Learning Mandarin

I’ve been taking a Masters level course on early childhood education and looking into learning of Mandarin, especially for children like Sophia who have acquired English as a first language.

A surprising thing I found is actually that a monolingual program in the second language (Mandarin) like those in certain popular preschools may not be the best way. There is a threshold theory that if the school neglects the first language, it stagnates and without sufficient proficiency in the first language, the second language suffers as well, resulting in low proficiency in both languages.

So parents out there who didn’t get a place after queueing overnight, take heart that the bilingual program that your child is now in may well be better!

Classes for toddlers in Singapore

I told the family that I plan to enrol my daughter in swimming, art and music classes and all of them accuse me of creating a pressure cooker environment for my girl. Is that true? Before you start pointing fingers at me, consider this:

1) Art Class

I’m specifically thinking of signing up for twoosy doodlers at Abakradoodle at Rochester. The teacher was great when I went for the trial class and it was really the first time I see Sophia opening up so quickly in a foreign environment, being able to go get materials on her own on her first class. Apart from leading very creative handicraft projects every lesson, the very dynamic teacher also sings and reads to the children and tells them what the handicraft is inspired by. At the end of it, there is gallery time where the children get to showcase their work and talk about it. A great self esteem booster!

I do warn that standards may vary depending on teacher because I bumped into friends attending a trial for older children and they weren’t too impressed.

2) Swimming Class

I am planning to join a group class which a couple of friends with babies younger than Sophia have already been attending for what must have been almost a year. The trainer is supposed to be really good with children and after the swimming session, which the children enjoy and I’m sure Sophia will too since she loves the water, the parents bring out food and drinks and everyone sits down for pot luck and play time. Doesn’t sound like too hard work does it?

3) Music Class

Well, this is potentially hard work as I have unfortunately not come across a toddler music school that I really like but I do see that Sophia really likes music. She is always dancing to music and tapping on tambourines and makeshift drums from tins and boxes so I am keen to find a class that she can enjoy while preserving her option of developing a musical niche for herself in future.

4) The alternative

She stays at home with grandpa after her half day of school and sometimes plays silly games but more often watches DVDs or plays iPad and iPhone games. The classes are so much more engaging right?

More from school

This morning Sophia didn’t protest when we told her we were bringing her to school (yay!) BUT on the way to school I got worried when the following exchange took place:

Me: Do you like school?

Sophia: *silence*

Me: Do you like Teacher X?

Sophia: *silence*

Me: Do you like Teacher Y?

Sophia: *shakes*

Me: Why? Is Teacher Y fierce?

Sophia: *shakes*

Me: Is Teacher Y nice?

Sophia: *shakes*

Me: Does teacher Y hug you?

Sophia: *shakes*

Me: (thinking she may perhaps just be in a head shaking mood) Do you like mummy?

Sophia: *nods*

Me: Do you like Teacher X?

Sophia: *shakes*

From that point I decided I’ve got to take charge of the conversation and psyche her up about how fun school will be, with toys, books, friends, singing, dancing and from next week onwards, playground time! She didn’t look at all convinced.

At school, she still didn’t like the hand, foot and mouth check but was ok with going upstairs to her class. When we entered the class, even I had a shock. There were only 2 boys in class but they were crying their heads off and the 2 teachers were trying to calm on down each. When I brought Sophia in after washing her hands, she was clinging on to me with both hands (understandably). Teacher X asked if she wanted to sit at the table and she said “cannot”, so Teacher X tried to take her hand for a walk round the classroom with a violently crying boy and she refused to let go of my hand. So I got to her level, hugged her and told her that she’ll stay there and play with her friends for 2 hours like yesterday and grandpa and daddy will pick her up after that. With that she released my hand and went to the mini library in the classroom. Success!

When daddy picked her up, she was the only person not crying in a class that was complete chaos with crying children all over. Teacher told daddy that she was very independent, walking around the classroom to help herself to toys and books, and helped teacher with cleaning up. She also didn’t cry at all despite all the crying going on around her. Seems like this school brought out her self confidence and independence for some reason. I’m glad and hope that the rest of the children will also settle in soon and the class can start enjoying activities together.

First day of new school

Its the first day of a brand new school for Sophia. She clearly sensed that we are going somewhere early in the morning so was trying her utmost best to steer us towards places that she likes. The first choice was “I want to go creche”, when told (repeatedly) that creche is only for Sundays she tried “I want to go BIG playground”. We just kept psyching her up for school.

Me: You’re going to school! There’s a playground, toys, books, songs, you’re going to have lots of fun!

Sophia: *silence*

Me: If you’re good daddy will bring you to the small playground after school.

Sophia: I want to go big playground.

Me: Ok, maybe, if you’re good, we’ll go to the big playground on the weekend.

