School stories #11: How #2 topped her level in English

Some friends were asking me how did #2 manage to top her level in English? Well, the answer is simple. Don’t go to a top school!

Ok, seriously, the answer IS simple, and it spells R.E.A.D.

When she was in P1, I was at a school function and a tutor in her 50s told us that for English, it was way better to get our kids to spend time reading than to do assessment books. I went back and told #2 to start reading everyday, and that was what she did. She never had any tuition for English except 3 months before the PSLE (which on hindsight I should have saved my money on as she was too set in her ways to change the way she wrote her compositions).

If you have no clue what books to let your daughters read, these were some of her favourite books when she was growing up.

  • Milly Molly Mandy series (Joyce Lankester Brisley)
  • Naughtiest Girl series (Enid Blyton)
  • Mary Poppins (P.L. Travers)
  • Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

  • St Clare’s series (Enid Blyton)
  • Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
  • Matilda (Roald Dahl)

  • Malory Towers series (Enid Blyton)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)

  • Nicholas series (Goscinny & Sempe) This is a popular French classic about a schoolboy and his antics.
  • Totto-chan (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi)

  • Anne of Green Gables series (L.M. Montgomery)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society series (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul series (Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen)


  • The Twilight Saga (Stephenie Meyer)
  • The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins)

By P6, she started to choose her own books and during that year, the Twilight Saga was very popular. These days they are into the Hunger Games series. I have not read either so I can’t comment on whether they are good in terms of content and values.

What about boys?

For my son, he enjoyed reading different books from his sisters. When he was younger, he liked Dr Seuss, Curious George and Roald Dahl. In P1 and P2, the only thing he read was Young Scientist and Adventure Box (ordered via his school). Now that he is in P3, he is into Geronimo Stilton, like most of his friends. Perhaps you have some good recommendations for me! Books that boys would like which have good content and language, and have some pictures.

Sane tip: Getting your kids to love reading is one of the best things you can cultivate in them. Not only are their minds being opened to new ideas, new possibilities and new worlds, but it gives you hours of silence in the house! Perfect.

Save tip: The thing about #2 was that she was happy to read and re-read her books. She must have read all these books more than 10 times each! She was also very obedient in the sense that she would read whatever book I gave her at least once, even those which she felt was boring.

When I had my first few kids, I was too busy to make trips to the library and I had the impression that the books there were sub-standard. After having more kids (and a smaller budget for books), I decided to check out the public libraries and I was so impressed! They are well-stocked with good books and I have since stopped patronising the bookshops.

Related posts:

Here’s the story of our journey into reading. When #1 was about to enter P1, she couldn’t even read 3 letter words like “cat” and “dog”. I was stunned when the other kids could read words like “wisdom”, “understand” and “praise”. Now I know better, and I read to Kate daily.

Here’s many more good tips on how to go about reading to younger children.

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 ~

The Groovy Giraffe: Great discounts on Assessment books!

It’s back to school, so no more watching of TV or playing of computer games during weekdays. So what do the younger ones do as they don’t have much homework? Read! We bought more books from the cheap online remainder store, The Groovy Giraffe

#5 has always loved the Curious George series. He would borrow those books repeatedly from the library. As they were going at such a great price, I grabbed the chance to get our own collection for our home library. He’s the one who reads to Kate as they go to bed at the same time. I’m sure he would love to introduce his all time favourite character to her.

Curious George (8 books set) $39.68 $25.90

I got this cookbook for #2 many years back. At that time, she loved reading the Geronimo Stilton series and was very keen to follow the recipes.

Geronimo Stilton Cookbook $14.50 $9.90

They have very interesting recipes such as Trap’s buried treasure, Thea’s flower blossom, Geronimo’s ‘Fraidy cat pizza, Pinky Pick’s delicious cheesecake doll faces, and lots more. This is her masterpiece!

