Life-based Learning to occupy their May School Holidays

After parents heave a collective sigh of relieve with the ending of HBL on 4 May which signals the start of school holidays, 

the next thing parents are going to be stressed about is…

What are we going to do with our kids since we can’t go out?!

No family vacations, no playdates, no holiday programmes, no visiting grandparents even!

While parents are busy with WFH, siblings will be tearing each other’s hair out or binge-watching Netflix.

IF ONLY they can do something constructive BY THEMSELVES.

Kate has been on 4 weeks of HBL already, and all our schedules and ambitious craft projects have gone out the window. I have relaxed my screentime limits just to get some peace from Kate and her brother. But a whole month of watching nonsense and playing online games the entire day?!

Er Mdm Teacher, can you please set them some stuff they can do independently on SLS?

I’ve always found it strange that my kids receive holiday homework during June and December. Shouldn’t holidays be a time to relax and bond with the family and enjoy experiences outside of the normal routine?

But now that they are stuck at home 24/7 and since schools are going to set holiday homework anyway, how about getting students to work on Life-Based Learning Projects.

Haha, I’m not asking nor expecting teachers to do more. YOU DESERVE A HUGE BREAK.

But if you are planning to set them academic holiday homework, please, DON’T!

There are more meaningful projects they could work on.

Such a powerful opportunity to teach this generation of kids what resilience looks like. What standing up to be counted on means. How to make the most of every situation.

– Find ways to make yourself useful during this month. What creative ideas can our children and youths come up with? Start by brainstorming ideas and narrow it down to a few they would like to take action on.

– Ask your parents how you can help to ease their burdens. My teens are good at giving me suggestions to my work problems and insights from a different perspective, as the online world is their playground. They can also go on Youtube to learn to cook 1 meal per week. Maybe have a class cooking competition to get them excited! And they can post their dishes on the class group chat.

– What can you do for your neighbours, relatives or friends? It could be small acts of kindness or a whole class can brainstorm ways they can reach out to uplift the community. They can make items to sell to their circle of friends and raise funds for a chosen charity. Many charities are experiencing a huge drop in donations.

– How can you find meaning in this? Those students with lots of bright ideas could take charge and channel their energy into meaningful causes. These are the kids who are natural leaders and their apathy in academics could be rekindled through real-world issues.

Now that we have all these tech platforms set up, let’s use them to our advantage.

Baking a cheesecake for dessert

For lower primary students, teachers can pre-upload one short video link on SLS per week for our kids to watch to generate ideas and they can think of acts of kindness for their families that week, and write about it in their journals. It can be the same for the whole level, to ease the workload of teachers. Or even the same nationwide project across all schools!

When I asked Kate to journal daily, or read for 1 hour, she was enthusiastic at first… but now she’s quick to reach for the ipad, and I have given up policing her as it buys me some free time to do my work uninterrupted.

It’s different when it is “homework” given by her teachers!

Many are missing their classmates so much they are meeting on Facetime, Zoom or House party and chatting about random things. It would be wonderful if they could have something meaningful to work on together.

When they return to school they can do oral presentations or show and tell of their drawings or essays elaborating the activities they have been engaged with during the month.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung was concerned that HBL will widen the gap between those with resources and those without. And he is right.

Our kids are the lucky ones with additional online tuition and intact families. (Luckily Minister Ong was quick to give us this breather if not many relationships will start to go haywire).

Some children are facing physical or emotional abuse at home as the situation gets more and more desperate for families.

What can we do as a society to close the gap? Even an inch?

While the bottom rung is given help, many others go undetected. We are now privy to people’s living rooms and we can help by keeping an eye out for children (or parents) in distress.

Our kids can ask their friends if they have eaten, or share their fears. If we see or hear anything, we should flag it out to their school teachers who can check on them.

As the students work together in small groups, they will start to be aware of the struggles some of their friends in their own class may have. This would naturally lead to them pitching in or offering help in various ways, and create bonds that last.

