Sunday, June 17, 2018

Choosing a Chinese Enrichment Centre

Dumpling used to head off to my parents' place after school on some days but that changed with her staying back in the school for an average of 3 times a week because of extra classes and CCA. Hence the exposure to Chinese language has been greatly cut down since that's my parents' mode of communication with her. 

And like many other parents, I find Chinese a harder subject to crack and to support in, which explains why I did Chinese immersion for her from 18 months to her Kindergarten years and where we did a lot of  Chinese homelearning too. However, as she progresses on in school, and with me having started a new job earlier this year, I find the lack of time and the lack of teaching materials a challenge in effectively supporting her in this area. More than that, there are also quite a few elements to exams: Learning Comprehension, Composition, Oral, Paper 2 (which includes *gasp* comprehension and 便条).

We tried a Chinese tutor for a good couple of months but unfortunately, because of health issues, she could not teach Dumpling any more. That started a mad rush for me where I had to look for alternatives i.e. enrichment centre. 

With school (and semester 2) restarting in a week's time, how do you then choose a centre for your child and what are the things to look out for? Here, I share some tips and my thought processes. 



1. Distance 
In all honesty, this ranks at the top of my list because choosing a centre usually is decision that will "last" over a few years. 

The closer the centre is to your home or to your child's school, the less tiring it is for all of you. And you will realise the importance as your child goes into Upper Primary because time is really a constraint with them staying back in school for so many days. You will also need to factor in the travelling time too. 


2. Teachers / Environment  
Chinese is already a hard language to master so to me, having encouraging teachers is very important. Dumpling was previously with another enrichment centre and while the workload was really heavy, the teachers she had there were really nice and always had words of encouragement. 

There were days where Dumpling could not finish the compositions in time and the teachers did not mind and allowed Dumpling to continue on, even after the lesson has ended. I feel that this contributed to Dumping's "openness towards this language" because her experiences with these teachers have always been good. 


3. Curriculum / Gaps you wish to tackle
While the syllabus is set by MOE, different centres have their own curriculum where they plan for their lessons and design their worksheets differently. Even elements in their worksheets differ in focus an in intensity. Additionally, the length of the sessions and what are being covered in the lessons differ too. 

To elaborate, some centres run 2-hour programmes as well as a 3-hour programme. The 2 hour programmes usually come in these sort of combinations:

- Paper 2 components (Vocab + words from textbooks as well as comprehension)
- Composition + Oral format 
- Composition + Oral + Comprehension 

Now, you may ask how it is that some centres are able to cover composition + oral + comprehension while another is not able to. This is where you will need to call and do a bit of "homework". 

Honestly, it is hard for these centres to cover all these components in a 2-hour class so some centres may cover comprehension but they are the MCQ versions and then they pair it with composition; they will then do an Open-Ended Comprehension with Oral the following week. Other centres may do a full paper 2 and pair it with Oral before alternating with Composition the following week. So you will need to think and decide if for e.g. you prefer weekly compositions or you are for e.g. fine with 3 per term. 

You will also need to understand your child's schedule - is he / she able to complete the homework given by these centres:


  • do they have time to learn extra Ting Xie and Mo Xie words
  • do corrections
  • even work on the compositions from home 

I have some friends who prefer to let the enrichment centres support in just composition and oral while they work to support the child on the paper 2 components at home, on their own. Then, there are also centres that run a 3-hour programme where it is "all-in-one" ~ paper 2 components, composition and oral. 

More importantly, based on your child's recent SA1 papers, you will need to identify what the areas of improvement are. If your child seems to be weaker in composition, then you may not quite need to do the paper 2 components but focus your time and resources in choosing a centre that offers just composition support. 


4. Home and centre partnership 
It takes a village to raise a child and having a good partnership with your child's teacher is really important. In some trials / holiday workshops with some of the centres, I often ask for feedback and this allows me to gauge 2 things:

- How quick the centres reply with feedback 
- How insightful their observations are 

More importantly, when the teachers share areas which Dumpling needs improvement on, I'd often turn it around and ask them back ~ " How are you able to support her in that area then? What are your strategies and what will be your recommendations?" 



