A Laid Back Mum’s Price – on academic

Before the kids came along, I told to myself that when I had kids, I would give them the best childhood with minimal academic stress as much as I could.

Then, when I had small kids, our weekday evenings and weekends were full of play, play and play.

While many of my friends had started to send their kids to pre-primary prep classes, drafted their own set of learning assignments for 3yos, send to Shichida, and more brain boosting classes, I was not at all worried about my children’s academic progress. In fact, one of my first few questions to my eldest’ nursery teachers before I enrolled her, was what they would be doing in class. The teacher probably thought I would be concerned if there were sufficient rote learning and worksheets. With some hesitation, she told me that their syllabus for 3yos was to train up their motor skills more than anything. Hearing this, I smiled and replied that this was exactly what I wanted for my child to do at age 3. Without looking further, I enrolled my gal into this childcare which was focused on play and scribbling and singing ABCs for these little 3 yo tots.

Before my eldest entered Primary 1, instead of sending her to primary school prep class where they taught them Primary 1 syllabus to have a headstart, I prep her with some basic money counting for recess, writing a little faster for notes taking, teaching her some academic basics like doing some fun activity sheets. I let her continue her afternoon naptime as I knew she would not have much of it when she started afternoon school the following year.

Come the first 2 primary school years, I was happy that she did not have much homework. I am an advocate for play and less academic stress and this school did not stress the 7, 8 yos just as how I had wished for lower primary to be. My gal aced her mini term tests and there was nothing worrying as far as I could see. Hence, our time-tables were always full of play time and I knew very soon, the time-tables would have to take a change as the kids grew older.

Come Primary 3, we continued to have lots of play time especially when the younger 2 kids were 2 and 7yo, who were still enjoying their childhood. With young kids around, our weekend schedules were always packed with activities and outdoor fun. Even on weeknights, we had our board games playtime and none of the nights or weekends were about academic. Occasionally, my girl would come to me to ask me some questions that she was unsure of and I taught her. Gradually, I did find out she was not so good in some basic concepts and I was not sure why I did not take it as an amber warning light blinking at me. I continued to be busy with the youngest who was entering terrible twos at that time and went about almost the same routine with the children. Not even during the mid-year parent-teacher meeting time, when the teacher highlighted that my girl was a little day-dreamer in class and seemed to be doing re-corrections for concepts that she would not expect her to be wrong in.

A “F” in Math…

What I did not expect came at the end of Primary 3 after the SA2 (Semestral Assessment 2) results were released. Out of the 4 subjects, she failed her Math. She was very upset and when she came back with her paper and showed it to me, I thought I was more upset than her.

Nowadays parents seemed to be more concerned on children’s academic success than children themselves, no?

Even for a laid back mum like me, you would have thought I think nothing of it. But deep inside, I was very guilty and felt somewhat responsible for this results. Not because it is right for a parent to be guilty of her child’s failure, (I strongly believe a child has to be totally responsible for his or her own success) but because I should have seen it coming and seen to the fact that she needed help with basic concepts and I could have helped her with it. But she never asked in depth. She is a passive learner.

In fact, because we were so laid back and played for the good part of their childhood time, she did not know how to revise for her exams! It was alarming, when I realized that while many of her classmates stayed home to mug for the exams, she was not sure how to start with her revision. She probably has no idea what exam is and how important or not it is to her upper primary years. Well, who would have told her the importance anyway? I didn’t.

So, as I tried to hide my disappointment and guilt in me, I told her that a fail in any of the subjects was not acceptable, not in Primary school. I made a pact with her that for the December holidays, I would sit with her to revise the Primary 3 Math and teach her the basics right from the beginning. She agreed and was indeed very cooperative during the revision, although she did throw tantrums occasionally and showed some princess attitude. That is what I had gathered from fellow mums that teaching your own kid is never easy.

Kids these days are so different from our times. When my siblings and I were young, we never ever had our parents screamed at us to study. It came natural to us that we had to study and we did it without any tuition. We couldn’t afford tuition anyway. Whatever was taught in school, we listened and asked when we had doubts. It just happened and no one taught us how to do it. Maybe it is due to this reason that I think my children will naturally study without our prompting too. We hardly prompted our kids on academics before this. And the result was the total opposite of our times. How weird.

