Friday, 28 February 2014

Westgate Wonderland

Took the kids to the newly opened Westgate Wonderland playground at Jurong's newest mall. They have been eyeing this cool playground as it has one of the most impressive looking treehouse they have ever seen, which sits atop a huge play structure like those you find at indoor playgrounds.
Treehouse playground on Level 4
There's even a mini rock climbing wall which is suitable for those around 3-7 years of age.
Wide enough for many little climbers
In one corner, there's a separate area for the little ones, which makes it a little safer for the tots during the crowded weekends.
Musical flowers
A bright orange capsule swing which goes round and round. Kate didn't seem to like this one, although her cousin clearly did!
"Can I get off?"
See-saw fit for 5!

Great for practicing balancing
Kate's favourite part of the playground was this little segmented caterpillar. The colourful parts of the body is broken up into little 'stools'. 
"Just the right size for me"
Kate enjoyed getting up and down on each one of them.
"This one's slightly bigger.."
#5 was trying to cajole her into playing somewhere more interesting instead of simply sitting on a stool! Seems like Kate is not easily persuaded.
"No can do, gor gor, I like it here"
Sane tip: This playground on Level 4 is quite shady and very windy when we were there at 5pm. And there was enough to entertain the kids of all ages. There's a separate Kids club soon to be opened on Level 5. A minimum spend of $60 entitles your child to be dropped off to enjoy the activities at the supervised clubhouse.

Save tip: This impressive playground is absolutely free!

3 Gateway Drive
Singapore 608532

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Lesson #4: A lesson on sincerity taught to me by #1

#1 had to do an assignment on social causes. They had to choose 1 social cause which they feel strongly about and to give a speech on it. When I read it, I was flabbergasted.

Her choice of topic: INSINCERITY

Dear friends,

I'd like to address you as the insincere future of humanity which I unfortunately belong to. 

I have always treasured sincerity but the fact that it is a rarity among many, even amidst those close to me, has sent me into resignation. Let me relate a recent incident that happened in the security and comfort of my own home - a place where we should all feel safe.

I know I have introduced myself as the girl who hates band. However, when I was tasked with a possible solo piece, I suddenly felt important. Needed. Brave even. With my joyous news, I went home and shared it with my second sister, in the hope of receiving a genuine expression of happiness for me and perhaps admiration (if I was lucky). I shared the piece which was a recording of the segment that I was responsible for. What I received in return was unexpected. She grinned and in her most insincere, superficial and pretentious manner said, "Oh ya, cool! Very nice!" I was not prepared for the feelings of the aftermath. I expected a certain degree of sincerity from someone whom I seek advice from and the fact that she is my sister makes it that much worse. 

This brings me to the topic of sincerity, or lack thereof. When did people stop appreciating sincerity? When did people stop practicing sincerity? And when did insincerity become unimportant? 

One masterpiece of insincerity is known to be the 'power hug'. Have you ever been hugged by someone with an ulterior motive? Someone who hugged you for the selfish reason of winning you over? It basically tears down your walls, leaving you defenceless. If you look at the position of the person receiving the hug, the body language of arms outstretched signifies acceptance and openness; it is symbolic of a person's vulnerability. She seeks comfort in the hugger who then takes advantage of that unarmed emotional state and easily convinces you to do their bidding. 

Now, think about it. How often do you give sincere hugs? Think about the last hug you recently gave to someone. Did it mean anything? Was it to comfort that person? Was it a means of strengthening your friendship or was it out of pure insincerity? 

Insincerity is now so rampant that people might not even be concerned about the fact that sincerity is so rare in society at this point in time. I am concerned over the triviality of sincerity, and it's unimportance in society is somewhat alarming. These insincere gestures, fulfilled by many, might contribute to the reason why families grow apart. An insincere comment from a mother to her daughter can hurt deeply. And if such comments are received all the time, it might very well be all it takes to make the child stop confiding in her mother. I want you to be completely honest and think about the last time you hugged your mother and meant it.

Sincerity should help you sleep better at night. You know that the hug you gave earlier that day was completely out of sincerity and that you only meant to provide care, concern and comfort. Giving your unconditional love while expecting nothing in return is possibly one of the most relieving feelings you can experience.

Today, I appeal to you not to give out that one insincere hug, refrain from saying that one insincere comment, and learn to incorporate sincerity into your thoughts, words and deeds.

