School Stories #10 – How I got my son to do his homework without nagging

I have been struggling to get #5 to do his homework on time. To be fair, he has come a long way from P1 where he would just dump his school bag at the entrance and promptly forget about it until the next morning when it’s time to pick it up again for school.

This year in P3, he has finally ‘woken up’ and will remember that he has homework. However, for the past 2 weeks, his homework has been getting progressively more difficult and he has been dragging it later and later and by bedtime, he would be rushing to get it finished.

These were the instructions I used to bark at him:

  • Quickly finish your homework.
  • Stop playing and do your homework now!
  • No going to the playground until all your homework is done.

The usual scenario was that he would start on his homework but get distracted by the going-ons around him – Kate playing with her toys, grandparents or cousins dropping by, or anything interesting the other kids are doing.

I was getting frustrated at having to nag at him every single day and was “complaining” to my ex-neighbours at breakfast. They have boys who are older than mine and immediately, they could see where my problem was.

  1. Instructions not specific enough
  2. Boundary too wide
  3. Rule not enforced
They explained that even though he was not allowed to go to the playground, he could still entertain himself with so much at home. They advised me to narrow the boundary. This is how they handle their sons.

  • Back from school
  • Lunch
  • Rest 15 minutes
  • Sit at the study table until all homework and “mummy’s work” is done.
  • Only allowance is to go to the toilet
  • If they take their own sweet time and it stretches on till dinner time, so be it. Dinner will be served at their study table.

When #5 came back, I was brimming with excitement to try it out on him. I was a mummy on a mission.

After his lunch, I told him in a  firm tone.

No moving from this square until all homework is completed (I used my finger to draw an imaginary boundary).”

I allow him to do his homework in the living room because at least I can keep an eye on him while watching over Kate and heating up lunch/chatting with the older girls when they trickle home. If I let him go up to his own room, he will most likely end up playing with his toys. No, make that definitely.

You know what? I couldn’t believe it. It worked like magic!

He sat there for 2 hours doing his homework. He got tired of sitting on the chair and moved down to the floor. Kate came downstairs after her nap and as usual, he immediately went and played with her. I decided that a 15 minute break was in order and told him so. After that, he went back into his “square” for another hour until all his homework was finished.

Just a change in instructions was all I needed! My, my, if only I had known that earlier.

I have been staying at home for the past week to enforce my boundary and rule (at least for a period of time until he is able to get into the routine and gradually require less supervision). Previously, I gave him instructions but I would either be upstairs or out of the house. And of course, when the cat is out, the mouse does nothing but play.

Now, I sit at the dining table and keep a hawk’s eye on him. Thank goodness for laptops. I’ll probably have more time to blog now 😉

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

~ –  a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Keep calm and Mother on: 21 Stories from Mothers with Children aged 1-21

I was approached to contribute a chapter in a parenting book, and while I was thinking about it (another item on my never-ending To Do list?!), it was my kids who encouraged me. “That’s so cool, mum! Go for it.” And so I did. And I’m glad.

Hot off the press

They asked me to write a chapter on dealing with the dangers of the internet, after reading my 10 House Rules for gadget use and my previous post on this issue. In this book, I share my experiences of how the internet has impacted my teenagers and tips on what to do before handing your children their first mobile phone.

Keep Calm and Mother On: 21 Stories from Mothers with Children Aged 1 to 21 is a compilation of stories from 21 mothers. The other mums on board include editors, authors, early childhood educators and even Patricia Koh, well-known founder of Pat’s schoolhouse, and Dawn Fung, the founder of Homeschool Singapore. I scanned the list, and spotted the name of an old classmate, and another mum whom I recently had the privilege of befriending, thanks to blogging. Nice.

As I read through the entries, I was most touched and inspired by 2 courageous mums who shared their journey. One has a daughter who was diagnosed with Stage 4 osteosarcoma at the age of 12 and the other has a son who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. How devastating it is for a parent to have to see your own child suffer.

“I do not think about the future. So, I will just take the days as they come, one by one. I want to learn to be like my son – to embrace the moment, treasure my time with loved ones, and always look for silver linings.” Arina Lua

Very relevant topics

{Giveaway} As a contributor I was able to purchase the books at a discounted price. I am going to personally give away 5 copies as a token of appreciation to my dearest readers, as a mother’s day gift to you 🙂

Just leave your email contact on this post over at my Facebook page (by Thursday 30 April) and I’ll get Kate to pick 5 names.

Retail price: $18.08

Sane tip: Good tips and advice on a whole range of topics from mums who have gone through similar experiences as what many others are facing.

