Archive for the ‘School’ Category

A Taste of Leadership

October 1, 2014

Calvin is cur2014-10-01 00.02.19rently the oldest child in his preschool since he didn’t meet the cut off for kindergarten. He has been talking about how he is one of the strongest/ fastest/ biggest boy in school because I guess that’s how kids like to perceive themselves. Today, when I picked him up from school, his teacher (H) was telling me about how he came up with the idea of the costume that his best friend had – two arm bands and a crown. The insect hat is the usual craft they make for their insect theme. Calvin began telling me excitedly about how everyone followed his ideas twice today. First at meeting time when H asked them to make insect antennas and Calvin presumably took the lead and everyone followed suit (“All except M.” Calvin said.) And then when they did the craft, he had the idea of poking his arm through two sheets of paper that were stuck together to form a hole. So his best friend made two arm bands and Calvin had one, but Calvin had something the rest did not have – he had a suit that goes around his body. He sounded very proud of himself and I am glad that he is having wonderful experiences at school.

Lapbooking – Africa

February 28, 2014

Calvin has the most diverse range of interests when it comes to picking subjects for his lapbook or ‘project’ as he calls them. That’s not surprising since he is practically a blank slate and I’m very glad that he is so eager to learn.

One of the biggest obstacles to our lapbooking is the fact that he can’t really read or write yet. In our earlier lapbooks, I used some templates I found online but many of them require the kids to write in them. I ended up doing most of the writing of course but I wonder if that kinda defeats the purpose of having a lapbook that is supposed to be created by him. I tried looking for lapbooks that are geared towards preschoolers like him who can’t write but most of those I find too simplistic and does not go into any depth. They are usually just things that focus on counting ‘Lets count how many butterflies/ cars/ snowmen there are’ or letter recognition.

It’s difficult to find a balance where there is enough detail that he can learn something new about the subject and it is more hands on and requires little writing. I ended up customizing many of his lapbooks myself and it was at that time that I thought it would have been more worthwhile if I was teaching more than one kid.

Take for example this lapbook on Africa. I can’t remember what triggered him to want to learn about the continent, but the scope was so large I sat on it for weeks wondering about it. I read quite a few books by myself and then decided I shouldn’t think too hard on this. In the end, I settled for introducing him to the different terrains and animals that live in Africa and a map of Africa. We had a book that opens out to scenes on the desert, rainforest and savannah and lots of cut out animals that can prance around in them. He was quite amused by the desert animal we read about like the jerboa and the ant lion. We played ant lion a couple of times recently where one of us pretends to be the ant lion eating up the other person with our mandible. The original idea was that he could color the animals/ scenery or both but obviously not much of the coloring was done. This boy is too busy for coloring. In fact, he oftens colors about half of it and tells me that he left some ‘cracks for you to fill in, mama’

Africa Lapbook

We also read quite a few books on the Masai tribe and how they live though we didn’t put any of the details in our lapbook. I figured if he was interested, we could always start another project on a subset of the topic. To be honest, his interests are fleeting and getting a general feel of the topic is probably more important to him so he can move on to the next interesting topic. As it is we have

 

Attention Deficit

February 27, 2014

At my weekly volunteer class, the usual teacher has been on maternity since December so another teacher has taken the class. Recently, I noticed that there were an unusual number of ‘drifters’ wandering about while the teacher was trying to teach. One was walking around rubbing something in his hands; another walked over to the rocking chair at the side and started rocking on it. One more crawled behind the white board and started fiddling with the paper and tools under it. Not too surprisingly, they were all boys and I think at least one of them is diagnosed with ADHD ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I did read before that many children are misdiagnosed with ADHD. I can well imagine because when I saw those little lost wanderers, they look like mischievous boys who are bored of sitting down or disinterested because the work is too difficult for them. Apparently, some of them come from less fortunate circumstances so that might also contribute to their inability to concentrate.

This week, I went into class to find that those same drifter boys were left in the class weaving with yarn while the rest were upstairs being tested for giftedness. I happened to sit in on the later part of one of their testing sessions and it seems to require a lot of quiet attention to verbal instructions which these boys were unable to handle. To make matters worse, the substitute teacher wasn’t around and there was a substitute to a substitute and it was absolute chaos in class. After this experience, I’m not sure I’ll enjoy being a teacher to elementary school children. I think I’d probably enjoy tutoring much more since I’d be able to focus more on teaching rather than thinking about instilling discipline.