All these might seem slightly idealistic but it is completely true that a little sincerity goes a long way. No man is an island and to receive, you must first give. As Confucius once said, "To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of the soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness. Thus, I pray that sincerity, appreciating sincerity, and practicing sincerity will not be cast aside.

Thank you.
Wow. So many thoughts were floating through my mind while reading it. The idealism and passion of youths. The sensitivity and maturity of my eldest child. Has she really grown up? But the most nagging thought I had was "had I been insincere to my kids"? And the answer, sadly, is yes. There were definitely times when I was busy or had too many things to think about that when they were relating some long drawn out story about something that happened, and when they asked me a question at the end of it, with their expectant faces, I just answered them with a " Ya!" although I hadn't got a clue what they had just said as I was deep in my own thoughts. Or I would answer them with a distracted "Uh-huh". How that must have deflated their ego and enthusiasm. Or sometimes if they asked me if something was nice, I just gave them an offhanded "Nice!"

So I have decided that from this very moment, if I am not 100% present to them, I shall quickly stop them, ask them to give me a minute, finish whatever I'm doing or clear my mind of my own thoughts, then return to them fully present to listen to what they have to say, and to reply with sincerity.

After reading her impassioned speech, I am equally proud yet humbled at the same time. Ah, I still have so much to learn from my children.

Other lessons (which I've learnt the hard way):

Lesson #15: What are we worth, mums?
Lesson #16: What do you do when you get sick of parenting?

Linking up with:

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

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

An allergy that almost killed #1

#1 has always been the most allergic child among the 6 of them. As a baby, she was allergic to eggs. Every time she ate some eggs, she would vomit or have diarrhoea. We didn't even know that was an allergic reaction until one day at the supermarket, she reached for an egg and squeezed it. It broke and splashed onto her face. Immediately, her face and palm swelled and we rushed her to hospital. A bit of egg had somehow gotten into her mouth and she had difficulty breathing due to the swelling in her throat. The doctor gave her some injections and the swelling subsided.

Thereafter, she was referred to do a skin prick test to find out what else she was allergic to. As it turned out, she was also allergic to nuts, soy, prawns and wool. The doctor told us that she will probably grow out of her egg allergy at around 7 years of age. She's now 15, and although she does not have any serious reaction to eggs, she still gets eczema around her inner elbows which becomes very itchy when she eats food containing eggs.
Skin prick test
We thought that her allergies were sort of under control, until one night.

We went out for dinner and the restaurant served escargots which the kids were keen to try. They loved it and wanted to order another plate. Luckily the hubs didn't allow them to. After we walked out of the restaurant, #1 started developing flu like symptoms. She asked for tissue and kept blowing her nose. She finished 3 packets of tissues in about 5 minutes. I thought it must be her sinus flaring up. She told me she felt really uncomfortable so I told her to sit for a while and rest. Her nose was literally dripping by then, but I did not recognise the signs of an allergy. I told the hubs we had better head home so she could rest. We got into the car and she was very quiet on the journey back. It was only later that she told me her throat was getting so constricted that she couldn't even talk! We reached home and she sat silently in the car, hardly moving.

Something told me to go to the computer and google it (this happened many years back and I think I was not accustomed to googling from my phone). I typed in escargot allergy and was shocked to find that it is highly allergenic! When I saw what the symptoms were, I froze. I shouted to the hubs that we had to take her to the nearest clinic immediately! We sped to the clinic right outside our street and told them she was having an allergic reaction. The doctor saw her immediately and it was quite a blur after that. I think he gave her a jab and hooked her to some machine to help her breathe. Shortly after, the peak was reached and her symptoms disappeared almost as fast as it appeared.

Ever since becoming a mum, that was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. To know that our child could have died right before our eyes. Who knows what would have happened if we had ordered another plate? Her guardian angel must have been watching over her.

Needless to say, I'm now very wary when she tries new foods. There's such a fine balance between continuing to allow her to explore new foods and being afraid of a similar situation happening again. I have told her not to be too adventurous when it comes to shell seafood, and to always eat just 1 small bite of something new.

Awhile back, I read a Facebook post about a little girl in the States who ate a peanut snack and passed away due to an allergic reaction. What's more, her dad is a doctor and he had an epi pen with him. Scary.

