Behind the scenes of MOE’s AMAA + my 7 tips

Goodness, that was the strangest live session I’ve been on.

What went wrong?

The TIMING was unfortunate.

When MOE announced their plans to reopen schools, cases have been going down and staying at single digit.

However, just before our Ask Me Anything About (AMAA) session, out came news of the 3 preschool teachers testing positive and numbers went up to 13.

It caused a knee jerk reaction, which resulted in a flurry of anxiety amongst parents.

Perhaps what MOE needs is a professional PR strategist!

At that juncture, many parents were not interested in hearing about Back to School tips.

We see how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is played out here.

If parents’ anxiety about survival – life and death, health and safety concerns are not met, they are not ready to discuss the next level.

Such a mismatch of expectations and the 3 of us panellists took the bullets.

Our session was about Preparing your child for THE TRANSITION BACK TO SCHOOL.

Some parents did not read the topic.

Or, they simply equate MOE session = can ask anything pertaining to school.

It didn’t cross their minds that in that 1 hour, we have to stick to the topic for the parents who tuned in for ways they can prepare their kids for the transition.

If MOE had a crystal ball and Team Incredibles, they could have quickly pivoted, postponed our session at the 11th hour, do the crazy backend arrangements and work till 3am to get a new session in place titled Ask Me Anything About WHY SCHOOLS ARE RE-OPENING IN PHASE 1 with our Education Minister and his team in the hot seat, ready to answer all the pressing concerns parents had.

Only after that should our session follow.

But alas, hindsight is 20/20.

I really feel for the team. They put in so much effort, sincerely wanting to engage parents to allay their fears. I wonder, why do they even bother to try so hard to reach out to parents. Then I look at the responses and 600 people gave Like/Love while 100 gave angry faces. Which means 85% of parents appreciated the session. Good to know.

A shout-out to the parents who bothered to give encouraging comments and likes, thank you! And to those who asked questions politely and respectfully, thank you for doing that. Aren’t we role-models for our children?

A great lesson for me indeed. Now I truly understand how easy it is to tear others down, especially for our teenagers and young people who are on social media a lot, and the kind of damage it can do to their self-esteem.

We have a lot of work ahead of us before we can become a gracious society, both offline and online.

Luckily we are seasoned warriors and can continue with a smile and do what we were meant to do for those who wanted to hear. These weekly AMAA sessions are usually filmed in the studio, and the remote sessions came with its own challenges.

At the tech rehearsal, the directive was to keep it relatable and to share our advice as parents. That was the tone of these AMAA sessions.

During the actual live session, the comments came fast and furious, and it was hard to sieve out the questions from comments. We were fed the questions to address and were unable to see the hundreds of comments being typed in.

We could only do our best 🙂 Thank you to those who reached out to let me know the session was beneficial and you picked up lots of helpful tips. I’m really glad to hear that.

School will be reopening next week, and some parents are asking if HBL can be optional.

If MOE said yes, who will the burden fall on? Teachers, right? They would have to prepare two versions of lesson plans. A set of learning materials for the classroom and another online set for HBL. That’s like working double shift! They would have to teach a full day in school, and in the afternoons, deal with the kids who are on HBL. Viable? I think not.

However, let me share with you what happened many years ago. My P2 daughter had a classmate with HFMD. We were not informed and one day she mentioned that 9 of her classmates were on MC. I was shocked! I emailed her form teacher and as feared, they were all down with HFMD. I made the decision to keep her at home because I had 5 young kids, a baby and elderly folk at home. The early HFMD strains were very severe. Thankfully I did, because more kids fell ill. In those days, there were no safe distancing measures, no mask protocol, kids were not reminded to wash their hands regularly, and there was no transparancy. In fact, I feel more reassured now than at that point in time.

I took on the responsibility of keeping up with her school work and thankfully she had a classmate in the same condo and the helpful girl would drop off her homework every day at our door. I taught her myself so that she wouldn’t lag behind and give her teachers additional work to help her catch up.

My advice. If you are super anxious, keep your preschool kids at home for the first day, week, or even a whole month if you have the resources. Let those who need the childcare support go first, and with a smaller number, teachers can facilitate them better into a proper routine because there are going to be a lot of changes for the kids to adapt to eg they need to sit at their own desk 1m away from their friend, what they can’t do, what they have to do (wear mask & wash hands regularly) and once they get used to it, things should be smooth.

