Saturday 27 June 2015

DIY continent map

When Sonshine was just 2 years old, he worked on the Montessori continent map. He loved it and it rocketed his interest for world maps, flags and the countries till this very day. (He's quite the expert now!) I cannot wait for Doll to work on it; she's not quite ready yet though. Before that happens, I decided to make a new continent map for her.
The version Sonshine worked on was made of paper wrapped in clear plastic (at that time I did not have a laminator). Blessed Doll, gets a prettier version!
Her map is purely made from felt which I painstakingly hand-stiched bit by bit. Sonshine, the professional, was watching me like a hawk, making sure I sewed the continents correctly. He was the one who quickly reminded me that I had left Tasmania out!
I am not that clever, I did not come up with the pattern (wish I did). The free pattern is from the good lady at Imagine our Life; you can get it here. The felt materials can be found in Daiso or even Popular bookstore.
I think I may have butchered her pattern. My scissors cutting skill is horrendous. Plus, I left out quite a bit of smaller islands because I was just too lazy to do it!
But to be honest, the sudden wavy curves every now and then makes it terribly tough to cut! And don't get me started on cutting the small islands! Glad that that's all over now!
I made two sets of it. One, as shown earlier, I stiched the continents onto the map. I cut out loose pieces of the continents but I deliberately did not attached them.
It is meant for the child to arrange the continent map as what Sonshine is doing in the above picture.

So what else can we do with this map? Plenty!

Learn the continents of course! I printed the free 3-part cards also from the same blog page. Using the cards, the child can label them accordingly.
Match the cards by its shape (ok, and color).
And it starts to get more interesting.
We can sort the animals by the continent where they are commonly found.
Or sort famous world structures by the continent they are at. (I had Sonshine sort it out for fun & photo-taking, easy peasy for him!)
The minitures are Safari Toobs which I bought it from Mothercare.
We could even sort country flags on the map too! You can see how Sonshine did here.
I am so proud of my felt map and excited! Can't wait for Doll to get her hands on it!
In the meantime, I'll just take it out every now and then and admire it. :D

Thursday 25 June 2015

Writing with skill

I have been trying to brush up Sonshine's writing skills but I am ill-equipped to teach him. So I have been buying local assessments books in bid to build up his writing ability but alas none work. It's not structured enough for me and him; I need a clear, systematic, step by step methodology in order to teach him. After some online search, I settled on a curriculum, popular among the American homeschooling community. 

Presenting: Writing with skill by Susan Wise Bauer. 
The Complete Writer: Writing With Skill Level 1 Instructor Text-PDF DOWNLOAD

This is a preceding series after Writing with Ease . I have written about it before (er, I am too lazy to search for the post). 

Writing is a complex task requiring the young student to use multiple skills simultaneously. He needs to have an idea, translate the idea into words, put the words in writing. When writing he needs to note his grammar, spelling, vocabulary, punctuations and take care that he writes  neatly, all these at once. 
Typically, the child is thrown into the daunting task and is expected to juggle all these skills simultaneously. Susan Wise suggests to break down each skill so that the student can concentrate on sharpening one skill at a time.  For instance, to help the child translate a thought or story into words, Susan Wise recommends narration without any writing. The child reads a passage and summarises verbally what he just read without having to write it down. The instructor will pen it down for him as he narrates so that he can see his thoughts in writing (yet not be constrained by the rules of writing). Here the child need not worry about writing rules, coordinating his eyes-hands and thoughts at the same time. All he needs is to focus in finding words for his ideas. And so on.
There are many aspects of Writing with Skill. For now, I am only applying 3 steps, Dictation, Summary and Thesaurus. I tweak the methodology such that it's applicable to our local syllabus. For a start,   I chose to use our local composition guide books as the text rather than the recommended novels.