These are some symtoms to look out for to identify an allergic reaction:

  • Flushed face, rash, red and itchy skin
  • Trouble breathing or speaking
  • Nasal congestion
  • Swelling of the face, lips, throat, eyes
  • Diarrhoea, vomiting
  • Feeling dizzy or faint

Apparently, if you already have any type of allergies, it pre-disposes you to getting an allergic reaction. So parents with kids who have any allergies should be extra vigilant.

Every time I recall this incident, I am just so thankful that all our kids are healthy and well, and I no longer take good health for granted.

Linking up with:

Related post: How to take care of your child's teeth to save a ton of money on dental treatment.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Monday, 24 February 2014

Salmon and sweet potato salad

Ever since #1 asked for a healthier diet and requested more salads, I've been making them regularly and now I've finally gotten the hang of it. You would think it's pretty hard to go wrong with salads, but there were times when she even refused to eat my salads. Yup, it was that bad. Now, I'm proud to say that I can toss one up within 15 minutes!
Salmon and sweet potato salad
I concocted this one with fresh vegetables which I had on hand.


Raw salmon cut into strips
Sweet potato cut into cubes
Tomato cut into wedges
Japanese cucumber sliced thinly
Lettuce shredded
Large onion cut into rings


Flaxseed oil (provides omega-3)
Balsamic vinegar (improves the immune system and is a great substitute for salad dressings)
A sprinkle of chia seeds (wonderful anti-oxidant)
A sprinkle of wheatgerm (powerhouse of nutrients)
Garlic & herb seasoning
Salad dressing
Sane tip: I'm so happy that I can fix her good and healthy salads which she enjoys. And the more she tells me that they're yummy, the more I'm motivated to make them. Reminds me how important it is to encourage others, especially our kids.

Save tip: Almost restaurant standard, huh ;)

For a Mango tropical salad recipe, click here.

Linking up with:

~ mummy wee - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thursday, 20 February 2014

My bucket list

Following on from my previous lesson about not over-sacrificing and about sparing a thought for myself, I've been prompted to write my bucket list in detail. There were so many things I wanted to do over the past 10 years. But as my hands were full taking care of the kids, they were relegated to a 'Things I want to do when the kids grow up' list which I stored in my head. A year back, just when I thought #5 was finally going into P1 and I will have plenty of free time while they are all in school, along came dear little Kate. But since I'm hitting 40 soon, I had better start to look at my list seriously and see if I can do one or two things each year before I look back and regret.

1. Take my mum on a pilgrimage

The last pilgrimage she went to was more than 20 years ago and I know it is something she would love to do once more, but dare not even ask for. I figured that if I don't take her soon, who knows what might happen in future? She's already in her 70s and may not be able to walk so much as she ages. She has done more than her fair share of looking after the kids, and I think it's time we show her our gratitude for always being there for us without a word of complain. There will be a lot of logistic issues to work out before I can go, but I'm sure the kids will step up to the plate.

2. Volunteer with Samaritans of Singapore

I've always wanted to be a volunteer with S.O.S. to man the suicide hotlines. However, volunteering on a regular basis is still a little tricky at this point in time. I can barely find enough time to spend with the kids especially giving them one-on-one attention, so it's hard to justify carving out a chunk of time to commit to the training sessions and the weekly hours. Well, guess this one has to be shelved for a couple more years.

3. Volunteer with Make a Wish Foundation

I heard about this many years ago and found it so meaningful. To grant children who are terminally ill one last wish before they leave this world. Perhaps I can find out if we can do this as a family, although the last time I checked, it didn't seem suitable for kids to be involved in this.
Pondering life's meaning
4. Work in palliative care

Ever since I got acquainted with this aspect of Occupational Therapy as a student, I knew this was the area I wanted to work in. We were working with a lady who had a few months left to live, and she wanted to record down all the things she wanted to say to her little daughter. That touched me so profoundly, to be able to help somebody fulfil their last wishes and to have the privilege of sharing their last days.

(Baby step: I've started volunteering at a hospice once a week, till Kate goes to school and I have more time to work.)

5. Set up a cosy hospice for children 

There is a hospice in Melbourne where the children and their families can check in to a wonderful environment at the last leg of their terminal illness. Perhaps we can have a homely children's hospice here too. A place where the best medical care is provided at a cosy non-medical setting. A place where parents can safely put their child at while they get some respite from the over-whelming burden of caring for a sick child. A place where there are volunteers to spend time with the siblings and extend care and counselling to them too, in their struggles in coping with losing a brother or a sister. A place where there is so much going on for the children - play, activities, fun, with a whole lot of love. A place where life is celebrated, no matter how short it is, and where the focus is not on extending life, but on bringing the most meaning to the last days of their lives. I don't quite know how this would materialise, but still, good to have a vision!