I wrote in a previous post how my daughter’s eyes were opened when she realised a classmate could not afford to buy the prescribed calculator, and another had a parent in jail. By getting to know their classmates better, they can be a source of support during this time.

We may be snug at the top academically, but how are we faring in a crisis?

There are bigger lessons out there for our kids to learn.

Resilience, adaptability, teamwork, altruism, good judgement, humility, gratitude, prudence, self-regulation and courage.

Now is precisely the right time, in the midst of our biggest challenge as a nation, (and with parents desperate for their kids to be self-occupied) to build a generation of children and youths who can weather the storms together, looking out for one another.

Because otherwise, when do we allocate time for such “non-essentials”? And it will be too late to realise much later, that these were always part of the essentials.

About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and adaptability, to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

HBL is not for everyone

My son’s Math teacher has been texting me the past few days. Some days, she texts me multiple times. Mainly it’s about him not submitting his work on time. Or that she had asked him to go on a 1-1 video call to help him with his worksheets, but he doesn’t reply.

From what I understand, the role of the parent is to ensure they get online. We are not expected to take over the teaching.

However, I’ve found one other problem with HBL.

We, the parents, are expected to make sure they COMPLETE their work and submit it on time.

For Kate, at the P2 level, that is quite a hassle, but because we know teachers are doing their best to make this remote learning work, we try to do our part to cooperate, acknowledge and support them.

It’s also a steep learning curve for us, getting onto the different platforms, downloading / uploading assignments, to-ing and fro-ing with her teachers to overcome technical issues. She can handle most of her work independently, and where she is stuck, we are able to guide her and she is on top of all her work.

But for my teenage son, the type who belongs under the unmotivated category, various choke points prevent that from happening successfully.

When they are physically in school, teachers can find different ways to explain concepts to them, nag at them, make them stay back during recess or after school to complete their work.

Now that they are a screen away, when they can’t understand what is taught or can’t be bothered, they switch off (literally even). My teacher friends joke that they wish they could reach in through the screens and shake these teens.

But since they can’t do that, they have to politely rally the help of the parents.

So here’s how it plays out.

I’m working on my laptop and my phone keeps beeping. I wish Mdm Teacher could sort it out directly with my son. But no. He is not responding to her texts.

I storm into his room, demanding to know why his work was not submitted on time.

He shows me his SLS portal. So many items under the “in progress” column! With 8 subjects and various tasks tied to each, and some from the days before, it was a complete mess.

I went through each one, and there seemed to be all sorts of hurdles hindering completion.

But the problem that is HARDEST to deal with is this.

“I don’t know how to do it. And I also don’t feel like doing it.”

What do you do with an unmotivated HBL student?

From the experience of my other 4 kids during their secondary school years, among their 8 subjects, they would have a couple of favourite subjects as well as those they find boring, irrelevant or just plain difficult.

I feel bad that his teacher is trying so hard to help and to ensure that his work is up to speed, yet I’m at a loss at how to get him to complete his work. And I’m drained and frustrated from having to nag and yell at him daily about his homework.

Kate heard all of that noise and sprung into action.

After I left my son’s room, she said, “Mum, I have a surprise for you.”

She led me to the table.

“What’s this, Kate?”

Since I can’t make a real meal for you, I drew you my best meal to cheer you up! I know gor gor always makes you frustrated so I wanted to make you less stressed.

Haha, I burst out laughing! She’s such a darling indeed.

Kate’s surprise meal

I told Mdm Teacher that I absolutely appreciate her going out of her way to help him, but at this point in time, many of us are working round the clock, either in essential services or struggling to keep businesses afloat, figuring out how to move our businesses online, settling our foreign worker issues, supply chain problems and having younger children to manage. Chasing our teens to finish Math sums is the last thing on our minds right now.

We are not superhuman, and neither do we expect our teachers to be.