For Primary school kids, well. If you feel strongly about not letting your kids step out of the house, no one is holding a knife to your throat. We are in a pandemic. These are your children.

Can HBL be optional? Cannn. You be the HBL provider lor. Simple as that. The onus would then fall on you. Email their teacher to let them know, ask parents in your class chat what topics were covered that day, which page homework to do, teach them yourself and be considerate not to further burden their teachers.

I did a survey with my parents. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being I do not feel safe at all letting them out of the house and I prefer to do HBL for Term 3, to 10 being I’m worried but I want my kids back in school and I’m assured that the school is well-prepared to receive them.

The majority said they were between 5-8.

I am certain Principals, VPs, HODs, teachers, support staff and cleaning staff are doing their utmost to get the school compound and SOPs ready to receive our children back safely.

We can never THANK YOU enough for your dedication and perseverance as you do what needs to be done, quietly, day in, day out.

But re-integration HAS TO BE a multi-pronged approach.

And it starts from the home.

WE THE PARENTS need to do our part to teach our children how to take care of themselves and to be socially responsible, and teachers will take over when they are in school.

Here are some practical tips on getting your child ready to go back to school.

1. Mask / Face shield
Points to consider:
– Mask VS Shield. Masks offer more protection. But if your child has medical or skin condition and is unable to wear mask, they need to at least wear a shield.
– Cloth VS disposable: Cloth seems to be more comfortable and breathable, and better for the environment.
– Wearing for such long hours: Comfort is key. As it is something she has to wear daily, I’ll invest in some good masks for Kate. Ask around for mask recommendations. My friends who have tried various masks have shared with me some brands which are thin, effective, and comfortable. Good for our weather. Will provide the info in FB.
– Homemade vs big brands: I love to support local anytime, but for masks, it takes trial and error to get the fit right. Manufactured ones have been tested and certified for their effectiveness. But be wary of unsupported claims as many mask ads have been surfacing. Don’t forget to check how many washes it is effective for. Eg I’ve found a mask for $15 which can take 150 washes. Some are only good for 30 washes.
– Get the ones with adjustable straps for a snug fit
– Practice wearing their mask, starting from 1 hour, increasing the duration each day.
– Buy minimum 2 masks for each child and wash it daily. Some material dries very quickly, in less than 4 hours.
– Put 1 or 2 extra disposable masks in a ziplock bag in their schoolbags just in case.

I’m certain we can train our kids to do what needs to be done. Yes, it is not going to be easy but instead of focusing on what our kids can’t do, shift the mindset to how can we get through this. Mask wearing is here to stay. It is through such that this generation of kids can build resilience.

#2 was telling Kate about her school trip to Vietnam, where our JC students were complaining about trekking up the mountain and having their feet frozen in winter. Until they met the kids who hiked up daily to get to school. They were wearing slippers and had abrasions and frostbite, yet still cheerful and happy they can go to school.

Perspective.

2. Personal hygiene

– Get them into the habit of frequent and proper handwashing. Nag them until they get used to it.
– Cut their fringe if it brushes their face, or use more clips to keep hair in place
– Tie their hair tight, or wear it in a braid so it stays in place till they get home
– Wash hands immediately when they reach home. Better still, get them to change out of their uniform / shower before having lunch.
– Adults as well. When we get home, before hugging them, best is to have a shower first. For this period, avoid sharing plates even within the family, if parents are going out to work.

I had a neighbour who was a nurse. Her son was down with HFMD and she was worried that her other young kids and grandparents would get infected. She was very strict about hygiene, and isolated him in a room. She told the other kids that they were not to go near him, no playing, no touching and when she brought food in to him and fed him his medication, she would wash her hands and change out of her clothes. No one else in the family were infected.

3. Recess

– Pack food if possible so they don’t have to queue or handle money. I give Kate rice with Japanese sprinkles and vegtables eg brocolli, cauliflower, cherry tomato. Her snack box is filled with fruits that can keep well like grapes, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, watermelon to boost her immunity.
– Teach them how to remove their mask properly and keep practicing until they get it right. Wash hands, remove it carefully, fold it with the clean side in, put it in a clean ziplock bag, wash hands again before eating.

