This January, B started Primary 1 and the adjustment has had to come from not just her but also her parents. We have been trying our best to make her transition to Primary 1 as smooth as possible. I can’t even remember my primary school days in detail so it’s been really a tactical exercise in efficiency tempered with love.
Transitioning from a small kindergarten with a total of 40 children to a school with more than 600 children is daunting. Imagine yourself to be only 6 going onto 7 years old – I think it’s probably ten times more daunting.
Getting Physically ready
One of the first things any P1 parent will have to do is to attend the orientation and buy books, uniform, PE attire. What we didn’t count on was that when we got the timetable this January, she has 3 days where she wears the PE attire 3 days a week. So 2 sets of PE attire just about makes it, it would be better with 3.
I was really surprised to see that school shoes haven’t really changed that much and dug deep into the recesses of my memory to remember if I had 2 sets of shoes or 1. Hubby said he only had 1, me – still couldn’t remember. In an effort to be practical, in the end, I got a good pair of Reebok shoes as SET 1 (tip: IMM had really good offers for 2 pairs but I shared offer with another parent there) and on a holiday trip to Malaysia, got the second set of shoes for a steal of RM23.
I have also discovered a short cut to ironing her pinafore – if the pinafore is immediately smoothed out from the dryer, one can get away with ironing! Woo hoo!
The other part of getting ready is still hard – SLEEPING EARLY – like so many of Asian parents, I am guilty of not getting her to sleep early enough. The only saving grace is that she naps for a good 2 hours in the afternoon but with the P1 hours, a 2 hour nap is not really that practical, so we are really trying our best to sleep earlier – by that we mean 9.30pm to the room. Keeping in mind that sleep is an important part of brain development, I am going to try by best to give her enough sleep! Some days, it does get all too much and a nap is much needed.
Getting Emotionally ready
A gentle lead-up
We involved her as much as possible in getting ready. For example, in hunting for her coin pouch, we talked about choosing what to buy, lining up to buy food, paying herself and in general getting her excited about going to school. The orientation by the school was really good for her as I think it took away a lot of the uncertainties of what to expect. She met her form teacher and saw her classroom then. B actually said, “I wasn’t really looking forward to P1 but now I am. I am glad to see that the toilets are clean!” . Now, this child has been trained to use dirty coffeeshop toilets if necessary, so I was surprised to hear that this was a source of anxiety for her. From that, I realised that we should be open to discussing what may be their source of anxiety and it may be very different to what we think.
Setting expectations for the child
Going from a small class setting to a big class setting can be quite intimidating. So a few months before, we started talking about how she would have even more friends in a class of 30. We said that it’s okay to slowly make friends and making friends can take a few weeks. Then I talked about my close friends and how we met in primary school and are still good friends till today. After talking to quite a few mothers, it has dawn on me that realistically, it is quite hard for any child to make friends in class the first few weeks of school because the activities in class are quite structured and there is not really any free play for them to mingle freely.
The one thing I was careful to not set was academic expectations. I know what she is capable of academically, so I feel that it serves no purpose to impose that sort of stress on her.
There was also another important transition for her. We had explored the option of using the school bus versus after school care and we talked about these 2 options for almost half a year last year to give her time to warm up to the idea. Eventually settled on the after school care. We explained to her that the school bus would bring her home at almost 3 pm which was too late for her to have lunch and having after school care would be a better option since it would let her have lunch immediately after school and a nap after that. I am glad to say that she has been really good about going to after school care and likes it too.
Her meals were a source of concern for me as she is quite a slow eater. Again, for past few months, I was drumming into her that she will have to eat faster in school or she will end up with a stomach ache – not that it improved her home eating times. So for the past week, I have been pleasantly surprised to see her eating quite fast for lunch. ( Yes, I did a few spot checks for the past week). I think the combination of having lunch at 1.45pm (she usually eats at 12) buying your own food and seeing your friends eat did the trick.
We eat quite healthily at home and in choosing our food choices when eating out. So it was great to hear B say “The chicken noodle is too oily, so I don’t buy that.” or the fact that she doesn’t buy any of the fried stuff and chose to get a banana to top off her meal.
Currently she brings her own food for recess which I think is less stressful than having to rush down 3 flights of stairs and join in 100 girls for recess with only 3 stalls open for business. She tells me she has enough time to eat and then go off to the play ground and even water the plants!
Keeping the rest constant
Play time is still important
I think one of the challenges for parents is balance all this with play time. Already B is saying that she has no play time this past week and I agree to some extent. By the time she gets home it’s almost time for dinner. Throw in some reading or violin, it’s time for bed already. So one of my resolutions will be include some amount of playtime for her which I think is important for her mental well being. It will take a real effort on my part but I think I will have to try my best to make it happen.
Don’t pile on the enrichment suddenly
It’s already quite a big change for any child making the transition to Primary 1. Parents are constantly on the look out on how to improve their child’s academic progress and one of the most popular ways is to go for enrichment classes or to put it bluntly, tuition. Not that I am against tuition (I grew up on tuition myself), but I think we have to be careful about making too many changes at this point. B already goes for Chinese class, ballet, violin and swimming. We dropped her Art classes because for now until March, she will have an extra class of ballet a week to prepare for her first ballet exam. Last week, her violin teacher asked me if she would be interested in joining a violin performance group – I think I will be saying no to that. I know that there are other children who also have extra English, Math or Abacus classes which I am open to but this would not be a good time to add it on.
I believe a child needs time that is not always scheduled or what psychologists call unstructured play. Common sense says that if you keep planning their day for them – they don’t learn to do things that they find intrinsically motivating. Of course by this I don’t mean throwing her an iPad and saying, – “here kid, have a good time with it!” (Please click here to read more about how to limit smartphone use for children). What I want her to learn with unstructured time is to organise her own time to do projects that she is interested in (her current fascination is oil distillation from plants – I googled the process with her and the easiest way it to use a pressure cooker. I am still mulling over whether to try it with my pressure cooker!) or to simply have time to do some daydreaming. Last evening, she “designed” her own game – started with 3 “paths” for 3 players and then realised that it was impractical and only 1 path was needed.
One needs time to grow one’s interest and not just be another key in the cog. It’s probably a hard thing for us Asian parents to do but as I read more and more about people who age well, I realise that these people have interests and passions that drive them beyond retirement. I want my child to be not just smart and intelligent but I want her to have character traits that will take her beyond academic success. I want her to have a happy life.