Monday, December 22, 2014

The Story of Three Pillows

Dolly came up with the story just as I was getting out of bed.

You know, mama, I have three pillows and their names are Shiver, Flowers and (looking around the room for inspiration).. Drink!

Shiver was in a room that was very cold and Shiver starts shivering. (She saw that I was amused and she started giggling too.) 

Flowers went to the garden and saw many beautiful pink flowers. Flowers smiled at them. The rest of the flowers were plucked by a ferocious dinosaur. 

Drink was so thirsty. It looked around the room for something to drink. Its mama gave it some yummy milk and it drank it all up.

She has been spinning stories for a few months now, usually weaving bits of newly acquired knowlege into her stories. Often, she gets inspired by her brothers' discussions.

I really must make more effort to blog about her development, even if I had blogged about similar achievements/development of the boys before. They may not be the first time I get to witness the achievement of developmental milestones, but they will ALWAYS be the first time for her when achieves each and every milestone. It is only fair that I view them in that light and be as excited about them as I was with her brothers.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Craze over All Things Prehistoric

This post is way overdue.

My 10 year old spent nearly 18 months obsessed over all things prehistoric.... since early 2013.

It was the beginning of Primary 3 when he attended Ethan A's party. Instead of the usual (junk) bag of candy, all kids were given a book to thank them for attending the celebrations.

My boys already have a bunch of books from this series at home, but after M read the one that his classmate gave, it rekindled his interest in all things prehistoric, specifically anything related to trilobites.

Very soon, M was hungry for more knowledge on the topic. He started reading up on the Internet and E gave him these books as one of his Christmas presents.

He buried his face in them the moment they were unwrapped and for a few weeks, he was always seen with them. I browsed them and like I mentioned to M again last night, they were sleep inducing to me (a comment which I know always made M smile).

The sheer amount of knowledge he amassed about all things prehistoric just through his reading was really eye-opening to me. He could talk for hours on this topic, but unfortunately, after a while, I got lost listening. He did inspire his classmates though and for months, he spent hours in school educating his friends on the topic. I only found out when parents of his classmates commended him on his knowledge and shared how their kids were inspired by him and some even became an avid reader of the same materials. Naturally, we were very pleased that he was so willing to share and encouraged him to continue. The sharing process will help clarify his own understanding and is also a great way to hone his presentation skill.

Over the period of 18 months, M started a mini collection of his own. Most were given to him as either Christmas or birthday presents. One of them was a reward that E promised him for the achievements at the Destination Imagination Global Final and the Odyssey of the Minds World Final this year. I must admit if E had discussed with me prior to making such promise, I would have dissuaded him from it. His experience at the competitions and the medals, trophies and certificates he received are more than enough rewards.

M's favourite is the one on the right (in the first photo) known as Crotalocephalus. He likes it because it sticks out of the matrix (which is the rock that the fossil is embedded in) so it is more 3-dimensional.

While I question the need to even own a trilobite, I recognise that it is often not about the need, but just a burning desire that stemmed out of passion for the topic. The dad is as usual, very indulging and supportive, so it would be an uphill battle to oppose too fervently.

Instead of just endless buying, E started a little project with M to create the trilobites in plaster and jumping clay. These (in the next two photos) are all rather good, especially when compared to the authentic ones.

Father and son devoted countless hours shopping for the materials and tools and researching the trilobites that M liked to replicate. The boy then toiled over his creations for weeks, starting with careful carving and completing them with a paint finish. It was a labour of love no less, and throughout the process, his perfectionistic nature was evident to all.

All kudos must go to the daddy who is always so indulgent and supportive of the kids' interests. This marked the beginning of many more meaningful projects that involve both father and son(s).

All in all, M was obsessed with all things prehistoric till this June, until something else caught his interest. That, I shall write in details in another post.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thoughts after Primary 4

The school year has ended with the boys finishing Primary 2 and 4 with flying colours. As usual, I reflected on our learning journeys.

Both attained a 94% average with high band 1 scores for all subjects. M scored full marks for Chinese Oral, his third time in a row, and also for his SA2 Math and a near full score for Science. We are very pleased, of course, that he was able to still maintain such standards at Primary 4.

Interestingly, Chip did better in overall % than M did two years ago, but his class placing was lower. Immediately, I knew it just meant his class has more academically stronger kids than M's Primary 2 class, another classic example that proves how meaningless it is to compare or reward class rankings, which the school does anyway. The situation created a need for us to emphasize to Chip that we are very proud of him and his achievements.

I also explained why being top 3 of a weaker class/school does not necessarily mean these kids are smarter/better than the top 20 or even 50 of a stronger class/school. And that it is only at the National Exams (like the PSLE and to a certain extent the GEP at Primary 3) that we can to a certain extent sort and rank kids according to their intellectual capabilities. So it does not matter much who is top of the class/school as long as every child aims to outdo himself. The goal is always to do your very best in every endeavour and hopefully, ace it with pride.

It is a concept that I find myself reiterate often throughout the years to both boys. This is especially relevant to M who is in the top class and hence surrounded by the cream of the crop. His form teacher this year went to great lengths to emphasize this point several times a year, possibly because he knows from past experience that it is inevitable for some kids to feel demoralized.

M did well enough in Chinese to be offered Higher Chinese next year. I learnt that schools can handle the Higher Chinese/Chinese curriculum differently. In his school, he will have two sets of Chinese books, but only lessons for Higher Chinese. This means, he has to learn the Normal Chinese himself. He will be given the homework and class worksheets that are given to students attending the Normal Chinese lessons but they can only be completed at home. Since he has no tutor, it means I will have to be the one to coach him entirely on Normal Chinese and get him ready for exams.

At first, E was against it. His rationale: the boy is doing just fine, so why shake things up. M was indecisive; mainly out of concern that he will have more homework. It is a valid point but not one that I would give much consideration to since he has never had much to begin with.

What I find irresistible is the opportunity to expose him more to the language with the hope that the experience will elevate his understanding and appreciation for the Chinese language. I truly believe that the more one understands the language, the more one will come to appreciate how beautiful it is.

I understand that it can be a huge challenge for some kids to cope with a 5th subject on top of the hectic Primary 5 curriculum but all his teachers agree that he should give it a try given his strengths academically. More importantly, I don't want him to just choose the path of least resistance. With every opportunity that is presented, I want him to learn that he should at least give it his best effort and not give up without a good fight. After much deliberation and discussion with him, we decided he should give it a go.

It will be interesting to see how he manages it all next year. It will not be a walk in the park for sure, since he will have to be in school till 4pm four times a week. Once to attend his enrichment programme (specially designed for his class only), two days for supplementary classes and a day for CCA. Of course, whether these supplementary classes are indeed beneficial or not, remains to be seen. But I have been told by his teachers that the school hours are insufficient to cover all the materials students are required to know, hence students are highly recommended to attend the supplementary classes.

Surprisingly, not all schools offer supplementary classes at Primary 5. If teachers in my sons' school, which is not known to be a pushy school but rather one that offers holistic education, are telling us that the usual school periods are insufficient to cover the curriculum, then this must be an issue faced by most schools too. Those who aren't offered any supplementary classes will have to self-learn, be tutored or be disadvantaged.

In fact, I have also come to learn that some schools do not even stream their students at Primary 5. It is a fact that some kids are more advanced than others and putting them all in a class of 40 to learn upper primary curriculum together does no one any good. The slower ones will be stressed by those more advanced and I am doubtful that they will learn from their more advanced peers just by being in the same class.

The more advanced ones will be frustrated by the simple syllabus and miss the chance of being stretched to his fullest potential. The most likely scenario is the teachers will have to adopt a dumb-down approach and teach just the minimum level with the goal to ensure that everyone will at least pass the subject. Will there be time for more discussion, inquiring or brainstorming? Who will truly benefit?

Unfortunately, some kids will be disadvantaged simply because they are in a certain school and others will be offered better opportunities and exposure because of the primary schools that they are enrolled in. Of course, there will also be parents who are of the view that the six years spent in primary school are just a small part of a child's education journey and if one is brilliant, it doesn't matter which school he is in. To that, my view has been consistent over the years, as mentioned in my previous posts, so I will not repeat.

While I believe all schools may be aiming to be a good school, and the definition of "good" is still subjective, but at the end of the day, they cannot and will never be equal. So there still has to be a good match between the school and child for excellent results to be produced.

Given our experience with the education system so far, I am now putting a lot more thoughts to the ideal primary school for my dolly. And I do need to think clear and straight and know which direction I am heading in the next few months.


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