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Enjoying HBL days with my teenagers

The writer appreciates the technology the children are exposed to, the adaptability that has been honed in them to make remote learning possible when they are not in school. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - It is not just my two older kids who enjoy their fortnightly home-based learning (HBL) day. I look forward to it too.

It is a chance for them to get two more hours of sleep and for me to have precious one-on-one time with each teenager.

Since their HBL sessions fall on different days and weeks, I've had one teenager at home with me once a week for the past year.

Sometimes, I'm not at home because I go out for interviews. But when I am, we get to have lunch together.

HBL days go something like this.

"Do you have a lot of homework today?" The answer is usually a yes for both kids.

They have different ways of managing their work.

My 16-year-old son in Secondary 4 may start his day with basketball in the morning.

"The courts are empty and the weather is good. Best time to play," he says.

He has a shower before starting on his work and I don't see him until he emerges from his room for water or toilet breaks.

He does not have Zoom lessons and neither does he have to check in with his teachers. I'm impressed that his school leaves them to "self-regulate".

His work usually consists of assignments that can be done at his own pace. Sometimes, the work is given early, and he gets a head start on it the night before so that he has more time on HBL day for other activities.

The extra time came in useful when he was preparing for his piano examinations earlier this year.

On the other hand, my 13-year-old daughter in Secondary 1 usually gets her assignments in the morning when she logs on to Student Learning Space, a platform that schools use for teaching and learning.

She likes to get started once she wakes up, sometimes having her breakfast while checking out the day's assignments.

I enjoy seeing her well-rested and leave her to her tasks while I send her six-year-old sister to school and head out for interviews.

We do a check-in before lunch, sometimes via WhatsApp if I'm out.

"Do you have time to go out for lunch or shall I buy food and we eat in?" I ask.

We have so far managed to go to a nearby mall for lunch only once with each kid when they felt their work was manageable and it coincided with a day I did not have a deadline.

It was a special one-on-one time with each child.

When I had lunch out with my son, we had sushi and he surprised me by putting his mobile phone on airplane mode "so that we can enjoy our lunch in peace", he said.

A rare victory, but I'll take it.

Most HBL days, we eat lunch in and have a chat before going back to our work.

But we catch up throughout the day.

"How was your interview?" they may ask me.

In return, I ask: "How was the recording of the oral practice?" or "Was the mathematics worksheet manageable?"

I'm rarely able to help them with their work, so they usually go to their friends or teachers if they need help.

I don't chase them to complete their work. I simply trust that they will do it.

After doing interviews for the stories on HBL, I concluded that I enjoy it so much because my kids are both independent when it comes to their learning.

My role is to give them moral support and to enjoy the bonus time they get to spend at home with me.

Apart from the occasional reminder about completing their assignments, I do not check on them or their work.

Instead, I commiserate with them - why does your teacher give you so much work, I ask them.

I think they feel better knowing that mum is on their side.

Since they were in primary school, I've told them their work is their responsibility and they answer to their teacher if the work is not properly done.

When they were younger, I might take a cursory glance at their homework to ensure it is done, neatly and to the best of their ability. Apart from that, I seldom point out their mistakes. Their teacher is there to mark and correct them and, to me, they learn better this way.

In hindsight, being a "mean" mum when they were younger has helped to ease us into the transition of secondary school and, more recently, HBL day.

I was the mum who would not help them if they lost their spelling list in primary school. They know I would not be messaging the class parent chat group to ask for another list.

They would have to ask either their friends or teacher for another copy.

Being independent in their learning has meant that HBL day is freed up for bonding because I'm not hounding them about getting work done.

Apart from getting to spend time with them at home, I appreciate the technology they are exposed to, the adaptability that has been honed in them to make remote learning possible when they are not in school.

When they gripe about the amount of work they may be given during HBL, I remind them that blended learning has allowed their education not to be interrupted amid the pandemic, which is now into its third year.

I made them read the recent news article about how millions of children in the Philippines only recently got to return to school and continue with their education after a two-year hiatus, and they know they are blessed.

We got to see how useful HBL can be when there were six cases of Covid-19 in my son's class and they switched to HBL for five days.

It was a seamless transition. There was no wondering what to do or missing lessons.

Even on a daily basis, when students are sick and not in school, his class has a laptop on standby to be switched on so that the student who may want to follow lessons from home can do so.

To me, school will always be there and they have nine out of 10 days a fortnight to learn in a physical classroom.

Even if their learning might take a back seat on this one day, which I doubt since they are busy completing assignments for the better part of the day, I relish the extra time they get to spend at home.

I enjoy hanging out with them, it is a refreshing change from not seeing them the entire school day, sometimes until 7pm or later on CCA days.

If there is any part of their education that they will remember fondly, I hope it includes HBL days at home with me.

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