So we went to school. I didn’t have a good sense when she clung on to me when the teachers tried to check her temperature, hands, feet and mouth. But surprisingly, she allowed herself to be led upstairs by hand (by me) and when she’s there, she quickly settled into fun with a wooden puzzle. I told her I’m going to work and will pick her up later. She didn’t reply so I went off while the teacher came over. She started crying and the teacher was all prepared to have to carry her and distract her with fun things but I just told her calmly “Hey, Sophia, we agreed, you’ll stay here and play with teacher while mummy goes to work and mummy will pick you up later.” Both I and the teacher were pleasantly surprised that she calmed down and went back to her puzzle.

The first day of school is extra short, just 2 hours, to ease the children into school, so 2 hours later I got a first hand report of how Sophia’s first day at school was from the daddy who went to pick her up. Apparently she was happily playing when daddy arrived (check) and the teacher said she was very cooperative and observant at school (double check).

The one glitch today was, for some reason, in our rush out of the apartment this morning, we forgot to put on diapers for Sophia and the teacher assumed it was because she was already toilet trained so was perturbed when she just peed in the middle of nowhere. Oops!

One little two little three little Indians

Its Halloween party at school today! I would like to be able to report that Sophia was excited about it but the truth was the opposite. After staying away from school for 2 weeks for the trip and then to recover from the cold, she was not used to going to school and cried tragically when left there.

She didn’t much like her costume either, attempting to take it off when we were at home.



The perfect preschool

I can’t find my perfect preschool. I found good ones, but none that had everything I wanted. Here’s a wishlist:

  1. All rounded curriculum – exposure to a wide variety of areas on top of the core skills of literacy, maths and self help such as drama, art, music, sports and dance through a combination of properly trained full time teachers and well chosen enrichment class.
  2. Balanced and organic meals – A sample menu would be breakfast at home, berries with yoghurt for mid morning snack, grilled fish served with quinoa, carrots and brocolli for lunch, wholemeal biscuits and milk for afternoon snack, mixture of brown and white rice cooked with purple cabbage and served with chicken and spinach. Everything should be (i) organic (or wild caught and low mercury varieties for fish), (ii) in good proportion ie roughly 1:1:1 for meat:fiber:carbs (opinions differ for what is good proportion but I’m not THAT fussed as long as its not 90% carbs and 10% other things as is the case in most preschools) and (iii) a bit of each colour – notice there’s green, red, purple and orange in one day’s sample menu.
  3. Fun – school should be centered on all things fun – singing, dancing, art, freeplay, stories, sports and the like. In the process learning points in the areas of literacy, knowledge of numbers, general knowledge, independence morals etc can and should be weaved in. In the older years though (years 5 and 6) there should be a gradual transition towards a more traditional classroom setting so the children can be eased into primary school.
  4. Confidence building – opportunity for failure and performance. The teachers should set up activities that the children can complete independently, failing in the process but laughing about it and going on. There should also be plenty of opportunity for show and tell, performances and the like for the children to learn to present themselves confidently to the public.
  5. Social skills – conducive environment for bonding. Too much individual assignments or worksheet is a bad thing for preschools. The children should spend plenty of time outdoors at the playground where they have the opportunity to play hopscotch with friends or help each other over obstacles, or in indoor play where they can pretend cook for each other etc.
  6. Linguistic skills – For all teachers linguistic accuracy is key. They must speak the language which they instruct in well. This includes teachers who are teaching art or music or seemingly non-linguistic subjects. This is the age where children soak up everything like a sponge so it is key that the teachers speak well, with the correct grammer and pronunciation. The option of taking up more languages such as french, japanese, korean, bahasa indonesia spanish etc is also good.
  7. Facilities – there should be ample outdoor space for children to run about and enjoy themselves, with equipment that will allow them to safely climb, crawl and tumble around according to their abilities. Each classroom should also be carefully thought out and designed – the music room fitted with full length mirrors and proper flooring for dance and music making, the art room well stocked with art materials such as recycled bottles, sticks, pebbles, all sorts of paints, colours, chalks and just lots of odds and ends that can inspire creativity.
  8. Culture – In my case it would be Chinese culture that I hope my children will be rooted in. That includes celebration of Chinese festivals and knowledge of the meanings behind them, knowledge of Chinese classics such as 弟子规, 论语 and 三字经 and some simple poetry. Its probably too much to expect preschoolers to know anything more than that, or to even really know these in depth. But exposure from young is definitely good. Too many Singaporean’s only knowledge of their cultural roots are the foods associated with festivals. I’ve heard many either accidentally or ignorantly say 月饼节 and 粽子节 rather than 中秋节 and 端午节. It will probably be a matter of time before I hear Chinese New Year being referred to as 肉干节 if we do not make efforts to preserve our roots.