Save tip: Here’s a discount code for 15% off this book. Code: motheringon21
It is available online from Armour publishing. Click here for a direct link to purchase the book.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Easy kid’s curry puff

These have become one of my kids’ favourite after school lunch. It all started with me telling them to hurry up. “Can you chop chop, curry pok!” They found it very funny and I explained how my uncles used to call curry puff ‘curry pok’. That spiked their interest in eating curry puff, but since they find the curry puffs sold outside too spicy, I decided to make my own.

Here’s my simplified version of yummy child-friendly curry puff.

Crispy on the outside

I use whatever ingredients I have on hand, which works out well as the kids get surprised by what these puffs hold inside. Some of the fillings I’ve used are:

  • Chicken
  • Minced meat
  • Mushroom
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Hard boiled egg
Quick and easy

Since I am such a terrible cook, I have resorted to relying on ready made products where possible. I have given up slogging over the stove only to serve unappetising dishes which the kids don’t enjoy. I’ve learnt to be realistic! Instead, I sprinkle some chia seeds and wheatgerm into the sauce for added nutrients.

  1. Chop up ingredients into cubes and cook in a pot.
  2. Add Japanese curry powder with sufficient water to create a thick sauce.
  3. Let it cool.
  4. Cut puff pastry sheets into circles. I find the pastry a little too thick and will roll it out to thin it. Sprinkle some flour on the workbench to prevent sticking.
  5. Fill with meat and fold over.
  6. Use a fork to press the sides down.
  7. Bake in oven until golden brown.
  8. That’s it!
Hope your kids enjoy it as much as mine do.

Sane tip: Puff pastry can be found in the frozen section of the supermarket. They come in either the square sheets or in a block where you need to roll it out yourself. I find that both works. Japanese curry powder is under the Japanese section. I got them from NTUC finest / Cold Storage.

Save tip: You can make the pastry yourself. I tried, but it takes up too much time and turns out not even half as good as the store bought ones.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #9: I didn’t even know my child was being bullied,until…

You would have heard about the ex-RGS girl suing her alma mater for her suffering while studying there. Enough talk has been going around, but what surprised me was the narrow definition of bullying which the school adopted. The “school policy defines bullying as involving hurting, frightening or intimidating others using power of strength while cyber bullying includes the sending of hateful messages.”

I am glad that my daughter’s school held a broader definition of bullying and the teachers were vigilent in dealing with such cases.

When she was in P4, she was the victim of bullying but I didn’t recognize it. I associated bullying with being physically attacked or extorted from. Only after this incident did I learn that bullying can take on different forms, including verbal, emotional, sexual and cyber. Some of these can be just as, or more damaging to the victim, and usually harder to detect. I asked if she was ok with me sharing her story and she said yes.

In P4, she was streamed into a new class and started forming a close friendship with 3 other girls. Amongst them was a more domineering girl (let’s call her D) who became the ‘leader’. After a month or so, D started to ostracise her and the other 3 followed suit. They would gang up against her and talk behind her back. It got to an extent where D told the entire class not to let her join any of their groups, be it during PE or in class project work. She was treated like an outcast.

I listened to her tales and offered some suggestions on how to handle the situation. I guess none of them worked and it seemed D was adamant on making life miserable for her. I encouraged her to be strong and to be understanding. I explained to her that it was possible that her behaviour stemmed from her insecurities as D has a slight physical deformity. It dragged on for several weeks and she became more reticent. I thought it would blow over as it was common for girls to have such ‘friendship’ issues, but instead it got progressively worse.

Thankfully, I met her form teacher during the parents-teacher’s meeting and the topic happened to be raised. Her teacher was saying how quiet she was, and I mentioned that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to and the story unravelled. She got very alarmed and told me that it was a case of bullying and D was wrong to incite the entire class to alienate her.

Her teacher took it very seriously and dealt with it immediately. She had a talk with the 4 of them, with D individually, and with the class. She also told them that they were to welcome her into their groups. It was the boys who quickly included her and they couldn’t even recall how it came about that they joined in to exclude her.

I shudder to think how much damage could have been wrecked on her emotionally if the issue had failed to be recognised or resolved. Being the victim of bullying can lead children and teenagers into depression and even the contemplation of suicide.

