Monday, September 28, 2015

Primary One - Nurturing a love for Chinese #5: Write it! (小书 Small Book)

From an earlier post where I reached out to a friend, who is also Chinese teacher in a Primary school, on sharing some tips on Chinese Composition, came the suggestion of creating a 书, Small Book. The idea of creating one is to engage the children to reflect and write, and at the same time, in a fun and creative manner!

So I decided to take this on to try with the kiddo and we created 1 so far with another still "work-in-progress". 

For our first attempt, because I did not want it to be so taxing for her, I decided to make it with a 填充 format. To start, we made it as a 6 panel book using this format. I wanted to set her up for success so that she has a positive experience and I made it a fun story with open ended sentences where she can pen down her portion. 

I also cut out a window with a pen knife so that she is able to slot in whichever illustration she fancies for the moment. 

Pages 1 & 2
After jotting down the start of the story, before Dumpling began, I got her to read to me first and we discussed this in Mandarin. I prompted her with questions such as "她是一个怎么的女孩?", "得她会怎么?", etc.

She then started to fill the book on her own. 

I also left the illustration half completed so that it has room to allow for creativity and she can doodle what she likes.

Pages 3 & 4
As part of the objective of this exercise was also to encourage her to converse in Mandarin, I got her to write down dialogue too. It would then allow me to be able to gauge her sentence structure, the high frequency words knowledge (if she is able to recall), as well as to expand her vocabulary range.  

Pages 5 & 6
For these last 2 pages, I wanted to make it fun for her. Because we have loads of stickers at home, I cut out a plastic sheet and drew the face of the girl on. With the plastic sheet, Dumpling can then paste on whichever dress she fancies for the moment, making this activity an interactive one too as she can change the dress design any time she wants to. We also made a "closet" where she cut out dresses for the girl. These dresses can be "worn" by slotting them under that same plastic sheet. :)

If you are keen to make one too, here's what you may need for materials:

- A4 paper (if it is a 4-page book) / A3 (for 6 pages book). I prefer using construction paper as it is thicker
- Colourful pens / markers
- Scissors (may need pen knife)
- Glue stick
- Scotch tape
- Old magazines where you can cut out pictures from
- Optional: scrapbook materials (I bought 2 made-to-go albums for this purpose!) 

So there you have it! Our very first 小书 (Small Book) which is not unlike the lapbooks we have made in the past, only just in Chinese. :) I hope to share our next book soon!

This is an ongoing series on documenting my learning and Dumpling's Primary one journey

This is part of a 5-part series:
Part 1: Read Read Read (books of a different kind)
Part 3: Watch It!
Part 4: Play It

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Primary One: Chinese Compositions

I am blessed because in my circle of friends, I have many educators whom I am able to reach out to, to clarify and seek for advice / opinions. Though I was a part time tutor years back, there have been many changes to the Primary school syllabus over the years. I even had to do "investigative" work to understand the Stellar system and learn about the English curriculum again.

Importantly, there has also been a total change in the Chinese syllabus where the course materials have been updated and the focus is now on communication/oracy skills. (I have previously shared a post on helping your child to prepare for Show and Tell.) While working with the kiddo on Chinese oracy (will share in another post), one other thing that came up was composition.

To be able to write, it must mean that the children need to be able to string sentences together, have the right vocabulary and write the right words. Hence I reached out to a friend (a current Chinese teacher) to ask more about Chinese compositions in Primary schools.   

Q: Based on the current system with the change in P1 syllabus, which year is Compo needed?

A: Currently schools are doing 4-picture compositions from Primary 3, and 6-picture compositions from Primary 5. For some schools, they may start earlier with a 4-picture composition; these all vary slightly from school to school. 

Q: How do we support our children in writing? There seems to be a jump from just "fill in the blanks" (Tian Chong) to suddenly needing to produce a piece of work?

A: Basically, activities like Tian Chong in Paper 2 test on the pupils' reading and comprehension ability. To do so, they need understanding of vocabulary which is taught via textbook. Of course the new textbook teaches beyond vocabulary. Since at the moment, with the new syllabus, we only have P1 textbook, I would say that for P1, focus of the textbook is really more on oral and listening interactive skills.

Q: In terms of flow / content, is there a suggested format? (Say for lower primary?) Are there specific areas to watch out for?

A: Writing at young age is more about writing sentence or short story - 写句/写. Importantly good sentence structure is very important for the Chinese language: 句式练习. The progression should be in this manner: 从字、词、短语、句、段、.

I engage my child (who is in lower primary) through the making small books (). I also use picture books to build up my child’s comprehension and inference skills. Hence, my child is very quick in Q&A sessions after being read a book.

With the picture books we read, I will then encourage my child to work on writing. To start off, it can be something that is related to the book we just read but progressively, my child has started to work on writing which is not related to the books we read.

To elaborate, for e.g. after reading 我爸爸,you can design the small book in the form of a大嘴 to express what your child wants to say to his/her father. Also, for this book, there are many repeated sentences that begin with 我爸爸真的很棒,他像什么一样。So in my child’s small book, the same sentence structure (句式) was adopted. You can build up slowly – at first my child only started with drawing, then I guided on the writing slowly.

You can also do thematic topics too, like festivals or special days. Here’s one we did on National Day. 

(Above sample provided by "interviewee")

(If you like to know more about this approach, I adopted it from a Taiwanese master teacher, 林美琴, in her book: 阅读到写作).

As for Primary 3 to 6 picture composition format, many schools train their pupils in having 头,内容,结句,结尾.

结局 is the ending of the story, as in what happen to the character(s) in the end, but 结尾 is commonly expected in Chinese compositions when character reflects on the lesson learnt from the incident.

An example:


However, with so many model compositions available in the market, I feel that this has also led to pupils (even for Higher Chinese pupils) writing only in this genre/way. To write about life experiences, however it requires a different skill set. 

This will require parents to read to and read with your children and engaging them in meaningful conversations so that they are sharing their thoughts and views. Through small books, children can then write whatever that is on their mind or apply their experiences into these stories.

This is an ongoing series on documenting my learning and Dumpling's Primary one journey

Disclaimer: the article is a sharing based on my friend’s observations and it does not represent the teaching fraternity / education system.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Our Music Journey - So long farewell, I hate to say goodbye

It's not even the crack of dawn yet. Time check shows that it is before 5am. It has been big day, a big 24 hours for us as I made a big decision earlier (at least it feels that way for me!). Dumpling took her ABRSM exams earlier and in under 3 hours after the exams, I took a leap of faith and withdrew her from the school.

It has been at the back of my mind for a while. More than a year to be exact. But I got sucked into the "everyday busy-ness" and within the same year I changed a job, and she spent 9 months prepping for her exam. It has been a hard decision mainly because I love the teachers at her music school. But I ended up making the decision to leave to take a break as well as to trust my gut feel. 

Over these years and having taken 2 exams, there are a few things that I learnt about myself and my views on her music journey. In short, I would like to:

1) groom a more well rounded musician
2) minimise taking exams as much as possible and certainly not for every grade 
3) spend more time focusing on her foundation and cementing the roots 
4) spend time working with her on some theory aspects where she can understand and interpret the pieces better

In short, I am looking more for an all-round approach to this journey. 

If you are new to this, in the ABRSM violin exam how the children are graded are based on:
- Music pieces (3 from a set of songs) @ 90 marks total
- Arpeggio and scales @ 21 marks
- Aural @ 18 marks
- Sight reading @ 21 marks

Total to marks to pass is 100 with 120 to achieve a merit and 130 to achieve a distinction. So while there is a focus on being able to play (a hefty 111 marks out of 150), aural and sight reading are important aspects too. 

Exams are not a bad thing and it is from the exams that I got a sense of what Dumpling's strengths and weaknesses are. She is a mostly visual learner so when it comes to sight reading and musical knowledge, she is good. She can read something new and is able to interpret the piece and play on her own. In the same breath, I have also learnt that she is not confident in the echoing back of songs. This is linked to the training of the ears. 

