COVID-19 SPECIAL: Three-bedroom condo in Jurong

Taking the chance to impart life skills and values to their children

Ms Zoe Chu supervising her children (from left) Dylan, 13, Alyssa, three, Callum, eight, and Brayden, 13, during home-based learning in the morning.
Ms Zoe Chu supervising her children (from left) Dylan, 13, Alyssa, three, Callum, eight, and Brayden, 13, during home-based learning in the morning.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

With four children aged three to 13 at home, Ms Zoe Chu says her family were "on the verge of a volcanic eruption" on April 8 when full home-based learning (HBL) started in earnest.

"All this while they were going to school, so I could do my work from home in peace. Then I realised on day one (of full HBL) that I had to supervise," says the 40-year-old, who runs SG Supernanny, a baby and child sleep training consultancy, from the family's 1,200 sq ft, three-bedroom condominium in Jurong East.

"I think that's the thing we all did not expect, you know - there's so much work."

Her husband, dentist Justin Stewart Saga, 43, was "still happily exercising" that morning, thinking that their children could handle HBL independently.

She says: "I was like, I don't think this is going to work. We need to supervise them a lot more than just leaving them to their own devices."

While her 13-year-old twins, Brayden and Dylan, managed their schoolwork independently as they are in Secondary 2, she had to make sure they did not do too much gaming during breaks.

Eight-year-old Callum, who is in Primary 3, needed more supervision as he is easily distracted, and Alyssa, three, had HBL worksheets from her pre-school to complete too.

"And they are constantly asking for snacks as well, in between. It's like, I just fed you," she quips.

Since then, she has drawn up detailed schedules for the children.

Callum's, for instance, includes an hour of exercise and "creativity time" and 60 minutes of educational activities online, as well as the promise of a reward of playing games he likes if he follows his schedule.

Still, she admits, mornings are spent "being a primary school teacher or kindergarten teacher", so she cannot start on her own work with clients until the afternoon.

The older kids do their school work at the dining table. Brayden uses a Macbook, a requirement for his studies at the School of Science and Technology, Singapore; Dylan works on his father's HP laptop and Callum uses an old spare laptop.

Ms Chu helps the children with problems with English, while her husband handles mathematics.

"It's not easy to teach our kids," she bemoans.

When her husband gets frustrated because Callum still does not understand division, she waits until he calms down.

"Then we talk about what's the best way to approach this," she says.

"It's all about communicating with each other. I know a lot of families are probably getting stressed, so I think it's probably best for married couples not to add to each other's stress by having arguments."

Ms Chu, who has a master's degree in commerce and management from Lincoln University in New Zealand, says she tells her children that "values are the most important thing; it's not about grades".

The children are expected to do some housework daily, even though they have a live-in helper. The three boys, who share a room, tidy their beds, empty the rubbish bin and do some vacuuming. Alyssa does her part by cleaning up after her activities.

In the same vein, Ms Chu also got her teenagers to use her online subscription to Mentorbox "to boost their mindset with learning how to be a better person".

The subscription-based service provides, among other things, bite-size summaries by the authors of books on topics such as entrepreneurship and self-development.

"After they watch it, I want them to come back and report to me, and tell me what they have learnt, so that I can also learn from them," she says.

Dylan, for example, shared tips he learnt about improving one's Instagram bio, which she promptly used.

The social media-savvy mum even used the music-based platform TikTok to teach her brood to get along better while staying at home.

She asked them to take on the Blinding Lights challenge, which requires them to all dance in sync to the eponymous song by The Weeknd.

"It's not perfect, but at least they tried to work together, and I think I can keep getting them to do these themed challenges."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 19, 2020, with the headline 'Taking the chance to impart life skills and values to their children '. Print Edition | Subscribe