Gosh, time seems to have flown, where did all the months go to? This week will be the end of term 1 and the whole family seems to have survived relatively well through the first few months of Primary 1. With hindsight, experience and a lot of sharing by other mothers, there are some things which I have learnt and some which I am still trying (and sometimes struggling to do well!).
LESSON 1 – COMMUNICATION IS VITAL
You can’t help them if you don’t know what is wrong. You can’t steer them in the right direction either. So talk to your child. Note that we much as we sometimes go into a nagging, corrective mode (I am as guilty of that as the next mother), we really have to remind ourselves to just have times where we just chat with no topic in particular. I usually use the journey back from school to chit chat with B. Sometimes I find out things – like there is a special needs child in her class. So we talk about how more compassion and understanding is needed for such a child. It helps that she is exposed to children with special needs as there was a Down Syndrome boy in her kindergarten (the children were taught to help him whenever they could like wearing his shoes) and she has a cousin who is autistic. Sometimes she will ask, “Why are they like that?” and one of the answers I give is that their brain has developed differently and what may be simple to you, may be difficult for the child.
LESSON 2 – TO PACK OR NOT TO PACK
We started off with $2 a day. On Week 1, she figures that the 60 cent portion is not enough for lunch. I hung around for 2 recesses on Week 1 and saw how long the queues were, so from Week 2, she started packing food for her recess. On a side note, I thank my lucky stars that I had trained her to eat plain bread when she was a baby (yup, I supplemented baby biscuits with plain wholemeal bread for her to chew on when she was 1 plus and since then, she has had no problems with eating plain sliced bread). So when I plonk a slice of cheese between the bread and add a box of raisins, she is perfectly fine.
She stays back after school for 3 days a week. Looking at the canteen food, it seemed more like carbo loading so we struck a deal, on thursdays and fridays, she buys her lunch. The rest of the week, she gets packed food. I didn’t want her to feel left out of the whole buying your own food experience and I remembered in my days how uncool is was to be the kid with packed food (although it seems to be not a cool or uncool factor now with all the nice fancy lunchboxes and thermos bottles!)
So her pocket money got reduced to 60 cents for the days she gets packed food, just in case she wants to buy a snack and $1.50 for the days she buys her own lunch. She is pretty frugal and almost everyday, she gets to save at least 50 to 60 cents.
LESSON 3: MONEY LENDING HAS NO BUSINESS IN SCHOOL
I was shocked when B told me a Primary 2 girl had borrowed 90 cents from her. The girl eventually paid her back in installments of 60 cents and then 30 cents. Being the confronted with this, I really had to think it through what to tell her. It was good that she was helpful but somehow lending money or being asked for money didn’t seem right. I knew she was uncomfortable with me asking her about the whole situation. She told me about it and when I started asking more and more questions, she started getting more uncomfortable. The next round, Daddy was told about it and she burst into tears. Next step was to ask what was the school’s SOP for kids who forgot to bring their lunch money. Interestingly, through talking with the teacher, I find out that there are kids who “borrow” so that they don’t have to use their own money for that day (what logic is that? unless they don’t plan to return the money) and for those who genuinely forgot their money, they are suppose to go to the school’s general office to get help. B was there with me, and you could literally see her squirming her body in little minuet twitches.
So, for the next round of talks, I decided to do it with just the two of us. I could see that she was uncomfortable, so I started with using myself, that as a rule, I don’t lend money and you could see then it changed things slightly. Then I moved on to the fact that if you lend money you have to be prepared that the money might not be returned. After that, I introduced the concept of extortion and how bullies started getting the idea that they can force money out of kids which they don’t have to return. Therefore, it was best not to start with the lending practice and direct the girl to the general office.
A month and a half later, I was glad I worked this through. I learnt that there were other incidences with other girls. Z had her money literally taken out from her wallet and told by the older girl that she was borrowing 50 cents although more was taken. Y’s classmate beg/whined the girl to buy her food during recess. This went on for a whole week before the mother found out and told the teacher. Apparently the girl had packed food but no pocket money.
To me, this is a form of bullying and children have to be taught how to deal with it, as unpleasant as it may be. Bullies, like predators, can sense the weaker ones and since my child is not the aggressive sort, it is important to give her tools her to stand up for herself.
LESSON 4: PRIMARY SCHOOL IS NOT THE END OF CHILDHOOD
This is statement sounds like a oxymoron but for parents in Singapore, it is a tough one to handle. Our kids have a schedule that sounds seriously frightening – Chinese enrichment, math, piano, violin, ballet, english, art in addition to regular schoolwork. I am already in the “slackers camp” when it comes to this – violin, ballet, swimming and Chinese enrichment are her extra classes. Most of her friends have English and Math enrichment. But so far she is doing fine in class. Not that I have anything against extra classes. I pray that her Montessori grounding and her genes will serve her well! (Daddy’s side is pretty good in math although I have yet to see evidence of any math genius in B! ha ha). Her English mastery is pretty good since she is voracious reader. Feedback from her class teacher and Chinese has been good so far.