Benjamin’s Wishing Well

Some friends recommended me the Horrible Science series as their kids loved reading it. I decided to get them for #5 as he has been reading the Young Scientist magazines, and this would be a step up for him. It would also be appropriate for #4 as she’s in P4. Science concepts are presented in a fun way, with drawings, games, and a light-hearted tone. Turns a dry subject into so much fun!

Horrible Science $76.07 $63.90

It’s the start of a new school year and the people over at The Groovy Giraffe, having been teachers, know how much parents rely on assessment books. They’re providing us with the cheapest assessment books ever to be found, some going as low as $2.90! Not only are the assessment books going at rock bottom prices, you can get a further 20% off books in the Education section (includes references and assessment books) if you buy more than $30 worth of books storewide. Just enter the promo code MWeeB2Sch. Valid from now till 31 Jan 2014.

Sane tip: Where else can you good books at such great prices, without leaving your chair? Sure sounds too good to be true!

Save tip: You still get 5% off all other books (excluding the bargain section) with my MWEEGG code. However, do note that both codes can’t be applied simultaneously. Here’s to another great school year! 

~   mummy wee – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore  ~

The Groovy Giraffe – Great books at great prices!

#5 was the only one whom I read to from young. Now that he is in Primary 1, I can see how reading widely does make a big difference. For his compositions, his teacher is impressed by his ability to make his stories vivid. She commented that most students will simply use the helping words and string them together to form a story. For him, he uses a lot of descriptive words to make his story come alive. Reading to him daily also helped him to have a natural intonation which served him well in his oral component. I am constantly buying them books, so I’m really pleased to have found a local bookstore which sells books at heavily discounted prices.

The Groovy Giraffe is Singapore’s first online remainder bookshop. This means that the books are overprints, and are brand new. I browsed through their website and got carried away. Here’s what I ordered!

More books for our home library. Yay!

Dr Seuss is an all-time favourite in our family (erm excluding the hubs.. the only thing he reads are car magazines). I’m glad the kids love his books, because I really enjoy reading his works to them. I like how he artfully delivers his political and social themes behind such lovely poetry which appeals so wonderfully to children. His books are suitable for children from 0-12 years old. The rhymes are great for babies, his humour can be understood by toddlers, and the underlying themes can be appreciated by the older children. Their stocks for the mini hardback set gets snapped up in no time, so if you see it in stock, grab it! They also do sell some of the titles separately.

Dr Seuss: From $4.50 – $8.90 per book

The Berenstain Bears series is one of their bestsellers, and it’s no wonder as it has been around for more than 50 years. The bears deal with everyday issues and I can see myself reflected in Mama bear! 

The Berenstain Bears Bunch (8 books) – $39.92 $25.90
This is one of the best lift the flap books I have ever come across. Lots of wonderful information presented in bite-size flaps. They have Rain forest animals, Ocean animals, Polar animals, Forest animals and Grassland animals. #5 devoured it in one sitting and kept on sharing his new-found information with me. I’m sure this is going to be one of those books which he will be reading for a long time to come.

Animals Lift the Flap Book by Garry Fleming $26.59 $16.90

This book was given to #1 many moons ago. It’s one of the few books that lasted from my eldest to my youngest. This is one classic children’s book which is absolutely suitable for bedtime. It re-assures the kids just how much their parents love them. They sell the large hardback version which is perfect for a gift or for display in your little darling’s room.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney $21.24 $15.90

For Kate, I got her this adorable little Spot set. The other kids used to enjoy watching Spot on TV (or was it DVD?) and they had lots of Spot books. It has all been given away so I got this mini-sized set for her to look at during the car journeys. It’s just the perfect size for her little hands. 

Spot’s Little Learning Library by Eric Hill $18.50 $11.90

Paddington bear books are another great children’s classic. This set comes with a CD which is very useful as I can put it on for the kids to listen when I’m busy. Unfortunately, it’s already sold out and taken off from their website as new stock won’t be coming in anymore. So one thing about this bookstore, if you like what you see, better grab it before it’s gone!