I wonder how Calvin will be like when he starts formal schooling. When I think back on what I learnt in school, I have to admit it seems much less in depth and less interesting than some of the lapbook projects that me and Calvin are working on. Certainly the picture books we borrow from the library do a better job of illustrating the ideas than a few paragraphs in the textbook and a couple of simplistic pictures. I felt like most of what I did was memorization, perhaps because I did not feel engaged by the information. I certainly did not feel the urge to learn anything more than what was in the textbook.

Maybe one of the reasons why I enjoyed English Lit so much during secondary school was because I felt like I could use my own ingenuity to spot patterns/ symbols in a book and to come up with a compelling argument. That might also explain why I used to write horrible essays when I think the topic is too cliche and overly-discussed. I enjoy writing because I like putting new ideas into words. If it has already been argued to death many times over, I struggle to put together those Frankenstein ideas that do not stem from my own head.

With that, I worry about whether school will engage little Calvin. I wonder if schooling has changed in Singapore. I guess we can always continue our little lapbook projects on the side.

Playdate at Pen Park

November 19, 2013

After the teacher’s conference, we decided to try to set Calvin up for play dates again, this time without asking him for his opinion. The last time when we tried to be democratic about it, he always said “No”. So we followed their advice to ‘Just do It’. We arranged for him to go to the park with another boy, C, who is a little younger than him (3 months by adjusted age) and somewhat similar temperament – easy going and likes to play independently.

We were a little late thanks to some road construction. By the time we got there, the kids were hungry for a snack so we started off by sitting down together, eating and sharing some crackers and grapes. Coincidentally, C’s mum was teaching in Johnny’s department some years back, even though she’s now a stay at home mom. So I guess she has even more years of studying “wasted” by staying at home. I instantly felt some rapport with her.

Calvin started running off the play by himself at the playground while C was still finishing his snack. I started playing ball with C before I said “Is Calvin hiding? Let’s go look for him”. So off we went to look for my little red blur of activity. I played together with the two of them to help bridge the communication gap. In Calvin’s mind, he was probably just playing with mama. So we pretended to be on a spaceship that crashed. I got them to play side by side for a while. Then Calvin decided he wanted to play ‘Hide and Dash’ with his dad. We got him to go over to C and his mum and explain how the game should go so we could all play together. I got the opportunity to teach him to look at his friend when talking. And then we were off, dashing off to hide and then when we were found, we would dash off to hide at another place. I certainly got some exercise this morning.

After a few rounds, Calvin wanted to continue but C wanted to play something else. Calvin was surprisingly able to accommodate and followed his suggestion to play an “Up and Down” game where they take turns climbing up and sliding down a slide and then zapping someone with their static 😛 Then Calvin wanted to play tag, so we had more dashing fun before it was time to go home. I am glad the two of them had a good time and played well together. We’ll probably have more play dates soon 🙂

Getting Out of my Box

October 31, 2013

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.

Lapbook #2 – Butterfly

October 30, 2013

We started our next lapbook on butterflies last week after we finished the one on cars. We finally finished it up today after getting the butterfly book from the library. I needed it to show him the different types of butterflies. There were plenty of pictures online but I didn’t really want to use the ipad with him too much and our printer can’t make colored pictures so printing them is out (plus it’s expensive for something he may not even look at again).

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Cover with a little pocket for the butterfly art. It has since been garnished with Calvin’s scribbles.

I taught him about butterfly anatomy, life cycle and also did some counting and the letter B last week. We looked through our work again today for a refresher and I was surprised that he could recount the details to his dad e.g. how compound eyes are kinda like many, many eyes stuck together, how the wings are called hind wings and fore wings etc. Then we talked about caterpillars and butterfly predators and defenses. He made a nice butterfly art at school previously, so I wanted to include it too. It was a little too big, so I stuck it at the back. When Calvin saw it, he was upset “I don’t like it. Take it out. Now he can’t flap his wings anymore.”

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Art from school

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Inside with all the flaps and pocket for the life cycle cards

Luckily, I managed to placate him by telling him we can make more later. Calvin wanted a butterfly ‘factory’ where we make lots and lots of butterfly art. Then I had an idea, it’s a good opportunity for him to learn about the butterflies with distinctive butterfly shapes. I looked through the book and picked 4 – swallowtail, monarch, comma and black swallowtail. While he was at Little Gym, I was doing lots of cutting and glueing >_< It sure feels like I’m back in primary school again.