6. Give talks

Not only do I enjoy writing, I very much enjoy talking. We used to get cold feet before a presentation, but once I got started, I couldn't stop. When I was an undergraduate, I had the honour of giving a speech to the heads of departments of all the faculties in my university and I actually had a great time speaking to such an audience. Maybe I will look into giving some parenting talks but don't know if anyone wants to listen to me, ha.

These are more frivolous things which I wish I had more hours in the day to do them.

7. Voice-overs

I was reading about this as a job, and I would get such a kick out of hearing my voice on some automated machine. Will try that some day, just for the fun of it! I'm sure the kids would have a great time laughing about this one.

8. Attend cooking classes

I can't cook to save my life, but I do wish I could cook nice meals for the family. When they were younger, they were happy to eat what I prepared. But now, they can tell that their mum's cooking skills are really amateurish (especially my eldest), although I'm slowly getting better with the help of cookbooks. I really like how in some families, the mums or grandmas can cook so well that the whole family looks forward to coming home to mum's home-cooked meals, even when they are adults.

9. Attend talks and seminars

There are so many interesting talks and workshops going on, and I love to learn and open my mind. Be it in investing, health and nutrition, or lifestyle issues, I wish I had time to learn more.

10. Take up piano lessons with Kate and #2

I did pass my Grade 8 piano exams, but I was taught the boring rote learning way. All technical. I want to be able to play by ear, to really make joyful and exuberant music. I taught the kids some basics, and #2 seems to have a flare for it. If we have excess cash, it would be lovely to enjoy some good piano lessons as a family.

11. Stay at a wellness resort for a week

Something like Como Shambhala, with 1 or 2 close friends. The Bhutan location sounds incredible for such a retreat. How indulgent. My 45th birthday present perhaps.. when Kate would be fine with me gone for so many days.

12. Spend a weekend at a semi-silent retreat

In our lives, there's just too much noise, too much distractions (especially with so many kids!) I really like the sound of silence, where I can think, contemplate, and grow my faith. And to listen to my inner voice. What bliss. Don't ask me why, but I still feel guilty spending time away from the kids for my own pleasure. Sigh. Occupational hazard.

13. Take a trip on the Orient Express

I've always wanted to experience this since I was a teenager. There's something just so charming about luxurious rail travel. Must be the great advertising. Someday, someday.

Ok, done. I will pin this up somewhere and like how they say, when you visualise it daily, it will materialise. 

Go ahead, write your bucket list. By penning it down, there's a higher chance it will get accomplished. Don't know about you, but I find great satisfaction in crossing things off one by one! And as life coaches will tell you, to make your goals happen, you need to declare it to people around you so that you will be held accountable. I've just declared it to so many people, hence they will surely be realised ;) Let's do this together, folks. Let's live lives without regrets. Carpe diem!

"Our biggest regrets are not for the things we have done but for the things we haven't done"  - Chad Michael Murray

Linking up with:

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Monday, 17 February 2014

Thankful… for the hub's cooking

Very early on in our marriage, the hubs realised that I was a hopeless cook. No actually, way before we were married, he knew that I couldn't cook. It was quite funny. In our Uni days, every evening, he would tell his friends that he had to leave as he was having dinner with me. For the longest time, they envied him, thinking he had found someone who gave him home-cooked food everyday. Finally, they realised that he was always rushing off to cook dinner for me! Till today, the hubs is the one who goes to market on the weekends and cooks up a storm for us.
To market, to market...
It became a routine so much so that I took it for granted and so did the kids. It was not until their tutor started joining us for meals and she complimented his cooking and remarked how lucky we were to have such a good cook in the house. The kids, in all their ungratefulness replied "So boring, every time the same food". She couldn't believe what she was hearing and chided them and told them that there are so many other children out there who do not even have enough to eat.
To buy drums and thighs...
To be very honest, there was a time when I also got rather sick of his same dishes… 
Home again, home again, curry again
But now, after my bout of immobility, I am thankful for everything. Even if it's the same few dishes that he likes to cook, I am indeed thankful for his efforts in cooking for us not only on the weekends, but occasionally during the week as well.
Kate gets grilled chicken
Beef hor fun
The hubs is not expressive with his words, but I have learnt that this is his way of showing his love for us, through his actions. He is not one of those men who would buy flowers for his wife, but I don't mind it one bit. After all, it is not difficult to place an order for flowers once a year, but to cook for us every week, I think it is something I should never forget to appreciate and be thankful for.
Seafood soup
Sane tip: Sometimes, we are too comfortable and take much for granted. That becomes dangerous, because when we start to expect that, we stop deriving any satisfaction or happiness from anything. The only way to counter that is to always express gratitude for what we have, and to ingrain that in our kids.