I’m asking for too much, I hear you say. Of course I am, partly because the above is my ideal and everyone’s idea of perfect is different.

I’m curious what do other parents look for in a preschool. Does a preschool along the lines of what I described here appeal to mums reading this blog? Will you send your children to a school like this? Is there any important attribute that I’ve missed?

Lanterns – Made in Singapore


 Last saturday after Sophia’s dinner we took a walk in Chinatown as usual. Just Grandpa, Grandaunt, Mummy and Sophia. It was judging day for the lantern making competition held at Chinatown. These large lanterns were made by various youth groups, schools, volunteers etc. They’re not of professional standard yet of course, but after one lesson these youths spent nearly a month twisting very tough wires to form shapes, trying all ways to cover the shapes nicely with cloth. I admit, its beyond me. So even though they don’t look as impressive as the giant pineapple in the field nearby or the bunch of grapes near the garden bridge, I almost think these deserve more applause.

 Sophia likes them too. She didn’t quite like how too many people were trying to carry her though. I wish she would be friendlier.

Speaking of friendly, I can’t help but share how cute Sophia and her friend were at school last week. She has this best friend (or at least we assume they are best friends) at school and when Sophia’s dad went to pick her up, she saw them sitting side by side playing with toys. When Sophia saw daddy and stood up, the friend stood up too and hgged her as if unwilling to let her go home. How sweet! And all that reminds me why I send her to school.

Baby of the Class

Sophia’s school’s toddler class is for 18 month olds all the way till the year the children turn 3. Sophia as an 18 month old is understandably the baby of the class. See how small she looks compared to the rest of the children.

I love the school’s comparatively large outdoor play area and the fact that it is in a rather central location but tucked deep in the greens away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Sophia likes school too I believe because when we tell her put on your shoes to go to school she’ll willingly get her shoes and go. This girl knows what she wants so if she doesn’t like something, you’ll be sure she will be make it known.

Spoke too soon?



Here she is, all ready for school, joyfully dragging the umbrella along. No trouble at drop off either and she waved goodbye to grandpa, daddy and mummy with a neutral look. All looks good so far.

When I arrived at school 3 hours later, she was holding a pink ball. She dashed over shouting mama! Followed by gong gong! And pulled at the gate saying [o]pen. She wasn’t crying but looked rather sulky, like she was not happy about being left at the childcare at all. The teacher told us crying was on and off, when she remembers she will say “mama” and cry but she can be relatively easily distracted by toys. She doesn’t like the banana snack that we packed for her but did eat the fishball noodles they prepared. I guess it wasn’t too bad overall but when she got home she kept throwing tantrums which only got better after her nap. Hopefully she’s just overly tired and not a reaction to being sent to childcare. Curious whether she will put up a resistance to going to school tomorrow. Sure hope not! Wish me luck!

First day of school

I just touched down last night and had to deal with a major plumbing issue (think waterfall in the bedroom) in the middle of the night so am rather exhausted but its Sophia’s first day of school so the morning was a flurry of activities.

Sophia attends The Children’s Place, housed in a black and white bungalow tucked in the greenery of the river valley area. The children were a mix of locals and expats. The chinese teacher was mainland chinese but without too strong a northern accent. There were 2 English teachers, both sound Filipino but their accent was not too strong. There were a few words I caught that I would have pronounced differently but you probably will also have pronunciation issues with even local teachers, sometimes more so.

I dropped Sophia off and after keeping her company for a while said bye. She waved bye and off I went to the office to have a nice chat with the principal. Because I have been recommending the school to quite a few people, one of whom started her son 3 months ago and another is starting 3 months later, plus cousin Samuel also visited, there was much to talk about. When I returned to class, snack time was over (I saw her snack container was empty when I checked later) and they were having English class. Sophia sat and listened quietly and obediently took and returned objects. Next was an activity that seemed a bit montessori. The children took turns to match cut up shapes to spaces on a bus with matching shapes. I was not too surprised Sophia did this relatively easily since she has been playing with shape sorters. However. She spotted me at the door after about half an hour and everything went downhill. She insisted on holding my hand everywhere and sitting on my lap when told to sit. No more mummy in class tomorrow, that’s for sure. I hear from teachers she was ok with them changing her earlier but with me around it became a no-no.

One issue I had though was with the food – a lot of plain rice with some braised chicken. Fruit was available but not offered. Must remember to ask the teacher to offer her fruits tomorrow onwards. Even then, not really my ideal meal.

The teachers were really caring though, one child cried a lot and the teachers were practically taking turns soothing him.

Sophia was so tired she fell asleep on the way home. So am I so I shall stop here.