5. Slots availability and fees 
These 2 factors are pretty self explanatory ~ with Dumpling staying back in school so often, it is a challenge to be able to look for a class that suits her timetable so that took a bit of calling and checking too. Additionally, there's the question of fees of course. 

So far, based on my calls, most of these centres charge around $20+ per hour for group sessions (if you were to break the fees down by per term and then by per hour) but of course, there are some who charge a more premium fee. So it will be good for you to call and ask to see the materials and understand the justification in these places charging for a premium. 

I hope the sharing is useful and here's wishing you good luck in your search and in the upcoming Semester 2!

I have previously written a post on nurturing a love for the Chinese language before and you can read more about it here:

Part 1: Read Read Read (books of a different kind)

Part 2: Speak it, Use it!
Part 3: Watch it!

Part 4: Play It! 

Looking for more sharing on the Chinese syllabus, I recently interviewed a friend who is an MOE Primary School Chinese teacher on Chinese Composition which you can read about here too. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Parenting with Love: Educating for the Future World

I never thought that I'd say this but comparatively to many to other mums, it's evident that I will never qualify to be a "tiger mum". To be one, you must have an iron will as well as the tenacity to weather all storms (including rebellions and meltdowns), not to mention pretty deep pockets. :p  I bumped into a mum a few weekends who stopped me in mid tracks to ask about a Netball organisation that Dumpling was with for the last 2 - 3 terms. From that discussion it evolved to many other side topics but all driving towards how I am steering / preparing my child for an elite Secondary school.

It was clear that this mum was at the top of her game and mind you, I must say that I am very impressed as her child is a good couple of years younger than Dumpling, having only started in Primary 1. Honestly, I could not keep up.

I have recently moved on from the Early Childhood industry (after having spent the past 6 years in this industry) where I am now taking back on a team leader position, overseeing a department. (Please stay with me, this is leading to something.) As the role was left vacant for a while, there are "headcounts" to fill. So, over the past few weeks, I have been actively interviewing candidates for 2 positions as well as understanding the dynamics of my new team, and learning more about my various stakeholders and colleagues.

After viewing what feels like a gazillion CVs, it suddenly hit me that my managers and I were hardly looking into the academic achievements of the candidates. Rather, the candidates that caught my eye were those who cited leadership experiences, commitment (e.g. no job hopping), problem solving skills, etc. During the interviews, traits such as a willingness to collaborate, high EQ (I sometimes ask fairly far out questions to see what response I'd elicit), creativity are things that I look out for.




Dumpling is turning 10 this year and it made me rethink ~ is the future world or are future jobs just about grades? Will interviewers be looking into her PSLE and O level scores comes 10 - 12 years time? Or are there other skills which are more important? What are the jobs which are yet to be created, for the future world?



As parents in this meritocratic society, I believe that many of us were brought up with a view on the utter importance of grades. But what is an irony to me is while as a society, many areas such as technology, medical research, etc. have progressed but our education system seems to be stuck in some sort of a time capsule. The relentless chase for grades is still ongoing, evident in the thriving billion dollar tuition industry here in Singapore.

And I must say that some parents start their kids "early" on these. Dumpling had an interesting encounter with a classmate last year where they had to construct a boat individually but work as a group to present and share their thoughts, findings and rationale for the choice of materials for their boat. Dumpling was in charge of collating the slides and was repeatedly "chasing" for the slides from a classmate. After 2 - 3 weeks (nearing the deadline), the girl shared that her parent does not allow for her to email or share her slides with anyone prior the presentation. Frankly, I was mind-blown. 😐

Collaboration, problem solving skills, conflict management and the ability to lead, to me, are skills which I'd like for Dumpling to hone as they are key to her working well with her colleagues and team mates, no matter where she goes. After all, no one has all the knowledge in the world. And if anything, always choose to be kind. The world is not just about grades, and certainly not just about possessing this tunnel vision of being so "me-centric" and causing much inconvenience where, in this instance, the form teacher had to insert the students' (lone -ranger) slides into the group deck so no one else could see them prior.