For this half year of Primary 4, we did much revision on Primary 3 basics mixed with Primary 4 harder concepts. We spent some weeknights and 2 hours every weekends to do academics. We never give up bringing the children for outdoor fun. The younger siblings cannot be deprived of outdoor time because of one child is having academic revision.

While I was focusing on Math alone, I neglected other subjects. And Science is another difficult subject to tackle.

1 week before exams – Crash course on Science

Just 1 week before Science SA1 exam, my girl told me that she did badly for the Science practice paper. Oh, how can I forget about Science? I was only focusing on the Math intensely. For English and Chinese, I am not too sure how to revise that myself, let alone teaching her to do it. Other than everyday conversation pick up of words and phrases and extensive reading, how does one improve languages? And for Science, there was no warning light prior, hence, I conveniently forget about this subject.

There was only one week to go before Science exams. I know Science is difficult in the way that facts and right keywords have to be used in answers. I taught my girl how to write a summary notes on each chapter, half thinking to myself why I had to teach something like this when it seemed so natural to me when I was a student. Again, maybe she never had the concept of revision, okay, just teach.

I sat her down to write down all the topics that were tested for Science. We counted and divided by the number of days left for revision. She chose which topics to study on which day. Then, each day after work, I would check on her summary notes. The first time I checked on her notes, she copied the summary at the back of each chapter without reading the chapter itself. The second time I checked on her notes, not without telling her to read the chapter and write the important keywords, she really did write ONLY the keywords and no sentences. The third time, I sat beside her and studied one chapter with her and explained the concepts along while writing down the summary notes myself to show her how to write it. Then she grasped it. Never did I know such things have to be taught. Maybe it is only her, maybe it is common for kids these days to be hand held by parents. I am not sure which is the right reason or maybe there isn’t any reason.

Some of the very good books that I find is useful for Math and Science are the following:
Math – Visible Thinking in Mathematics (Marshall Cavendish)
Science – My Pals are Here: Science Booster (Marshall Cavendish)
Science – Primary Science Revision Essentials Primary 3&4 Book A and B (Marshall Cavendish)

These were recommended by a very kind mum who was very concerned when I told her about my girl. It all boils down to discipline and constant revision. This mum is an involved mum in academics and she instills discipline in her children who did well enough to switch to the gifted programme. Seems like being laid back has its price.

I want to delay tuition as long as I can…

We do not have tuition for the kids and as long as possible, I hope that they will never need to have one. I strongly believe that what should be taught and learnt are done in class. The school has its own academic support classes for all students after school for all subjects once a week to reinforce on what was taught in main lessons. My child has his or her own fair share of academic work, plus some simple revision at home from me, I think it should do the trick. More tuition lessons will be killing the joy of learning and depriving my child of his or her rightful childhood.

I would rather have my kids score less than aces, but they can have a good family time and outdoor fun and more time to learn other skillsets, than to have them score aces and aces and miss out on other important things in life besides academics.

It is indeed a learning for me as a parent. Moving forward to term 3, Kel told me that I needed to have regular revision with 2 hours during the weekend to review all that had been taught for the past week. I treat this as a minimal tuition coming from me. I am going to sit them down for a new time-table and hope these will help.

The exams end today. I cross my fingers and hope for the best. I have a feeling my girl can make it and pass her papers. All the best, baby!

Update on 20 May 2015

My girl has passed her exams! Each and every subject! I am happy with her results and upon seeing my happy face, she asked:

Girl: Why are you so happy mum? My friend’s mum told her that her passing mark is 90/100, and she got 89/100. She was very upset…

Me (still happy face): Poor girl. She probably can do very well and hence her mum’s expectation is much higher. I am happy with your results because you showed improvement! For the 2 subjects that you would have thought to fail or do badly, you didn’t and you passed! My passing mark for you is the passing mark: 50/100. (Hugs)

Do you revise with your children? How much are you involved in your child’s academics? Share with me in the comments! We need to learn from one another.

