Before you read the rest of this post, please note this Caveat : Every child and every parent is different; it doesn’t work the same way for everyone, but for what it may be worth to other parents, the following are some lessons I learnt in my journey with DD in 2011.
These factors probably helped DD achieve EESIS (in no particular order):
a) Being a Reader – the love for reading extends well beyond helping in English; it is the language of understanding [and therefore mastering] for Math and Science too; start the child reading early and watch the rewards multiply
b) Being a girl – sits still better,earlier and for longer; writes more neatly; willing to memorise by rote; willing to practice and re-practice; – all “advantages” in our particular education system
c) Being in a strong parent-child relationship – this is necessary so that the journey doesn’t become one of a battle of wills – the willingness to accept teaching and correction from a parent will help in the many tough spots along the journey
d) Being sold on the idea of “deferred gratification” – we taught this early on [read about this by googling ” Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972) by Prof Walter Mischel] and had to recall this lesson countless times throughout the PSLE journey because it was a 12 month marathon for us; and while as adults we may be more “used” to it, kids have probably not personally experienced something close
e) Having Good Resources – a lot of time and effort was spent assembling good resources; we were well beyond the “why can’t the textbooks be better” and the indignation of ” how can they test what they don’t teach” by the time DD was in P4, so our main focus in DD’s P5 year was to get the best resources we could and thereafter sort them all out by end of DD’s P5 year. If this meant me taking lessons as a parent, I did; if this meant me “re-writing” the textbook, I did. I’ll share more for each subject’s resources in a separate post.
f) Getting your hands dirty – I had to motivate by example; “Monkey see – monkey do” — so while I dictated the work, I worked along side – correcting, working out the answers DD couldn’t, researching the answers for Science especially; re-writing the compos if they had been terribly done (so that there was some standard to aspire to); there was really no time to do my own work during this time, so I squeezed my urgent work into the times when DD was in school or asleep
g) Not being attached to the TV or other gadgets – DD played in the park, read and slept in her “downtime”; she had no time for TV because of my work schedule and had no access to computers and i-anythings along the PSLE journey
Conclusion: I wouldn’t have done it any other way; we learnt so many lessons together, chief amongst them was that DD saw for herself the value of keeping at something even though it was difficult ; I now see a more mature child in her who probably still sighs at the challenges ahead but thereafter will square her shoulders and “dig right in” to get the job done without complaint.
It’s hard but not impossible — I believe many parents [especially those participating and silently reading in this forum] are well capable of it; so what are you waiting for? Be that involved parent for your PSLE child; you won’t regret the time and effort spent!
Why I share my “tips”
Parents have constantly asked this [I have been sharing in small groups of friends who asked for help since DD1 was in P6] and they also wondered why I shared my tips even while my DDs were along their PSLE journeys. Wasn’t I afraid that others might use the tips and get ahead? I don’t take that view. What I shared may have saved some parents some time, but what needs to be done is a lot of hard, hard work. If a child was willing to put in that effort, how could I not do my little bit to “help”? The “tips” are just a helpful start – much work still needs to be done and a lot of it by the child. I am delighted if the children improve with these tips, and I am ecstatic when they learn that they can achieve so much more — given the right resources and good old fashion nose to the grindstone, hard work on their part. I’ve seen my own children and my friends’ children blossom in this way and it is totally gratifying.
Additionally, I share because I did not arrive at this point, all on my own. I have been blessed by generous parents who pointed me in the right direction too. As a beneficiary of the goodwill of others, I cannot remain a custodian but am obliged to pass this on.
Kindly friends have also asked if I am afraid that parents ask to learn from me only to see what we are doing and in essence to “peg” the competition. Well, in life you meet all kinds of people; we did not have a secret formula — old-fashioned hard work tempered with common sense hardly qualified for status under the Official Secrets Act, so I took it positively that they wished to help their children and for the aforesaid reasons, I was happy to share.
It’s a marathon not a sprint.
DD was unlikely to last till anywhere near the PSLE if we went full throttle from the start, so it was helpful for us to keep at a steady hum in readiness for her Prelims and then give a final push to the end. We tried not to do the run/stop and then “re-rev” pattern of life, as it was usually more difficult for us to “re-rev”, so a steady day to day routine of 4+ hours work on weekdays and about double that on weekends was how we “passed the days”. Rest was very important and rest meant time totally away from the texts and preferably a romp in the park. A flexible enough time table is crucial as you need to weave in homework from school and a whole host of other activities too; we just used the “number of available hours in a day” principle combined with a rotating subject roster so that we had an idea what to do but if it was necessary, we could adapt. We didn’t specify to the day what topic we would be doing but holidays [both public & school] were good times for us to do catching up if we “missed” some slots on our broad-stroke timetable.