Save tip: Thankfully, one of us can cook. If not we would probably be eating out a lot more!

Thankful Tuesdays:

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has" - Epictetus

Thankful… for our helper
Thankful… for my family
Thankful… for my mum-in-law

Linking up with:

~ mummy wee - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Kate's antics: Slide.. and oops!

It's lovely that I get to spend weekday mornings with Kate alone. I took her to a playground and was surprised that she was contented to play by herself and we spent a good hour there. She was happy to explore as she wished without the older ones hauling her from one station to the next.
I'm going to try climbing up
Doing well, doing well...
No worries, got up...
Almost there...
Oops again!
Look at her sheepish expression :)
Heh heh, no sweat… I'm up!
Hmm, the view is really not bad from up here
"Why didn't I think of this earlier?"
Sane tip: So nice to see the world from the eyes of a child. In the breeziness and quietness at this simple playground, time seems to stand still and I am able to enjoy and appreciate the essence of life. Astounding.

Save tip: Some of the best things in life are indeed free :)

~ mummy wee - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Lesson #3: Marriage is no fairy tale

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It conjures images of smiling couples, flowers and hearts. On the streets and on Facebook, we are filled with messages of love. But is that what marriage is? Is it only about the sweet things and the good times? Lately, this topic has cropped up quite a bit around me, and sadly, the picture is not all pretty.

#1 recently went for a self-awareness camp. There was a sharing session whereby they were free to share their family's problems to encourage compassion towards one another. She was very surprised that the majority of her classmates had parents who were either already divorced, are separated or are not on good terms.

It is a very somber and disturbing trend. Sometimes couples hang on for the sake of their kids when they are young, however, it is no easier for teenagers to go through their parent's divorce. It is a time when they are searching for their identity and are looking to their parents for security and a role-model.

Some of us grew up with fairy tales and have high expectations of what marriage should be. We get the erroneous impression that after a big and beautiful wedding, we will settle down to Happily Ever After. Could that be why weddings are getting bigger and more beautiful? Perhaps Disney should do society a favour by launching a new series depicting the realities of married life, and equipping the princesses with conflict resolution skills. I'm sure it will go a long way to moderate young girls' expectations of marriage.

The hubs and I did not have a wedding celebration at all although my SILs did throw #1 a huge party to celebrate her birth. (Speaking of which, she's turning sweet 16 this year, can I count on you guys to throw her another huge party? haha… My, my, how time flies.) Oops, digressed. Where was I? Yes, parties.. and marriage. Perhaps when our marriage makes it to the 25 year mark, then that's something to celebrate! 

My single friends look at us married ones and think that once they find the right guy, they can settle down, have a few kids and live a blissful married life. Simple. Ask any married couple, honestly, how true is that? I would say that if you have found and married your soul mate, you are extremely blessed.

In fact, I advise my single friends to solve their issues with their man before getting married and having kids. In the early years of marriage, it's the honeymoon period. Thereafter, the daily issues, disagreements, and differences start to surface and it's easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side. We see other couples looking very happy and wish our husband was more caring, more understanding, more generous, more whatever.

The reality is that they are also probably looking at your marriage and wish they had a marriage like yours! There is so much that goes on behind closed doors, and I'm sure every marriage has it's challenges. Just as we need to pick up skills in parenting, we need to pick up skills to improve our marriages by reading or attending conventions to learn better ways of handling our marriages.

When I meet up with close friends, the subject invariably revolves around marriage and children, and the sad thing is that we see a lot of marriages facing tough times. Times when you question if you have married the right person. Times when you want to walk out the door but stay on because of the children. Times when you have to deal with an infidelity.