Paddington the Artist

#1 is starting to become more conscious of her diet so I decided that I should start cooking food that is healthy yet filling so that she won’t have to go on fad diets that seem to be rampant amongst teenage girls these days. And of course, the ‘Fast’ claim was what I was sold on!

Fast Low-Fat Meals by Women’s Weekly $15.98 $12.90

I’m really no gourmet chef, yet I managed to whip this up for her in less than 20 minutes and she said it was delicious!

Pan-fried fish with white wine sauce

I bought this great book Make your child brilliant from Page One and it cost me $44.95. You can get it here for a steal! It is written by Bernadette Tynan, an expert in gifted children. She has a few excellent chapters. “Discovering your child’s gifts” explains how brilliant and successful people were nurtured. It includes spotting a child’s gift, providing a mentor and looking for a cluster of gifts. It describes Albert Einstein, David Beckham and Donald Trump’s basis for success. It also mentions how some gifts may be masked or hidden. She advises parents and teachers on how to unearth the natural gifts of every child. Her other chapters include: “Living and learning”, “Getting the Best out of schools”, and “How your child learns best”. I have always firmly believed that every child is born with innate gifts and talent, and that it is the parents’ responsibility to unlock their gifts. This book gives me a lot of concrete information on how to do that.

Make your child brilliant by Bernadette Tynan $48.08 $23.90

Sane tip: I saved a total of $140 and the books were delivered in 3 days. Great bargain, package in the mail, and someone appreciated my cooking! Couldn’t be happier 🙂

Save tip: The Groovy Giraffe is giving mummywee readers an additional 5% off all books (except those under the Bargain section) with the code: MWEEGG. Local shipping is chargeable at a flat fee of $5, but orders above $60 entitles you to FREE shipping. Happy book shopping!

For a review of more great books, click here.

If you want to know Why you should read to your child, click here.

If you need some tips on How to read to your child, click here.

For ideas on How to get your child interested in reading, click here.

Disclaimer: I am on an affiliate program with The Groovy Giraffe and store vouchers and a discount were given. All opinions are my own.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Tips for reading with your child

In my previous post, I discussed Why we need to read to our children. Here, I will give some pointers on how to go about it. First, you need to find an appropriate book, both in terms of reading level and emotional readiness. Then you talk to them about the story so that they can find meaning and pleasure in their reading. This will go a long way in enabling them to be lifelong lovers of reading.

By encouraging your child to talk about the story, she will learn to think about what is being read, to process it, and to come to her own conclusions. For my first 4 kids, I didn’t know just how important it was to read to them and it was one of those things I would do when I ‘find the time’ (which as you know, never happens). When #5 was about 3, things were less chaotic and I had time to read to him every morning while the others were at school. I didn’t know there was an art to reading so I just picked up a book and read it straight through. Subsequently, when I learnt about conversational reading, I tried to draw him into a discussion. However, because he was not used to that way of reading, he kept asking me to stop talking and carry on reading. Occasionally I would try it again, but to no avail. I have decided that with Kate, I will start this once she is able to have a conversation with me, which should be about the age of 2 (but in an age-appropriate way, keeping it short and simple).

How to go about it?

  • Ask specific questions: Why did the boy look for the toy?
  • Ask general questions, to encourage your child to think: What do you think? What do you notice? 
  • Help your child see beyond the plot, that the story is not just about school, but that it is about friendship, loyalty and kindness.
  • Try to connect the story to something personal: Has it ever happened to you? What would you do in this situation? This can help the child to learn and to think through issues in a safe environment. You can also weave in some values, in a very subtle way.
  • Rephrase questions if the child does not respond, to make it easier for the child to understand.
  • Don’t over-do it. Don’t take the opportunity to launch into morales and turn it into a monologue.
Before you even open the book, talk about the cover, and predict what the story is about.
    Some good questions to ask:
    • What do you think this story is about just by looking at the cover?
    • Which character do you like/dislike?
    • Who is the most important character in the story?
    • Which character would you want to be your friend?
    • How do the characters change from the beginning of the story to the end?
    • Tell me the story in your own words.
    • How would the story be different if… ?
    • What would you do in this situation?
    • Do you like the ending of the story? If not, how would you end the story?
    As an added benefit, by guiding your child to read in this way, she will find it much easier for some components in English next time. In some schools, from the P1 level, their oral includes talking about the cover of a book. Your child would have had lots of practice in this area. 