As parents, we can help by having constant communication with our children and to take their concerns seriously. Some kids may not be willing to open up which makes it more difficult to address. We can only try and be on the look out for clues such as changes in their behaviour, frequent physical malaise like stomachaches / headaches, or a sudden reluctance to go to school. I am really thankful that her teacher handled the situation in a tactful, caring, and professional manner.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Kate’s antics: #2’s award ceremony

#2 managed to top her level in English and I took Kate along to the awards ceremony. The hubs was away and we decided that Kate would have the role as his stand-in anytime daddy was not around.

Guess who had a whale of a time there?

Being amused by jie jie’s friends

None of them have siblings so young and they were all squealing, “Sooo cute!”

“Up top!”

Having a snack while waiting for the ceremony to begin.

“Should I eat this or save it for later?”
It was the first time she met #2’s teacher but took to her immediately.
Bear hug
When the awards were being given out, she went and sat in the front row with the VIPs even though she has never met any of them before! 
Lil’ miss congeniality
~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #8: Paying tutors $250 an hour to do assignments?

This article came out in yesterday’s “The New Paper”. It reported that:

“Some parents are paying up to $250 an hour for a tutor to come over to their homes. It is not for tuition lessons. Instead, it is for the tutors to do their children’s homework. For these parents, it is something that cannot be helped, they say. Their children are inundated with so much tuition, co-curricular activities and school assignments that they are struggling to cope.”

The reporter who contacted such a tuition teacher goes on to say, “If the assignments are more complex and require research, he ups the price to between $500 and $750 an hour.”


Photo: The New Paper
I do agree with the parents that in some instances, the children have insufficient time to fit in tuition, CCAs, homework and projects and still get an adequate amount of sleep. This happened to #1 during her PSLE year. She had a copious amount of homework and even though she was an efficient worker, she ended up going to bed very late.

I told her it was important that she had proper rest and to leave her homework half completed. I wrote a note to her English teacher and explained my reasons for allowing her to do that, and that I would take responsibility for it. #1 got really stressed and told me that her teacher was very fierce and would scold the students until they cried. She refused to go to bed and in the end, I had to help her finish some of her homework.

I still remember what it was. She had to look through the dictionary and write out the meanings of the words. She picked that out for me to do because she said that her teacher does not mark it, but they had to show that it was done. Everyday they were given about 5 pages of that, on top of variables like comprehension, composition and grammar cloze. In addition, they were required to watch the News which they would be quizzed on the next day. And that was just for English.

I think for starters, what needs to be looked at are 3 simple areas to ease the homework crunch on our kids:

  1. Better coordination between subject teachers. (Some schools have a simple but excellent system whereby the daily homework is written on the board, so that all teachers for that class will be able to see how much homework has already been given out.)
  2. Students should learn to have better time management and to work more efficiently. (This is where I can see a huge variation between the kids. Some will whip out their homework between a change of lessons, and are able to do their homework very quickly. Other kids take a long time to eat their lunch, shower, and get easily distracted while doing their homework.)
  3. Something has to be done with our nation’s over-reliance on tuition. The time spent on travelling and attending extra tuition is significant, which leaves the child with insufficient time to complete school homework.

This article gives us much food for thought. Where do we draw the line between telling children that they have to finish their homework themselves, and assisting them when the amount of homework given is unrealistic? I know of many parents who get the older siblings to help out, or the parents themselves will do parts of their children’s projects.

What message are we sending our young about what is important? That only homework which would affect their academic grades are worth doing? In the article, a parent mentioned that she hired a tutor to complete superfluous assignments such as “a project on volunteerism where the students had to dissect the pros and cons of being a volunteer.”

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thankful for… the gift of Easter

On Easter Sunday, I was remarking to the kids that despite being a more significant day than Christmas, there isn’t the atmosphere of great rejoicing and ‘feel-good’ happy feelings associated with Christmas. How ironic. #1 sagely replied that it was the secularism of Christmas, the beautiful lights, carols, and presents which added to the mood.

After the service on Good Friday, one of them asked me a question I had never thought about. She understood the part about Jesus having to die for us, but why did he have to die such a horrible death? Couldn’t it be quick and easy? All I could say was that sadly, people could be extremely cruel and heartless.

It brought us back to what is happening today, all the brutality and hatred in the world that we have been reading about. It is indeed a difficult world for children to comprehend.

So what is Easter really about? Yes, the kids know the whole story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the promise of eternal salvation for us Christians. But the significance is as vague to them as chocolate eggs and Easter egg hunts.

I shared with them an experience I had volunteering in the hospice.

One of the patients had been getting weaker and one day, I fed him his lunch. I was surprised that such a simple experience had a profound impact on me.