The answers are never easy and the vicissitudes of married life may sometimes seem too tough to face. In times like that, we need good friends to turn to for support, and perhaps a faith to see us through.

The truth is that marriage is not a bed of roses. And love is more than an emotion. It is a commitment. A commitment to forgiveness, a commitment to patience, a commitment to communication, and so much more. Before we even try to change our spouses, we should look at our own shortcomings. It is also helpful to recognise each other's love language, be it words, deeds, gifts, touch, or time.

#4 made this pancake for me when she went for breakfast with her friend. Even with all it's imperfections, I treasure it a lot. Would be a great way to think of marriage, wouldn't it? 

S I N C E R E  H E A R T
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 

Here's wishing one and all a very happy valentine's day. May we all strive for a stronger marriage because only then can we have strong families. 

Linking up with: 


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

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

6 tips to choose a primary school

My 5 older kids are between Primary 2 and Secondary 4, so looking back, here are some pointers that you might want to consider in choosing a primary school that is right for your child and your family.

1) Distance

For me, this is by far the most important criteria.

For the Child:

If she is on the school bus, the further away the school, the earlier the pick up time. Schools which are very near or quite near the home have a pick up time of around 6am. Schools that are much further away might even have a 5.30 pick up time. My 3 older kids were lucky as their entire school bus was filled with kids from our same condo, so their pick up time was 6.45. Do check with neighbours or friends with kids in the school, or you can get the bus company's number off the school's website to get an indicative timing. Such early hours are really tough on the children, as they might end up not getting adequate sleep at night and can't concentrate well during class. A lack of sleep also affects their immunity which makes them more prone to picking up viruses going around. 

#4's bus picks her up at 6am and she arrives in school around 6.30. That is a whole 45 minutes sitting in the hall waiting for assembly to start (some arrive even earlier). Compare that with being able to wake up at 7am, have a quick breakfast and walk to school just in time for assembly. It has also been found that walking to school increases the child's focus for a few hours thereafter, so that's another plus. I know of 1 or 2 schools where the principals push the timing back to a more decent hour of around 8am. That allows the working parents a bit more time to spend with the kids at night and before school. If you live far away, the journey back home would also be longer and not only will it be a waste of time, but the child might be very hungry.

In the P5/P6 years, they may be starting to take public transport. This would help them to learn some independence, free up the parents from their chauffeuring duties, or to save some money as school bus fares increase every few years. For me, I needed to get them independent because I wouldn't be able to juggle ferrying so many kids at the same time. The older ones were able to take the public bus home from the time they were in P5, after their CCAs or supplementary classes (which are compulsory)*. I was comfortable with that because our house was just 3 bus stops away and they did not have to cross any roads.

* Most schools do have a school bus service at 4pm for the kids who are staying back, but that monthly fee is paid on top of the normal to and fro journey, and it costs more than the daily trip.

For the Parent:

If you are ferrying your child, the further the school, the longer the time it will take you, especially during the morning peak hour traffic after dropping your child. Don't forget that you have to do this everyday for the next 6 years. A friend was just asking me how I managed their daily schedules. With 2 kids, she is already finding it very difficult to juggle their pick up times and sending them to tuition after school. By 5pm, she's usually very highly strung due to rushing here and rushing there getting everyone on time. For me, I eliminate a lot of the stress by keeping school and any other activity as close to home as possible to cut travelling time. It's also easy for them to get home themselves if need be.

Project work in upper primary:

In some schools, they require the students to do group work occasionally in the upper levels. If no one stays near the school, they usually end up staying in school to do it together. If your child is on the school bus, and you are working, you will need to arrange for her to go back on her own. For us, as we live near their schools, I encourage them to invite their group of friends back so that they would have a safe place to do their work and so that I can get to know who they are mixing with. If you live far away from school, all these logistic issues get that little bit more tricky, especially if you have more than 1 child, so just something to keep in mind.

Another plus point:

We used to live in a condo very near the school and there were many kids going to the same school. When they were sick, their bus-mates or classmates living in the same condo would come and drop off their homework. They would do the same for their friends. Once, when one of their classmate had her leg in a cast, they baked a batch of cookies for her and visited her. There's also a sense of camaraderie in the playground as they are all from the same school. It's like the old days when the kids played together and went to the same village school, and everyone looks out for one another.