I found the dictation exercise very useful. As I read a particular sentence, Sonshine has to register the words in his memory first before writing them down. He will recite the sentences back to me before putting it down on paper. By memorizing and reciting, I find it forces him to learn how to construct proper sentences or describe a situation he would otherwise not know how to. Also, it helps him pick up new vocabulary.

His pronunciation needs improvement that's why I make Sonshine read aloud first. I would correct him as he reads along. 

After he reads the passage, he would start to write a summary in  3-5 sentences. Summary helps him to study how others write and organise their thoughts. It also forces him to learn to extract out the key ideas of the story and learn that the other information in the story are details that supports the key ideas. This way, hopefully he gets the idea how to write. 

Lastly, Thesaurus. I take out a sentence and underline key words. He has to look up the thesaurus and find another word to replace. It is not easy because the words listed in the thesaurus have different shade of meaning and not all have can be applied to the particular sentence. He has to decipher which words best fit into the sentence.

Although I found these steps very useful, some may find it too dry and boring. It really depends what kind of learners you have and what is your preference of teaching. These books are not available in the library for borrowing, I had to purchase them from Books depository and they are pretty expensive. I love the systematic approach and I have high hopes that it will benefit Sonshine, IF we keep this up consistently. I hope I can judging how tight our routine can be especially during school terms. 

Just Play and Learn

Every holiday, my kids get to play their hearts out be it locally or overseas. This June holiday, it is no exception. Although we didn't travel too far this time, they still played like there's no tomorrow. We hardly did any studying yet, they learnt a lot purely by playing.
Kids pretending to be construction workers... I couldn't but help hear 'Bob the builder! Can we fix it? Yes, we can!' ringing in my ears as I watch them, LOL!

The kids learnt aplenty during their visit to Kidszania. I adore it's play concept! The kids earned money 'working' as a professional and spent as they buy services. The kids learned to ration their dollars, made decisions if they want to splurge or save etc. At the same time, they gained insights on how the various professional work their part. All that learning in one place! 

It makes me wonder how learning would be if we remove the rigidity of the classroom and restructure it like Kidszania? Where each classroom focuses on a specific concept. Imagine, the school would be a one stop learning center where the kids learn hands on and apply on the go. Imagine every point is a learning center where they learn math through counting their dollars. There would be no shortage of science learning with learning laboratories like say, a chocolate 'factory' or 'hospitals' with perhaps occasional appearance of real doctors.

And how would they learn language? They would learn how to converse as a professional or as customer everyday. (Versus in the classroom where communication is purely one way) I saw how Sonshine was 'forced' to speak to the others (something he is reluctant to do) as he work through jobs like postman and courier services. Whereas at school, he keeps quiet because as he claims they are not allowed to talk during lessons AND in between lessons (least the monitor writes their names on the board).

And oh the life skills they would pick up along the way! All encompass in one place, all through play! Imagine what fun learning would be!

Taken during our visit to Kids Stop

As I watched Doll play at Kids Stop, I saw how she picked up social and life skills all through play. She learnt that resources are scare (baskets at the supermarket, brushes at the dinosaurs fossils etc) and she better hold on to them or risk having them taken away. (That's the reality of life isn't it?) At the same time, she understood that the resources are limited so she learnt to wait for her turn (instead of snatching) & better yet, let others have a turn. I saw many times over how she willingly passed on her items to the next child when they politely asked of her. You can imagine my pride! She learnt to exert her stand whenever someone tried to snatched her items from her. She learnt to find alternatives when other kids took over her place. She learnt to be confident and approach the right people when she needs help. She learnt to communicate with her peers and form friendships. All these valuable lessons learnt just by playing and imagining.

We had a blast at Legoland water park!

