Wednesday, 20 November 2019

How to choose the BEST secondary school for your child

"Every school, a good school."

Personally, I think a more apt slogan should be "Every school is unique."

It is precisely because children are unique, with different aptitudes, learning styles and interests that we need different schools to suit them.

Every child is different and I'm glad we don't have a system where they stay in the same school right through to 16 because the learning differences are already quite stark at 12 or 13 and most schools don't have the resources to cater to this full range of abilities.

My 5 older children went to 4 different secondary schools collectively and their experiences have been quite different.

Basically, different schools have different values, different CCAs, slightly different modes of learning, different niche programmes, different options for streaming (very important) and different opportunities for overseas trips. Read more in 6 tips to choose a secondary school.

Besides these differences, there are other factors to consider in choosing a suitable school for your child.

Big fish in a small pond?

Amongst my 6 children, one is academically inclined and her intelligence suits our education system. Whether she sits in a class of 40 or in a lecture theatre of 200, she has no problems grasping concepts quickly. It doesn't matter which teacher she gets as she is able to read between the lines and figure things out on her own even if she gets an inexperienced teacher for a particular subject. If she doesn't understand what her teacher has just taught, she will approach a classmate whom she can relate better to or she reads up on the notes.

For kids who score well academically, your consideration would be whether to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. By being a big fish in a small pond, the opportunities would be more as there are fewer of the same calibre fighting for the leadership positions and various openings and you are more likely to be able to build a good portfolio.

If you choose an elite school, being in an environment with peers of a similar high ability, there is a rich platform for discussion and healthy competition. Although I have heard from counsellors that the stress levels have become quite unhealthy, with rising depression, anxiety and even suicide cases.

Parents have to be ever vigilant during this period of time from secondary school to JC where our teenagers are facing a lot of pressure.

Another aspect of choosing an elite school is whether a child can fit in socially. A friend was sharing how her 2 boys had very different experiences going to an elite school. One settled in very well, but the other had certain issues which cropped up. Her son said that group meetings were held at Starbucks or at cafes which went over his weekly budget. Some kids may feel inferior that their family is "not wealthy enough" for them to blend in or afford the expensive CCAs or overseas experiences.

Experiential Learner

I have another child who learns experientially. She is a bright child but doesn't like rote learning. Pages of black and white notes bore her and she has to touch things to discover it for herself. She has a quick mind and asks never-ending questions as that is how she gets to the bottom of things.

She went to a "mid-range" secondary school and that suited her really well. Her teachers explained that because the students find it hard to learn the traditional way of listening to a teacher lecture at the front, they have come up with more creative approaches to present lessons. There was even a teacher who was so understanding and open that she encouraged them to make up songs about her chemistry concepts and to sing them in class.

Her school was big on students' welfare and every week, the teachers would take a walk with their students one by one, and they could chat about any topic under the sun. The teenage years are tumultuous to say the least, and a supportive adult with a listening ear serves as an anchor for some of these kids who are struggling with life, family issues or school pressures.

Neighbourhood schools have their plus points

I have another child who is not academically inclined, but has great artistic talent. She struggles with school work and finds it hard to understand concepts and only certain teachers are able to break down and explain things in such a way that she is able to grasp. The slower pace in her secondary school is helpful, and I notice that her teachers are extremely caring and concerned about her grades.

After spending 3 years in a neighbourhood school, I have found 4 advantages: 

1. With the proximity, she can wake up at 6.40am as compared to her siblings who had to wake up an hour earlier. It gets harder and harder for teens to go to bed early and the extra hour really helps! She's also the only one lucky enough to have daddy sending her to school everyday as her school is close by.

2. It has been an eye-opener as she is exposed to friends from different backgrounds and family circumstances and she has become a more appreciative and considerate child. I've shared her experiences in My teen in a neighbourhood school.

3. At the end of Sec 2, she was amongst the top in her level and that meant that all the different subject combinations were open to her. In contrast, #1 who was at the bottom of a higher COP school was caught in a situation at Sec 2 streaming where she was unable to get the combination for subjects she was strong in, which affected her O level grades.

4. Teachers take it on themselves to teach well because they are aware that not all students are able to afford tuition.

Do some research about the schools around your neighbourhood before making your selection. Some schools have exciting niche programmes such as aerospace, robotics or social entrepreneurship. I asked my teacher friends for their input, spoke to neighbours and attended Open Houses before making a decision together with my child.

One BIG CHANGE that is happening from 2020 is SUBJECT BASED BANDING (SBB).