I still recall my brother purchasing his first computer (286!!!) from years ago and that the shop assistants were playing computer games when we got there. I recall that "gaming" was being frowned on then, by the older folks as it was not really "a job". Just take a look at our children now. Many parents are signing them for robotics and coding classes, and even MOE has released a statement to share that all primary schools are to set up an applied learning programme by 2023. So who's to say what future jobs will be created in 10 - 15 years down the road?

So are grades, then, truly enough? Or are we, as parents of this next generation, missing out something that's beyond the academics.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mortality

“Mama, you will be fine right? All you have to do is to take medication which the doctor prescribed and you will be fine right?” Dumpling asked with tears streaming down her face. My heart shattered as I held on to that very fine thread of sanity for strength.

Please allow me to “rewind” back to the start of the year for January was a really challenging month for me.

My helper had to leave very urgently on compassionate leave and because everything happened so fast, I had no turnaround time to look and arrange for a part time cleaner. As I had very few days of leave left transitioning into a new job, I had to juggle work + scheduling for the pick-up of Dumpling + working out her food schedule as she was staying back in school from Wed – Friday weekly. Add laundry, medicating the dog, cooking / washing of dishes + mopping, supporting the kiddo with her homework; you can tell how packed each day was over the course of those weeks. 

Along the way, I went for what I thought was a “regular” Pap Smear test. “Regular” because the last round was almost 5 years go. Yup yup, before you diss me, this was what happened. My gynae appointments are usually made way in advance (like months ahead) because his schedule is really packed. What happened was I totally forgotten about it and I got busy with the everyday "busy-ness" and mum duties and then it dragged on and on until very strangely, I had this sudden and persistent “urge” to head for the test. So I booked myself one and a week after doing the test, the nurse called me up and said “Alicia, your test came back with inflammation with Parakeratiotic cells seen. Doctor Ong would like to see you tomorrow.”

I was totally taken aback “Para what?” I asked. “What does this mean?” And of course, she couldn’t answer further and the next day, I met up with the doctor to explain to me that basically because there’s inflammation in the cervix, the cells sort of build up as they layered and layered over, almost like a self defense mechanism to deal with the inflammation. BUT here’s the thing, HPV also causes inflammation and for some kinds, they are so called the high-risk (types 16 & 18) lead to the majority of cancer and get this, cervical cancer is most commonly linked to HPV.   

So I went for a further test / scope and the waiting game started. It was a week of yoyo moods for me. I hadn’t intended to tell Dumpling anything but she knew that I went for my regular check up as I had picked her up from school that late afternoon and so, she was really intuitive as to why I needed to go back for the second time. Sigh… Hence the water works started.



I’ve always been iffy about the mortality discussion. When suddenly thrusted into this situation where I may be at high risk for cervical cancer, my first thoughts were “Oh dear. What’s gonna happen to the kiddo? How am I gonna break the news to my parents, who will be utterly devastated?” I started tearing in the car, texted some close friends & colleagues and called my bro who unfortunately was away on business travel.

Over the course of the week (where my helper was still away), I tried very hard not to think about it but honestly, that’s akin to ignoring a time bomb ticking away in your head. I posted up a status on FB asking for prayers and many replied back / PM / What’s App me.

And for that, I am utterly thankful ~ mummy friends helped me to pick Dumpling up from school, close friends prayed for me daily and continued to encourage me and some met me for lunch to cheer me up. I was reminded to be still, and to trust in God. Dumpling and I prayed together and amazingly, she kept assuring me that I will be alright. As for me, I basically passed the driver's seat to God. I told Him that my life was never mine in the first place so I am good if He wishes to take me with him. But if possible, I'd like to be able to parent and witness the kiddo grow up and to spend more time with my parents and loved ones. 