37 thoughts on “A Laid Back Mum’s Price – on academic

  1. I totally feel you!! I am trying to delay tuition till as late as possible, but that really seems difficult esp when my kid is struggling in Maths and I sometimes feel my method of teaching cannot help her to understand the concepts. So yup, this June, we are starting tuition. haha.

    • Klessis, thanks for sharing your sentiments.. I know I will inevitably has to have external help especially it is so difficult to teach your own child. I look forward to hearing from you how tuition works for you. Got lots to learn from fellow mums!

  2. Such an interesting post, I like to hear from mums with kids who are older than mine because you always learn so much! I also hope we won’t have to resort to tuition but I guess we will have to wait and see how. Grades aren’t everything, but I think the kids have to at least do well enough to get by in the system?

  3. We’ve tried tuition for Chinese for a year in P2, that helped a bit and not much improvement after that, not sure if its the teacher in the tuition centre or my boy is not paying attention enough during tuition. Nonetheless, its not important, so I pulled him out of it. P3 1st term came and went, I have NO IDEA how is he faring in Chinese, or Science or English or Maths, ya I’m also the laid back, boh chap, oblivious Mum. I made him do assessment books practice, daily if possible but so far haven’t been able to keep it to that routine. Weeks before the SA1 he gave me his practice paper or test paper to sign, I almost have a heart attack, no Fs but the score was not what I expected. Then I remembered what his P2 FT said, there will be a big jump fm P2 to P3 so there will be a drastic drop in marks, I took that as a consolation and tell him “Exam is here, you don’t study or do your own revision you bear the consequences when the result is out.” Period. Today is the last paper, HAPPINESS FOR US! YAY! Playtime! Officially this time.

    So you see, you are better than me, at least you sit down and coach your girl. I’m only relying on assessment books to get him into the revision routine.

    • Dinomama, thanks for your comments! I think languages are different, they require extra help especially if you are not speaking so often on that language at home. If with tuition your child is able to get 80 marks, I think that is an achievement. Indeed, P2 to P3 is a drastic jump, I only knew that after getting heart attacks too. You are not necessary hands off, I think we all wish secretly that they do well without needing any help and we all ensure that they have a good play during weekends.

  4. I love the wy you want your children to have time to play outside, I’m a firm believer in outdoor play enhancing the wellbeing (and concentration)! But you raise interesting points: it myst be hard to share the time between 3 kids with different needs for the time after school! Luckily I may not have to find that balance as my kids are only a year appart… 🙂 also, how to get your kids to do homework or overall listen to your own teaching?! I never did any myself and nobody cared as I did well in school anyway. And I suspect one of my kids may turn out dyslexic, so some assistance to learn ways to cope may be required… anyway, play and outdoors are important but there will be a time where studies will take time after school as well. How much and when?! The one thing I know is that we will buy tuition in English, as there is no English offered for native speakers at school. I think it is important the kids learn to read and write English too, and that they do it on their level and not with Finnish kids learning English as a foreign language, usually starting at the age of 9 (or like me at 11, which is normal in Swedish speaking schools).

    • You see, there we talk about Singapore system and Finland system again. There must be a big flaw in ours, I am sure! Nobody cared how well you do in school? Such things are almost never heard of over here lol! But you still went ahead to be successful in life, and that’s the thing we need to learn from your side. Regarding dyslexic, it is really common and it depends on how severe it is. We all know Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and many successful pp are dyslexic. And I am sure Finland education system has a good system in place for such assistance. We have here too. But the main focus is still on achieving As and that’s sad. Sometimes I think parents have a part in this too. They are too focused on the rat race. And our system is too focus on good schools and not so good schools. Languages certainly need tuition if necessary. What’s more English is not the main language there. For us, many here are struggling with Chinese, which is a second language here.