At play, the children get to explore, create without restrictions and without limited time frame. But in the classroom, they are expected to create a perfectly composed writing or complete a worksheet in all but an hour or even less. At play, there is no right, no wrong. They learn naturally what works and what doesn't. There is no grading, the child is not told he's one mark shy of his classmate. Instead, his every unique creation is celebrated and awed. I love how play sets the children free physically, mentally and emotionally.
Homeschool@sg's photo.
Play sets the children free. Not only them, but us parents too. I found myself more liberated during holidays than school terms. There were no strict routine to follow. The kids and I could wake up any time we want, go any where we want, do anything we want and sleep anytime we want. Best of all, we choose what we want to learn and not be dictated what we should learn. At play, I never scold Sonshine for a careless mistake or pushed him to work harder. On the contrary, at play there are bountiful praises, proud moments and laughter.
It is no wonder that experts strongly advocate the children to play. This June I have witnessed how Sonshine and Doll easily picked up social, life and cognitive skills. Learning is less boxed up instead it is more varied and relevant to real life. I can see how the kids can become more prepared for their adulthood simply through play. How awesome it would be if our schools were organized in such fashion like Kidszania. I've no doubt that the children will learn and absorb more than being confined to a table, chair, and four walls.
The June holidays are ending and I hate that that signals to the end of free play. Rigid routine would set in and there will be more paper chasing which means more yelling and crying. How utterly meaningless! If only schooling is about play. If only schools were more like a playground. If only the authorities would let go and trust that our children will excel even through play. How different schooling would be? I can only imagine. I hope to keep this state of mind even as the school term starts, but knowing me, I know I'd surely get sucked into the day to day pressures. Oh well, I can only look forward to the next holiday and relish the memories I have of this June holidays.

Friday 12 June 2015

How to raise an independent primary school kid

I was humbled to be invited by The Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts to contribute an article on raising a Primary school kid. You may find the article here. (Note: I did not contribute the photo in the article)
I am reproducing the article here, with permission.

When Sonshine started his primary school journey, I promised myself that I will raise him up to be an independent and self motivated student. I can't say I am there yet. But I have told myself to let go of him a little more with every passing term, semester and year. The first two to three years are the best years to train them as they are considered fairly new to the system. Therefore any mistakes they commit is tolerable and lots of grace is showered upon them. Hence, in my view, there's no better time to instill independence in them than the first two to three years of primary school life.
But how do we train our children to take ownership of their school work? I'm no expert but here are some areas we can work on based on my own experiences.

1. School bag

Teach your child to pack his own bag. This is the basics of basics and the simplest task of them all. Don't do it for your child, teach him how to do it. For the first few times, watch and guide him along. During the first few weeks or term, check to make certain that he packs his bag properly.

Once you are happy with his performance, let him do it himself without any help or checking from you. But what if he forgets to pack an important book that he needs the next day? You can remind him but occasionally let him go to school without that book. Let him learn the consequences. As a principal once said: 'what's the worse that can happen? Get scolding only what!' As I said before, at Primary 1 and 2, the teachers are more forgiving. They understand that these kids still need some guidance. In most circumstances some grace will therefore be extended to them. That's why this is the best time for the child to make mistakes and learn from them.

2. Let your child be your informant

With the emergence of Whatsapp chat groups for parents, it is easy for us to access information about schoolwork even before our children can get to tell us about it. This is helpful especially when our kids are not paying attention in school. While it is okay to seek help from other parents from time to time, I fear that we may become over reliant on each other at the expense of our children cultivating good habits . Overtime, our children may discover that even if they don't pay attention in class, there is always mummy and daddy to help find out what's missing for them. If we constantly swoop in to save our children from punishment, they will never get to learn to rely on themselves. We must teach our children that the onus is on them to listen in class and jot down clearly what he has to do. It is not our responsibility to go round plugging potholes for them.

