I mostly share links on Facebook and rarely post personal trivia, but I did update my status on the night of January 1 this year:
All best to you if you’re sending off your kids to P1 tomorrow! I don’t think I would ever have been ready for this moment, but it’s all happening.
I’ve heard that some cultures celebrate a kid’s official entry into school, but on that particular night, I would’ve passed on the champagne and fireworks. I’ve read enough of Kiasuparents to believe this was it: Layla would kiss childhood goodbye and spend the next 10 years in uniform, locked up in classrooms or tuition centres drawing endless rectangles to answer problem sums that her parents would never be able to solve without help from Facebook friends.
Thankfully that was not how Layla’s year played out. There was work–20 minutes’ worth, twice or thrice a week–but it didn’t overtake our lives. Instead she talks about ice cream and fruit parties and birthday celebrations, finding friends and sometimes losing them, and the joys of recess, especially when she gets to order her favourite dish–chicken rice without the chicken.
And just like that, Primary One’s over.
Layla had tests in Terms 2, 3, and 4, and apart from Chinese, which she has a tutor for, she prepared for them on her own. I’ve never quite known what the appropriate response was for her grades. They’re good, sure. But it doesn’t make a difference to me if person A scores 100, and another 95, and the next person 93. The work’s still basic at this stage, and the scores aren’t that meaningful. Kids probably get a buzz from being the highest scorer in class, but what’s important to me is that Layla looks at her mistakes and knows what went wrong.
I was happy that her school didn’t release information about each student’s standing in her class or level, but I received a mail from the school which contained the highest, lowest, and mean grades for each subject. It showed that there were kids scoring full marks for every subject, as well as kids scoring in the 50s and 60s. Layla scored comfortably above the mean in English and Maths, and just slightly over the mean score in Chinese. Which made me think of a conversation many years ago where a stranger sniggered at my primary school plans. Well guess what, my daughter turned out fine. It’s totally doable, yo.
I have of course been warned that I haven’t seen anything yet, that it will get worse, and that by P3 or 4, students will fail in droves and drop out of extracurricular activities so they can have more study time. I’m taking those warnings seriously but I don’t want to panic in advance. I’ve snapped pictures of all the English and Maths questions that Layla tripped up on. Some things I already know she doesn’t get, like present perfect tense, because she’s constantly confused over why it’s not “have you saw” or “have you ate.” We work on these errors by correcting her speech, and not with a worksheet.
For the record, we’ve managed to remain assessment book free to date. Not a single book for school prep, and none for fun either. I can see how these books might be useful for Maths eventually because you’ll need to answer questions within a tight timeframe, but for English? I spent an hour in Popular one day peering into every assessment book on the lower primary shelves, and the copyeditor in me was working overtime. (One day I’ll take pictures!) When it comes to English, we’re going to do it the hard way, but I believe it’s the right way. Layla will read for leisure, at her own pace, I’ll help her to look up words (because she takes forever with the dictionary), we’ll write them on cue cards, she’ll listen to audiobooks at night, and I’m getting her started on these cards that I’ve been storing away for years, otherwise known as English From The Roots Up:
Vocabulary is something I’m concerned about. I’ve been working on my own vocabulary with the Verbal Advantage audio programme–which I’ve found to be more effective than the book because you can hear how words should be pronounced too, which helps retention–and I’ve realised that what I lack sometimes is the ability to guess at what a word might mean just by looking at it. Mind you, I’m not saying that you should stop at guesswork. Always check words out, because your guesses could be way off the mark. For a while back I was proofreading magazines every couple of weeks and I’d have to check for incorrect word usage as well, so I would note or highlight every word that I wasn’t sure about, and a lot of my guesses were wrong–and as it turned out the writers were doing a fair amount of guesswork themselves! My kids are probably going to hate me in future because I’m going to play Verbal Advantage for them until they can scare people (or turn them off) with twenty dollar words like “traduce” and “dishabille,” but for now they’re off the hook. Back to English From The Roots Up: Root words are like basic building blocks, and knowing their meanings can make words come alive for you. For example, “photograph” is “photos” (light) + “graph” (to write or draw), or more precisely, a picture drawn by light. Layla’s holiday homework is to learn one root word a day but I’ve not been terribly strict about it and that’s something I need to improve on.
For Maths, I’ve asked Layla to memorise her multiplication tables up to 12 for the holidays. She’s already at the 9 times tables. In school, she’s learned to draw groups of shapes to find the answer, but as the numbers get bigger the risk of miscounting increases, and it’s good to have a quick way to check your answers. I’ve heard some kids are already learning their times tables at preschool level. My mom put me through the drill at 5 as well, and I survived. There’s no great advantage to getting an early start–I’m no maths whiz–and I think it makes more sense that I’m having Layla do this after she’s been taught (and has grasped) the concept of multiplication in school. Layla’s reciting it just the way I did it, like this: 2-1-2, 2-2-4, 2-3-6, and so on. It’s a lot less cumbersome than having to say “two times one equals two,” and it’s a method recommended here too.
Nothing’s happening for Chinese this holiday because I wanted a month off for Layla originally, and her tutor said she was going back to China for a back operation. We’ll probably resume after school reopens and I’m happy with that.
As for dealing with our spare time, I am, as always, keeping it simple. On the two days Layla has ballet, we have a “mini” activity like checking out a nearby playground or park for the first time. On free days we venture further, visit friends, or host friends. I’m planning to write about some of our simple, happy adventures as part of a new blog feature, so look out for it!
I’m fully aware that my daughter’s seven now, and it’s not like how it was before when the home was her whole world, and not a dead end:
These days, her blank notebooks outnumber the ones that have been scribbled in. She wakes up and almost immediately demands to know what the plan is for the day, and if there’s no plan it’s straight to video. Still, I’m thinking that by not frantically filling the day with things to do and places to be, maybe some of that old spirit will return, where an empty day isn’t a boring day but one filled with possibility. Is it working? Maybe. Layla and Z have been making up games on the fly. They’ve got “Basket balloon,” where they try and get a balloon through a styrafoam hoop, pretend skating on plastic files and toy cars that can take their weight, and my fave as a spectator: a silly-funny duck walk race where you have to wedge a balloon between your thighs and keep it there. If I could see a whole lot more of this, I’d say we spent the holiday well.
However you choose to spend your holiday with your kids, I hope you have a great time too. In fact, to usher in the holiday season, I’m holding a giveaway contest for something very practical if you have schoolgoing children: