So kids can’t play once they start school?

#5’s form teacher has been calling me regularly complaining of his bad behaviour. I know he’s a very naughty child, but I was wondering what sort of bad behaviour he was up to that she had to scold him almost everyday. I asked her if he had been getting into fights again and she said no. I decided it was time to nip it in the bud, so I asked her to text me daily after school with either “Bad” or “Good”. This was so that I could either punish him or reward him immediately so he knows what he did right or wrong, instead of waiting for a week or two to hear from her about his ‘generally bad and disruptive behaviour’.

I sat him down and told him Mrs Ng called me again and I was very unhappy with his behaviour. I asked him to explain himself but it seemed that he didn’t even know what sort of bad behaviour she was referring to. Finally after much thought, he ventured, “Is it because I always talk without putting up my hand? And I play with my eraser and frog pencil?” (I discovered that the frog pencil was a mechanical pencil his teacher gave them for children’s day).

The next day, I asked him how did he behave in school. He said, “Er, bad? Is it during origami class?” (He thinks I now have immediate information about his movements in school) I asked him to elaborate. He said that during Art lesson, they were given origami paper and taught to fold a dress. He did not want to fold a dress so he folded a crane, and the kids seated around him must have been watching and they would probably have talked. The teacher scolded him for folding his own thing and for disturbing his friends.

I explained to him that he could not have his way, as there are both boys and girls in the class. Sometimes it would be ‘girly’ stuff which he does not want to do but he still has to do it because it is difficult for the teacher to please everybody.

Even though I explained it that way to him, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and wondered if it should have been the way. Yes, I understand it is easier for the teacher to control the class if they were all compliant robots and followed step by step, but could she have been more open and receptive to kids with other ideas? Aren’t we trying to imbue creativity in our students? And it’s origami class for crying out loud, not Math lesson.

I spoke to some mummy friends about this and they said that most of the teachers they have come across in primary school expect such obedience. However, friends with kids in the international schools said that if you wanted to fold a crane, go ahead and fold a crane. The teacher might even have gotten the child to teach everyone to fold a crane. It reminded me of the enrichment class #5 went to during the June holidays and when he was not able to fold the dumpling the right way, he invented his own way and the teacher was flexible enough to allow him to do so.

Some of the mummies shared even more absurd stories of how some teachers insisted all the students paint the picture using the exact same colours. I guess now we know why Singaporean kids are not creative and can’t think out of the box. At the time when their creativity should be allowed to blossom, it is stifled. I wonder if we can find a way to marry the two, where we can encourage creativity and individuality within boundaries, in a setting where teachers feel able to handle the class.

The next day, the teacher texted me that he behaved badly again. She said that he was disruptive in class, talks unnecessarily during group work about unrelated topics and doesn’t put up his hands before speaking. Or if he does put up his hand, by the time he is called, he would say that he has forgotten what it was that he wanted to say. And he makes strange noises while lessons are going on. (Ok, I have no idea why he makes such noises.. perhaps he’s bored?)

I told him that he has to put his hand up before talking and to stop making strange noises. I didn’t know how else to deal with him so I spoke to #1 and asked her what she thinks (I was sure she has seen these sorts of issues with the boys in her class).

She looked up from her revision and said, “You know mum, this system is very strange. In primary school, we have to be quiet and raise our hands before talking. Spontaneity and creativity is not encouraged. But in secondary school, it’s the reverse. They want us to shout out the answers and contribute. He would fit right in where I am now, and the teachers would love him, but sadly, he will be pressed into this mould and over the years his desire to speak up will be curtailed as he is repeatedly punished for it.”

I was mulling this over and mentioned it to a teacher friend I bumped into in the market and she said that it was probably more the individual teachers, not the system. She lamented that #5 is the type of student the system is hoping to produce. Creative, out-spoken, courageous kids. Kids who dare to be different. However, some teachers do not support it as it is harder to handle.

 So much learning going on in free play

A few days ago, his teacher called me again, saying he was extremely naughty during recess. He and another boy shot rubber bands at their classmate. I questioned him about it, and in all earnestness, he tried to explain to me that they were trying to protect their friend (the king) from the enemy (the boy who was shot) and the rubber bands were their weapons. Sigh. This boy of mine. He sticks out like a sore thumb in this rigid sterile school environment. I’m sure he would feel right at home a generation ago where the boys happily caught frogs and fought one another with twigs during recess.

His teacher was exasperated and asked me how was his behaviour at home and what was his schedule like. I told her that after lunch, he spends his time playing with his baby sister, then does his homework. He goes to the playground every evening for an hour to play with the neighbourhood kids, usually soccer or ‘catching’. I could hardly believe my ears when she said “I think he’s playing too much. You should limit his play time. And you should start giving him tuition. He’s already in P2.”

I was speechless.

I think his teacher and I, we’re from a different planet altogether.

Related posts:

I did not give any of my kids tuition until the P6 year, as I believed that if they were of average intelligence, I expected them do relatively ok for the exams if they pay attention in class and hand in all their homework. However, this is not the case. They ended up failing just about every subject in P5. Read about it in “Why parents are forced to spend on tuition”.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

9 Replies to “So kids can’t play once they start school?”

  1. This teacher sounds like she doesn't have kids of her own otherwise why wouldn't she understand how to guide your son properly? I find that he is being very unfairly judged. Really ah? This sort of teacher is really common in our primary schools? That is really horrible!

  2. I think his teacher expects them all to sit properly, be quiet and follow instructions. No nonsense. But it's really hard for some boys to do that. Then the more the teacher brands him as naughty, the more he thinks there's no point being good.

  3. It is definitely the teacher, not the school or the system.
    As long as my kids are not bullying others, I let them be.

    But your child's teacher is extreme example.
    Too much play for P2? Tuition for P2? (WAKE up her idea)

    Maybe check with other parents whether they get regular "updates" from teacher too? (haha)

    Every little discomfort, their parent will sms my Mrs Why

  4. Hi Andy,

    Yes, these days kids are too over-protected and soft!

    Most of his classmates have tuition, and he's grades have been slipping, that's why she said that.

    In my girl's school, they are not even allowed on the field during recess! In case kids get hurt. Poor boys can't even run around to expand their energies.

  5. Hi Mummy Wee,

    I came across your post and I have to say my son is so very much alike your son in school! My son is in P1 this year and teacher had already called up four times to complain about his behaviors. Similar to your son, mine is talkative, disruptive, refuse to participate in discussion and outburst of strange noises eg talking to himself out loud. He is made to sit alone nearest to the teacher and I feel sorry for him. May I ask if you son has made any improvement on observating classroom rules two years after this post? Better control of himself? Grown more mature or more settled? I am at my wits end talking sense into him and I dreaded more calls from teachers again.

  6. Hi,

    We are in the same boat! The good news is, my son has shown a marked improvement this year. He's in P4 now, and I just spoke to his Chinese teacher who followed him up from P3. She said that he is much better behaved this year, and she attributes it to him being made the discipline monitor. (He was also made the discipline monitor in P2, but behaviour did not improve that year) This year, he seems to take his duties more seriously and he is more responsible. Take heart, and we can only be patient and never cease to tell them the right way to behave, and one day, they will surprise us. Yes, I know, it is going to be a tough few years ahead. You have my morale support! 🙂

  7. Thanks Mummy Wee for taking time to clear my doubts! It is heartening to know there is a glimpse of hope for my son on his behaviour issues although I have to wait for few more years for him to mature. Glad to know your son is better this year and all your hard works have paid off!

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