It was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was literally a dance to fit your pace to his swallowing, to put the right amount of food on the spoon and to ensure he doesn’t choke. As he finished the last bit of porridge, I exclaimed, “Good boy!”

He managed a slight smile and gestured with his fingers. Me, 6. Him, 7.

Ah! He said he was my 7th child.

At that instant, something struck me.

Here was a stranger I have only recently met, a grandpa to his grandchildren. And yes, in many ways, he was like a child. Dependent, needing to be protected, loved.

Outwardly, we may look different. But we are all the same. If we but look to make that connection with others, our families, our friends, other people’s children, neighbors, colleagues, even strangers, then Easter is not just an event or a season. It is more than that.

I guess the gift of Easter is a time to contemplate the deeper meaning of Christ’s love for us and how we can go out to love and serve one another. To touch more lives. To use our God-given talents to uplift others.

We should be proud to be joyful Easter people.

Thankful… for our helper
Thankful… for my family
Thankful… for the beauty of nature
Thankful… for my mum-in-law

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Our typical Saturday (Day In A Life Blog Train)

The 3 older girls have very gruelling school days, leaving the house at 6am and reaching home past 7pm on most days. I let them sleep in on Saturdays to make up for the inadequate rest during the week.

7:00 am: Kate and #5, on the other hand, have an internal alarm clock and they are up early even on weekends. Why, kids? Why? I tell them to be very quiet so as not to wake the rest of the household up. They make their way downstairs and watch TV while having their breakfast. This buys me extra snooze time before Kate gets bored and starts talking really loudly, singing or fighting with her gor gor. When I can hear her voice from upstairs, it is time to drag myself out of bed to attend to her lest everyone else gets woken up.

Breakfast prepared by our helper

8:00 am: Her favourite outdoor activity at the moment is cycling and she hops on her little balance bike and beckons me to follow her out the gate. To keep up with her I have to brisk walk and occasionally break into a slow jog (that’s where I get my daily dose of exercise). She knows the neighbourhood well and makes her way to the playground.

Stray dog following her

Meanwhile, the hubs is off to the market to prepare brunch for the troop. He usually whips up bak kut teh, hainanese chicken rice or roast chicken.

10:00 am: The other 4 are awake by now and we have a leisurely brunch together.

Stuffed roast chicken with potatoes

10:30 am: The grandparents come over every Saturday and they often take Kate and #5 for a little outing, either to the zoo, bird park or science centre.

11:00 am: While the 2 little tikes are out of the way, I will see to the ad hoc needs of the older girls. It could be a dental appointment or a quick trip to the mall to get stuff they need. The ones left at home will either be attacking their homework, doing ‘girlie’ stuff in each other’s rooms or using YouTube to learn things they are interested in. #2 is teaching herself to play the guitar and #4 has picked up some pretty awesome braiding techniques.

#4’s hairstyling doll

2:00 pm: The 2 younger ones are back and Kate goes down for her nap. My parents will stay on a bit to chat with the girls before leaving.

4:00 pm: With kids spanning the ages of 2 – 16, it is not easy finding an activity which suits everyone. Thankfully, we have recently found something we can all do together where I don’t get cries of “boring!” from the teens. That is – going on bike trails. It takes the hubs a good hour to get all the bikes pumped, checked and loaded into the car. We have to drive 2 cars. One for the bikes, one for the kids.

Alfresco dinner

5:00 pm: The kids are hungry so we have an early dinner enroute. We like the picturesque and relatively quiet Labrador park trail, going across the boardwalk which snakes behind the Reflections and Caribbean condos to the Marina at Keppel Bay. Here’s my previous post with more pictures and directions for Labrador Park. 

We take it slow and steady as we have to wait for those lagging behind. Frequently, that’s me. The kids love to stop and pose for photos and to take in the beautiful scenery, especially the setting sun.

Pit stop for pictures
8.30 pm: Upon reaching home, we’ll have some fruits and everyone takes turns to shower. The younger ones prepare for bed while the hubs might put on a movie for the teens to watch. 

That’s how we spend our weekends – slow and simple. Long have I abandoned the crazy weekends of before where I need to unwind from the weekend.

Here’s a peek at how our typical weekday looks like.

Next up is Mary who blogs at Simply Lambchops. She is mum to not one, not two but three little lambs. She writes at Simply Lambchops – her little online space to preserve precious memories of her children, and to encourage anyone through her littlest one who is born with Down Syndrome.

Mary’s lovely family

Thank you for hopping along on our Day in A Life Blog Train which is hosted by Jus of Mum in the Making. Click on the button below for a peek into other mum’s lives!