      • I’m pretty sure both my parents and teachers would have intervened if I had done poorly but since I had good grades, they left it to me 🙂 (in hindsight i think at a very young age!) but I think also this has changed since and eg good grades would not be a reason not to do homework or to skip lessons, I can’t see myself accepting such behaviour. ..! As for dyslexia, yes, there are special teachers helping out with it and good methods to get around with it which I also know due to my line of work, but mum may not be such am interesting teacher for the own children 🙂

  5. It’s so true on what you just shared!
    My kids are at P4 and P2 and as a sahm, I try to coach them by myself. It’s rare to see self-discipline kids who will do revision on their own, learn and read up if they have any doubts. Hence we have to made sure they do that regardless of whether it’s via tuition or study with us.
    For me, everyday I will sit down with my P2 boy 15min (max duration before he switches off) revising his Chinese which is the weakest subject. Other subjects I merely revise his corrections.

    • Thank you for sharing! I like to hear how other parents do it. Your advice is similar to another one on my fb page yesterday. I will think about it and see how to plan out a regular revision schedule, although I wish I do not have to do it too often as I still want to relax and play with the kids after work.

  6. First off, you are doing a great job as a parent, and you aren’t the only one that sometimes feels lost, or guilty! And, every person is different, it’s natural that at least one of your kids will learn differently than you do, and will have to be instructed different than you were, and that’s okay. You are making time to have fun, and you are making time to show that school is a priority, and that their job is to do good in school and take care of that responsibility and then go out and have fun, and that love that you show is what they will remember!

  7. Kate, I have to reread your sentences to reinforce your message into my brain lol! What wise words! Indeed, each of the kids are different and indeed, they are learning differently than how I did when I was young. I need to remember that. I should stand back and look at the bigger picture and not dwelt on why they are learning differently from me. Thanks for encouraging me that I am doing ok. Do you sometimes feel you are not doing correctly? I doubt on myself whenever things do not go my way on disciplining and teaching. And being in it, I couldn’t see the big picture and luckily my hubby often analyzes the situation and give me sound advice.

  8. Hi Christy,

    I used to worry about how best to ensure my little girl will be able to flourish in the new world which seems to accelerate in technologies and learning. Then I came across this awesome advice by a professor:

    find what makes your child ticks in that area and nurture that.

    I realize how profound that advice is. Imagine if we nurture that child since young, he or she will be expert that no one will be able to surpass when the child is ready to venture into the world. So I believe it is more important to nurture the child’s passion than to be caught up spending time to force the child to do well in the subjects that may amount to nothing when he or she goes into the real world.

    • Ricky, thanks for sharing this profound advice! Now you have reminded me that each of my kids has his or her strengths and talent that ought to be nurtured. Indeed my girl is terrific with crafts and creativity. Just last night the hub was mentioning that it doesn’t matter if her academics are no aces, just ensure a pass and focus on nurturing her passion. This shall be the mantra for me in raising kids 🙂

  9. You can have play time AND learning all at the same time – not either! The point is to have learning masked as play. I think that would be useful for your 2 younger ones. Play must be purposeful, not just free play.

    My husband and I are secondary school science teachers. My boys do not have tuition except for Chinese. We let our boys read many books, and converse with them in English, so we do not really need to tutor them in the language. With books, they are also exposed to compo structure, grammar, history, social issues, and critical thinking. You can also encourage critical thinking during dinner talk time – engage them in discussions of every day issues, and encourage them to think of issues from different perspectives (Edward de Bono’s thinking hats).

    For Science, familiarise yourself with the Primary Science syllabus. Then through day activities, expose your child to science in everyday events. For example, you can illustrate that light travels in straight lines by observing shadows; or talk about life cycles of mosquitoes in the context of dengue in Singapore; or the anatomy of a fish when you cook fish for dinner – difference between a fish & a bear, etc; talk about effects of a force when you play balls with your children.

    Incorporate simple Maths concepts in handling money, or playing Lego bricks. Be creative.

    Chinese is the only problem I have as we do not speak that much, but it is only 1 subject out of 4 … It would help if you have an elderly in the home – dialect is better than none!

    I am not saying that my boys are very successful, but they are doing ok, without much tuition.

    Hope it would help!

    • Jo, your sharing helps! I like how you relate Science so naturally in daily activities. You are right about the parent understanding the Science syllabus and then with the topics in mind, put them into discussion or highlight the concept in anything we do. It really applies to other subjects like Chinese too. Understand what are the big words they learnt and using them regularly in our conversation. I love to hear everyone’s advice and how others do it. Hope these are good learning points for other parents reading these comments! Thanks!