Then we went outside after his quiet time and had a great painting session. Calvin as usual mixed up all the colors but he actually kept the three primary colored jars relatively untainted, which is a first! It was a totally unplanned painting session but i’m glad we got to have fun outside. Today, I was more craft-y than I had been in the last 10 years. I drew, cut, glued, painted, folded and I quite enjoyed myself. I wonder what we will work on next…001 (3)

First Lapbook – Cars

October 24, 2013

On a whim, after reading all the different curriculum for homeschooling (including the freaky gnome-believing Waldorf philosophy), I thought maybe we could give this whole lapbook thing a try. So I asked Calvin what he would like to learn about that morning. He said “Cars.” Ok, not entirely surprising but also a pretty broad topic that can go anyway he can think of.

So I went to handy google and typed “car lapbook” and voila! there was one with a template. Her child was much older I think, so he could do a lot of the writing etc. So I went through it, printing out only the parts I wanted – car exterior, car engine parts, where cars are made, different gauges, different types of cars and I threw in a car maze and dot to dot race car for good measure. While I was doing all that, he had his quiet time and didn’t sleep. He said he was so excited about this project and there I was thinking “uh-oh, what if he thinks it’s so boring and ho-hum”.

Well we braved on and when his quiet time was over, we started on the project. First we decorated the cover. I asked him to pick a car from our car magazine and cut out a car to decorate the folder. He has been holding his scissors in the correct grip though he still struggles to open and close it. He made good snips all around but didn’t seem to know how to cut around it. I’m thinking maybe I should get him lefty scissors which is supposed to really help because of the way the handles curve. He ended up ripping up the car in parts even though I tried to show him how to cut a rectangle around the picture. Oh well, guess we could always make a collage. He dotted the glue in a neat vertical row and stuck all the bits of paper on.

Now that it’s done, we started to do the minibooks. I helped him write out all the labels on the car parts. I could have printed it out but I thought I might as well show him examples of me writing.

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The final product!

Homeschooling is Not For Me

October 24, 2013

I’ve been reading up a lot more about homeschooling curriculum ever since I vowed not to enroll him in any enrichment classes, hopefully ever. On the other hand, I also felt that formal schooling doesn’t do a good job of arousing interest in learning itself. I survived well in the formal school setting. But recently, I realized how poor my general knowledge is. I hardly knew anything about plants and animals besides the most generic things we learn in school. I’m sure Calvin will soon know more about nature than I do – like things about dinosaurs, solar system, sea creatures etc. I did read lots of Chinese folk lore when I was young though – all those stories about fox spirits (狐狸精),snake spirits (白蛇精) etc. Certainly, my Chinese is all the better for it. I’m surprised at how easily I picked up Chinese again after 10 years of not reading much Chinese except in manga and speaking only a smattering at best. This summer, I actually easily read two Chinese novels – 蓝血人 卫斯理 and 鹿鼎记 by 金庸, which honestly surprised me.

So basically, I hope that he can be free to explore his interests and learn because he enjoys it. While school teaches children knowledge, they don’t necessarily nurture a love of learning. Having him attend public schools will mean he has less time for fun projects we could do that interest him. Despite that, I would still like him to attend school so he can make friends and have a common childhood like everyone else. Sure enough, as antisocial as I am, it would be hard for me to seek out other homeschooling parents just so he can make friends with their kids and he doesn’t even have siblings to interact with. That and the fact that I would like some breathing space for myself. Preparing interesting curriculum is time consuming work. Granted, anything is better than reading from a textbook like it’s done in school, but if I’m going to do it, I’d rather it be done well.

So in a bit of compromise, he will probably go to school as planned and I can plan out his ‘enrichment’ activities with him. For now, that means more nature walks, even when it’s cold and all I want to do is huddle at home, and we are trying out lapbooks. We made one yesterday and he seemed to enjoy it. I’ll blog about that another day.

Schooling Systems – America vs Singapore?

October 17, 2013

In an effort to get me more connected to the world outside our home and Calvin’s preschool, I decided to join up to be a volunteer. Since I’m contemplating teaching tuition in the future as a part-time job, I decided to go for an assignment where I help out with reading in a classroom.