Monkey see monkey do
If I wanted DD to put in her effort at 100%, I had to show her I was doing 200%. If I didn’t grumble, she too, felt bad at whining. If one was only using “mouth power”, the kids see all too clearly, and are less motivated to do their bit at the grindstone.
Little drops of water, little grains of sand…
Building confidence and self-esteem were also aims I had for this PSLE journey, so I supported to give DD small victories. With the small victories [eg improving grades], she was self-motivated to ride those small waves of success into the larger crests.
The Venerable Mountain of Past Year Papers & Assessment books
That mountain of “to-do” papers and assessment books on the table or scattered about the room– don’t be daunted by it; seek to achieve quality and not merely quantity. A piece of work done by your child deserves to be well analysed and critiqued so that the child can learn from his/her efforts and the experience. If something is poorly done, it is often because of a weakness and if you don’t address it fully, it’ll only creep up again. In this case, “less” can be “more”. Very likely, you won’t have time to revise everything again, but if you deal with it thoroughly the first time round, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to look at those papers again.
I go back to my basic point – analyse the classes critically and see if your child is benefitting from it. Many of the schools and the teachers do have your DC’s interests at heart, so do seek to understand what they do in the supp classes, and assess critically if your child is benefitting from the classes. If he/she is, it is good to continue but the converse is also true – if he/she is not, politely decline. Many have asked me what I told the school to justify DD’s non-participation in the Supp classes; the answer is: the truth -” DD was at home revising for the PSLE”. We sought to be polite and our aim was not to incite a rebellion, so we did this as quietly as we knew how to. Teachers’ KPIs may be tied to this issue, so we made sure we were sensitive to their problems too, and that the powers that be understood that the teacher was doing fine, but it was just our personal choice in the matter.
DH was a silent partner in this journey but that was critical too – a bus driven by 2 drivers in conflict is only going to mean one thing – a bumpy ride for the passenger to an unknown destination. DH was Minister of Play for DD and he arranged nice dinners, fun movies, back rubs and toe massages, so that DD could relax after a hard day’s work.
Friends remarked that it was “amazing” that DD was not having any tuition other than 3 hours a week for Chinese; my reply was always that in my view, DD was more tutored than their children who had tutors the week through, since all of DD hours after school including all her weekends were ‘supervised” – whether through assigned Mummy homework or when I took leave to be at home with her. I am not advocating more tuition for anyone here, but I am saying that DD did put in many hours of hard work under my watchful eye.
The Best Teacher
The best teacher for any child is one who is knowledgeable [both as to content and marking rubrics ie what teachers award marks for in any piece of work], can empathise with the child [sees the child’s individual shortcomings and feels for the child, most likely because they took that same journey in their own learning – hence the over-comers in my view, make better teachers than the only brilliant] and looks to build the child up [in self-esteem and confidence]. In essence, the best teacher for your child is one that aims to push the child to rise above what the child himself could imagine or even what the teacher had ever achieved. Who is the best teacher for your child?
Sustenance for the Journey, Manna for the faint
The PSLE journey is not an easy one for most, and it was certainly not a breeze for me and DD. Our Faith in God sustained us when we felt that we could do no more. In 2011, we both grew in our Faith- DD and I. Our Faith kept us calm and allowed us to focus on the possible, and leave God to complete the impossible. God provided what we needed unfailingly, always comforting and carrying us through when our human wills and abilities let us down. Shin-time [me on my knees in prayer] anchored me and was a well where I drank deeply from, to gain renewed strength to face the challenges each new day brought. More than anything else in this PSLE journey, assuredly far more than grades – this growth in Faith was the most precious asset DD and I took away.
More than just an exam
Many things may be said of the PSLE, but it is also without a doubt an amazing opportunity for you to spend time with your children to mould them and gift them with life-long treasures that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.
As the Chinese New Year approaches, I take this opportunity to convey my best wishes to the 2012 PSLE parents – May you and your families have a year of great health, much peace and abundant joy; may your days be filled with great teaching and much learning, as both you and your children scale mountains and reach for the stars.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” – Maria Montessori