8 January 2015, by Tan Yi Lin

Learning The ABCs

Happy New Year, everyone!

We opened the new year in many a fun way. 1 Jan 2015 started on a high with a spot of kite-flying at an open field near home.

Go, Coco, Go!

Go, Coco, Go!

Flying high... well, not quite (but ssshh, don't tell Claire!)

Flying high… well, not quite (but ssshh, don’t tell Claire!)

Over the weekend, we headed to Pasir Ris Park with friends and found it to be a MUCH better venue for flying our kite!

Pasir Ris is the place to be for its awesome playground, seaside location and breezy lawns!

Pasir Ris is the place to be for its awesome playground, seaside location and breezy lawns!

While indoor playgrounds are my personal nightmare, we also let the kids crawl, roll, run, climb wild at Kidz Amaze at SAFRA Toa Payoh, ending the day with a chicken rice dinner with friends (because No.3 LOVES chicken rice.)

On 2 Jan, I attended a parents’ orientation session at the girls’ school. With Coco graduating from Playgroup 2 and going into Nursery this year, the teachers wanted to bring the parents through the curriculum and activities for 2015. Claire, who joined Playgroup 1 in Oct last year, will continue with the class with her born-in-2013 cohort.

At the end of the session, the teacher invited parents to share any questions that they had about the plans for the school year ahead. One of the parents (who had arrived late) spoke:

Parent: When do they start writing the ABCs?

Teacher: We take a fun approach to learning the alphabet. Last year, we introduced the sounds of each letter through characters (e.g. Clever Cat). This year, we will teach them to associate phonics with letters (e.g. ‘C’). We will use songs, actions and activities to make learning fun for the children.

Parent: Yes, yes. My daughter can sing all the songs and do all the actions. But when do they start writing the ABCs?

Teacher: We will do so gradually, by showing them how to form letters using shapes (e.g. trace the outline of an apple to form a curve followed by a straight line to form the letter ‘a’). The students will first learn to write the letters in their names.

Parent (impatient tone): My daughter can already write her own name. But that is only because we make her sit down every night and write it. When will she be able to write the ABCs?

Teacher: Well, it depends on your child…

Parent (interrupting): But when? Would you say, in 6 months?

I sat in the row behind her and rolled my eyes throughout it all. That wasn’t the only exchange during the session that made me realise what a competitive world our 3 year-olds are in.

“Can parents purchase a set of materials from the phonics curriculum to revise with our children at home after school?”

(Answer: “While the school does not believe that it’s necessary to do so, parents may purchase the materials if they wish to. However, as the children are already in school from 9.30am to 6pm, we encourage parents to let them rest or play when they get home instead of tiring them out with phonics revision, which may make them lose interest in learning.”)

“When can they start learning a third language?”

(Answer: “We are exploring this option. In the meantime, for Nursery kids, we are introducing more opportunities for children to enjoy the creative arts such as speech and drama, and ballet and hip hop. The Kindergarten 1 students will start on free piano lessons this year. We are also introducing gym classes. We believe that these programmes are more beneficial to children at this young age rather than more language lessons.”)

“When can they go on school excursions?”

(Answer: “We spent last year focusing on toilet-training and guiding the playgroup students on becoming more independent. Now that the whole class is toilet-trained, we can start bringing them out on excursions.”)

Gosh. The only question that left my lips was, “Will the kids continue with music classes in Nursery?” (Ans: “Yes, they will.” Hooray!) Am I the only parent who is happy and satisfied (and relieved) that my 3 year-old loves attending school?

Likewise, I was most glad to hear Claire’s Chinese-language teacher share that her goal for the Playgroup 1 babies was for them to enjoy being in school, participate in sing-along sessions and activities, learn to articulate their needs and feed themselves, and follow simple instructions like observing silence during story time and waiting their turn. It was not about how many Chinese words they could remember within a year. Very reasonable, in my opinion, for children who are only a little more than 1.5 years old. She reiterated that, despite what some parents had requested, reading cards of Chinese characters and their English translations would not be provided for children to practise at home.

When I updated Dannie about the session later that day, he asked, “Do you think we’re not concerned enough about our daughters’ academic progression?”

No, I don’t. I trust that under the school’s care and guidance, the girls will get to where they need to get before they enter primary school. Of course, this is not without a good dose of parent involvement and some degree of home-learning, but I trust that we’ve been doing well – and that we will continue to do so. Step by step.

If I were to make a New Year resolution for my girls when it came to learning the ABCs, my wishes for them would be:

A is for Awareness: May they learn to be aware of themselves – not of their needs and wants, but of the impact that they and their actions have on others.

After the teacher thanked parents for attending the orientation session, the interrogating parent rose from her seat and promptly walked off while the rest of us took the initiative to replace the seats neatly in their original positions – including hers.

B is for Brightness: I wish for the girls to be bright – not solely in the academic sense. May their vivacious and spritely personalities bring sparkle and vibrancy to others’ lives.

Coco, in particular, is one cheeky chatterbox in music class, often interrupting the lesson with her antics (like pretending to be a chicken laying eggs) or smart-aleck comments (“I tell you a funny word – BANANA PANTS!”) Her music teachers have been so kind to see the positive side of these distractions and comment that Coco is always so bubbly and full of joy in class. So even when I’m dying of exasperation during cello practice at home when she runs off midway because “I need to get something! Wait for me a little while, mummy!” I take a deep breath, try to think of this in positive terms and bite back any sharp comments about how easily distracted she is.

C is for… Cello (just kidding!)

C is for Compassion: I hope that my girls will continue to be compassionate, that they will keep their eyes out for friends, strangers and even animals in need, and offer a helping hand.

I was queuing for food at a hawker centre one morning. A tower of cleaned trays, piled high onto a stool, slipped to the floor. The young man seated next to the trays shrugged his shoulders, indicating that it wasn’t his fault that they fell, and nonchalantly continued with his meal. The old cleaner shuffled over to pick up the trays. The old stall-owner limped out of her stall to help. Me, the pregnant woman, bent down to pick up some trays (admittedly, gingerly holding each by the edge as the floor was clearly not very clean.) A younger cleaner spotted the scene and hurried over from the other end of the hawker centre to pitch in. No one else – NOT EVEN ONE of the spiffily-dressed office executives in the queue for food with eyes glued to their mobile phones – bothered to help.

May my girls never, NEVER become one of these dull, uncaring robots.

So, to the parents demanding when your kids will master writing the ABCs, how about teaching your children the ABCs of Life first? And that includes turning up punctually for school appointments, speaking politely and respectfully to the teachers, and putting your chair back where it belongs after your bum leaves it.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

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Posted on : January 8, 2015

Filed under : Uncategorized


Tan Yi Lin

Yi Lin

February 23rd, 2015 at 1:11 pm    

Thanks, Trace. I guess having a healthy attitude is a good start, although putting words and intentions into practice is tough. Like getting Coco interested in her weekly school assignments. Last night, I mechanically went through her writing sheets with her because she was getting so antsy and we just wanted to finish up quickly. Hope the demanding parent in school is happy with the three pages of writing to be completed over every weekend now!!!! Boo.


February 22nd, 2015 at 10:26 pm    

Seeing you guys yesterday has reminded me that I need to keep in touch! Sounds like you have a really healthy attitude to me. Anyway, many of the greats in our world have shown that excellence can only be achieved through passion, and having something shoved down one’s throat does not incite passion. Just a thought.

Tan Yi Lin

Yi Lin

January 21st, 2015 at 3:11 pm    

Hi cher, thanks for leaving a note.

Yes, I’m pretty sure the girls will get to where they need to be academically while learning through play. Not that it’s a bed of roses though – Coco now has weekly home activities to complete over the weekend! But the activities are designed to be fun. So far, it’s been mostly drawing and colouring to share with the class during show & tell.

The girls are in one of the schools under G8 Education, which runs quite a few well-known (and not terribly expensive) brands of schools.


January 20th, 2015 at 4:04 pm    

thank you for giving this valuable insight about schools, just when I am fretting over withdrawal from an academic-focused preschool into a kindy that learns through play!

Your school sounds fabulous.. Can I ask if they are in Pat’s Schoolhouse?

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