2) CCAs

CCAs will play a big part in your child's life in primary school for several reasons. Not only does it encourage friendship and inculcate a lot of other character values not learnt through lesson time, it also allows an opportunity for your child to participate in activities that would not be found via outside enrichment courses such as scouting, being part of a marching band, or learning to be an entrepreneur to name a few. And of course, it is more convenient as you don't have the hassle of taking them to an external vendor for the classes. Another very important point is that in secondary school, for most schools, you have to choose 1 CCA and stick to it for 4 years. So it is during the primary school years where the child should try out different CCAs to see where their interests or talents lie. Or having tried out a particular CCA, to know that they really do not enjoy it so they won't choose it in secondary school.

Some schools have very limited CCAs, as they would rather concentrate on those few areas where they are strong in (so that they can win more medals). Some schools have CCAs which are only open to students at the competitive level, so only those who pass the try outs will be allowed in. Some other schools only encourage students to join CCAs at the P4 level, unless you have prior experience in a particular sport. On the other hand, some schools encourage the children to participate in CCAs from P1, and even allow them to take as many CCAs as they can handle. So try to find out what sort of CCAs the school offers, and the CCA policy of the school and see if it fits your needs.

3) Elite school vs heartland school

The great debate. Firstly, all 'elite' schools are not equal. Secondly, what actually defines an 'elite' school? And thirdly, should all schools in the top 10 list be automatically classified as elite? After having my kids in 'elite' schools, missionary schools, and heartland schools, I think we should look past these labels and get to the heart of the matter. Instead of viewing them as elite vs heartland schools, if you really want to do your homework, regardless of what sort of school it is and what reputation it had in the past, you should find out if the school has these attributes which should be the hallmark of a good school.
  • A wide range of programs for the students (learning journeys, overseas trips, post PSLE activities etc.) Just a note on overseas trips, it doesn't necessarily mean the further the destination, the better.
  • A wide variety of CCAs to choose from, and decent coaches.
  • Adequate resources
  • Good teachers who are not over-burdened with other non-teaching responsibilities
  • Special programs which aid in learning (many heartland schools these days have very innovative programs)
  • Niche CCAs or programs which their school is recognised for. But do find out if the niche activities are only for an elite few or for the entire cohort to participate. For example, some schools have a proper rock climbing wall, but is it only for those in the school team, or for the entire student population to enjoy?
Something to bear in mind if you do want to consider putting your child in an 'elite' school. Would you rather your child be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? It's the reality in most schools whereby they allocate the best teachers to the top few classes in a bid to boost their top scorers. Also, we have heard of many stories whereby students fared averagely in an 'elite' primary school, but when they went to a heartland secondary school, they were placed in the top class and shined. 

Another very important point is that contrary to popular belief, teachers in heartland schools put in much more effort in teaching the students. They are aware that most of their students may not have tuition, and are very willing to give them extra help. In contrast, most kids in 'elite' schools have already learnt a lot of the material from their tutors, so much so that there is an incredulous refrain amongst parents of such schools that "the kids go to school more to be tested than to be taught". The classic chicken and egg situation.

4) The Principal

Who the principal is sets the tone of the school. If the principal has the welfare of the teachers and the students at heart, I'll say that is a great school to put your child in. Because where her priorities lie will filter down to every aspect of the school system. Is she concerned only about achieving academic success? Or is she passionate about making the school a vibrant environment for holistic learning? Is she very focused on chasing awards? Or is she keen on developing every child.

The MOE has done yet another round of rotating the principals. Hopefully, that has eased the pressure off entry into some very popular schools. And it is great that new life and expertise can be injected into heartland schools. So don't harp too much on what the school has done or achieved in the past, but have an open mind on what the school is currently doing, especially if it has a new principal to helm the school. 

5) If you have a mix of girls and boys, consider choosing a mixed school

By watching my kids, I realised that there's a strong sense of bonding by going to the same school. Wearing the same school uniform, taking the same school bus, talking about the same teachers. During the holidays, they get the same charity drive cards, which is so much more fun and less intimidating to do together, and they even get the same homework. For example, on the first day of school, both #4 and #5 received the same worksheet whereby they had to draw and write some things about themselves. I have never seen #5 so eager to do homework before! They shared ideas, and the older one was proud to teach the younger one a better way of colouring and decorating the page. During our daily dinners, they also have so much to talk about that went on in school that day as they will be sharing with each other some exciting tidbit about their friends or teachers. It also makes everything easier for the younger sibling to adapt to. #1 used to take #2 home with her on the public bus after their CCAs when she was in P5 and the younger one was in P3. Then it was #2's turn to teach #3 to take the public bus home.