4. Sleep

Sleep is the most important aspect to ensure they don’t fall sick and their immunity is kept high. Most kids have been having a late bedtime during the holidays and it is time to gradually tune back their body clock.

– start by moving bedtime gradually eg 9.30pm for a few days, 9pm, 8.30pm, 8pm. A proper bedtime seems to be the hardest thing for parents to instill!
– aim for 10 hours for lower primary school kids and 10-12 hours for preschool kids.

My kids never fell ill even though they were in childcare where it’s easy to catch all sorts of bugs. They slept at 8pm, drank lots of water, had fruits & veg and stayed happy and stress-free.

5. Alternate weeks of HBL

– keep consistent schedule even on weeks when they are at home
– prep them in advance that once school resumes, even during HBL, no more long hours of watching movies or playing on their gadgets.
– back to school checklist:

* Ensure uniforms and school shoes are not too tight or short
* Get a haircut, prepare black hair accessories
* Pack their school bag and get stationery ready
* Storybook
* Thermometer (check that it’s working)

6. Our kids are watching

If you are feeling frustrated, keep it between the adults. Our children don’t need the extra baggage. Let them go to school with a positive mindset. They take their social and emotional cues from us parents, try to stay calm so they don’t pick up your anxiety.

7. Reflect, give closure to this phase

To close this chapter, talk with them about how we all started out feeling uncertain, fearful even, but we overcame so many hurdles together, bonded as a family, as a community, overcame challenges with HBL, gained new skills. They can look back on this time and use these coping strategies when they face adversity in future. A good way for them to remember that they are a part of a bigger community and to remind them to be grateful is by making cards to show their appreciation to their teachers.

Some kids may be feeling very anxious about going back to school. Be more understanding and gentle, don’t be so quick to scold them, and encourage them to express what they are feeling.

Everyone has to play their part if we want a successful Phase 1.

Parents returning to work have to do the same things we are asking our kids to do. Mask on, keep your distance from others, no sharing of food with colleagues, hand washing regimen, so we don’t carry back viruses to our families. I think wives need to nag husbands just as much as the kids to wash their hands! And to keep handphones in their pockets. Or is it the other way around 😉

As we emerge from our homes, and gradually reintegrate into society, numbers will go up. Don’t panic. Stay calm and clear-headed.

MOE is not a Total Solutions Provider. Everyone has to step up. Employers need to do their part and allow a more flexible work arrangement to help parents with this alternate HBL schedule. We need all parties to step up and say “this is what I can do to help.”

And please. Parents, if your child is feeling unwell, keep them at home. We are only as good as our weakest link.

But parents will be saying, it’s my employer! So employers, please, be more understanding.

Employers need to allow parents to WFH to care for their child if they are sick. We cannot have situations where parents have no choice but to be socially irresponsible and drop their kids off at childcare or school even when they are ill. Slight cough or sore throat, also must stay at home. This is one of the greatest fear parents have.

Colleagues may have to step in. Take it as doing national service. We need to operate on trust.

Eh, maybe we need to go one level deeper. Customers, clients, if you are told that the staff is on leave because they need to tend to their sick child at home, please, don’t complain. Be understanding. We don’t want the sick child to go to school and spread their germs all around right?

Heartwarming headline: “Bubble tea long queue, but customers patiently wait in line, knowing they are short of staff due to sick child at home.” Can we show some unity and solidarity?

If our parents gave us $100 billion dollars as a lifeline, wouldn’t we all be doing our part to ensure the house doesn’t collapse? We really need to up our #resilience and #fortitude.

The better and quicker we get through Phase 1, the earlier we can move on to Phase 2. Let’s get on with this, folks.

The only way to get through this is by standing together and being proactive. Instead of giving unhelpful comments like “do you know how pathetic the soap is in schools?” flip it over and think about what we can do to make it better.

In Kate’s Whatsapp class chat, just before the circuit breaker, one mother immediately volunteered to provide a bottle of hand soap for the class sink. Other mothers said they would be the next in line once it ran out.

That’s the spirit we need. And that’s what we want our children to witness.

We can be bigger than this crisis.

Let’s be sensible, share helpful tips with one another, and spread positivity, not fear.

P.S. Wow parent, you made it to the end of this long post. I know right, so much to do to get the kids ready. But I have great faith in you! I’m sure together, we can get through this!

Stay safe, stay strong, stay sane 🙂

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.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *