Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Fun with classmates after exams

The exams are over and I picked #4 and her classmates up after school for an afternoon of fun. They decided to go ice-skating so I took them to The Rink at  JCube. The public skating session is at 3-5pm so we only had time for a snack.
Curly fries $4.90
This kiosk at #B1 sells fries with a variety of dressing. We had the curly fries with nacho cheese and it was yum!
They are only 9, and I was surprised that they are so independent. I thought my kids were pretty independent, but her friend L said she had ever ice-skated all by herself before. Wow. They told me they didn't need me hanging around and assured me they would be fine (wonderful!). I watched from the barrier and saw that they were able to get their skates from the counter, and were figuring out how to use the lockers. YX stopped one of the staff (the gentleman in the foreground) and asked him for help in opening the lockers. I could see that they were indeed managing fine by themselves so I went off with #3 for tea. They had their handphones with them and I instructed them to call me if they needed anything.
I took #3 for a treat at the cafĂ© downstairs as she did well for her English paper. Her English had always been very poor as she did not have a strong foundation. I didn't get her to read books when she was young and she never had any good English teachers from the time she was in Nursery up until last year. However this year in P5, she has a really good English teacher and I also hired her an excellent English tutor for the past few months. She has a short attention span so we keep the sessions to just an hour and her tutor played games with her and made the lessons fun.  In the end, she managed to score an A for this final year exam, which was the highest score in class. That was just unbelievable. We were all so happy for her.
All day breakfast food for tea… 
Earlier, #4 and her friends decided they wanted to eat at Chili's, so I instructed them to meet me there at 5pm after the session ended. They had a surprise for me. They had gathered ice chips and packed them tightly into a snowball!
They have quite a comprehensive menu and I must say it is a pretty good deal. For $13, they get a main dish, a side dish, a drink, and a dessert of an ice-cream or a cookie.
After telling me their orders, they immediately turned the menu over and tackled the activities. Which left me peace to decide on my order...
The kids' portions were relatively big. The pasta was cooked with a creamy sauce and it was not bad. The Mac & cheese was rather miserable though. YX didn't really like it and asked me if there were any toppings for it. I carved out the ribs for the kids and she said that it was much better than her Mac. The fries were quite good. They looked like rough cut fries and had the skin on. Next time we would probably try the other options on the kids menu like the pizza, cheeseburger or the chicken crispers.
We couldn't finish all the food
The best thing is that kids eat free on weekdays before 6pm, with an order of an adult main meal.
We went home and the kids played the card game "Sleeping Queen" while waiting for their parents to pick them up.
It was lovely spending the day with her friends. They were very well-behaved and I love chatting with kids. They always amaze me with either their knowledge, their innocence or their spiritedness. It is such a blessing to be in the company of children.

Sane tip: It's great when the kids are independent. I can leave them to have fun while I have time to run my errands or just chill out.

Save tip: Chili's is quite a good place to take the kids to either before or after a session of ice-skating as they open throughout the day and is located just outside The Rink. The kids' portions are quite huge and can easily be shared by two 9-year olds. Oh hey, I just realised they forgot to serve us our desert! Will try asking for it the next round ;)


Chili's
JCube
2 Jurong East Central 1 #03-10
Singapore 609731
Sun-Thurs: 11.30m - 10pm
Fri-Sat: 11.30am - 11pm
Tel: 66843811



~   mummywee - parenting 6 kids in Singapore without going mad or broke  ~

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child

The PSLE is over and uppermost on most parents' minds are what results their child is going to get and which secondary school to choose. Having my 2 older girls go through PSLE and the selection for secondary schools, here's how my opinion has changed.

When #1 finished her PSLE, we had no idea how she would fare. We never made them do extra "mummy's" work at home and never micro-managed their school work. They know our expectations. What they need to do is:

1) Pay attention in class
2) Finish all school homework
3) Sleep on time so they don't fall ill and don't miss school
4) Plan their own revision before the exams
4) Do their best

We believe in giving them a good childhood which is filled with lots of unstructured play, laughter and 'white space' (time to decompress and ponder what they have learnt or experienced). We also believe in making them independent and equipping them with life skills.

I expected the school to do their part to prepare her adequately for the national exams. However, by the time I realised they had not done that, it was already at the end of P5. She failed every single subject, much to our horror.

So in the remaining 9 months of P6, I did what I could by engaging a tutor for every subject, and she did her part by studying very hard. We had to maintain a fine balance and did not want to push her too hard as she might not be able to take the pressure. I was mentally prepared for a score of anywhere between 210 and 240.

Secondary School information
Before the results were out, I decided that I would choose a school based on her aggregate score (as what most parents do). Thank goodness she managed to score 4 'A's with an aggregate of 240.

I flipped through the Secondary School booklet which was given out and looked for schools with a minimum cut-off point of 240 or 239. I chose a school with a cut-off point of 240 for her 1st choice. For her 2nd choice, I chose a school with a 238 cut-off. For her 3rd and 4th choices I put 2 of the sought after schools with aggregates above 250 (just to try my luck) as they are very near our place.

My husband's cousin, who had a daughter in Sec 3 at that time, advised me not to waste my chances this way. She reasoned that as those 2 schools had a cut-off point above 250, it would be virtually impossible to get in. She told me that I could try putting schools with a cut-off around 241 or 242, but not any higher. I took her advice and changed the remaining choices to those between 235-241.

In the end, #1 managed to get into the school of our 2nd choice. She asked me to appeal to the school of her 1st choice as she wanted to get into a 'better' school. I filled in the form, and when I went to the school, I was surprised to find that the Appeal box was full to the brim! It was no surprise then that her appeal was turned down. On hindsight, after hearing from other friends how crazily academic that school is, and how their children have no more time for family activities, I am so glad she did not make it there.

When #2 took her PSLE, I expected her to score about the same as her sister. She had been a very consistent child throughout the years, with her only weak subject being Chinese. After her P6 Prelims, she came back with an 'F' for Chinese and a 'B' for the other 3 subjects! I was stunned and quickly gave her tuition for all 4 subjects in a bid to raise her scores in that short 3 months. I later realised that her school tends to set very tough Prelim papers, perhaps to scare the students to study harder for the PSLE.

However, I was disappointed that she only managed 230 as I know she was capable of doing better. With the new system of grading though, she would have been able to go to a 'better' school than her sister as she had 3 'A's and 1 'A*'. Ah, policies, policies, how they can literally affect a child's life! Read more about this in 'So who's smarter?

Initially I was upset that she wouldn't be able to go to the same school and I had to search the book for options around the 220-230 band. I told her that she had to go into this 'not so good' school as she didn't do so well. 

Now, with 2 of them in different schools, I can honestly say that #2's school which has a lower cut-off point is in no way a 'lousier' school than #1's school, and I have no qualms sending the other kids there in future. I have totally changed my perception of what makes a good school and I notice some differences which I have never considered before.

SCHOOL VALUES:

Having attended many parent-teacher conferences and parents' nites in both schools, I can see how the differences in school values flow down to many aspects which directly affect the students. The principal of #2's school is very down to earth and the values that the school upholds run through all their programs. The teachers seem to really care for the students and there's an atmosphere of joy in the school (well, as much joy as you can get in this pressure-cooker of a system we have).

I realise that knowing what values the school believes in is very important, so that you can decide if those are the same values your family upholds. I heard that in a top girl's school, one of their values is to imbue independence in the girls. When there is an event, 2 consent forms are given out. 1 for the parents to sign and 1 for the student to sign. If in the instance that the parents allow their child to take part but the child does not wish to, the child should have a discussion with her parents and if they still cannot come to an agreement, the child's opinion stands. I guess I wouldn't be too keen on that! There is also another top school where the students are repeatedly told that they are likely to be future leaders of Singapore. Where's the humility in that? And what do 13 or 14 year old kids make of such statements? Perhaps they should first be taught traits such as humility, integrity and responsibility. Because stellar scores on their own do not a true leader make. 

ASSESSMENTS:

#1's school's standard is fairly high and the teachers go at a fast pace as quite a proportion of students do have tuition. #1 finds it hard to catch up in some subjects and have been asking for tuition. However, I did not want her to rely on tuition as yet and told her to try her very best to study on her own. #2, on the other hand, was placed in the top class as her aggregate was at the higher end of the curve. Most of her classmates are at a similar standard to her and she is comfortable with the pace.

In #2's school, for their CA1 and SA1 exams, a big proportion of the marks came from group work. For example, in Biology, they had to use clay to make models of cells and do a presentation. For music, they had to write their own music and lyrics and sing as a group and record it for assessment. I was initially worried as #2 had a 'D' for some of the subjects and I asked the teacher why group marks were used instead of individual marks. She explained that some students do not do well in written exams so this is to allow them to boost their marks. Besides, she feels that it is good for the students to learn to work as a team.

I totally agree and am impressed with the school's efforts to help students find their strengths in other areas, and to build up other soft skills so necessary in the 21st century work place. I always welcome the kids to come over to my place for their projects as I like to see what they get up to. I am all for such group work as there is so much going on there. Collaboration, leadership, discussion, negotiation, frustration, and of course, much fun and laughter. These sessions help to bond the kids and I'm sure they will look back and have good memories of their secondary school days.

OVERSEAS TRIPS:

When she was in secondary 2, #1 went for an overseas trip to Brisbane where they attended lectures in a research station and went out to do scientific experiments in the swamp land. They brought back their materials and did lab work like the undergrads, to complete their understanding. They rounded their trip off with amazing experiences like whale watching and discovery of the wildlife sanctuary. This trip was only open to a select group of students. In secondary 3, the entire level went to Pulau Ubin for their OBS (outward bound school) camp.

In #2's school, they have yearly trips. Their's is done across the entire level. I think that is a good idea as there is no distinction of opportunity between the "smarter students" and the "weaker students". It is also a good chance for the students to form comeraderie with friends across the classes. Their purpose of the trips is of a humbler nature.

In Sec 1, the focus is on self-awareness and self-management. They camp in school and learn to manage their belongings, manage their time, manage their emotions. In Sec 2, they go to a neighbouring country (I think it's either Malaysia or Indonesia) where they learn to work as a team and they do some project work. In Sec 3, they go a little further and the focus is on social awareness and their role in the community. In Sec 4, they go on a Mission trip where they learn to serve. There is so much talk these days about schools sending their children on expensive overseas trips with ambivalent purposes. I think this school has developed it's programs with the right focus, in line with their values.

Do find out about the trips which the schools offer and their purpose. Different schools have vastly different opportunity for overseas trips. My kids tell me that the best memories they have of school are on these trips.

So, how to choose a secondary school that is "good" for your child?

Besides looking at the aggregate score, you should consider several other aspects to ascertain if the school is a right fit for your child. I do agree that it is difficult to find out such information about the schools, but here are 6 suggestions:

1) Ask around
First, shortlist some schools based on the proximity and aggregate score (obviously your child with 240 cannot enter a school with a cut-off point of 250). Ask around to see if any of your friends, colleagues or neighbours have children in the school. First hand experience is always best and you can get a clearer picture of the school. Ask as much as you can: How are the teachers? How is the principal? What is the school culture? Do the kids like their school? What do they like or dislike about their school? Do they like their CCAs? No friends with kids in the schools you have shortlisted? Why not try kiasuparents.com. You can pose a question and hopefully some parents will give you their feedback. 

2) School website
Go to the school's website and find out about their school motto, values and guiding principles. Initially, when I looked at one or two websites, I thought they all looked good. But after looking at many more websites, you start to notice that they have different strengths and different priorities. You can gather a sense of the school by their focus. For example, one school may have a lot of pictures and information about their awards, their competitions, their medals. Another school may have information about their outreach programs in the community. You can also see if their niche program matches your child's interest.

3) Open House
Do take the effort to go for the open house of all the schools you have shortlisted and tour the school with your child. Some schools have already conducted their open house, but many schools will be holding them on Saturday, 23rd November 2013. Talk to the current students there. Ask them as many questions as you can possibly think of to get a feel of the school. Most of them are extremely helpful and will share what they think about their school. You can then make a more informed decision based on several aspects about the school and decide if you would want to place your child in that school and also if your child will fit the culture of the school.

4) CCAs
Find out what CCAs the school has and which CCAs the school is strong in. CCAs will be a huge part of your child's life in Secondary school. If your child has a particular interest, it is good to find a school which not only has that CCA but where that CCA has strong support. For example, if your child loves playing a musical instrument, by choosing a school with a big and established band, your child will have a better chance of being exposed to performing in concerts, competitions, and exchanges. 

5) Transport
Don't forget to consider not only the distance from your home, but the time it takes to get there. For example, #1's school is not that near to our home, but she has a direct bus there which travels via the expressway. It takes her only 20 minutes to reach school. On the other hand, a neighbour who goes to a school near our place takes about 50 minutes to reach her school as she has to take 2 buses to get there. Travel time is important as they usually have 2 days of CCA after school and sometimes #1 reaches home at 8pm. CCA ends at 6, but they take another 15 minutes to finish packing and storing their instruments. They get to the bus stop at about 6.25pm. This is the peak hour and sometimes 3 buses pass without stopping. On those days, it is a mad rush to finish her dinner, shower, and get her homework done, and by the time she gets to bed, it is almost 11pm. This is way past her bedtime and teenagers still need adequate sleep in order to be alert and function well in school.

6) School Values
I realise that the underlying values which the school upholds is very important as it moulds the child in their teenage years where they are consolidating what they stand for and believe in. Do take some time to seriously consider the school's values.

I had written this post earlier but didn't get round to editing it before posting. As it turned out, the timing couldn't be better as Jane Ng wrote an article in Straits Times over the weekend on "What a difference a principal can make". In the many years that she has covered education as a reporter, she has seen how principals with a heart and a determination to make an impact on their students' lives have made a big difference. Let me acknowledge and list these admirable principals and their contributions to their schools.
  • Mrs Aw Ai Ling (Gan Eng Seng Primary)
3 in 5 children in her school live in one-to-three-room flats. She believes in exposing all her students to music and the arts, and the wider world and gave her school band the opportunity to perform in Hong Kong Disneyland.
  • Madam Sambwani Vimi Dail (Corporation Primary)
She introduced an enriched music, art and sports curriculum so that these are available to all pupils as many are from poor or disadvantaged families.
  • James Ong (former principal of Pasir Ris Crest Secondary)
Made all students take literature as a full O-level subject in 2007 as he believed that it teaches values.
  • Mrs Chua Yen Ching (former principal of Shuqun Secondary)
Opened a 'gaming arcade' so her students would have a safe place to play.
  • Mr Wong Lok Oon (former principal of Dunearn Secondary)
Handed out his name cards to shopkeepers in Bukit Batok near his school and asked them to call him if they spotted his students smoking or misbehaving. He also reached out to grassroots leaders, business owners and the police to enlist their help in watching over his students and guiding them.
  • Mr Phua Kia Wang (North Vista Primary)
Pushed the starting time of his school to 8am so that parents and their children can have breakfast together before school. Uses Wii games for PE as he believes that children have to be happy in order to learn well.
  • Mrs Lysia Kee (Bukit Batok Secondary)
Turned the school around by introducing individual learning packages for every student and fixing contact time for teachers to run enrichment or remedial lessons. Made every student go through a speech and drama course to build their confidence. She empowered every teacher to discipline the students and handled parents' complaints herself.
  • Mrs Yeo Chin Nam (Christ Church Secondary)
Used CCA to motivate her students. She saw that students who skipped CCAs also did poorly in their studies. So she made CCA part of curriculum time and as a result, CCA attendance, and discipline improved in tandem. On one occasion, the parents of a student asked her to dissuade their son from taking part in a singing competition. But Mrs Yeo saw his passion for singing and rallied her staff and students to support him. The boy, who previously lacked interest in his studies, became motivated to do well after the competition.

I am so heartened by this article. There are indeed many dedicated and wonderful principals around. We have to broaden our perception of what makes a school a good school. Every child is different, and ultimately the school has to be a right fit for your child to be a good school for him or her. 

And above all, whichever school your child ends up in, show your support. There is no point in harping on the fact that you are disappointed that she did not get into the school of her choice, or your choice for that matter, and it will be detrimental to your child if she believes that her school is a 'lousy' school. There are positives to be found in any school, and it will only be in the best interest of your child if you are committed in having a partnership with her teachers and her school.

MOE's latest Work Plan 2013 is brimming with hope for a better and more holistic education system. If we couple that with every principal sincerely wanting the best for their students, I believe Mr Heng's vision of "every school a good school" can be achieved.

Sane tip: 
Do not automatically choose the school with the highest aggregate score your child can enter. For example if your child scored 240, it may not be the best thing to choose a school which accepts students with 240-260 aggregate. Your child will be at the bottom of the cohort and will find it hard to keep up. Her self-esteem and confidence may also be affected as she used to be above average in her primary school, but now she may be at the bottom tier. And when she does her streaming at the end of Sec 2, if she is at the bottom tier, she wouldn't get the first pick of the subject combinations for Sec 3.

Save tip: 
If your child has to change from a bus to an MRT to a bus, obviously her transport cost would be more expensive than if she had a direct bus. 

Another point is that schools with a higher proportion of high income families do tend to have more occasions where you have to fork out money. It could be CCAs, concerts or even expensive overseas trips. Of course it is not obligatory, but your child may compare with her friends and may be disappointed when she is not able to afford it. Some other schools with more lower income families will have events that are free, and trips that cost much less, and the lessons they take home may in fact be greater.

I also realised something else. To get home, #2 has to change to an MRT at a mall. She ends up buying a snack with her friends everyday after school on the way home as they are starving by then. It all adds up as these days snacks don't come cheap. In comparison, #1 takes the direct bus home from school so she comes straight home and has her lunch. Well, we can't always have the ideal situation. Anyway, these pointers are just food for thought in your search for the best school for your child.

For more information on choosing the right school for your child, take a look at the MOE's Parents in Education website on: Choosing a Secondary School for your child after PSLE.


Related posts:

Should Tuition be the first line of defence?

How to prepare your kids for PSLE.

Be ready for how crazy the PSLE year can get.

Read about How Principals make a great impact on schools.


Read my article in the Straits Times forum page on "Why parents are forced to spend on tuition".


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

Monday, 28 October 2013

Kate was so busy at the Hokey Pokey indoor playground

We took Kate to the indoor playground at Millennia Walk on her 1st birthday. She had so much fun there! We were there for one and a half hours until closing time, and she wasn't done exploring everything. It is targeted at the 0-5 year olds and there is a huge variety of toys to entertain them. She started off playing in the ball pool with #4 and #5.
After awhile, they took her out and put her in the swing. She loves the swings at our playground but we can't swing her properly as there are no seat belts. This swing is perfect for the tikes as the seat has a backing and she can hold on to the sides.
Higher, higher!
The coolest thing here? It's gotta be the rollercoaster! We put Kate in the little car and gave her a push.
Wheeee! It gathered speed pretty fast and #4 was afraid she would fall off so she caught her midway. It would be perfect for those above 2 as they would be able to hold on tight by themselves.
#5 took his passengers for a wagon ride around the place.
They have a whole array of kitchen play toys. I love this cool red retro kitchen. Wish I had a life-sized one at home!
There's a fully furnished doll's house, but I think the dolls have gone for a holiday.
For the boys, they have a shelf full of vehicles which they can vroom around on the city play mat. This miniature red fire station can be opened for imaginative play, and there is even a little fireman's pole in there.
There's also a train track table top which was very popular with the little boys.
Lots of kids were huddled inside the castle. It has a red slide for a quick escape.
There's even a rack of costumes for pretend play. There seemed to be more options for the girls than the boys. Anyway, most of the boys were too busy with the trucks and the slides.
They have a separate area in the corner for the younger babies which was very thoughtful. They would still be crawling and might get trodden on by the bigger kids in the main play area. They even get their own little ball pit. Nice.
Kate found this little piano and started tinkering away. Sure looks like a pro!
She picked up a little camera which looked like a phone to her. She's now at the stage where she's obsessed with phones. At home, if she fusses, #3 will take her to the speaker phone and call grandma. She loves to hear a voice on the other end.

She dialled some numbers and called her friends to tell them about this oh-so-cool place. I think she's gonna bring her gang here the next time round.
Kate's favourite? The ride-ons. She spent a good half hour trying all the ride-ons. 
She likes the Thomas one best. She started by pushing it around..
Then she got on it..
And then she started standing on it! I'm glad the floors are padded.
She moved on from the ride-ons to the scooters.
"Wadaya mean I'm too young to ride a scooter?"

"See? No sweat."

"I've found my new mode of transport!"

Sane tip: I love this place. There is so much to entertain her that I can just sit and watch while she moves on from one toy to another. At home she gets bored after 10 minutes and I have to look for new things to entertain her. We'll definitely be back!

Save tip: Weekdays it's unlimited play. Weekends it's $8 for an additional hour. Probably good to get the membership @ $50 per year if you intend to camp out here often with the kid. I just might get it the next time round.


Hokey Pokey
9 Raffles Boulevard
Millennia Walk #02-42
Singapore 039596
Tel: 68845385

Admission fees:
Weekday: $25 (unlimited play)
Weekend: $25 (2 hours)

Member rate:
Weekday: $15 (unlimited play)
Weekend: $15 (2 hours)
* admission fee includes 1 child and 1 adult
(each additional adult $5, subject to space availability)



~   mummywee - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore  ~

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Kate turns oNE!

It has been 12 months since Kate came into our family. She has been such a blessing to us. With the pure innocence of a baby and her ever-ready smiles, she has brought much joy to the family.

Over the weekend, we had a simple birthday celebration with the extended family. She seems to know it is her big day. When she saw her cousins gather around the table, she quickly went over and sat with them. She was a bit too short for the table so she stood up on the chair!

She seems to have socialised into the big kids club. She waited patiently for the cake to be served before she started to eat hers. Normally, if she saw food in front of her, she would immediately reach for it and pop it into her mouth.
Taking her first bite of cake she's ever eaten in her life.. yummy strawberry sponge cake baked by her aunt.
What is this strange texture?
On her actual birthday, the whole family took her out. We decided to take her to have lots of fun, fun, fun, so we took her to an indoor playground at Millennia Walk which is suited for the 0-5 year olds. #4 and #5 accompanied her in (although they are a tad too old for that place) but they ended up having a whale of a time too! The older 3 had truffle fries with daddy while waiting for us.
We then went for dinner at La Maison. After I finished feeding her her dinner, I allowed her to try feeding herself some rice while I ate. What a great mess she made. I'm glad I had the table topper mat (store details in Armchair shopping - part 2) which I just folded up and threw away.
My youngest... and my eldest. This photo was taken 14 years ago! How time flies.
She's a really lucky child to have 5 older siblings who love her. She had a great time and we called it a night as the kids had exams the next day.
It's my birthday, yay!
A look back at the first year of baby Kate's life...

The kids were eagerly awaiting her birth and were so excited when the day arrived.
#3 made this banner for us
At the hospital
Her first day at home
I asked #5 to read to her and he took his Lego Ninjago book and told her all about the good guys and the bad guys. And he told her not to worry, the good guys will always win.
"yup, I get it"
We give her plenty of fresh air and sunshine everyday. She loves gazing at the clouds.
She's a contented little baby
She sits in her little 'throne' and waits for everyone to come home
Her first spa in the big bathtub


HAPPY 1st BIRTHDAY, BABY KATE !



~   mummywee - parenting 6 kids in Singapore without going mad or broke  ~

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Can we really have a brand new education system?

I'm glad my post An open letter to all principals spurred some other bloggers to pen their views on our education system. Whether we agree with one another or not is another matter, but at least we are trying in our own small way to effect some change. The livelier the discussion on this subject, the better. An ex-teacher wrote a post on her blog, titled "What's wrong with the world's best education system?". She feels it is not so much the principals but the system which is the problem.

She believes that the way the ministry runs its schools are very much corporate world-like. Yes, I totally agree with her. In fact, I heard that the EPMS could have possibly been adapted from the Ministry of Defence. How is that even remotely possible, many parents must be thinking. Well, I hope it was not. But I can see why teachers say they feel they are like just another machine, tasked to churn out more and more As. And yes, I do agree that the system needs a major overhaul. And I hope they can scrap the EPMS and replace it with something more humane. But in the meantime, we cannot just sit and wait for change to manifest as it would take years. #1 entered Primary 1 almost a decade ago. 9 years later, nothing significant on the ground has changed. That is why I hope principals and teachers could stand their ground, leave the KPIs aside and put the children first. Yes, even at the expense of a lower salary and probably zero chance of a promotion. I know, it is much, much easier said than done. That is why only a handful have done it or are doing it. And in my books, they deserve the highest accolades and the deepest gratitude from parents.

A fellow blogger, Petunia Lee, who is a seasoned education blogger, agrees with me that principals have a lot of leeway and power in running their schools. She explains the nuts and bolts of how schools are run in her post titled "Power & Influence in the MOE". Her post begins with the observation that "Principals of schools run little fiefdoms within each school". She also notices that principals are all rowing their boats in different directions, and the only way Mr Heng's vision for 'every school a good school' can be achieved is if power is brought back to MOE HQ.

About 2 months ago, our PM announced that they would do away with the T-scores and use broad-based banding to allocate places in secondary schools. Since then, there are no follow-up concrete information on what other criteria they will use to differentiate the students when there are more applicants than places. I find it incredibly unbelievable, but I hear parents saying that they have to start changing their strategy. They can foresee that there will be a horde of students with similar grades, so how to differentiate their child? These ultra kiasu parents are now searching for enrichment classes in music, sports, and the arts to beef up their child's portfolio. This brings to mind the university admission requirements in the U.S., where the competition for places in top schools is so keen that they not only require stellar results, but the students need to show a whole portfolio of extracurricular activities, including community and charity work, and outstanding personal qualities such as leadership, self-confidence and good character. Will our 12-year olds be put through that in the future? 


Another parent blogger, Pamela Tan, who's husband is a Math teacher in a secondary school shares the plight of secondary students who come from dysfunctional families and her disbelief that it is actually in the interest of the schools to expel these students so that their performance or non-performance (as the case may be) will not hinder the school's performance. Read her post in "The story of the stationery Bento".
Amidst all these seemingly depressing and unsurmountable challenges facing our education system, I see a glimmer of hope after reading an article in the Straits times. Lawrence Lien, a NMP (Nominated Member of Parliament) and chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and chairman of the Lien Foundation mooted the idea of setting up a prototype full school that is child-centric after his education study trip to Finland. I quote: "The philosophy of the school should be child-centric, process-driven and geared towards holistic learning. Assessments should be focused on tracking progress against a child's individual potential, not on how he or she compares with others. Since the school will include both primary and secondary levels, no PSLE will be necessary."

I love it already! This is exactly the type of school I have been envisaging for my kids. I have always wished that our schools would adopt many aspects of the Finnish education system. Dare I dream that it could materialise in my children's time? For Kate perhaps. She still has 5 years before she enters Primary 1. Mr Lien speaks of what he wants for his 3 children: "I want my children to be developed holistically as whole persons. I wish for them to witness and practise values every moment, so that values become part of their being. I hope they will become lifelong lovers of learning, motivated to acquire new knowledge to serve and transform society. I desire their school to be a genuine community that reflects a society that I want to live in - warm, collaborative, inclusive and oriented towards a common good." AH... if only our schools were a fraction of what he has painted, I would be contented. Sad, how sad that we have been eating dirt for so long, even grass tastes good.

The ex-teacher I mentioned earlier explained that she left the system because of a fundamental crisis she faced in the values system and the dissonance between what's professed and practised. I have heard that sentiment echoed by many teachers who have left the teaching service. Perhaps we can gather all these like-minded and passionate teachers who truly love teaching young people and who see it their mission to impart values along with knowledge, to staff this school. There are many opportunities for teachable moments which do not require any extra time or effort, only the willingness to do so. 

#1 was so fortunate to have had a form teacher in her P5 year who wove values and morales into her lessons. How do I know? #1 constantly shared with me what her teacher taught them and I watched how she interacted with them on the many excursions I accompanied them on. Teachers do play a big part in a student's life. Many children have told me how they dislike a particular teacher and how they hate that subject. On the other hand, I have seen how good teachers are able to motivate their students to push beyond what they can comfortably achieve. The exceptional ones are able to go as far as to change the lives of their students. It's time we provided an environment which will support these teachers.  

I am very excited at the prospect of a school where they are competing with no one other than themselves and where the joy of learning is eminent on all the children's faces. I will be the first to put my kids in that school!


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

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Armchair shopping - part 2

There are 2 things that give me a cheap thrill. One is getting a really good discount, and the other is receiving a parcel in the mail. I came home and was delighted to see that the items I ordered in Armchair shopping - part 1 had arrived!
I had ordered from a few different online sites and I used comGateway to ship all my items back. Let me run you through the steps from where I left off in Armchair shopping - part 1. Each time a package arrived at comGateway, I would be alerted via email. They offer 30 days free storage which allows ample time for all the packages to arrive. I then clicked on Ready to Ship and the shipping charges were calculated. Some merchants may not have provided the value of the goods, so you have to input the value. Do check the merchant invoices to ensure that all your items are in order as some merchants split up their delivery.

If you are sharing shipping with friends, it is easy to calculate each person's share of shipping charges as they display the total weight as well as the breakdown of the different merchants by chargeable weight. Enter any promo code only after payment details. You can use both the 10% discount and the express service (in your welcome pack) at the same time. Just input the promo codes one after another. You will be given the expected delivery date.
The Munchkin Projector and Sound System which I mentioned in Armchair shopping - part 1 costs US$25 with a shipping charge of $12. I just love it! When Kate refuses to go into her room at bedtime especially when there are guests around, my helper will turn it on for her and she will stop crying and get into her crib.

Here's what I got from See Jane Work. These lovely blue pencils are just perfect for my Family Command Centre.
Basic Pencils - Ocean (Set of 10) $7
I always need to divide my notebooks into different categories but the dividers I buy here are plastic which I don't like. These are made of paper and I love the assortment of colours! My girls saw these tabs and they all wanted some.
Sticky Tab Markers $8
Every time we go on a family holiday, I have to either verbally tell all of them what to pack or they will ask me and then make their own lists. This Pack This! list will save us a lot of trouble, not to mention help us make sure we have everything we need. I just love lists!
Pack This! Knock Knock Pad $7
In Armchair shopping - part 1, I mentioned that my sister-in-law had been ordering her Aveda products online as they were much cheaper. I ordered the 1 Litre Aveda shampoo and the 200ml conditioner. The shampoo that I got costs US$74, but with a shipping charge of $20, it came up to S$116, which was only 10% cheaper. I was disappointed as the savings was insignificant, and my SIL  concluded that it could be because the Aveda shampoos are priced differently in the US but the price difference here among the ranges are smaller, so she got a better discount for her type of shampoo. However, for the conditioner, I had a good savings of about 40%. It costs US$17 and with a shipping of $4, it came up to $26. 
I also found some other very useful items for Kate. Some of the websites only do wholesale, so I went into Amazon to purchase them.

www.tabletopper.com
When we go out for meals with the grandparents, the meal easily lasts one and a half hours. The only way I can get Kate to sit in her high chair for that long is to give her finger food which she feeds herself with. However, I find that in many restaurants, the high chair is not as clean as I would like it to be. Just last week, I gave her finger food off the high chair table (which I had cleaned with wet wipes) and that evening, she had diarrhoea. My mom was just telling me that I should find a little tray with suction pads that I could stick on the table in front of her. And I found this! It's a thin sheet of plastic with 2 strips of tape underneath it. I just stick it on the table in front of Kate and she can eat her finger food off it. Apparently this company, Neat Solutions for Kids was started in 1996 when a mom came up with this product after her baby threw the placemat onto the floor and started to eat her finger food off the restaurant table. They come in several different prints.
Baby Einstein Biodegradable Table Topper Disposable Stick-on Placemat US$5 (18 sheets)
Another gripe I had was that sometimes the sides of the high chair is rather sticky or oily, especially in places where it is very crowded and the staff don't get a chance to give the chairs a good cleaning. I found this high chair cover which simply drapes over the chair! It has 2 holes at the back to insert the safety belt, and 2 holes for her legs to go through. It even has a strap to hang a toy on, and a pocket to store wet wipes. The sides have velcro so you can pull the material over the chair and velcro it all nicely in place. It folds up into a compact built-in pouch, and it is machine-washable. I found this on Amazon. There are a few different brands of high chair covers but I just got the cheapest.
BRICA Deluxe High Chair Cover US$14
www.leachco.com
This company manufactures a wide variety of practical and safety products for babies. It was started by a mom whose son almost fell off a high chair. I purchased the safety strap, which is a wide strap that can be used to fasten baby from almost any chair, including supermarket trolley seats and restaurants. It is handy to take with you everywhere as sometimes you may find that the restaurant highchair has a missing buckle. I have to take it with me all the time as Kate always tries to stand up on the supermarket trolley seat.
Leachco Wrap Strap Plush Anywhere Safety Strap Pink US$13
I have also compiled a list of some other websites:

www.coverplayard.com
For those who travel frequently with young children, this is very useful. It is a slipcover liner for playpens. Cover Play Yard was started by a mom who requested for a play pen for her room when she stayed at a hotel. But when it came, it was so filthy she sent it back. She wondered why no one had designed a slipcover which could be taken off and washed and used again.

www.retract-a-gate.com
This safety gate is retractable! Great to keep out of sight if guests are coming and baby is already in bed. Or for grandma's place where the toddler only comes over occasionally. It is also suitable for pets. A rather practical item that is not too pricy at $100+.

www.mypreciouskid.com
My Precious Kid produces items designed for special needs children such as Autism safety products and items such as tracking devices, toilet lid locks and toddler harnesses.

www.adenandanais.com
If you like the baby swaddle brand aden + anais at mothercare, you can browse their whole beautiful collection at their website. They even have a Hello Kitty range. They also do printed crib sheets and blankets for bigger kids. Apparently it is endorsed by Kate Middleton! Gorgeous stuff.

www.taurustoy.net
If you are looking for toys and want something similar to lego but more fun, the Block-N-Roll will fit the bill. It's like a Lego set with a marble course. The kids will have hours of fun creating all sorts of structures with marble courses. This is compatible with other building sets.

www.zometool.com
For something educational, do check out Zometool. With a single set, you can create models from the simple to the profound. It encourages children to create and design, and it is suitable for ages 6 and up. Great for future architects! I'm sure the dads will love to join the kids in this one... which would leave the moms with more 'me' time ;)

www.yoyo.com
For a general website for all sorts of stuff for children, you can check this one out. You input perimeters like age, gender and budget to narrow down your search.

www.honest.com
Jessica Alba started this company in 2012 to offer safe, stylish, yet affordable items for baby. She offers natural products for baby, bath, and cleaning.

These are some websites for pricier items... 

www.myblankeeinc.com
My Blankee manufactures blankets and clothes for babies and kids with sensitive skin. It started with the owner's son being born with eczema and he was allergic to nearly all fabric. His father who was in the textile business made it his mission to find hypoallergenic clothing for his son. Besides clothes and blankets, the company now sells a wide array of products including bibs, towels, pajamas, hats and pillows.

www.ralphlauren.com
Ralph Lauren's Baby range is just so adorable. I absolutely love the Terry Hooded Towel (under the Personalized Gift section) which you can personalise with the baby's name. Would make a terrific gift.

www.oliverandadelaide.com
If you're looking for exquisite gifts or baby shower packages visit this oh-so-lovely site.


Sane tip: Now that I've finally gotten into online shopping, I've realised that there are a lot of clever products out there which makes our lives easier.

Save tip: It's cheaper to consolidate your items and ship them back together as the first 0.5kg costs US$11 while every additional 0.5kg costs US$2.85. But remember not to exceed S$400 inclusive of freight charges as GST will be levied. comGateway is offering us 5% off International Shipping charges from now till 31 Dec 2013*. When you first sign up with them, you will be offered a welcome pack which gives you 10% off your first shipping. From your 2nd shipping onwards, you get 5% discount. The promo code can be found in mummywee facebook page. 'Like' us to receive future updates. Happy shopping!



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


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