They are already overworked in a normal school year, and many of them have readily stepped up and have been working late into the night to get this out. It is a lot to ask of them to keep this momentum going for the rest of the month, especially for those who have their own young kids to take care of.

In a perfect world, every student is self-motivated, organised, and smart enough to understand everything that is taught. But alas!

I asked her to please give me the right email, and I wrote in to his school explaining how I was extremely grateful for such a dedicated teacher but there are a lot more pressing issues on our plates right now than him falling behind in 1 subject for this month and both he and I will take full responsibility for his incomplete work during HBL. After this episode, I will find him a tutor if need be.

So the daily texts have stopped, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Let’s do what we can, but we have to adjust our expectations.

I really hope all the Mdm Teachers out there can stop worrying late into the night as they look aghast at the longer and longer rows of INCOMPLETE tasks flagged out on SLS. And instead, have some time to focus on their own families, providing them the needed stability and sanity to ride through this time.

I know it means a lot of catching up to do next time.

And yes, productivity and excellence are important.

But right now, the mental health of all of us, is most important.

#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?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.


About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

First SARS, now Covid?

The year was 2002.

The hubs and I were in our 20s and we started our own business as I wanted to help women who were facing weight issues. I was working as an Occupational Therapist in a slimming centre and was dismayed to see unprincipled practices and wanted to do better. I had big dreams.

Shortly after we opened, SARS struck.

It was a surreal time. The streets were deserted. One by one, F&B outlets around us started closing down. Nobody dared to come into contact with others.

We held on, but our business bled for months. We had zero customers and high overheads to pay. Slowly, the cases subsided and the customers started trickling back.

Soon it became inevitable that we had to shut down to prevent further losses. We gave our customers ample time to finish utilising their packages and closed on a clean note. They were so kind and tried to help our staff look for new jobs.

In an instant, our lives were shattered.

From dreams of a better life for our family and goals to do our part for society, we were penniless, jobless, faced with huge loans and 3 young children to raise.

We couldn’t afford their preschool fees and transferred them to a church-based kindergarten. We stopped their enrichment classes like art, swimming and dance. We couldn’t even afford to go out, let alone buy toys or have meals at restaurants. Our in-laws ensured that the freezer was stocked with basic food so that the children did not go hungry. Necessities like diapers, milk powder, shampoo had to be bought via credit and those amounts ballooned. Our parents had loaned us money to start the company and we could not ask for a cent more. We couldn’t even tell them how bad things were because they would be worried sick.

It was a depressing time. The marriage almost didn’t survive. We were yelling at each other constantly, figuring out how to save the business, and when the credit card companies harrass you daily, you are not in a stable state of mind.

Yet, you had to be strong. You couldn’t break down in front of the kids because it was hard enough on them having to adjust to the situation where what was once normal had all been stripped away. Not even the comfort of going to the same school, having the company of their teachers and friends. No going out. No extras from the supermarket like snacks or ice cream.

You are emotionally depleted and too exhausted to do anything.

I can understand why people would be pushed to attempt suicide. Drowning under the weight of your worries and seeing no way out, some days you hit rock bottom and wish that all this suffering could just disappear.

I met a neighbour, an angel almost, and the comfort of having someone to talk to, who checked in on you daily, a person who cared, made all the difference.

It took us years to pick up the pieces.

You become resilient from experiences like these.

When Covid-19 hit, I was stunned. How could anyone be so unlucky?

I was so scarred by that first business that I never expected to start another.

Somehow, one thing led to another.

I met a speech pathologist who ran a programme I was extremely impressed with. We had dreams of building a generation of resilient children and helping families to understand and manage their children better.

We started from one room in her existing company, and by word of mouth, kept growing until we needed to expand to our own premise.

With our own space, we had high operational costs to bear, renovation loans to clear, rental, staff, marketing and many other costs. We worked hard with our dream team of educators who shared our vision.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone starts a business with the purpose of making tons of money. Sometimes, it’s a dream that propels you. And I know of many other small business owners who are just as passionate.

