Why I do not coach my kids anymore

I have been asked this many times – Do I coach my kids? The answer is no. Not at all. I don’t look at their daily homework nor test them spelling. In fact, I tell them not to come to me when they get stuck because I probably won’t be able to answer their questions.

I’m not kidding. The way they do Math is different from our time, and don’t get me started on Science structured questions. “Mum, you need to answer with key words.” When I guided them on their Chinese composition, they came back with a fail grade. It is still a running family joke.

They know my standard answer – go look for an older sibling as they’ll have better luck in getting the concepts explained properly to them, with the appropriate key-words thrown in.

It wasn’t that I didn’t try. When #1 was in P2 & P3, she would come to me when stuck while doing homework and I was able to help her. The turning point came in P4. Every few days, she would need help to finish her Math, Science or Chinese homework and truth be told, I was annoyed that she couldn’t independently handle homework doled out to her.

Having 4 other kids on my tail left me scarcely any time to deal with #1’s academic demands, and being in a constantly sleep-deprived state must have made me prone to going berserk.

I remember one particular incident when I was trying to help her with her Math homework, and she could not comprehend it. I became angrier and angrier and started yelling at her. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but they were unnecessarily hurtful words along the lines of “I’ve explained to you so many times! What can’t you understand? What is wrong with you? Why are you so stupid?” My blood was boiling and I felt like smacking her. 

I was shocked at my own extreme reaction. I am by nature a calm and patient person, and here I was, getting agitated by my own child, over MathI saw the fear in her eyes as she recoiled from my wrath, and there and then, I decided that it was not worth it. I could not let this ruin our mother-daughter relationship. My first and foremost responsibility is to be her mum, and this tutoring job can be outsourced.

I did feel like some kind of failure, but found out that many of my friends were in the same boat. Some have flung school bags out of the house, while others have raised their hands at their children. It is never the right thing to do, and we have no excuse. But the reality is that it is not easy teaching our own children. Some parents are cut out for it, and some are not. I am glad I recognized it early enough before saying or doing things I might have regretted.

When she moved on to P5, it became an almost daily struggle to complete her homework. Being our eldest, it did not occur to us that she might need tuition as she was fairly bright and in a top school so we had the impression that the teachers would prepare them adequately for tests and exams.

Since I had thrown in the coaching hat, the hubs volunteered to do it. The first time #1 went to him with her Math problem sums, he eagerly took on the challenge. 3 hours later, she finally emerged from the room. She revealed that daddy took so long to finish 2 pages of her Math homework and she still has other homework to do. Worst of all, he used the wrong method. His coaching stint ended as soon as it began.

Since then, we have stopped coaching them. Even if they come home with entire worksheets covered in red or if they fail their tests, I seldom nag or scold them. I ask if they had prepared well for it, and what are they going to do about it. I don’t want the focus when they get test marks back to be on what mum is going to say, but on how they think they can improve in future.

I keep an eye on the big picture and monitor their grades for their CAs and SAs throughout the year. It is better to find out their percentile instead of looking at the raw score. In her P5 year, #1 barely passed her English mid-year exams. I was concerned, but when I spoke to her teacher she said, “Oh, don’t worry, it was a very tough paper and almost the entire class failed. She was one of the top scorers.”

They get one-to-one tuition in the P6 year because I find that an effective way to plug the content gaps in topics which they might have missed over the years. The tutors also know how to guide them to phrase their answers to suit the examiners. 

While writing this post, I was chatting with my girls to get their perspective now that they are already in secondary school. I asked them how did they manage without coming to me for help.

“We know that you will tell us to figure it out ourselves or ask our teacher, so we have to pay attention in class. There is a lot of wasted time between lessons, so we quickly get our homework done and if there is anything we don’t understand, we ask our friends. Most of them have tuition.”

I burst out laughing. They had found their own strategy and outsourced the coaching to their classmates! It’s good for their friends too, as the best way to understand something well is to explain it to others. Brilliant win-win situation.


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?

#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.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

How I am preparing Kate to do school

Right from my eldest child, I’ve always believed in real learning, not just drilling them with content or making them good test-takers. I’ve come a long way in envisioning something beyond what our schools can offer and am now able to give kids that headstart at my enrichment centre.

Having Kate go through our programme, my insight into kids and learning has risen a notch! It is amazing how every child has different strengths and giftedness yet even the bright ones have their own unique learning issues.

In Janaury, Kate had The Executive Assessment (TEA) done and I expected her to score well as she speaks fluently and seems smart enough. However, I was surprised that her TEA score was 10 out of 21, and it was an eye-opener to discover her weak areas.

The Executive Assessment

I have sat through countless parent-teacher meetings with my 5 older kids but have never received a holistic assessment of their learning. In pre-school, feedback was usually about whether they were well-behaved (my 4 girls) or mischevious but creative (my son), and I would be updated about their reading and writing progress. In primary school, the focus would shift to their grades, on matters such as if homework was handed in on time and about their general behaviour.

On several occassions, teachers tell me, “Your child is smart, but if he can focus better/be more motivated, he will be able to reach his potential.”

But nobody tells us exactly how to do that!

With her assessment done, Teacher Jim was able to zoom in on her gaps and guide Kate to bridge them so that she can get the most out of whatever she is learning, both in school and in her other enrichment classes.

I found out that despite her chattiness and street smarts, she is not a strong learner and these are the foundational skills she needs to develop to prepare her well to cope with the demanding curriculum in primary school.

Increase her attention span: The most basic requirement to learn well is to have a good attention span to stay on task. She did not manage to complete some of the activities as she gets easily distracted by others or her mind will wander. The demands of K1 is increasing and she needs to concentrate well to absorb what is being taught in class. By disguising our activities as play, Kate happily undertakes them and manages to stay focused longer each time.

Train up her cognitive processes: In the animal stroop activity, they were instructed to say the colour of the animals in time to the metronome beat, but halfway through, she drifted from colour to name. With weekly practice, her processing speed and mental stamina will be enhanced and she can take on higher levels of difficulty.

Improve her working memory: Kate has no problems with her memory and can remember places we’ve been to and recall incidences, but I’ve never tested her working memory. Now that I’m aware it is weak, we need to tackle this if not in primary school, by the time she finishes reading the math problem sums, she would have forgotten what the question was asking for.

Develop her ability to self-monitor: After each activity, they are asked to reflect on how they had done and ways they can improve. Kate would gayly declare that she did fine even if she had gotten most of it wrong. I do love her positive and happy attitude though! Hopefully she will inculcate good habits of being able to check her own work and spot mistakes so that she does not need to constantly rely on her teachers (or me).

Growth mindset?
Develop a Growth Mindset: Sad to say, Kate has a fixed mindset and gives up easily. I assumed that since I have more of a growth mindset, so will my kids! Faced with a difficult activity, she simply said, “I don’t know. I don’t want to do it anymore” and refused to try. When Teacher Jim asked the kids, “Who is ready for a challenging round? Thumbs up if you are!” The other kids enthusiastically raised their hands, except for Kate. Finally she managed a half-hearted thumbs up, seeming to say fine, I will give it a go. Still, baby steps!

Term 1 has just ended and we’re heartened to see good progress in most areas. What’s more interesting is that Teacher Jim has unearthed some of Kate’s deep-seated habits and attitudes and is working on guiding her to un-do them.

She doubts her own ability and often cannot resist giving herself an advantage by peeking at others instead of thinking and being confident of her own answers. So much so that she has honed the skill of being able to copy discreetly. At 4?? Gasp. (And yes, I managed to catch a shot of her in action. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.)

He also noticed that whenever a question is asked, Kate waits for others to answer and immediately follows and shouts out the answer as her own. No wonder we always thought of her as a smart child! Aware of this, he encourages Kate to think carefully and come up with an answer, to build up her confidence in her own ability.

Her strengths and weaknesses are clearer to me now and with awareness, I can work hand in hand with her teachers to guide her to reach her learning potential.

At times, I will hear her spontaneously chirp, “Don’t give up! Keep trying!” while sticking with a task and I can see the growth mindset slowly being internalised.

It will take time, but I’m glad she’s only 4 and already on the path of closing her learning gaps one by one and building a strong foundation of positive learning habits to excel in school.

Trial classes at The Little Executive are conducted every Saturday which includes The Executive Assessment.

Trials at $48
Suitable for N2-P2
1.5 hour session
Trial classes are parent-accompanied.

The Little Executive
144 Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 229844
(between Newton circus and KK Hospital)
www.thelittlexecutive.asia
Tel: 6908 1889
Email: knockknock@thelittleexecutive.asia

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Tackling the new school year

We made it! The first week of school has come to an end. What a week it has been. With the exception of #1 who is in the middle of her poly semester, there were lots of changes for the other kids.

We toned our activities down on Sunday and the younger ones were in bed by 8pm. I was all psyched and set my alarm for 5am.

I felt like a chef in a restaurant after watching Ratatouille too many times with the kids, and I’m proud to say I surpassed my own expectations! Managed to whip up a tasty and wholesome meal in 20 minutes and the kids wiped their plates clean and left for school in a jolly mood.

First day of school breakfast

We did not have a harrowing start with bag mix ups and mad bus chase like last year, but things did go downhill from that perfect morning.

With several kids and new routines, that is hardly surprising.

#4 started Sec 1 in a school in our neighbourhood, and she decided to walk home. We have driven past that direction on numerous occasions and she was confident of finding her way home and was unfazed by the 40-minute trek.

However, she got lost!

She was dismissed at 4pm and I had a call half an hour later. I told her to sit and wait at a bus stop and we would come get her after Kate’s enrichment class ended.

She waited for more than an hour at the bus stop and needless to say, she was famished and tired. What an end to Day 1 where she was already feeling lost as there was not one student from her previous school and everything was new and strange.

At dinner, the older girls shared their first day of secondary school stories, which included both laughter and tears.

As for little Miss Kate, we had it all planned. We opted for extended day and she would stay in school till 3pm for afternoon activities. That would give me more time to work and I wouldn’t need to rush around so much. She herself asked for it as she said she was a ‘big girl’ and wanted to stay back with her friends.

After the first day, although she did brilliant, she refused to stay back anymore and wanted to revert to the same 12.30pm dismissal as 2016. Perhaps the reality was not what she imagined! Did she envision just hanging around and playing? Possibly.

Sigh, it would have been a perfect arrangement. That one day of having her at school for the whole day spelt freedom! Having time from 9am to 3pm all to myself to work in peace was something I haven’t experienced in many, many years.

Alas, she is not ready, and I shall not push her. After all, in the big scheme of things, she barely turned 4, and I will wait patiently and give her space and time to grow more independent. We’ve managed to squeeze in time for our short daily strolls to unwind and chat, and that is something she looks forward to.

“Pretty flower for you, mummy?”

#2 is awaiting her O level results and it was funny seeing her at home on a school day. Next week! Such exciting times! To see where the next step of her education will take her. She’s been such a dear and came down to my centre to help with the cleaning and packing as we prepped for the new year.

#3 has moved up to Sec 3, and has a new set of classmates as they were streamed into the different subject combinations. It’s going to be 2 of her most important and memorable years as she and her peers head full swing into preparing for their SYF performance, focusing on their chosen subjects, enjoying their school trips together, and form unbreakable bonds for life.

As for my one and only dear son, it’s unbelieveable that he is already in P5. Seeing what #4 went through, I imagine the pace in school to pick up tremendously this year and I have to monitor his progress as well as make sure he is able to cope with the added demands of school.

Now that they are all nicely settled in school, I have time to devote to my work and do what I enjoy.

Speaking to the parents coming through my enrichment centre, I can see the tide turning and in the wake of the recent suicide cases, parents are worried about stressing their kids too much and are searching for a better way.

We are running parenting workshops over a relaxing high-tea session to share tips and ideas on how to help our kids tackle the academic year successfully with less stress. It will be an interactive talk with lots of opportunites to answer your questions.


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?

#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 – Get into the PSLE fray? Not me


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Dino Discovery Camp @ The Little Executive

It has been a busy, busy week at my centre with our holiday camps in full swing. Our mini palaeontologists had so much fun learning about dinosaurs while working alongside their new teammates.

We use themes which interest kids to teach a wide range of skills necessary for school such as cognitive flexibility, creating reasonable hypothesis, conditional reasoning, as well as life skills such as problem-solving, being a team player, and having the ability to communicate their ideas well.
Enthusiastic paleontologists

Several kids who enjoyed our previous Astronaut Training Camp joined us again and were delighted to see their ex-camp mates.

The happiest little kid was Kate, who could jump into the car with me in the mornings instead of hearing me say, “Bye, mummy has to go to work now.”

Delighted to be in mummy’s school

A wide range of sensory activities are carried out in our camps as these naturally encourage children to explore scientific processes, such as making predictions and observations and developing analytical skills. A further benefit is that children retain the most information when they engage their senses in experiential learning.

Squishy squashy mud

In our Dino grid game, the kids were split into 2 teams, and the carnivores had to catch the herbivores. Similar to a chess game, they have to think ahead and strategize so as not to be ‘eaten’. They make decisions as a team, directing their player on the grid. We had several frightened little herbivores, afraid to be ‘eaten’ by the carnivorous dinos!

Strategy game
We go to great lengths to make learning come alive and everything we do in the classroom has a real world example. For example, by examining the size and shape of the footprints, the children were able to deduce which dinosaur it came from.
Field notes
Our mini palaeontologists learned how fossils were formed over millions of years and had a chance to make fossil imprints in ‘mud’. This enabled them to understand how real life paaleontologists deduce information based on incomplete evidence.
Fossil imprints

There were lots of hands-on activities to keep them engaged and it was lovely to see some of the kids move from being fearful of getting their hands dirty with sensory work to enjoying the experience with their friends. Kate does plenty of baking at home with me and she gleefully dugged in with both hands to shape her dino eggs.

Hiding dinos in their eggs

And… viola! Some tails were peeking out!

DIY dino eggs
In our speculation exercise “If I lived with the Dinosaurs…” they were guided on deductive reasoning and encouraged to use their imagination. This is a fun way for a child’s executive functioning skills to be challenged (critical thinking, flexibility, planning) because they need to figure out their priorities to survive. 

Scenarios were discussed, and they were prompted to think further – “how would you catch your fish?” or “how would you find food if you are not going to come out of your cave at all?” I loved reading the different answers! Simply adorable, what these kids come up with.
Creative writing

The older kids worked together to consolidate the various activities they have been doing by creating a pre-historic scene. Judging by the laughter coming from the rooms, they seemed to be having a great time with their new friends.

Our P1s

Our N2s created their own dinosaur world which they were all so proud of. Kate was the last to finish her work as she was so meticulous. Look at her serious face.

Their pre-historic world

They were taught the grid system, which is a typical way a fossil grid site is organized. This enables palaeontologists to record the horizontal and vertical positions of the excavated fossils and artifacts.

For children, grid work is important in developing their visual tracking skills, spatial orientation and perspective taking, all of which are important for the classroom and beyond. Most of all, they get all excited when they manage to dig up a bone!

Grid work

Parents were invited for the last 30 minutes on the last day to see what the kids had been up to, and it was a first for many parents to watch their kids do a show-and-tell. We had a lot of shy kids this round, and it was wonderful to see them have the courage to stand up there in front of so many parents, even though some of the N2s could only manage a whisper. Great effort, kids!


It was extremely heartening to see many dads come in during their lunch hour to be involved in their children’s lives. The mums relegated the job of cracking the hardened eggs to the dads and you could see the glee on the kids’ faces when the eggs finally broke!

Daddies in the house

We had such a great time with these little darlings and everyone was sad that the camp has come to an end.

Our graduating Palaeontologists

It has been an amazing few weeks working alongside my team of passionate teachers, with the common goal of making the camp enjoyable and meaningful for the kids. As exhausting as it was, seeing the kids have fun, open up, and learn so well over the 4 days is the reward in itself. Probably something only educators can relate to!

TLE team

1 camp down, 2 more to go. Our P1 Prep camp starts tomorrow and I’m certain the kids will have a swell time running their mini ‘tuck shop’ and learning strategies to get them ready for the big transition.

Our last camp for the year will be the Astronaut Training Camp and there are a few remaining slots so let your little ones join us for a unique space mission they will not forget!



The Little Executive
144 Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 229844
Tel: 69081889
Email: knockknock@thelittleexecutive.asia

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~


Preparing for Primary 1: Setting them on the right path

Reading about the Primary 5 boy who committed suicide over his results and the two students from a top JC who ended their lives a few months ago, discussions about our highly stressful education system have been raging. I feel heavy hearted, because for every case we hear about, there are many more suicide attempts and distress signals which go unheard.

We all want the best for our children, and as parents with pre-school children, what can we do to give them a headstart without giving them unnecessary stress?

The solution is not pumping them with tuition. Amidst the proliferation of Primary 1 prep classes, experts warn against pre-teaching content and concepts which will be covered in Primary 1.

Dr Nimala Karuppiah, an early childhood and special needs education lecturer at the National Institute of Education, said that these classes may “over-prepare” young children for primary school. They may become bored and uninterested in learning. Once that happens, it is difficult to make them love learning again,” she says.

However, we recognise that the transition from pre-school to primary school is significant, and there are many areas we do need to prepare our children in, to ensure a smooth transition.

Getting ready for P1

Ask any parent with a primary school kid (or 5, like me) and he or she will be able to tell you that navigating primary school requires more than just being able to sit down with your books.

In a normal school day, they need to be able to pack their school bags according to the timetable, copy down homework in their homework diaries, start on their homework at the right time, communicate important information, remember to ask parents to sign consent forms, learn their spelling, pay attention in class, follow instructions, obey rules, wait their turn, adapt to change, buy food from the canteen, make new friends, handle disappointments, and so much more.

These are categorised as Executive Functioning skills. Instead of hoping that they will somehow ‘get it’, these skills can be improved with direct teaching. We had an interesting conversation amongst a group of teachers. The secondary school teachers assumed these skills were taught at the primary levels, while the primary school teachers expected P1 kids to come equipped with these “common sense” traits.

The fact is, during our generation, we picked these skills up via incidental learning. These days, children are receiving less face-to-face contact, supervision and support from both parents and teachers. Coupled with more demands placed on them, that is where the breakdown happens and many of these skills are not developed in children by the time they enter formal schooling at age 7.

Before they embark on their primary school journey, teaching children How to learn in a What to learn culture will go a long way towards helping them achieve their potential.

In our Primary 1 Prep camps, we cover the basics of Executive Functioning skills such as task initiation, organisation, planning and prioritising, flexibility, strengthening sustained attention, problem-solving, improving working memory and impulse control, amongst others.

By equipping them with skills and strategies which they can harness for all subjects, they will be able to handle the demands of our curriculum and forge ahead over the years. We want to give them that learning edge.

At each age level, students are expected to cope with an increase in workload and independence, and without a firm foundation and proper system, we may see a drop in performance, which usually becomes apparent at Primary 3 or 4.

Recent studies show that all children stand to benefit from developing these executive functioning skills, and school becomes less overwhelming and more manageable. We teach them how to plan their activities, make schedules, get started, and see them through. The goal is to gradually fade supervision and increase self-reliance.

#5’s homework (P3)

In our fast-changing world, it is not enough to be book-smart. On top of these practical strategies, we hope to inculcate in them a growth mindset, where they are not afraid of challenges, see failure as a learning experience and have the resilience to keep persevering.


Whether they are eager or anxious in moving to a big school, this is the best time to frame primary school in a positive light. The role of an educator or parent as a mediator is very powerful, but often overlooked. Our teachers stand as a mediator to frame, interpret and draw attention to what the child is about to learn or experience, benefiting a lifetime of learning.

As we equip them with the necessary skills, we want our K2s to be excited about embarking on this new phase of their lives, taking pride in their work and taking ownership of their learning.

The gift we wish to give every child who comes through our doors is the knowledge that they are able. That they have it in them and can succeed in what they set their minds on, no matter how many times they may fail.

They will keep going. They will never give up.

And that, is the hallmark of a Little Executive.

P1 Prep Class

This year-end school holidays, we are bringing back our extremely well-received Astronaut camp, for K1 to P4 children. More details about the activities we did in a review by Debra, mum of Ryan (N2), about Astro Daryl’s great adventure by A Pancake Princess, A P2 child –Dana’s experience of learning Executive Functioning skills, and how we incorporate the Growth Mindset while the kids are having fun! The kids said it was the best camp ever, and some wished the camp lasted the whole year and they could come here every day.

Astronaut Training Camp: 13-16 December 2016
9am – 12pm: K1 – P2
2pm – 5pm: P1 – P4

The kids who have enjoyed Astronaut Training camp are looking forward to our Dinosaur camp which promises to be just as exciting, as we trace how dinosaurs lived through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceons periods, while learning about evolution. This camp also highlights inductive and deductive reasoning skills, sequencing and problem-solving abilities, and is suitable for N2 – P4 children.

Dino Discovery Camp: 29 November – 2 December 2016
9am – 12pm: N2 – K2
2pm – 5pm: P1 – P4


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

What makes a good Teacher?

Despite my crazy schedule, teachers’ day is always a significant event in our yearly calendar, and I make time to mark this day. Teachers are such a big part of my children’s lives, and besides the heartfelt words of thanks throughout the year, this is one day we can formally show our appreciation to these very special people.

The flurry of activity started the day before in our kitchen as #3 and her bff spent the whole afternoon making cake pops. This year, I decided to use a fairly simple chocolate chip recipe to bake cookies for Kate’s teachers so that she could do most of the steps with minimal assistance from me.

It was dinnertime by the time the last batch of cookies were done and she packed them into little boxes and used her name stickers to seal them. All set!

In the morning, I taught her to hand the boxes to each of her teachers and she giggled and gave them hugs while wishing them.

I can bake!

After depositing her in school, the hubs and I prepared to go over to #2’s school as she was performing a solo item! Unfortunately, before her act, the hubs had to rush off to pick Kate up. That’s how it’s like when you have too many kids.

We were extremely proud of her for the courage to want to go up on stage to sing on teachers’ day. It wouldn’t have been possible if the teacher in charge did not back them up, allow them this opportunity, and give them words of encouragement as their nerves took over.

Despite the hurdles of not having rooms approved for her, the pianist and the drummer to practice together, and of being in the middle of prelims, they pressed on and did a good show to wild screams from their peers.

It didn’t matter that the singing wasn’t spectacular, but such spirit! One seemingly small step of a student going up on stage to sing. But the message was strong. Nothing is impossible. Dare to dream. Have the strength to persevere. I’m sure they will remember this for a long time to come.

And who knows? Many may have been inspired to step out of their comfort zone and rise up to challenges as they leave this school and embark on the next phase of their lives.

As part of the parents’ support group, we were invited to the teachers’ day celebrations where we showed our appreciation on behalf of all the parents by handing over the gifts we made, and thanking the teachers for their hard work.

Together, we prayed a beautiful prayer for teachers,

(Teachers:)
May our gift of teaching;
Awaken minds to new ideas, and expand hearts beyond boundaries.

May our love of learning;
Lead students to awe and wonder at their participation in our sacred universe.

May our story-telling inspire imagination and creativity;
And our example lead those we teach to be generous and noble.

(Parents:)
May your desire to educate;
Evoke the unique gifts of each student, and the deep desires of each heart

And, as you bless your students on their way;
May you delight at the gift your life offers to the future.


What struck us mummies was that teachers’ day celebrations in school are a far cry from what we had in our day.

Students from the media CCA groups came up with video montages and the young teachers gamely posed, danced and lip-synced to the delight of their students.

They also had a fun segment where awards were given out to teachers amidst much cheering, and it was heartwarming to see the camaraderie between the teachers, students, Principal and VPs.

We had a late lunch with their friends before coming back to the other kids.


#4 related an oral practice session they had in class and the topic was “What makes a good teacher?”

Given how much I had been hearing about their teachers piling them with homework prior to the PSLE countdown, I half expected things like, “A good teacher is someone who doesn’t scold us” or “Someone who gives us less homework.”

However, I was surprised how matured these 12-year olds were.

These were the top 8 traits they listed, ranked in order.

1. Someone who is patient.

2. Someone with the ability to make lessons interesting.

3. Someone who is understanding.

4. Someone who is fair to all.

5. Someone who is approachable.

6. Someone who is helpful.

7. Someone who is kind.

8. (She couldn’t recall what the eighth trait was).

My faith has been renewed in children! We tend to think of children collectively as being from a spoilt, ‘me-first’ generation.

It probably takes a saint to have all of those traits all of the time!

To all teachers, we wish you a very Happy Teachers’ Day! Enjoy the long weekend with your family and loved ones. We appreciate the good work that you do, day in day out.

And now that I run an enrichment centre, I have a team of teachers!

Let us never forget the why behind what we are doing, and besides enjoying teaching the easy and teachable kids, when the going gets tough, when the children are challenging, may we remember that it is a calling to be an educator, a responsibility as much as a privilege that we must never take lightly.

And not only is it the job of educators, but we parents are our children’s first teachers. I leave you with this prayer, which we ended the teachers’ day celebration with:

Enable me to teach with wisdom for I help to shape the mind.
Equip me to teach with truth for I help to shape the conscience.
Encourage me to teach with vision for I help to shape the future.
Empower me to teach with love for I help to shape the world.

HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY!


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

NEW Changes to PSLE Scoring and Secondary One Posting

The wait is finally over!