This is GREAT NEWS for children like my son. Some kids have very narrowly defined strengths, which isn't a bad thing at all, and they shouldn't be penalised in those subjects they can excel at. In fact, it is easier to plan a pathway for him, than another child with average grades but no clear indication of strengths and interests.

His strengths have been clear from the time he was in preschool. A creative child with interesting ideas, his teachers used to marvel at how his creations were always symmetrical in shape and colour and he had the most complex and unique designs amongst his peers.

If our education system was radically changed to one of innovation and invention with a more hands on mode of learning, this child would shine!

After a year in secondary school, his favourite subject is Design & Technology, Art and Science. He has this to say about Literature: "Strange how it is English, but it just doesn't make any sense to me." He isn't excited about Geography nor History, and Chinese is still a perennial struggle.

What SBB aims to do is to RECOGNISE their STRENGTHS in INDIVIDUAL SUBJECTS and to GIVE them A SECOND CHANCE.

Subject based banding (SBB) was first introduced in 12 secondary schools in 2014, but only limited to English, Mother Tongue, Math and Science. If a child was in Normal (academic) but is strong in say Mother Tongue or Math, they can take those subjects together with their peers in the Express stream.

Next year, in 2020, FULL SBB will be piloted in 28 secondary schools, and in 2022, it will be implemented in all schools. If your child is streamed into Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical), he might want to select one of these 28 schools as he would have a chance to take subjects at the Express level, not only for the 4 core subjects, but humanities as well, if he has the ability.

These are the 28 secondary schools piloting full SBB from 2020:

1. Ang Mo Kio
2. Assumption English
3. Bedok Green
4. Bowen
5. Clementi Town
6. Deyi
7. Edgefield
8. Evergreen
9. Gan Eng Seng
10. Greendale
11. Jurong
12. Jurong West
13. Mayflower
14. Montfort
15. Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School
16. Pei Hwa
17. Ping Yi
18. Queenstown
19. Riverside
20. St. Andrew's
21. St. Anthony's Canossian 
22. St. Patrick's
23. Swiss Cottage
24. Temasek
25. West Spring
26. Whitley
27. Yuying
28. Zhenghua

I am really heartened to see that schools have taken it upon themselves to innovate and create an appropriate environment to cater to the students that they receive.

With the different perspectives that I have shared, don't be afraid to ask questions when you visit the Open House so that you can get a better overall picture of the school.

All the best in your hunt for the most suitable school for your child!


PSLE results: Good or bad, what do you say?
6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child
My teen in a neighbourhood school
PSC Scholarship? Wow
What the PSLE is really about


About MummyWee


Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today's volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.


School Stories:

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

10 tips to manage Sibling Rivalry

Does this seem to be a daily struggle in your household? It sure was in ours! The kids would squabble over toys, who has more of this or that (not fair!), who sat here first (this spot was mine!) and other seemingly ridiculous issues, both big and small.

If you are at your wits ends, try these 10 pointers and see if it helps. We made so many mistakes in parenting them, but have learnt and gotten better over the years. And despite having some nasty fights when they were younger, my kids have grown to love and care for one another.

1. Expect and Accept

There was an article by a psychologist which changed my perspective. He gave 6 reasons "Why siblings squabble all the time." The first reason:

Because they can.

We think our children should naturally get along beautifully.

I used to get annoyed when they started quarrelling, and sometimes I would yell at them in anger. Again! Why can't you all just get along?

Children are not born having the skills to resolve conflict and the family is where they learn how to get along with others peacefully.

After I realised that, I stopped fuming and got to work helping them learn the skills to get along. This would also help them deal with friends and with their future spouses or flatmates.

2. Make it a Family goal

This is a great place to start.

If you haven't already done it, sit your children down when everyone is in a happy mood (definitely not when they are in the midst of a quarrel) and make your expectations explicit, explain why it is important for them to have a good relationship and give them examples of what it looks like. Decide as a family on something fun to do on the weekend if they have tried hard to get along during the week.

3. Don't be the referee

When a quarrel erupts, we typically jump in with What happened? Who started it? The stories from both sides will come fast and furious and sometimes it's hard to know who to believe.

If you take sides, there will be a child who ends up thinking you are not being fair. This fair/not fair business is something we need to be mindful of. Some adults continue to harbour unhappiness at their parents for favouring another sibling (despite it being true or not).