When news broke that all enrichment centres had to be suspended for at least a month, we reeled from the sudden notice.

The scary memories came flooding back.

After the shock, I managed to stay calm. This time around, I have not been crippled by the emotional turmoil or intense fear, possibly because I have gone through the whole trauma with SARS. I was able to adapt and adjust very quickly, to steer my team, and I kept my focus on spreading positivity and hope to others, and sharing practical ways to help them cope during this time.

A large part of being able to stay sane was because of the reassurance and financial aid given by our government.

The BIGGEST DIFFERENCE I’m witnessing with this pandemic is how much the government has stepped in to cushion the impact across the board, and just how MUCH reserves they have!

We are thankful that the government has thrown companies a lifeline by providing for 75% of local staff salaries and waiving foreign worker levies for the month of April.

But as business owners, we don’t get any wage assistance. Not only have many of us stopped drawing any income from February when businesses first got hit, we have to top up the shortfall for operating costs and foreign worker salaries. It is indeed worrying times for SMEs and it will be a downward spiral for many, with closure and retrenchment of staff as this prolongs.

With the economic fallout, we will start to witness the psychological impact on individuals and families.

There are pockets of individuals who may not look like they need help, but they do. There would also be those who miss out on getting adequate help.

Check on your friends, keep an ear out for your neighbours. Mental health issues and domestic violence are on the rise. The elderly may be isolated and unable to get their necessities or meals. Not everyone has family, and many families are dysfunctional. People may be under such tremendous stress they are not behaving rationally.

If you yourself need someone to talk to, don’t be afraid to open up to your friends. It’s hard to think straight when the clock is ticking and you don’t know how you are going to survive the next month. Give someone a call. It is not an embarrassment. It is courage. Even the strongest of us will buckle under the immense stress.

This situation has affected all of us. The difference is, to what extent?

When the rug is pulled from under your feet, you feel the pain. Your eyes start to be opened to another person hurting. If we can’t have empathy, perhaps we can start with tolerance. Seek to understand, to console and to give a helping hand.

Let’s spread hope, love and kindness, not negativity, fear or judgement.

We WILL get through this in the end.

But the true test of our communities is

HOW we got through this.

Will this pandemic bring out the best of humanity or shred it to pieces?

A Stay Home for Singapore portal has just been launched, where people can go to get help, give help, or stay connected. It has listings for counselling services, social services and more. An App called GoodHood has been created where you can offer or request help within your neighbourhood. Let’s all stand up and be counted!

About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.

Survival tips for Home Based Learning

After 2 weeks of LOA, this is what Home Based Learning (HBL) REALLY looks like.

In my previous post detailing Kate’s Week 1 of HBL, we started off excited, things were manageable and I had one very eager student.

However, things can slide downhill quite quickly.

Having your child at home 24/7 with you is no joke. I am SO glad the teens are in their “silent-ish” phase. Where we can have proper adult conversations, and they do their work independently. I would’ve gone mad with 6 kids chattering and bickering non-stop.

Retreat to your own space.

At times, I needed my own space, and had to hide in my room as I noticed myself being less present and patient with her. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel bad about it, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t love her or don’t enjoy her company.

If you are yelling at your kids more often, take a deep breath, and read how I did it all so wrong and perhaps you can learn from my experience.

I’ve also discovered the best place to hide when I’m about to lose my mind with the kids.

Your children may also need to have personal space if they are getting on each others’ nerves.

Remember that not only has the familiarity of their routines changed drastically but staying in a confined space with others (aka their siblings) without the break of going out and having separate activities would naturally put a strain on relationships.

Kate was so mad the other day and said, “I wish gor gor was not in our house!” I told her that family is where we learn to get better at things like patience, acceptance and love.