Violin, as it is, is a very hard instrument. I play the organ and have basically completed all the necessary grades during my younger days. Keyboard instruments are "easier" in a way that as long as you place your fingers on the right keys, there is no chance of bad intonation. Because I studied organ so my ears are trained where I can spot a bad note being played on the violin during Dumpling's practice. 

Now, for children who are not trained and not exposed to how that note is supposed to sound, they won't know better! It's like me being asked if I like to eat chicken rice and I won't know better if I have not tasted it before. 

Essentially I feel that the approach should be where the students are taught techniques, musical knowledge and exposed to things in their grade / for their level before they take the exams which showcase those knowledge. Certainly not the other way round where the focus is more on the exams and the foundation still needs work. I also feel that there should be time focused on training the ears as being able to play by ear as a musician, to me at least, is an important skill.

Akin to creative writing, I liken this to the approach where if we were to read to and read with our children from young, speak to them properly, discuss a wide variety of topics and build up broad vocabulary through books, there is no need to do tons of worksheets to drill on grammar and comprehension. The child would have naturally picked up language and the child will also be able to write in time to come without having to complete sheets and sheets of worksheets.

And so, I made the decision to trust my gut feel, to stop, and explore other options down the road. I have been blessed as Dumpling has been enjoying her Aural lessons over at Aureus Academy where she enjoys clapping back and learning to pitch her tone and enter at the right time to "sing" a tune. Over these past 2 months since she started her Aural lessons, I have seen subconsciously how she is much more alert to the dynamics of pieces, "pulse", etc. On a few occasions, I saw Dumpling tap / clap to some songs we heard while watching movies and she turned to me and told me the time signature. She was also able to hear some of the notes and told me accurately what they are.

It is a bittersweet and somewhat unsettling decision for me. But I trust my gut feel and I believe that I know my child better. We have both come a long way and I guess it is time to change the game rules a bit. This video clip was taken almost 3 years ago:

This clip was one of her exam prep videos, taken a few weeks ago:

So while her current school has been doing some good stuff, the educator in me wants a different kind of journey for my child. :) It will be a hard journey for us both but I know that it will be a better move for her.

Please wish us the very best of luck in our new journey! 

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

All About Preschool - 3 common questions!

Some of you may know that I work in the Early Childhood Education industry and I have been in the field for more than 4 years. My interest in this field started after I became a mum. From learning about baby signing to phonics (where I became certified in both), my journey in Early Childhood Education progressed organically where we later became a homeschooling family during my child's earlier years.

In the midst of all these, I was blessed enough to start off in this industry running my own phonics / reading classes with a friend who runs Happy Cottage. We later moved on to different areas; she became a mummy to her third child and I went on to work for a private preschool operator.

My role in this industry involves meeting and liaising with many parents. Personal friends have reached out to ask me about opinions of certain approaches and schools and so, I thought to share some of my thoughts in this new series - All About Preschool.

For this first post, I would like to share my thoughts / answers on some common questions that I get:

1) When is a good time to start preschool?
Frankly there is no one size that fits all and no one age that works for all too. In my work, I have seen a few (though rare) 18/19 month old children who did not shed a single tear. And at the same time, I have seen children who are 3+ who have really bad separation anxiety.

So it all boils down to a few factors:
  • Your child’s personality

Some children are naturally more curious and independent than others and these typically settle down faster
  • Your parenting style

This affects how we have guided, encouraged, aided him/her since young in venturing on his/her own in new environment
  • Your needs / situation

Is there a caregiver at home who can attend to your child or are you a FTWM where there is not much of a choice and you need to send the child to a preschool / childcare centre. 

2) Is half day or full day better? What about flexi-options such as 3 times a week?
This is also largely dependent on your preference and it also depends on the curriculum / activities in school. Some schools have after school activities run by third party vendors or some have specialists running programmes in the afternoon. Parents may want their children to attend these classes. 