  10. Hi Christy, it’s good that you are aware of this issue and taking such pro -active steps to help your girl and yourself! I think that’s a great step already! Now it’s a matter of slowly gaining pace for your girl and I feel a good amount of attention given to your girl? Sometimes we take for granted our no,1 in the midst of caring for the younger ones… I believe you still have time to help your girl improve and build her foundations, just need double effort and time? Jiayou!! Slowly but surely it’ll bear fruit if you don’t give up. : ) As for me, still early. My boy P1. But I do ensure an hr of study (including hw) so as to train habit of attention span for greater loads in future. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Angie for leaving such encouraging words here! I agree with the habit of revision. It has to start somewhere and some time for sure. With such experience with my eldest, I am going to still stay laid back but to a lesser extent and keep an eye to ensure all basic concepts are grasped. I don’t want to risk low motivation and morale in not so good results and eventually affecting their lives.

  11. I can imagine my husband saying ‘See, see?! Same problem as you!’

    I also had that same thinking as you, and did not help to guide my child with her revision. Her recent exam results were not ideal and I have that same guilt you felt.

    Thanks for this reminder that I cannot just rely on my child to do her own revision. I have to step in and help her on a more regular basis.

    • Mary, thanks for commenting! Usually it is the wife who is more concerned and dad laid back haha! But I am sure your hubby is observing you and analyzing like mine does. Next year our kids are in P5, this is another big big jump. We have to be more involved from now on. We know that P5 is going to be tough and it will get tougher. But I am sure with some involvement and constant revision, things should work out fine 🙂

  12. Frankly “our days” and our kids days are so much different. In the good old days, once back from school.. bath.. and off to play if there is no homework. Only burn the midnight oil prior to exam days.. and we can still “Pass”. what we learned in primary is 1+1= 2. But look at the standard now in Singapore. My kids are in p4. And what they learn now… is like what we learned in secondary school. I told my hubby… I think I’ve never learned this hard when I’m schooling. I need to revised their lessons before I can teach them. Tuition is definitely an additional bonus. That is why tuition centers charge an exorbitant fee. Hate to admit this… but tuition centers do have ways of teaching that makes a child able grasp the concept easily… guess “our” way is outdated and using the longgggg…. format. Guess nowadays everyone is competitive. Once my son’s teacher told the class not to show other kids from another class their notes as these notes are only specially printed for his class. If you look at the bright side… its great they have special notes to revise but what kind of value is a teacher teaching her student??? To succeed you need to be selfish??? What kind of competitive society are we becoming??

    • Hey! Thanks for leaving your thoughts! I have a friend who is so disappointed with the Singapore education system that she is bringing her 3 children to Hungary for education so that they are are able to be educated in a less stressful environment! She and hubby are doing within their means to do what is best to bring up their children in the environment they think is good for them. It is disheartening to know the rest of us do not have such a choice and we are stuck with the rat race in education. I agree with you on the tuition part. Totally agree. They probably can teach well because they drill exercises? Or maybe they are so good that school teachers should learn from them? Our kids should learn everything in school and tuition is really a supplement for them to further understand the topic or concept. But it takes 2 hands to clap. The parents do play a part in this stressful education system. If they expect less from teachers and schools, naturally schools will not be so focused on academic to “please” such demands. Not easy being a student. Being a parent these days is not easy as well. We miss our times, don’t we?

  13. You reminded me how tough things will be for me in a few years to come. I think most parents want their child to have a fun filled childhood. Question is how to balance it with the academic requirements in our country. It’s a tough question.
    Glad that your girl has passed her exams, your effort has not gone to waste. And I know how tough it is to teach your own kids, cause I’m trying to coach mine too.

    • Thanks Jac! I am happy she passed! The challenge of teaching will always be there. It may not be as tough for you too. Every child is different and I think the solution is to have enough sleep for the mum so that she can face whatever challenges thrown to her. Get ready for battles, whining, eyes rolling, shouting, etc… haha…

  14. I do not like the “new” school environment for our kids..but no choice.

    I m kind of kiasu mum since K2 have been spending at 30min every weekday..just to make sure the momentum is there.

