“I’m really looking forward to going to Primary One, are you?” My son asked me enthusiastically towards the end of his year in Kindergarten Two.
“Well… it would be interesting for you to make new friends and learn new things,” I replied cautiously. Recalling my own experience in the pressure cooker system, and having heard many anecdotes of how young children are getting stressed out in school, I wasn’t exactly jumping with excitement over my son crossing the threshold into Primary One.
During the first two days of orientation, parents were invited to attend talks held in the school and to observe their children at recess. We were briefed on the school’s expectations of our children (and ourselves!), and the all-important modes of assessment for various subjects.
Upon leaving one of the talks, we heard a teacher barking at her students at least three classrooms away from where we were standing. Parents exchanged glances, wondering if that was their child’s form teacher and hoping that it was not.
What a contrast this environment was to my son’s preschool, where the children could approach their teachers without fear and teachers interact with them more informally.
Changes in Routine
Wanting to avoid the uncertainty of balloting for a place in the popular schools near our home, my husband and I opted instead for a school that we had affiliations with, although it is further away. We discovered only in late November that the school bus did not serve our area. With no other alternative, my son had to make the 45 minute journey to and from school by public bus.
It was a challenge to adjust meal times and bedtime to suit my son’s new routine. Being in the afternoon session meant that he had to take an early lunch at 11am, while the long bus ride home and peak period traffic jam resulted in him having his dinner as late as 8:30pm on some days.
By the fourth day of school, the poor boy, who was weak from hunger and tired from sleeping late the night before, literally dragged himself home and knocked out on the sofa.
My husband tried out several alternative routes home each day and eventually settled on taking the MRT to avoid getting stuck in peak period traffic. We also ensured that my son had a more substantial meal during recess and packed some snacks for his journey home.
All Work and No Play
Having spent the bulk of his day in school and the remaining time travelling, my son was left with very little time to do homework and rest. Unlike his carefree preschool days, my son no longer had time for the playground on weekdays. He now had the pressure of completing his homework before going to school the next day.
To ensure that my son did not burn out, my husband planned a timetable for him, allowing him to rest each night when he returned from school. We also kept the weekends free for him to play and recharge.
In my son’s kindergarten, children were rewarded with stickers for being punctual for school. They could collect these stickers and exchange them for a prize at the end of each term. However, the stick is used more than the carrot in his Primary school. Latecomers are booked.
My son is learning to take responsibility for getting to school on time. While he used to take his time over lunch, blissfully unaware that time is ticking, he now makes an effort to catch our regular bus to school and anxiously checks the time if the bus is late.
Unlike his kindergarten, where teachers communicate with parents directly through the Communication Book, my son is now expected to remember instructions and inform us of any communications from his teacher. He also has to keep a record of the homework which he is assigned each day. Thankfully, his kindergarten has prepared him well in this aspect by deliberately getting the children to relay an occasional verbal communication to their parents.
After misplacing a lunch box and finding some stationary and his wallet missing when he momentarily left them unguarded, my son is also more conscious of taking care of his belongings now.
Initially, I had wondered if it was worth subjecting my son to such a long daily commute to and from school. Would it have been better to get him transferred to a school that was nearer home?
However, I was assured of our choice of school when the mother of my son’s classmate shared her observations of her neighbours’ children as they waited for the school bus each day. “The children from this school seemed to look forward to going to school while the children from other schools appeared tired and more reluctant to go to school, that is why I chose to send my daughter here,” she told me.
I was also happy to hear from parents with older children in the school that this school made learning enjoyable and that the stress level was not as high as in other schools.
In place of tests and exams, the school makes use of frequent but low weightage “bite-sized assessments” to assess the student’s progress. With the stress of preparing for major exams removed, my son only needs to revise his work consistently and prepare for the occasional “Show and Tell” for English or “Hands-on” assessment for Mathematics.
The Chinese teacher’s use of computer animation to teach has also made Chinese my son’s favourite subject in school (despite his low exposure to the language at home)!
First Semester Review
Before my son entered Primary One, I had sought the advice of other parents on how to prepare him for the increased expectations on him. I was anxious that he may be doing things too slowly to keep up with the pace in school, or perhaps too lost in his own thoughts to take note of his teachers’ instructions and get into trouble for it.
The most common reply I got was “I did not prepare my child in any way. Not to worry, when your son is in the environment, he will adapt to it.”
Half a year later, I have found this to be true. Each day after school, my husband would ask my son how his day had been. Very often, my son would enthusiastically show a “thumbs up” sign.
One day, however, he told me, “Mummy, today I have bad news—there is no homework.” It turned out that he had enjoyed doing his Maths questions so much that he was disappointed by the lack of homework. He even asked if I could find more Maths questions for him to attempt!
So far, it seems like he is enjoying every aspect of school life, from classroom learning to playing at recess time. Perhaps I need not have worried. My boy is adapting just fine, and the pressure of our education system has not gotten to him—yet.