    Besides reading together, continue to let your child read on her own as well. Make books accessible in your house. Don’t have them displayed high up on a shelf where it can’t be easily reached. Encourage your child to read a book more than once. The first time the book is read, the child is just grasping the plot. A subsequent reading will offer the opportunity for the child to pick up the subtleties of the story that may be missed on the first reading.

    How to choose an appropriate book for the child to read alone?

    Use the 5 finger rule. Get the child to read a page of the book. Every time she comes across an unfamiliar word, raise up 1 finger. If she raises more than 5 fingers in a page, that book is too difficult for her. Some of you may ask, what is wrong in letting her read difficult books? Wouldn’t it help her to improve faster? Yes, but when they are working too hard on the mechanics of reading, it becomes difficult for them to enjoy the story. You can read that aloud to her but get her an easier book for her own reading.
    Not all books are good books. Do be wary of language and content.

    Also be mindful of content and emotional readiness. I used to give free reign to my girls to choose their own books. After all, reading is good so the more they read the better, right? However, when I flipped through their books, especially the pink and glittery ones that my girls used to love, I realised that sometimes the subject matter is too advanced for them. For example, this girlish looking book might attract a 7 or 8 year old. However just by quickly flipping through the pages, I realised that the language is rather flippant, and it was all about boy-girl-relationships, crushes and flirting. The values raised in some other books for children may also not sit well with your own, such as letting divorce come across as normal or even cool, or that being the most popular girl in school at any expense is the right thing to do. Just when I started to wonder where to find good books, a friend recommended me an online site where a homeschooling mom ran a bookshop with good books. However, she has since shut it down as she had more kids and became too busy (which I can totally understand!).

    This book was written 85 years ago! I love letting my kids read such books.

    Sane tip: You don’t have to do this every single time you read to your child. It is better to leave this for the weekends when you are all more relaxed than to rush through this just for the sake of checking it off mentally in your head.

    Save tip: These techniques will go a long way in helping your child in her PSLE English oral next time, saving you money on tuition! There is also an increasing push towards speaking and communication vis-a-vis the written paper, so it is good to encourage your child to speak up more. It will also help in the comprehension component, whereby questions are asked on ‘Why do you think…?’ as your child is used to thinking about what she is reading.

    Related posts:

    6 tips to Really prepare your child for P1

    6 tips to get the most out of Parent-Teacher-Meetings

    ~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

    Help! My toddler refuses to read

    After my earlier post on why should children read, a friend shared that her 3 year old daughter refuses to sit to be read to. I’m sure some of us face this situation too. If we start reading to our kids from a young age, say below 1, we usually will not have this problem. Here are some ideas that you can try if your child refuses to read.

    1) Go with their interest

    Get books on topics which they are currently interested in. If they are into toy cars, read them books about cars. You can start will books that have lots of pictures of cars to pique their interest. You can slowly progress to books with more words. If they are crazy about Disney princesses or Thomas the train at the moment, get them books about that. Once they get used to reading, gradually introduce other books.

    2) Change the environment

    If you have been trying without success to read to your child at home, why don’t you try a change of environment. Take her to the park bench downstairs or the library. Sometimes all you need is something different to break the negative association.

    Kate loves her books

    3) Hype it up

    Before you sit your child down and open the book, you can start talking about it in a really excited manner. The same way you would probably tell her about going to Disneyland. Say in an excited way, “Wow look what I’ve got from the library! It’s your favourite. You love trains, don’t you. Now, let’s see what sorts of trains we’ve got in here..” Your child will be curious and will pick up on your excitement and she will come over and sit with you to find out what is so fascinating.