I took a drastic step and exited from the parents chat group at the beginning of this year. I knew if I hung in there, I would lose sight of my objective. To give an example, there were a few occasions I found out Sonshine's class was suppose to complete a task from the parents in the chat group yet he had cleanly forgotten about it. Many a time, I caved in and quickly reminded him for fear of him getting punished by the teacher. But looking back, those were perfect opportunities for him to learn about responsibility. With my exit from the chat group, I am less aware of classroom happenings, and as a result he has to become more alert and be on his toes. I also made it a habit not to ask other mothers (whom I am close to) when Sonshine seems unsure what he is suppose to do for any assignment. Often, I would ask him to think harder. If he forgets, too bad. Ultimately he has to discover that this is his school life, not mummy's, not daddy's; ultimately he is the one who receives punishments for the things done incorrectly, not us. He has to step up and take care of himself.

I am not encouraging parents to leave the chat groups. I do see the advantage of being in them. Stay connected by all means but my point is, don't always fall back on others for help, rely more on your child than the other folks. After all, in our parents' time, there was no such thing as mobile messaging! Families didn't exchange phone numbers (well at least not with my folks)! If I recall correctly, my mother had to rely entirely on what I told her about what went on in school; there was no way she could find out if I was being truthful or not. I was completely on my own. If our parents could do it, I don't see why can't we. Use what you have read in the chat group wisely and strategically. Don't always be too quick to to step in to 'save' the child based on the 'extra' information offered in chat groups.

3. Homework

Most schools issue handbooks to the students and they are expected to write down the homework for the day. Instead of rummaging through your child's bag everyday to track of his assigned homework , have your child do it. Teach him to look up his own handbook and how to create a homework check list. Train him to take out his handbook everyday and check what he has to complete for that day. Again, what if he missed out a homework or two? I stand by my usual mantra, occasionally let him go to school with the undone homework and face the music.

If possible, try not to help them with their homework. Allow them to make and submit mistakes. Let them learn. I never believe in handing in perfectly completed homework. I would rather the teacher have a true perception of my child's ability. Sometimes Sonshine would ask me for help. As cruel as it sounds, I always ask him to think harder instead of explaining or giving the answers to him. I rarely help him all the way; at most I'll hand him a dictionary or google some guidelines to help him. I always tell him that I will not be sitting next to him in school during his tests and exams. He has to first try figuring it out on his own. If he gets it wrong, then he has to learn from it and not repeat the same mistake again.

4. Self study

In Primary 1 and 2, it is pretty much a honeymoon period as most would say. School life is pretty easy peasy. Hence, what better time to instill habits like self studying than now? There aren't any major examinations being held. BUT, there are spelling tests every week. Instead of sitting down with your child and going through every letter of every word on the list, why not teach him how to study on his own? Make this a habit so that hopefully by the time he gets to the upper primary level, he would not be adverse to self studying and be equipped with the know how.

5. Let them fail

A friend shared that during the first year of her daughter's schooling, she had a hard time with her daughter when it came to helping her study for her tests and what nots. To the point where both parties got very frustrated. In the end, my friend decided not to help her daughter with her studies any longer. Her child didn't do very well for her tests and felt ashamed of her marks as compared to her friends. Because of that her daughter eventually pulled up her socks, took ownership of her own work and aced the rest of her tests with no help whatsoever from her. To be honest, this is something I simply dare not try. But I do think this is the fastest and easiest way for the child to learn to take responsibility in their work. Of course, it may not work for every child. I know it would have no effect on some students. LOL! Please exercise discretion!

I understand every child is different. Some children need more guidance while there are some who are fiercely independent. I think it is okay and certainly a must to step in if the child cannot seem to cope in class. These suggestions are not hard and fast rules. Only you know your child best, when he really needs your help, when he does not and which areas you can let go of and which not to. There are many other ways and areas we can train them to become truly independent in their school life. Whatever it is, we must be wise in choosing the appropriate timing to render help or simply step aside and watch them falter and learn. My rule of thumb is, if they are capable enough to do it themselves then have them do it without your help.

I cannot say I am there yet. There are many areas where I am still a helicopter parent. I wish I am not. I still cannot but want to micro manage many aspects of his school life. I am still learning to let go and hopefully my above suggestions will help others who are learning too.