So on the days that we have a free evening, I resist the temptation of pulling out the workbook for a quick math drill and say, “Scootering?” or “Playground?” because there has to be a balance of work and play and even then it’s not a daily event.
LESSON 5: IT’S ALRIGHT TO MAKE FRIENDS SLOOWWWWLY
I talk to other mothers and some are worried that their girl doesn’t seem to have friends. I simply say, children need to make friends at their own pace and we can’t push them just like we ourselves take time to make friends too. Earlier in the term, I told B, “Take your time to know the girls and decide who you want to be good friends with. Remember what Ms C taught you. It is easy to be influenced by the people we mix with. Good children who mix with naughty children usually become naughty. Not the other way round. ” B nods. She knows because for a long period in N2 to early K1, me and Ms C (her kindergarten principal) worked hard with she and her friend K (they seem to activate each other’s the naughty button)- the 2 of them just kept getting into all sorts of mischief and she was sitting on the Thinking Chair on such a regular basis. B still laughs about it till today especially when she remembers shredding the heliconia leaves with K.
B has not had problems with making friends nor is she bothered with eating alone during recess. On hindsight, I am glad that her Montessori style preschool didn’t have a fix break time – the children ate at the snack corner whenever they felt like a snack and sometimes it was a social gathering with 2 or more children and sometimes they ate alone.
My good friend R had talked about her experience with her kids. R has 4 kids of varying ages who are all well adjusted and I like their characters. So she firstly she said, primary school recess is different – your child can be eating alone and then join her friends at the playground or she can be eating alone the whole recess time or she may eat fast and go to the library alone to hang out. It’s all okay as along as she is happy with her decision. The only time is not okay is that if she is not happy with it, only then you have to step in to suggest how to change things.
So when B told me that she ate alone (after the buddy period was over), I just took it at face value. I didn’t say, “Oh, why don’t you eat with your friends” or “You don’t have friends to eat with?” because I believe that what stupid social norm is that it is not alright to be alone sometimes or that ALONE=LONELY? Just like the girls who need boyfriends around them all the time because they can’t be alone or people who can’t go to the cinema alone (never understood that anyway, watching a movie is not an interactive activity). So I was not going to start that notion with B eating recess alone. So now, she will sometimes eats alone, sometimes she eats with friends and after that they go to the playground or she goes to the library. Sometimes she tells me she waters the plants. I ask if that’s popular and she says no but she says she enjoys it. That is commendable – to do something you enjoy and not care about whether it is something popular. I hope she continues to have that inner character strength.
LESSON 6: GET CONNECTED TO OTHER MOTHERS
B’s class has a mother’s Wassap group that has been really helpful especially when you are not sure of schedules or activities, just type in the question and out of the 10 mothers in that group, at least 1 mother will know the answer. It’s a great example of certainly using technology for a support group of sorts. For the few weeks when everything is new, it certainly helped when mothers who had older kids knew the answer to questions you wouldn’t want to bombard the teacher with like “You can wear the pinafore up to 3 times before you need to wash it.” or a quick answer to “What’s the Chinese file that the teacher is asking for?” and in less than a minute someone will post a picture of a pink file. Building community ties within the class mothers is a good way to get involved with her school life.
LESSON 7: ENCOURAGING SILENT READING
I don’t know about other schools but I think it’s great that her school encourages silent reading before assembly. The girls have to have a book with them where they can do silent reading at anytime. She tells me that there are some girls who have trouble focusing on reading on their own and not surprisingly there are also girls who can’t stop talking in class to the extent that the teacher has to punish them. At Primary 1, I hope these girls learn to focus because this ability will only become increasingly important for academic success. I am glad I started her early on reading, starting from her baby days where we started with cloth books (love them – they stand the test of drool, slime and rough handling) and the past week, she really surprised me by reciting a poem from one of her baby books that we read every night when she was 1 … we were at home when she gaily recites “Biddle bird, biddle bird what do you see?”..I stopped in my tracks. I was truly amazed. It goes to show how absorbent young brains.
It helps that the only entertainment we have for her are all non-electronic – there are no tablets or IPads but there are board games, there is the patio with plants and water toys, lots of books and I believe that this helps in engaging her and also focusing. So I plan on continuing this for the rest of P1.
LESSON 8: SLEEP – WE ARE STILL TRYING OUR BEST 🙂
What can I say – We suck at sleeping early. We are still trying our best and I think there has been some slight improvement. We are now in the bedroom by 10 pm. Not great but we will continue trying because it’s so important to get enough rest. I can see that starting the day at 6.45am is really tiring for a six year old so the next goal is to get to the bedroom by 9.30 pm. Wish us luck!