MOE has just released more details of the changes which are going to take place, starting from the 2021 cohortIn a bid to reduce the excessive focus on academic result due to the fine differentiation of students by aggregate points, they are changing to a grade band.

Since our PM announced this change almost 3 years ago, parents have voiced tremendous disapproval at this suggestion, speculating what sort of criteria would be used as the tie-breaker when there are students with the same grades, for example 4 As or 4 Bs.

Here’s where MOE is going to make the biggest change. They are introducing 8 Achievement Levels (ALs), with AL 1 being the best. This is similar to the O Level grading system, just that the mark range is different.

Credit: MOE press release

The PSLE Score is the sum of ALS across the four subjects, ranging from 4 to 32, with a score of 4 being the best. Students with a score of 4 – 20 will be streamed into the Express course.

See table above for the placement outcomes of Express, N(A) and N(T) and their corresponding PSLE scores.

The other significant change is that previously, when there were students having the exact same PSLE score fighting for the last place in a school, they would be allocated to the secondary school based on a computerised balloting.

Many parents were not privy to this, but yes, for the few students in this situation, it was down to luck. In future, choice order would be the new tie-breaker.

What this means is that, say for example there are 3 students fighting for the last place in a particular school.

Student A puts it as his 1st choice, Student B puts it as his 2nd choice, and Student C puts it as his 3rd choice.

In this scenario, Student A would be given priority for the spot.

With this wider scoring bands as compared to aggregate points, we will see a higher percentage of students who will end up in this situation.

Thus, more than ever, we have to use our 6 choices judiciously.

This new scoring system looks to be the middle ground between the aggregate score (which is too fine) and grade bands of A,B,C,D (which is too broad).

The way I see it, this seems to be the most practical solution to move towards their goals of reducing an over-emphasis on chasing the last mark and hopefully free up time and space for a more holistic education and well-rounded family life.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

School Stories #17: No more T-score. Now what?

After waiting almost 3 years for more details, MOE has finally released some information pertaining to doing away with the PSLE aggregate score.

During his 2013 National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the PSLE T-score will be replaced with wider scoring bands, like the O and A level exams, in a bid to reduce stress levels by not sorting the students so finely.

Now we have a date. 2021.

The first batch of pupils to be affected will be this year’s Primary 1 cohort.

Parents with children from P2 to P6 can heave a sigh of relief at finally getting an answer, and continue with their current strategies.

In the meantime, the other parents are second-guessing what is in store as more information will only be released in the coming months.

The big question being, how is MOE going to address the issue of allocating places into secondary schools when they will clearly get many students with similar grades vying for that last spot.

Already, super kiasu parents have been pre-empting the announcements and are padding their children’s resumes in the event that non-academic achievements can be used as the tie-breaker.

This would be an unfortunate scenario, as instead of alleviating the current high stress levels, it will add even more stress to the children as parents push them to achieve in these other areas as well.

Furthermore, it will widen the gap between the haves and have-nots as wealthy parents have more money and time at their disposal to ferry their kids to the best enrichment classes around, some who can even “guarantee” good portfolios.

Worse, I hope that we will never see a day when parents drive their kids even harder to attain the next band up, instead of just the next point up.

The GREY HANDBOOK

What are the changes?

So far, I’m in agreement with everything that has been announced.

– that “the new system will no longer depend on how pupils do relative to each other”, as has been with the T-score.

Strange that this system has gone unquestioned for so long. If I scored an A, it shows I have a good grasp of the material, and I’m satisfied with the effort I put in. Not only will it beget contentment and equanimity, but is a healthier mentality than thinking, “I have to score an A* to beat the others.”

– that it will only be implemented in 2021 as the ministry needs a “few years to work through the changes carefully, developing and testing the new exam and secondary school posting systems”.

Such a major overhaul is going to throw up unforeseen challenges and ample time is needed to consider how the herd will respond, so that unintended consequences can be carefully smoothened out to ensure this change is indeed for the better.

– that “a five-day OBS (Outward Bound Singapore) expedition-based camp will be compulsory for all Sec 3 students from 2020”.

Brilliant. I have always believed that the outdoors is a terrific teacher, in more ways than one. More opportunities to spend time in the great outdoors is necessary especially in this age where our kids are so sheltered and spend way too much time indoors, and on their gadgets.

– that “more will be done to match students’ interests with their course of study” and “up to 12.5% of the polytechnic intake, starting from next year’s cohort, will be admitted via the new Early Admissions Exercise (EAE)”. “The EAE will assess students’ suitability for admission on the basis of their aptitude, talents and interests in the courses they are applying for. This could include interviews, aptitude tests and portfolios”.

Tertiary education admission is an important part of the whole equation, as parents would be reassured of the chances of their children entering their chosen fields, and has to be carefully administrated.

All good changes in the right direction. But how does that solve the problem of the high stress levels and parents’ unrelenting chase for sought-after-schools?

Nothing will change if mindsets don’t change.

It baffles me how on one hand, parents are waiting with bated breath to see what alternatives the MOE will come up with, yet whenever new policies are introduced, they will try to find ways to maximise their child’s chances and look for loopholes to squeeze their children into schools which they perceive as ‘good’.

There will always be a tier of parents who are aiming for the creme de la creme list, believing that the elite schools and the benefits that come with them will outweigh any cost or sacrifice, whether on their part or their child’s.