At the same time some preschools may have periods in the afternoon (usually after naps) where they will reinforce the concepts / lessons taught earlier in the day. On the other hand, I have met parents who prefer for the child to only stay in school for half a day and some may also bring the child on their own for enrichment classes.

Flexi-care options are usually asked for my parents with younger kids as they wish for the child to settle in slowly. Some may also have other parent-accompanied classes outside and are trying to finish up the term before starting the child on full 5 days.

Based on my experience, some children actually take a longer time to settle down when in flexi-care. This is primarily because “time” is an abstract concept for children until they are in K level and so, they are unable to differentiate / understand what Monday, Wednesday and Fridays are and why they need to go to school on those days as opposed to attending parent-accompanied classes on Tuesday and Thursday.

3) I have been searching and reading online and there are so many choices in Singapore. How do I choose which is the best for my child?
The key words here are “for my child”. Different parents have different purchase considerations as each individual child and situation are different. 

But to share, these are the some factors you should consider:
  • Location
  • Teacher : child ratio
  • Philosophy and Pedagogy
  • Teachers' Qualifications
  • Facilities
  • Budget

From a practicality standpoint, "Location" tops my list. The preschool may be really good or really matches what you like in terms of curriculum but if it is really far from your place, then it will be a concern. Are you able to drop the child off in the morning? What about 'pick-up'? Childcare centres in Singapore operates from 7am to 7pm so your child needs to be picked up by 7pm. Taking into consideration that this will be a mid term commitment of up to about 5+ years, this needs to be weighed carefully. 

Some schools provide bus transport. With a school bus, there are stops made along the way for other students before your child's stop. What is a comfortable "time span" for you and your child? Most bus journeys do not exceed 45 mins (one way). While it is ok for some, it is not ok for others. Also, Singapore's traffic can be quite congested during peak hours and this may affect the duration of the journey too so you will need to be flexible about this as there will be instances where the bus operator gets caught up in a traffic jam. 

Teacher : child ratio
Needless to say, the lower the ratio the better. In Singapore, there is a required ratio by ECDA (Early Childhood Development Authority). Private operators which charge higher fees tend to have a lower ratio to promote small group learning and better dedicated care. With the lower ratio, it also equates to a premium charged.

Philosophy and Pedagogy
Another area to look into is the philosophy and the pedagogy of the school. These typically shape the school's environment and the curriculum. There are many approaches in Singapore and these approaches may be marketed as Montessori, Reggio Emilio, Play-Based, Thematic, etc. It pays to read up on these philosophies so that you can decide which best suits your needs and importantly, your child's personality. I will also touch briefly on these approaches in my next post. :) 

Teachers' Qualifications
I get asked about this from time to time. While some parents look more at experience and ask to observe how the teachers interact with children, there are others who prefer teachers with a Degree in Early Childhood Education. 

Some parents may prefer the basic while others may look for gym facilities, libraries, etc. Some parents that I have met also prefer a large outdoor area while some are concerned about the heat and mosquitoes. So it will be worthwhile to look into the daily schedules to understand how often the children are participating say in gym activities and how often they get to go outdoors. Of course, the fees vary according to the expanse of space and the facilities offered. 

With a lower teacher : child ratio and better facilities (e.g. interactive white boards / a gym with state of the art equipment) the fee varies from preschool to preschool. Even with the same preschool operator, there can be different preschools owned. With different brands / preschools, the focus and the offerings will differ. Some may target at the higher income earners offering larger campuses and teachers with high qualifications while others may target at the middle income households. So your family will have to discuss and work out what is a comfortable amount that you can set aside for the school fee. 

This is the first post of my "All about Preschool" series. Do share this post if you find it useful. 


Disclaimer: Though I work in the Early Childhood industry, this post is based on my personal opinions and do not reflect that of my employers / the organization that I work for. The opinions expressed here are 100% my own. 

If you have enjoyed this post, please follow me on my Facebook Page where I share my parenting thoughts, food photos (be prepared for tons of them!), early shout outs for giveaways and interact with you, my readers! You can also follow me on Pinterest and Instagram 

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