally see the beauty of phonics.
At first, Doll, struggled with it and again it confirmed my disdain for it. However, after a few tries, she finally managed to breakthrough decoding the words. And when she did, I was blown away by the number of words she could suddenly read! And I didn't have to repeat and repeat and repeat to her like before.
And just like that her reading vocabulary went up by a notch.
While I finally accept phonics, I still believe in sight reading. Many words cannot be decoded phonetically. So, now, I am still teaching her to read by sight but also by phonics.
And this was my arduous journey with her.
Of course, different folks, different strokes. Some kids can simply pick up reading just through read a louds like my son. Parents of these kids have it easy! I had half of it easy....
If you are teaching or thinking of teaching your child to read, remember:
Enjoy the process, don't be stress!