    4) Audio

    You can borrow some audio books from the library and play it for your child to listen to, perhaps in the car or as background reading while they play. After getting used to listening to the audio CDs, they may be more willing to hear you read to them.

    5) Adjust your expectations

    We may think that children should sit nicely and quietly and be read to. However, many boys are very active and find it very hard to sit still when they are young. Some girls are like that too. #3 is like that. She has to do some action in order to concentrate better. So even if your child is walking around or fiddling, just continue to read to her. She will be taking it all in even though she may not look like it.

    6) Take it slow

    Don’t expect too much. Perhaps you can start off with 10 minutes. If your child manages to sit and listen for that length of time, give her a big hug and praise her. Gradually increase by 5 minutes.

    Sane tip: Don’t beat yourself up if your child refuses to read. She will pick up on your tension and it will be a losing battle. Just relax. Try the tips I mentioned above and hopefully it will work! Give yourself a pat on the back for every little improvement 🙂

    Save tip: When the children are young I prefer to borrow books from the library. You don’t know what your child likes to read and may end up with a whole load of books which she refuses to read. I only start to buy them books when they are in Primary school and they know their preferences.

    ~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

    Why should they read?

    We all know that we should be reading to our babies from as young as possible. We discuss which is better: zoo phonics, jolly phonics or letterland phonics. We ask perspective kindergartens at what age will my child be able to read. But have we thought about why we want our kids to read?

    Is it to enter Primary 1 well-equipped to handle the worksheets? Is it the better their command of English, the higher they will score at PSLE? Or the better their results, the better their future career prospects? It is only when you know why you want your child to read, can you decide on how you want your child to learn to read. 

    Our home library

    Here’s my story on their ABCs…

    #1 started kindergarten at the age of 3. I knew we had to send our children to kindergarten but was totally unaware of this whole enrichment business out there as I had no interactions whatsoever with other mummies. As we were the first amongst our siblings and friends to have children, I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice.

    Before long, I made friends with my daughter’s best friend’s mummy. She asked me what enrichment I was going to sign my daughter up for, as the school offered a different enrichment after school every day. I was surprised. “Enrichment? What for? Is it good?” She said it doesn’t matter whether it is good or not as they will still learn something. Her rationale was that as she was busy working the whole day, it was at least better than letting her daughter watch TV at home. Her daughter had the whole array of enrichment classes, including phonics. She could read well enough by the end of N2.

    My daughter on the other hand, could hardly read a single word even at the end of K1. She was having a miserable time in school as the teacher would ask the children to name 5 things beginning with the letter ‘S’ and she was the only one who couldn’t. She would be punished by being made to stand at the corner of the class. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand why the teacher punished my daughter for not knowing when she was the one who had been teaching her the whole of that year. In fact, shouldn’t she be angry at herself for not being able to have taught her well? 

    I started to find out why all the other kids were better than her and was surprised to discover that almost all of them had phonics enrichment outside of school. I also learnt that many of the parents were involved in their kid’s education, meaning they either read to their kids frequently or made them do assessment books at home (yes, at the age of 4 or 5). I thought to myself, ok, things must have changed tremendously from my day when anything to do with school was confined to school. I have to admit I felt rather disconcerted that we seemed to have to ‘top up’ more work just to get by, on top of what was taught in kindergarten.

    Anyway, I pulled her out of that kindergarten and transferred her to a Catholic kindergarten. Things were very different there. The whole atmosphere was different. The pace was slower, the children were calmer, the teachers were more loving. And nobody was punished for not knowing their work. I was happy and so was she. Then came shock number 2. She enrolled for Primary 1 and we went for Orientation day. As all the excited K2 students streamed into the hall, I could hear them reading quotes off the walls. They could read words like “wisdom”, “praise” and “diligence”. I was dumfounded. #1 couldn’t even read “Cat”.

