Getting Out of my Box

It’s funny. Every time I visit the school for my weekly volunteering, I feel like I learn more than what I’m actually teaching my kid. Just looking at the different types of personalities in the small classroom, learning about the American school system and even the chapter book I read in front of the library while I was waiting for my session to start, all these new experiences triggered a lot of new thoughts in me. No wonder they say volunteering is good for the elderly.

Like when I heard that the first graders only get their only recess in the afternoon around 1:30pm, I was shocked. It’s tough for kids to stay in the classroom and focus on learning for such long hours. Calvin would be aghast that there is no snack time in the mid morning! I’m guessing they still have lunch break before that. I don’t see why the children can’t all have a short morning break though. In my primary school, my favorite times were recess when we played all sorts of games – five stones, jump rope, catching ants and spiders with the boys, playing tag, ice cream sticks etc. Mine was a full day school so I think we had a mid-morning break, lunch and then mid afternoon recess too I think? I remember cracking a hard-boiled egg that my mummy gave me for snack and eating it all up in a gobble so I could join in the jump rope game. I’ve never thought that recess time would be something I care deeply about when choosing a school for Calvin.  I just can’t imagine denying him the joy that is recess time. And when I saw all the fidgety boys in the first grade class today, I felt sorry that school had to be a boring full morning of formal education where you have to focus, keep quiet, stay seated, follow instructions etc.

I was also looking at recess time in Singapore schools and the norm seems to be about 25 minutes, which means I’d probably pack him a snack so he doesn’t have to spend time queuing up for food. As I was looking for the information, I also saw some forum thread where the parents were worrying about their children’s results. It was so funny to read about how the parents analyze the children’s exams after they have been returned. It’s something my mum used to do as well so I could learn from my mistakes, though mostly what I learnt was that I was a careless person who tends to screw up on easy tests because my brain likes to do brain farts when it’s feeling arrogant. I can’t imagine a mother of a different ethnicity doing something like that (Would Jewish moms do it too?) I start to worry about whether I would be just as stressed out like those parents and whether I can help him learn to be self motivated for his studies.

For myself, my motivation started with me coveting the bigger prize someone else got for taking first place in kindergarten. I got a much smaller one, which was a pencil case and I remember thinking to myself that I should be able to best that ‘botak’ boy who got first and get the big present! But research says that reward systems would likely backfire and make people lose interest in what you are rewarding them for. Something like people need bigger and bigger rewards to stay motivated and even though they are motivated, some perform worse because of the presence of the reward. It certainly worked well for me at the beginning though. We’ll see how it goes when the time comes. It is after all a few years down the road. The best I can do is to help nurture his love of reading. After all being good in English helps in all your academic work. I’ve certainly never heard of a child who loves reading but does poorly in school.

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