I am glad to share that I am tested negative for HPV (Thank you Lord!) and I am on a course of medication for bacteria where I have to repeat my tests again in 3 months time so it will be another waiting game. :( 

Having gone through this crazy scare, I was encouraged by my gynae to go for a HPV vaccine which I will be doing so. A girl friend incidentally texted me last evening to check on me (thanks June!) and I will share with you all the same thing that I shared with her then. 

I am also not a big fan of any vaccines but this episode has made me really glad that I’d still have that option to choose. If you were to be tested negative for it and the vaccine can provide some degree of coverage for HPV, then why not? 

To quote a read on a website:

"Cervical cancer: Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and just two HPV types, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70% of all cases (7, 8). Anal cancer: About 95% of anal cancers are caused by HPV." 

So, have a think about it, my mummy readers and friends. Let's take some time for self care so that we can continue for a longer period and go a farther distance. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Parenting with Love: Developing Good Habits

My post is a tad late I know, as most of my friends posted their “Goodbye 2017” post end of last year. While I slowed down towards the end of the year (especially with a small accident) and reflected internally, I did not really have the time nor was I in the right frame of mind to sit and type it all down.

On the parenting front, one of the hardest challenges I faced last year was parenting a “tween”. I did not experience any terrible 2s with Dumpling so I was totally unprepared for the struggles we had last year. Then I went on to google and realize that 9 is the start of TWEENAGE. Yup, welcome to this urban term where it is defined as girl aged about 9-14...too old for toys, but too young for boys (thank God!)

One of the key areas which I would like for her to work on is to develop good habits for this year. As a FTWM, time is something which I lack and with her in Primary 4 this year, I’d like for her to take on more ownership of her work and responsibilities. Add to the fact that I am a Type A, I need things to be planned out properly and way in advance because of the big E word – Efficiency. With a helper to the equation, I realise that Dumpling hasn’t quite been given the chances to plan and manage deadlines on her own. This has resulted in many nagging sessions from me which sometimes lead to intense frustration on my end.

For this year, her schedule seems to be getting crazier primarily because of supplementary classes - the kiddo will be staying on in school for E2K twice a week (will blog about this once she starts and when we have a better understanding of the programme). Added to the fact that she has to also stay on for CCA, I am really worried about her ability to finish her school homework on time and have a little down time to herself.

So with the imminent tight schedule, I took the opportunity to talk to her about setting goals and creating an agreement. I hope that I do not have to nag too much.

So yes, for 2018, my focus is to for her to develop good habits because I believe with good habits,  everything else will follow. And these are what we agreed to:

1. Be responsible for her homework. Namely:
  • No devices from 330 to 5pm until school homework is cleared (on days where she does not have to stay back in school)
  • Complete school homework on supplementary days after taking an hour break upon reaching home

2. Keeping to the scheduled time slots to complete the individual items then personal time

3. Practising violin daily (even if it is just 20-30 mins)

4. Understand deadlines – e.g. be in room by a certain time

5. Praying before bed



As for me, here’s my focus for the year

1. To set aside me-time: my weekly Yoga and to continue with my self-care skin care regime (Mary Kay!)

2. To guide the kiddo in planning her schedule though it is much quicker for me to do it!

3. To be more prayerful and continue to have positive thoughts  

EDIT: Here's a simple goal setting file which I created for Dumpling so that she can list out her top 3 goals where we can pin it up and we can both view daily. It also includes a simple sheet where you can track your progress some weeks (determined by you and your child) down the road. I hope that it is useful for you guys!

Goal setting printable for children

Do you do goal setting with your child? How do you do it? Has it proven to be successful? I intend to review this a month down the road so wish me luck all! 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: The Sound of Music

Five days after watching one of the world's most famous musicals "The Sound of Music", the songs are ringing in my ears, and in good way. The Marina Bay Sands Theatre was indeed buzzing with the sound of music last Thursday, where Dumpling and I attended the Gala Night. Melodious songs filled the air over the 2+ hours stellar performance which had Dumpling and I singing and tapping along with the singers.