This period requires more understanding from everyone, and we can think of creative ways where they can take a break from one another. Maybe a quiet bedroom which they can take turns to be alone in, or stagger their naptime.

Several times, after getting off a meeting, I walk into the room expecting Kate to be doing her work but I catch her watching a movie instead!

When I scolded her, she sounded just as exasperated and said, “If you like to do Chinese so much, you can learn it yourself!”

To be fair, I wasn’t able to teach her Chinese effectively over the past 2 weeks and there was a lot of frustration.

Before you start panicking, HBL is slightly different from LOA because for the latter, teachers are busy teaching their students at school, thus parents have to take on more of the teaching to ensure their child catches up with the syllabus while at home on LOA.

For HBL during full school closure,

PARENTS are NOT EXPECTED to do the teaching.

Our role is to ensure that our kids are out of bed and in front of the computer, ready for class at the right time.

They should be able to manage what is expected of them independently, whether it is doing work assigned on SLS, eZhishi or watching videos to learn English or Math concepts.

Teachers are given flexibility in executing their online lessons, and bear in mind that they have had to prepare all of these in a short span of time, on top of their usual workload, so don’t compare, and don’t complain!

The reality is that even with them being IN SCHOOL, some kids still need additional help, that’s why parents send them for tuition right?

For example with Kate, she sounds like a bright child, but she struggles with Math. I have to break it down very simply and explain several times in different ways before she understands.

During school hours, teachers are just a message away on Dojo if your kids are stuck. I have seen my secondary school kids teachers’ being very communicative and they have created specific WA chat groups for the different subjects so that they can provide additional support as needed.
The biggest problem with Kate doing her work on a digital device is that when I am busy working, she slips into using it for games or watching youtube.

But I can’t really blame a 7-year old when the hubs can’t even control himself!

What worked for me is that instead of allowing her lessons to spill into the evenings, I get her to finish her online work within 3-4 hours in the morning, while I’m sitting next to her doing my own work, then I remove the gadget.

After lunch, we are free to engage in activities we enjoy! Even a 30-minute break to do something relaxing with her helps me take my mind off work.

They are allowed to watch a movie after dinner, and then straight to bed. This buys us time to put in a few more hours of work. Local businesses have taken a huge hit and it is a worrying and stressful time for many of us.

Figure out a schedule that works best for you and your family.

In the big scheme of things, what do we want our kids to remember of this time at home with the family?

That we did fun stuff together?

Or that mummy was yelling at me a lot, and it was the WORST TIME ever.

Let’s cut ourselves some slack. For the super mamas out there, if you’ve nailed this teach-your-child-from-home gig, I applaud you!

For me, I can’t teach my own children.

I’m going to flip the perspective and play to my strengths.

Instead of worrying that I won’t do a good job teaching Kate and feel that the whole day was disastrous, we will allocate the morning for academics.

For the rest of the day, this is an opportunity to teach her so much more about life.

To show her what adaptability, resourcefulness, and cheerfulness in bleak times looks like.

To embrace change and be flexible, and settle down to a new normal.

To stay resilient in the face of calamity, make the most of what we have, and look for the silver lining.

To focus on the heartwarming stories, of how people are looking beyond themselves to reach out to others in need. That we are one community, one humanity.

To model positivity and find little ways to support others and spread joy, not despair. To show her how faith can replace fear.

To take the inconveniences in our stride, that these little sacrifices for the common good are the least we can do.

To teach them to be grateful for all the people who are working long hours, pushing themselves past their limits in this fight.

To open our eyes to what this crisis can teach us.

I’m not going to judge myself nor my child on how well we are succeeding with HBL, but we are going to make this 30 days count!

We are going to do a RadiateJoyFromHome 30-day challenge.

To first find joy within ourselves even in the darkest times, and to spread hope and uplift others who are finding it hard to navigate this period.

Together, let’s radiate love and life from our homes.

About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today’s volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.