Homework for a Three-year-old

The pressures of a child going through early childhood education doesn’t just wreak havoc on the child’s life; a large part of the time, parents are also – if not more – stressed out by what their child has to go through.

In this excerpt from Dear Xander, that same pressure led to an emotional breakdown between mother and child in what was ultimately a miscommunication between parents and preschool over how a 3-year-old’s homework should be done.

It begs the question: are we putting too much stress on ourselves and our children, in the quest to prepare ourselves for the rigorous, competitive academic life that is signature of the Singapore education system?

You can read the full post here.

Your mother tried getting you to write the Chinese characters on a blank piece of paper, without much success. Sensing something was up, she asked you to write your name in English; you went as far as X and A before finally exhibiting what you were only capable of writing at 39 months of age – crooked lines. Your mother started wondering what you’ve been taught in school since you enrolled back when you were 18 months old. Then she started getting angry, then anxious, then worried.

She started to cry.

You realised what was happening, and went up to hug her. you took some tissue nearby to wipe off your mother’s tears, and then started stroking your mother as you would always do whenever you think she’s sad. You started crying as well, and in between breaths, you said to your mother, “Mummy, don’t cry.” confused and not knowing what else to say, your mother replied, “But you’re not writing your words.” And then she cried even harder.

A Letter To Isaac

It would be downright rude of us to have named ourselves Blogfathers! without paying homage to the original Blogfather of Singapore, Mr Brown, a.k.a. Lee Kin Mun.

Besides inspiring us with his self-pronounced national title, Mr Brown is also a father of three, one of whom has autism. To be a parent under such special circumstances, and still be able to run Singapore’s most successful blog, think up hashtags on Twitter to poke fun at current events and bring home the bacon just by being funny, is truly an inspiration in itself.

We’ve taken the liberty to select an excerpt from one of his more touching blog posts touching on the more challenging aspects of caring for a special needs child, and dedicated to his son Isaac, whose love for his sister transcends his tender age.

You can read the full post here.

Isaac and the shoes

One day, I am sure I will be able to explain autism to you and your younger three-year-old sister, Joy. One day, both of you will be able to understand and accept why your ?? sometimes grabs your toys or food without asking, making you cry.

One day, both of you will be able to understand and accept why your ?? likes to sit at the corner, lost in her own world, playing with her plastic bag and giggling to herself.

One day, both of you will be able to understand and accept why your ?? needs to have her hand held in public places, while we let you walk by our side on your own.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Public Figure’s Child

Being the child of an MP – or any public figure for that matter – will loom over the child for the entirety of his or her life, whether he or she likes it or not. Tampines MP Baey Yam Keng recounts an incident involving his child’s Maths test results being shrugged off by a classmate as an expected privilege for a privileged child. Politics aside, his subsequent reflections and advice not only applies to public figures, but with anyone with family members who have substantial achievements in education, endeavour or experience.

Mr Baey’s note published on Facebook on 14 March 2012, taken from his My Paper (??) article on 13 March 2012, is faithfully reproduced here in both its original Chinese format and English translation.

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? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????like father like son????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????

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Translated version

?Excuse me, are you Somebody?

?My child scored the second highest in her class for a recent Maths common test, but her achievement was undermined by a classmate to be due to her father being an MP.

I was told by a fellow MP that he made his appearance as the parent of his daughter for the very first time during her polytechnic graduation ceremony. ?It was only then that her classmates knew about their relationship.

A Minister chose not to see his son off during his enlistment, but showed up only at his passing-out parade, so as to avoid any unnecessary attention during the course of his basic military training.

Just because one is related to someone, one would be seen in a different light or tasked to meet higher expectations.

It is not uncommon to find ourselves asking a doctor friend if his children would follow in his footsteps, or expect an artist friend?s children to be artistically talented too.? We can easily find a few such examples: Wee Cho Yaw and Wee Ee Chong in the banking sector, theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun and daughter Kuo Jian Hong, Patrick and Nicholas Tse in the entertainment sphere, David Tao Sr. and David Tao in the Mandopop industry. ?In politics, there are the Kennedys and the Bush father and sons in the USA, the Nehru-Ghandi family in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan, the Aquinos in the Philippines, General Aung San and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar and of course, Lee Kuan Yew and and Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore.