The Sound of Music was an all time favorite when I was a little girl – especially since I play the organ and we had to learn solfege so the musical’s theme song resonated well with me.  When I became a mum, I was very intentional in sharing the many classic movies which I enjoyed with Dumpling and The Sound of Music, is one such treasure.

The Sound of Music is a production inspired by a true story: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. In this broadway musical, it centers on Maria Rainer, a-nun-in-training, and a widowed Captain von Trapp, with seven children. The story takes place preceding WWII where the underlying tension between the Germans and Austrians was felt in the production.

That evening was the second time catching the musical for Dumpling and myself, and it amazed us no less. Carmen Pretorius, who acted as Liesl in the last production when it staged here in 2014 now returns as Maria. Frankly, at the start, I thought that she has large shoes to fill but her delivery was on point throughout the whole show; she did not even look like she broke a sweat as she hit those high notes with such clarity. :p

Pretorius was believable as the young and carefree Maria (employed as a governess) who looked like she’s one who’d scrapped knees, climbed trees and sang freely on mountains yet in the same breath, was mature and brave enough to stand up to the regimented Captain von Trapp who runs his household military style.  


The story's main theme is notably on love. Not just the love story which blossomed slowly between the Captain and Maria but also the motherly love that Mother Abbess had for Maria, and the sisterly love between the nuns. From the start of the show, it was clear that Maria somewhat stuck out like a sore thumb in her study to be a nun where she was always breaking rules. However, Mother Abbess was patient and kind and saw more in Maria than Maria ever saw in herself. 

The exchanges between Maria, the nuns and Mother Abbess treated us to the lovely prowess of the performers' vocals. The show started with "Maria" where the nuns harmonized beautifully. Mother Abbess was also exceptional and stole the show in her solo rendition of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" where the theatre rang with her high notes. 


The von Trapp children were absolutely adorable (with local cast members too!). Dumpling and I actually had a "double" treat because we were seated directly behind some of the children cast members whom I noted, could not help but hummed along during some songs. :)

The little star of the show (both in the 2014 and this production) was Gretl who had the crowd eating out of her little hands with her performance of "So long, Farewell". Brigitta also brought many moments of laughter with her precocious personality and (sometimes too) honest views. Friedrich was well casted as the gangly teenager. The audience around me were clearly engrossed as many (including Dumpling and myself) sung and hummed along with the famous "Do-Re-Mi".

With such strong performance from the cast, it would be easy for Captain von Trapp to be overshadowed. Instead, he held his own with his duet with the Baroness (How can Love Survive) and the ever famous "Edelweiss" as he bade farewell to Austria.


Because this is a love story which took place with an impending war, there were discussions of it between Captain von Trapp, Baroness Schrader (the captain's original love interest) and Max Detweiler (the captain's friend). The captain's political views towards the Germans were all too obvious and this created much tension between him and the officers where he was forced to flee from Austria and the audience was once again treated to "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", ending the show on a crescendo. 

As this is sung "live", it would not be realistic to expect the same plot development as the movie because of time limitation. The whole background of the war may be lost on younger children but I'd say that the songs and sets will more than enthrall them. A musical that is great for the family; highly recommended! 

:: PERFORMANCE TIMES:                
Tuesday to Friday:           7:30pm
Saturday:                          2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sunday:                            1:00pm and 6:00pm

:: TICKET PRICE:                                   
From $65*
* Excludes the booking fee of SGD$4 per ticket


:: BOOKINGS:
INTERNET:  www.MarinaBaySands.com/ticketing or https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/sound1217
PHONE:   +65 6688 8826
IN PERSON AT:
Marina Bay Sands Box Offices (Museum, Theatres, SkyPark, Retail Mall and Hotel Tower 1 Lobby).For more information please log onto - www.MarinaBaySands.com

Disclaimer: Dumpling and I were invited to the Gala Night so that we can share our experience on it. All views expressed are entirely mine and does not represent the organisation that I work for.

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