An older sibling might use language to make it sound like he is not the one at fault, while the younger one may use tears and play victim. Either way, by going in to be the referee, you may end up siding with the wrong party and someone (usually the older sibling) may feel wronged and resentful (and may lash out at the younger one when parents are not around).

Instead, tell them that you expect them to settle it themselves. They are to stay in a designated room together (without toys) and are free to come out after they have worked it out.

4. Use "I feel" not "you did this"

Teach them positive communication skills, using "I feel" sentences instead of "You did this or you were mean". This enables their sibling to understand how that made them feel which they may not be aware of.

Eg. "I felt embarrassed when you called me a loser in front of my friends" instead of "He was such a horrible, mean brother for calling me names."

5. Sharing is caring

Allow them lots of opportunities to share. My dad, the doting grandpa used to buy them 5 of each toy because he couldn't bear to hear them quarrel. I explained to him that they had to learn to share. Even though they were 2 years apart, they would pass down their toys to the next sibling and were used to receiving hand-me-downs. In fact, the younger girls looked forward to having the "cool" clothes from their older sister and sharing became a normal part of life.

6. Welcoming a new baby

Start by acknowledging their emotions, that it is tough that mummy has to give her attention to someone else. Shift the focus from why is the baby getting all the attention to wow, you are such a caring brother/sister and instead of feeding the jealousy, help them be aware of all the "big things" they can do with mummy and daddy that baby can't, such as playing on the swing, cycling or going out for ice cream.

My kids were allowed to help with baby chores such as holding the milk bottle for the baby, changing the diapers and their favourite was to be given the great responsibility in carrying the baby.

7. One-on-one time

Make an effort to spend 1-on-1 time with each child. They need your attention, and are fighting to get it. When you allocate a specific time which they can look forward to, it helps to give them a sense of security.

It doesn't have to be a huge effort. We used to take walks to the nearest petrol station and would get an ice cream and walk back. Depending on how many kids you have and their ages, you could allocate 1 day per week for each child. The important thing is to stick to your promise to keep this time special just for that child.

This is easier said than done, and I have learnt not be too quick to promise so much if I know that my schedule at work may be unpredictable. It is better to promise something small which you can commit to 100% than to promise them too much and they end up getting disappointed and lose their trust in your word.

During the 1-on-1 time, don't focus on homework or grades. Talk about their interests, or each other's day and let them know that they can open up to you if there is anything bugging them. What you don't see doesn't mean it's not happening.

Besides one-on-one time, have different permutations of family time. Dad and the kids, mum and the kids, dad with one kid while mum with the other. I noticed that some siblings are naturally closer to another, and when the group dynamics are mixed up, different bonds are given the space to form.

8. Don't discourage them from being a "big brother" or "big sister"

So long as it is within safe limits, encourage them in their older sibling role and they will develop a sense of responsibility and joy from being of real help to their little brother or sister.

#5 wanted Kate to share in his great delight of riding the bicycle and begged me to allow him to "tompang" her. As he was steady on the bike, I allowed it. I supervised by walking next to them as they went round and round our garden. He was a proud big brother that day!

Find a comfortable balance between being over-protective and ensuring the safety of the kids.

9. Find challenges to bond them

Our kids have too comfortable a life. It's no wonder that they bicker a lot! My aunt used to tell me that even with 11 siblings in their family, they hardly fought because the older siblings were busy taking care of the younger ones and in their free time they made up their own games from pretty much nothing.

What I do is to set up bonding activities for them, like our Family OBS where I took the 6 of them by myself (without the hubs!) to experience climbing real cliffs. They learnt to rely on each other and everyone had to pitch in.

10. Take sibling concerns seriously

Sometimes the younger child may be tormented regularly by an older sibling and tries to speak up but if the parent doesn't seem to be listening or thinks it's a minor issue, the child will stop trying to tell you. Some siblings bully each other quite badly when parents are not around.

Don't let things escalate. If physical acts like hitting, scratching, spitting or throwing objects at one another are not stopped quickly, it will get worse. Make it known that such is not acceptable in your household, and punishments have to be meted out.

Sibling rivalry may be the one thing that is driving you almost insane right now, but hang in there, take a deep breath, know that you can turn this around and never for once feel guilty. We all make mistakes. We all started at a place where we didn't know better.

Take it one step at a time, and celebrate small wins. You can do it!

Learn from the million mistakes we made along our parenting journey so you don't make the same!


About MummyWee

Michelle is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 6-turning-16 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in their 4Qs to survive today's volatile world. She also makes time to volunteer with children and the elderly in her community.
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