So be it.

However, for the great proportion of parents who wish there was a better way, a way where they can walk away from this academic arms race, yet not short-change their children, here’s what can be done.

Make the majority of schools desirable to the majority of students and parents, to spread out the demand.

What do I mean?

Let’s just pretend that this year, #4 were to score 250 for her PSLE. I would strongly encourage her to go to the same school as her 2 older sisters even though the cut-off point is 230.

I have witnessed first-hand how the school has shaped #2 over the past 4 years, and as a Parents’ Support Group volunteer (aka opportunity to watch her interact with her peers, have informal chats with her teachers and even her Principal), I have journeyed with her closely to know that she has imbibed much more than academic knowledge.

From their specialised Learning for Life programme which every student went through from Sec 1 to Sec 4, to the vast number of leadership opportunities to nurture them, the dedication of so many caring teachers (which I can write a whole post on) and the “looking-out-for-one another” culture amongst them, I have been converted to a loyal supporter of their school.

The branding and identity of each school has to be that strong.

This entails a two-pronged approach.

The first aspect would be for every school to have a specialised programme which benefits every single one of their students, not just a select few, and the second but equally important part, is to market these programmes well to both the students and parents.

And guess what?

All our secondary schools already have these wonderful unique programmes running!

Surprised?

Here’s what else our Acting Education Minister Mr Ng Chee Meng announced recently:

“(The next few years) will give parents and pupils the chance to understand and adjust to the new system. In the process, secondary schools will develop strengths and specialised programmes. This will allow students to choose a school that is a good fit for them”
 

In 2013, then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said that all secondary schools will offer two distinctive programmes by 2017 to develop students beyond academics.

One is an applied learning programme to help students see the relevance of what they learn and the second, a “learning for life” programme to develop character and skills such as teamwork through activities like a school expedition.

The problem is, not many parents are aware of these programmes.

I still remember the process I went through with #1 and #2 when we had to pick 6 schools after the PSLE results were out.

We took out THE GREY HANDBOOK which listed all the secondary schools alphabetically.

As with many parents, the order to select a school went more or less like this:

1) Brand name (Let’s just see.. WOAH!)

2) Cut-off point (We’ll flip around and highlight those that are close)

3) Distance (Narrow down the search of eligible schools by distance)

4) CCAs (Check that the shortlisted schools have CCAs he/she intends to join)

5) Details of programmes (Read about the specialised programmes and awards. With 165 pages of details of schools, we were overwhelmed and read only those we shortlisted)

6) Friends (All the better if possible to be in the same school)

We visited the various open houses and surfed the websites of the schools we were keen on. Problem was, we didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to be looking for.

I casually interviewed the neighbours in my condo with secondary school going children and most of them gave me vague answers such as, “The school is not bad. The Principal is quite nice. The teachers seem ok. The friends so far also ok.”

Not once did anyone mention, much less rave about any outstanding programme they knew about. Yet their own kids were studying in the school!

One neighbour did mention that her son’s school has a rock climbing wall. “Since your kids like to do rock climbing, they can consider this school.”

Come to think of it, I do not even know what specialised programme #1’s school had and she has already graduated!

Perhaps MOE needs a better marketing communications team.

Enough of “Every school a good school.”

It’s like saying “Every parent a good parent”.

Don’t we expect every parent to be a good parent?

We need to face the fact squarely that every school is not the same, just as every student and every household is not the same.

The message should be more along the lines of Every school has a unique programme. Which one fits your child?

While writing this post, it dawned on me that if #2’s school has such a wonderful programme, all the other schools must have one too!

I started pouring over the tiny print in THE GREY BOOKLET and lo and behold, I am intrigued.

What sort of specialised programmes are we talking about?

If you look under the innocuous heading of “Special Student Development Programmes” in THE GREY HANDBOOK, you will see that they run the gamut from Social Entrepreneurship training, to Eco-sustainability, Robotics and Engineering, Effective communication/public speaking, Business & enterprise/Essentials of Marketing, Leadership with service to the community and even applied learning through Aerospace!

I had actually gone through the handbook twice, once with #1 and again when #2 had a different aggregate score from her sister, yet none of these remarkable programs caught my attention.

There is a lot of information and jargon to sieve through and it is easy to get overwhelmed.

Specialised programmes

We were given 7 days to make our selection of 6 schools and as a result, we defaulted to the more easily defined match of cut-off points, potentially missing out on wonderful opportunities to discover other schools which may have been a better fit.

Then there are the niche programmes.

All schools have been building up their niche programmes, be it in sports, science or the arts.

That’s an excellent way not only to distinguish themselves, but to pool resources and groom our youngsters who show aptitude and interest in a variety of arenas.

However, say I live in the East. Would it be practical for my child to travel all the way to the West for a niche sport?

It has been physically and mentally draining for my 3 older kids as training in their niche activity took up 3 days per week. One mistake I made was not factoring in peak hour traffic.

For #1, it took her 20 minutes to get to school by bus, but an hour to get home because during peak hour traffic, the buses were full and did not stop. By the time she got home it was 7.30pm, which left her hardly enough time to finish her homework and get to bed at a decent hour.