    I called up my one and only ‘mummy’ friend. I related the incident to her and she gave me a whole spiel about how #1 will lag behind if she can’t read. It will snowball and she will find it hard to catch up and her self-esteem will be affected. She will also have difficulties with Math as she would not be able to read instructions like “Underline the bigger objects”. She recommended a phonics centre and I signed #1 up the very next week. In 2 months, she was able to read fluently enough for P1 standard.

    I started getting concerned about #2 who was then in K1, and monitored her reading. Luckily she had an enthusiastic young teacher who followed their class up from K1 to K2. She was very diligent and was able to get the whole class prepared for P1. Not only could #2 read well, but she was able to write simple sentences on her own! I was relieved.

    When #2 went to P1, I attended a dinner at her school. At our table was an English tutor of 20 years who previously taught at a prestigious primary school. She was sharing with us parents that there is no point in drilling our children with assessment books. It is much better to get them to read vocariously as they will then have a very strong foundation on which to build on. She kept telling us to get our kids to read, read, read.

    So that was just what I did. I told #2 that she had to start reading. I did not have time to read to her as by then I had 5 kids under the age of 8. You can imagine how crazy things were around the house. I bought her a lot of books and she read everyday. Her aunt knew she loved reading and bought her a French classic children’s book called ‘Nicholas’ which was translated into English. When she visited again about 2 weeks later she enquired if she had finished reading the book so that she could purchase the sequel. #2 replied, “Yes, I have finished reading it… 3 times.” She went on to read classics like Anne of Green Gables, Heidi and Little Women.

    Sadly, #1, #3 and #4 did not pick up a love of reading as they were not introduced to books from young. As for #5, things started getting less chaotic when he was around 2 years old. By then I knew how important it is to read to your child. I also had more time to spend with him in the mornings as the other 4 were in school. So I read to him every morning. We would go to the library and borrow heaps of books. He loved being read to. He would gather a pile of about 10 – 15 books each day and plonk them on the sofa. We read for about 30 – 45 mins each time.

    I read the stories straight through without talking about the pictures or discussing the characters. His teachers commented that he had a nice rhythm to his reading. Most of the other children could also read well, but they sounded flat. That must have been a result of listening to me read to him all the time. He also did well in journal writing as he was brimming with ideas. Reading gave him a wide vocabulary and a whole pool of ideas to draw from. 

    So now, why do I want Kate to be able to read?

    I have decided that besides the undeniable need for her to be prepared for primary school and to fare well in her future exams, I want her to grow up to love and embrace reading. To be excited to open a book, to discover a different world within. To broaden her mind, to read a wide variety of subjects. To question what she is reading and to draw her own conclusions. To discuss with like-minded individuals what she has read. To be immersed in the richness of poetry. To enjoy reading Bronte, Dickens and Hemingway. For time to stand still when she reads.

    What strategy am I going to employ with Kate?

    I’m not going to be caught up about whichever type of reading method they use at the pre-school I will enrol her in. I will be wary however if her teacher makes reading a bore or a chore. But ultimately, as with most things, reading begins at home.

    I will: 

    • Read aloud to her daily (But not just straight through. I will share how to read to her in another post)
    • Expose her to all genres of books
    • Make a trip to the library a monthly family routine
    • Have regular reading sessions with her (we can find a lovely picnic spot, she reads her book and I read mine)
    • Never make reading a punishment or a bribe
    • Ensure she reads good books, both in language and content

    Sane tip: When your child loves reading, she can spend hours by herself immersed in her book. You can either read with her (ah, how relaxing) or you are free to do your own thing.

    Save tip: Our local libraries are quite impressive these days. Check out the children’s section at the Central Public Library at Bras Basah. Form book circles with other mummy friends. Each family can purchase a series of books and then swap them around.

    Other related posts:

    Tips for reading with your child
    Help! My toddler refuses to read
    The Groovy Giraffe – Great books at great prices

    ~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~