So that’s how I got to experience America’s elementary school for an hour a week. I was surprised by the amount of work the teacher has to deal with. There are kids moving in and out for different programs and classes that she has to keep track of. At the beginning of the literacy session, one kid went off to see xxx teacher, then halfway through our reading session, the kid I was helping had to go for another language lesson. And even for the kids in the classroom, they were split into 3 or 4 groups working on different things like sight words or independent reading, depending on their ability. And then there’s the kid who is still struggling with recognizing letters and letter sounds. I feel bad for him because he clearly felt discouraged by how difficult it was. In just one small classroom of 22 children, there are such a variety of competencies that the teacher needs to group them by what they need to work on.

In that sense, I see the logic of streaming in the Singapore system. instead of having one teacher split her attention 4 ways on 4 different groups. Isn’t it more efficient to gather all the children who are of the same ability and have one teacher dedicated to teaching them what they need to learn? I guess that is the theoretical ideal. In reality, it seems like there is a lack of upward mobility once you are streamed into the lower levels, which then leads to the whole crazy tutoring craze. I read on the kaisuparents forum that some parents even send their kids to two enrichment classes for English. So that’s like 3.5 hours of extra classes and that’s not including all the other classes he might have for Chinese, Math and Science(?).

The Finnish way I think is to let the students who have already mastered the material help the ones who have trouble. This sounds quite good in theory too as it helps encourage more social interaction. On the other hand, if teachers need training to be able to teach well, will students who are still maturing emotionally and socially be able to teach too?

I wonder how we would be like when Calvin is schooling age? Certainly I wish for him to be interested in learning for the sake of learning itself but that seems too naively idealistic. The fact is when you try hard but still end up doing worse than others, you’ll feel like your efforts didn’t pay off. Why would a child continue to put in effort? I think this is probably true of the children who are forced to endure the drudgery in the form of enrichment classes or repetitive assessment books. I heard some of the English classes get the children to memorize model essays and vocabulary etc to quickly improve their scores but ultimately it does not raise their standard of English very much because the most important part of learning  a language is to read. I don’t think I do my child any favors by making him spend time memorizing boring texts when he would have enjoyed a book during that same time. That’s why I’ve been working hard to find more Chinese books for Calvin to read especially since there are barely any chinese books in the library here. While I’m not hoping that he will be a wiz in Chinese, I hope he will learn enough to not have a painful experience learning Chinese if/ when we go back to Singapore. I saw some of the work that a colleague’s child is doing and I’m not sure Calvin will be able to handle that by the time he is primary one.

As it stands now, I hope never to enroll him in any enrichment classes. If any, it will probably be Chinese… but hopefully we would not have to resort to that.

Calvin’s Little Friends

September 8, 2013

Somehow the older I get, the less social I seem to become. Maybe I just grow weary of the awkward small talk and how draining it is to conform to others, exchanging pleasantries as I navigate through others personal territories. It’s just too much effort and as usual I’m plagued by a sense of alienation – mostly self imposed because of my awareness that I am different from others and do not try hard enough to be similar. To put it simply, I just don’t know what to say.

While I go out of my way to avoid social situations, I was thrown into a scenario where I might be forced to interact with other parents for the sake of Calvin. We’ve been worried about whether Calvin would fit in with the other children at school. I thought he might end up playing by himself again and would not have a chance to develop his nascent social skills. I worry too that he will be unwilling to persist when rejected by others, which is something that other children does in general and not out of spite. I was wondering if I should be more proactive in seeking out companions for him and have more play dates etc, but I ended up feeling a little stressed out at the prospect of having to interact with many parents to find him a proper play mate – someone who is nice and has the same interests as him and likes to play imaginative games.

Much to my relief, he came back yesterday with tales of how he was trying to sink a pirate ship by pushing a wall. Then Tye said no. And Ezra was the pirate because she talked with a pirate voice. And then Seth was digging foot trap that only catches bad people and so Calvin could zoom across it without getting caught. And how Seth ran even faster and Calvin ran again, even faster than Seth. And he said he made friends with Liam’s dad by telling him about the poisonous holes that Ayaan dug.

That was the first time he came home and told us such detailed stories of what he did with the other children. I used to worry a lot that he rarely talks about what he does in school. I hope he will continue to have a great time there.