    I did memory games with my kids from 3to5yrs old which I feel it does help them.

    I followed my kid sch syllabus closely because I want to know how to help them if they needed and also to show them 身教 if I can why can’t u do it. I will always tell them results doesn’t mean everything but not putting effort this is something that makes me sad n you wasting effort on something u can do but rather not to.

    Nowadays tution is not for a “A” is just for revision totally different from our times.

    How I wish my kid can play every weekday evenings n weekend whole day…sometimes so contrict am I helping them?

    • Thanks for leaving your experience here. You are an involved mum and I think you are doing your best for your children. I guess everything has to have a balance. Too much of play is not a good thing and too much of academic may make learning a chore. As long as we are ensuring a balance, I think we are doing fine. Give a pat to ourselves on our backs!

  15. hi Christi, I am on your side. I rather spend more time with my kids doing fun thing, rather than sending them for enrichment class. My son is now in K1, but I already start worrying how the future would be as we are getting aware of how different the situation is once he is in primary school.

  16. Your article was such an echo…
    My family & I moved back to Spore from the USA in Jan 2014…just in time for my twins to enter P1. We were happy that they would not have to adjust so mucn since they were starting school only abt 3 weeks late into the year…. We were wrong! 3 weeks or 3 months, it tool my twins the entire year to get accustomed to school and the way of life here.

    We are a non Chinese family and my twins are learning Chinese as MT. We feel it will give them an edge (we have discussed this with several parents who have given us the pros & cons of this). So in order for them to keep up, we have engaged a Chinese tutor. This year is much better than last year.

    As for daily revision, my twins who are in P2 this year, come home with homework practically on a daily basis. I let them work on it themselves and help them when and if they need it. I don’t do extra revision daily…homework to me, serves that purpose. I would rather they play outside or watch tv or just play.

    When tests draw near, I make them do some practice papers & assessment books. That’s it! We then wait for results. So far results are ok. 1 twin is better than the other. I have to try and motivate as much as I can but just like you I sometimes feel guilty. Being a SAHM I wonder if I am doing enough.

    I used to self study. But I have to constantly remind (and you could say nag) them to do homework, revise, study etc. It gets tiring but I must remember to never give up! If I do then I am afraid my kids will too!

    You are doing great! Thanks for the eye opener and inside info about P3 syllabus. I can now try to be more prepared.

    I don’t do much but I try. I think we all do.

    • Hi Divya, thanks for sharing here.
      Kids will adjust well, don’t worry. And I think you are doing a terrific job. In fact, P1 and 2 are not that demanding, although it varies with schools. Maybe you can try doing up a time table. I find that always help, but of course, you need to fine tune or change it totally periodically.
      MT is not easy, and I applaud your choice for that. Learning a language is easier with children, but I find Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world. So, I am sure your children will benefit greatly with learning this language.

      P3 is a big jump. Continue with what you do and right now, I am doing regular short revision of 15 min 2,3 times during weekday on what was learnt in class for that week. Each time revising on one subject. With this, it is more manageable than cramping it up on the weekends. Maybe you can try that when the time comes.

      Let me know how it goes or if you have a good revision routine that works for you 🙂

  17. For some reason, I teared whilst reading this post. It feels so close to me. My daughter and son and in P3 and P1 respectively and while we do constant revisions , the struggle is real. There are days when i feel like giving up. And there are days when I feel guilty after a very tension-evoking study session. Same like you, I delay on tuition simply because I dont quite believe in it. Anyway, the mid year exams are coming! All the best to our kids (and ourselves!) Let’s always constantly remind ourselves that no matter what, we will always love these children and accept them as they are and let them enjoy their childhood as much as possible.

    • Hi Liana,
      I know I know! I feel you totally too! Tell you what. This year my girl’s attitude improves tremendously. She hardly rolls her eyes or give me princessy attitude. It may have to do with that she has grown up a great deal and understands her mummy’s efforts. I am so happy. I hope this sharing gives you hope and I am sure you will see the silver lining very soon! 🙂

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