The more realistic scenario would be to look at the schools in the vicinity of our homes, consider their cut-off points and keep in mind the niche areas.

If there is no good fit, that’s where the level-wide Learning for Life programmes would come in to distinguish one school from another.

Branding Every school

For many years, I’ve seen a strange phenomena going on in my older children’s previous primary school.

It is a popular school with frantic volunteering and balloting as it is consistently in the top 10 ranking.

However, after a few years of having their child in the school, the parents are wondering what all the hype is about, and can see no significant advantage the school has to offer. And the most dismal realisation is that the stellar results were achieved via excessive tuition.

How’s that for successful branding?


I still remember vividly an article about a school which allowed their entrepreneur club students to run the drinks stall in the school canteen. I don’t remember the details as it was many years ago but it stuck in my mind.

Parents need to hear about exciting events and experiences that go on in the schools and the media can play its part.

How will we know we have succeeded?

We need a paradigm shift from the prevailing method of choosing a secondary school to this scenario:

Mum: These 10 schools (with a various range of cut-off points) have niche activities or specialised programmes that you would like to pursue, and ethos which our family aligns with. Instead of spending 6 hours a week on tuition for several subjects, let’s allocate 2 hours for tuition on your weak subject and spend the rest of your time on family activities or other pursuits.

Another way to look at it is if the child is very talented in a particular field and sets his sights on a certain school with that niche area, it would be a great motivator for him/her to work hard to achieve the necessary grades.

Hard to study all 165 schools’ information
Time to update the way THE GREY HANDBOOK presents the information.
Now that our secondary schools are rolling out interesting and successful programmes, it is time to make the information easily digestible by parents.
 
I had the misguided impression that the “Special Student Development Programmes Offered” paragraph was simply acclaiming their school’s merit, with jargon like highly effective programme, balanced academic curriculum, and various mentions of awards, that I gave it a cursory glance.
 
The way the information is presented seems to be at the discretion of the schools, and for some, it was not clear if the programmes / overseas trips mentioned were for the whole cohort or a select few.
 

It would be immensely helpful if parents could have a separate summary booklet of all the schools’ unique programs, in a consistent format. And after shortlisting the schools, they can refer to the handbook and the websites for more information.


A cheat sheet like this would be useful (the following information was randomly lifted from the grey handbook).

Nearest MRT: Ang Mo Kio

Type of school: Co-ed / SAP / IP

Mother Tongue: Chinese / Malay / Tamil

Learning for Life programme: (For All students) Design Thinking

Aims: To prepare students for the complexities and challenges faced in this digital age of social and economic revolution and innovation.

Sec 1: Integrated learning journey with holistic learning experiences

Sec 2: Leadership camp

Sec 3: Overseas adventure camp

Sec 4: Whole school youth carnival cum learning fiesta

Programme for selected students based on aptitude: Design Thinking focusing on Health Sciences and Technology, in partnership with Science Centre Singapore.

Niche area: Hip hop dance (I’m simply picking one CCA out from their list, as it is neither listed in the grey handbook nor on their website or I’m just not enough of a sleuth.)

Special mention: The students’ work in designing and making rehabilitation equipment for real-life nations with wrist injuries, has been showcased at MOE ExCEL Feast 2013 and the PS21 Convention 2013.

Many parents hold the mindset that academic comes first, and all else is secondary. However, I can see how these concurrent programmes actually help to motivate them in their studies, and give them vital skills which would not only serve them well in the school setting but more importantly, laying a strong foundation for them as they move on to tertiary education and beyond.

If you ask any child, they will likely tell you that the fondest memories they hold of their secondary school life are the school camps, overseas trips, or organising of events with their friends.

Why wait till Primary 6 to hand out such important information about the  secondary schools and what they offer?

This information should be made available to parents much earlier. Or at least an abridged version.

Parents can then watch out for the budding interests in their children over the years, perhaps join some CCAs in primary school or externally to see if their interest is sustained, and start to make their plans accordingly.

If more details can be provided about what the secondary schools have to offer, parents can make a more informed decision as to which school would best fit their child instead of solely relying on brand names to equate with quality education.

With more parents loosening up and not joining in the fray to enter the perceived ‘good’ schools, whatever new system that will be implemented to sort the pupils by a wider band will have a chance of success at what it aims to do: reduce the stress of this high stakes exam.

A simple analogy.

Instead of trying to use genetic modification to make all fruits look like apples (or durians, the King of fruits), shouldn’t we embrace the fact that together, the different fruits make a dynamic fruit basket bursting with colour?

Changes are happening very rapidly and our children will be facing challenges which they have to rise up to and conquer.

Are they prepared?

As a nation, do we want to be shackled by the single-minded pursuit of chasing that last mark as can be seen by the billion dollar tuition industry?

The next few years will be extremely interesting, to see how parents react to the new measures and if there will indeed be a shift in mindset.

Oh well, we will have no part in this academic arms race and go on our merry way as we have always done.

The good news is, now I know what to look for, and the secondary school landscape is looking much brighter for #5 and Kate. I’m going to study THE GREY HANDBOOK to mark off some suitable schools for my son!

PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really aboutWho is behind MOE

PSLE results: A test of the parents more than the child

ECHA – The mother of all awards

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?

#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.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com –  a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~