6) Opportunity for play?

This point may be seen as trivia to some parents, and will probably not be one of the main criteria in choosing a school, but it could be a tie-breaker. The transition from kindergarten to primary 1 is significant, not only the extra hours spent at school, but work becomes more 'serious'. When I asked a lot of children in P1 from various schools if they liked school, I noticed something very telling. The kids who were happier tell me that they have fun with their friends during recess and before assembly in the mornings. The kids who tell me they dislike school or that school is boring usually come from schools whereby once they arrive in school, instead of going to the classrooms where they can mingle while waiting for the assembly bell to ring, they have to head straight to the hall for silent reading. And during recess, some schools have very restrictive rules, such as no playing in the field, no playing at the exercise equipment (in case accidents happen), and no staying upstairs in the classrooms. However in some schools, the kids are running around happily in the field, on the basketball court or even in the playground. Yes, some primary schools do have proper playgrounds for the kids to enjoy!
Another benefit of active play during recess is that the number of kids with ADHD or problems with focusing is rising. I think this can partly be attributed to the increased usage of gadgets coupled with a high intake of colouring and preservatives in our food. One way to alleviate it is to allow the kids to move and expand their energy during recess so that they can focus better. 

Besides, after going to school for 6 years, I don't just expect my child to emerge with a certificate. I expect her to have formed many good friendships and memories which will perhaps last her through her lifetime. Don't we remember the good ol' days of playing zero point during recess? I think it was the highlight of our school day!

At the end of the day, whichever school your child gets into, the best thing you can do for your child is to partner the school. I made this mistake with my older kids. The hubs and I decided to put our kids in the nearest school to our house, which happened to be a SAP school. However, over the years, there were so many problems with the school. A lack of communication, no standardisation with the delivery of syllabus, and even getting untrained teachers for the whole year, just to name a few. I kept mentioning how disappointed I was with the school in front of the kids. I realised that I shouldn't have done that. I should either try to find a solution for things which I could, and for those that I could not, I should just live with it as it doesn't help the kids for me to mention all the negative things about the school.

If you are trying to get into a school which you feel is 'better', perhaps you should keep the plans to the adults. Because if the child gets the idea that you are trying to get into the 'better' school, but in the end failed and she has to go to the '2nd choice' school, who knows what the child might make of that? We all want them to start on a positive note, so you might want to keep the child in the dark, and when the results are out, then you tell the child which school she is going to and point out the pros of the school.

Sane tip: It doesn't matter what type of school it is. Look at each school as it is, without any biases, take a piece of paper, draw up the pros and cons of the 2 or 3 schools you have narrowed down, then make an informed and wise decision based on facts. There's a strange phenomenon in #3's school. Year after year, there is fierce balloting for places. People are fighting to get into her school as it has a good reputation for grades. Yet, after the kids enter the school, the parents have many dissatisfactions with the school and then they ask "What is so good about this school?" So don't just follow the crowd based on popular demand, but make an informed decision.

Save tip: Besides the obvious savings of cheaper school bus fares if you live nearer the school, or even free, if it is within walking distance, I also realised another thing. For the humbler heartland schools, your child will ask you for money less frequently. If you are in a school where there are more affluent families, your child will ask you for money for all sorts of things. It could be donations, expensive CCAs like sailing or golf, or subscription for magazines delivered via the school. Of course you are not obligated to join or buy any of it, but if everyone else is buying the magazines or if your child's best friend is participating in it, your child might keep insisting on it. So find a school which fits your requirements.

#4 is in an 'elite' school, and she tells me that she's the only one in class without a phone and most of her classmates have the latest iPhone 5. I told her that's great, she has so many friends to borrow a phone from in case she's ever in an emergency and needs to call me. And of course, before the year end school holidays, they will invariably chat about their holiday destinations. It's common to hear of Club med ski holidays, or even trips to the States or Europe. So just bear in mind that will be the peer environment your child will be exposed to.

I hope the above tips were useful, and for parents with kids already in the school system, if you have any other suggestions which might be helpful to other parents, do share with us via the comments!

To read a mummy's account of her son's first week in Primary One, click here.

For 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child, click here.

For how I prepare my kids in their PSLE year, click here.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

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