Be a no-fuss mum when your child begins school

ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Relax and don't sweat the small stuff; let junior enjoy the 'honeymoon' years

Before my son, Jason, entered Primary 1 three years ago, I fretted about many things.

I wondered if he would be able to buy his own food in the canteen because he was reluctant to queue up for food when he was out with us.

I worried about whether his reading and writing would be up to scratch because I did not send him for any preparatory class, never mind that he had been attending pre-school since he was three.

I wondered if he would be able to speak up or tell a teacher if he needed help because he was rather shy.

I didn't know if he would be able to look after his possessions because he often left his water bottle behind when we were out. 

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I'm more relaxed as my daughter, Shannon, prepares to enter Primary 1 in a couple of months' time. I've learnt to take comments from others in my stride and to go with my instincts as a mother, which tell me that she will cope fine in Primary 1.

I'm glad that I have a record of my worries in the form of columns which I wrote then, because I chuckle when I read them now. 

Yes, Jason started off buying only the same few types of food in the first weeks, but he has since ventured to try most of the stalls in his canteen, sometimes upon his friends' recommendations.

I'm not even sure why I worried about him buying food by himself because he was, and still is, a foodie at heart.

He was not reading independently in kindergarten and was mixing up his "b"s and "d"s when writing, but these are no longer issues now.

In fact, with homework and tests in Primary 3, the problem is that he doesn't have enough time to read for leisure.

I'm not sure what is taught in Primary 1 preparatory classes, but educators who I spoke to in the course of my work told me such extra classes are not necessary.

Some teachers and principals even went as far as to say that children who are over-prepared for school end up being bored during lessons.

I'm glad that I took their word for it. Jason did not attend any such classes and seems none the worse for it.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I'm more relaxed as my daughter, Shannon, prepares to enter Primary 1 in a couple of months' time.

I've learnt to take comments from others in my stride and to go with my instincts as a mother, which tell me that she will cope fine in Primary 1.

So when her teacher remarked that she did not seem to be able to read as many words as her classmates who have tuition could, I smiled and nodded and left it at that.

I heard the same thing about Jason three years ago. Then, I went straight to Google and typed in the search words "Primary 1 preparation". That was how I found out there were classes that prepare children for Primary 1, in addition to kindergarten.

Even though Shannon doesn't have her reading and writing down pat, I reasoned to myself that she will eventually catch up, the way her brother did.

After all, she is going to primary school - to learn.

I'm not about to hothouse her in the remaining months of her pre-school days.

She may not be able to read many books independently or spell many words, but she loves to listen to stories and enjoys it when her papa and I read to her.

She is curious about many things around her and doesn't hesitate to ask questions or seek to understand them.

"Mummy, why is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's face on posters? What are elections? Who won?" she asked, when we passed by the election posters during the hustings.

She is conscientious about learning the handful of words for her weekly English spelling and the Chinese equivalent, tingxie, in her second year of kindergarten, and I think that attitude will stand her in good stead when she enters Primary 1.

She is able to dress herself, clean up after herself and pack her own schoolbag - the basic soft skills that she would need for school.

I trust that she will pick up other skills needed along the way in primary school.

As a reminder to myself when Shannon enters Primary 1, I decided to come up with some advice which I would have liked to tell myself three years ago:

Let her enjoy Primary 1 and 2, because those are the "honeymoon" years. There is little homework and no examinations in Primary 1. Assessment books can wait.

Don't sweat the small stuff. So she may forget to do a piece of homework or study for spelling on occasions. In the larger scheme of things, this will matter little.

However, if I over-react, that is what she will remember.

Let her read as much as she likes because with homework, tests and exams in Primary 3 and beyond, reading time will be cut severely later.

Don't rush to fight her battles. She may fall out with a friend or two; she may change best friends every couple of months. Let her sort it out herself.

Despite not hitting it off with his classmates in the initial months, Jason has now made himself a small group of close friends.

I can't claim any credit for it and I'm happy about that.

Finally, talk to her as much as possible after school to find out about her day, her friends and her teachers.

I started doing this with Jason after I stopped work last year, and he now automatically tells me about his day.

I relish and treasure our conversations after school, especially since he now has to stay back in school several times a week for co-curricular activities.

Hopefully such chats continue even when they become teenagers.


• Jane Ng is a former education journalist and now a freelance writer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Be a no-fuss mum when your child begins school'. Print Edition | Subscribe