Whether it is nature or nurture, following the footsteps could have been a natural course of events or even a well deserved accession.? Sometimes, it is not a personal choice. ?For example, the constitution would have to be changed if Prince Charles were not to inherit the throne from Queen Elizabeth II or if Maha Vajiralongkorn were not coronated following Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej?s reign. Being born into royalty brings with it wealth and luxury, but sometimes life is far from being a bed of roses when there are family disputes, infightings, and even usurpation.

I told my child, ?You do not have tuition, therefore you deserve every mark you have earned yourself. ?Others may not realize it, but I am aware and more importantly, you know what you have put in. ?You should be proud of yourself and not be bothered by what others say. ?On the other hand, you cannot be conceited but continue to be diligent. ?Due to my public role, there is more public interest and scrutiny.? Your classmate may not necessarily understand what I do, but I am sure his comments meant no malice. It is crucial that you do not take things for granted or feel privileged in any way just because your father is an MP. ?On the contrary, there are higher expectations of you precisely because you are the child of an MP. ?As long as you do your best according to your conscience, there is no need for any self-imposed pressure. ?Be courageous enough to own up to any wrongdoing, for every mistake we make will prove to be a learning experience.? In this common test, you had told your teacher she had given you an extra half mark.? I am proud of your honesty.? We should not take credit if we have not put in the effort.? As long as you commit yourself to your tasks, what you learn in the process and gain from the results are yours to keep, forever.?

MyPaper, 13 March 2012

What Society Wants (Updated)

Update 1: I received a text from my wife, having enquired with the teacher about the assessment book. The text reads:

“Teacher say no need to filll in. Read can ler.”

“The written work is for K1.”

“Still…”

The anxiety continues…

Update 2: We’ve pretty much pinned down the issue to a communication breakdown with the school (which, unfortunately, is quite common with this school). I guess this will serve as more conversation fodder at our next parent-teacher meeting.

Dear Xander,

We found out that your school was putting textbooks and assessment books into your school bag for us parents to guide you through your homework. Over the weekend, your mother decided to give it a go with you.

Homework for a 3-year-old. Wait, it gets much worse.

After a failed attempt at getting you to take a nap at 4pm on a Sunday, your mother then proceeded to dig out all your school material and started flipping through your school material, consisting of 2 Chinese textbooks, a Chinese workbook, asp spoken word audio CD accompanying the workbook (in the voice of your school principal and her daughter, no less) and what I can only assume is a parent’s/teacher’s instruction manual of how to go through the lessons.

The workbook was what started the evening’s disaster. It was a book of Chinese idioms, with one page listing 8 idioms, and the flipside of the page with the same idioms but with words missing for you to fill in the blanks. Never mind that your mother and I didn’t know the meaning of half the idioms listed, even though the audio CD took care of the reading for us. As time wore on, your mother got increasingly frustrated when she realised you weren’t recognising and reading the words in the textbook; you were reciting from memory the contents of the audio CD that must have been played and replayed over during your classes.

Your mother tried getting you to write the Chinese characters on a blank piece of paper, without much success. Sensing something was up, she asked you to write your name in English; you went as far as X and A before finally exhibiting what you were only capable of writing at 39 months of age – crooked lines. Your mother started wondering what you’ve been taught in school since you enrolled back when you were 18 months old. Then she started getting angry, then anxious, then worried.

She started to cry.

You realised what was happening, and went up to hug her. you took some tissue nearby to wipe off your mother’s tears, and then started stroking your mother as you would always do whenever you think she’s sad. You started crying as well, and in between breaths, you said to your mother, “Mummy, don’t cry.” confused and not knowing what else to say, your mother replied, “But you’re not writing your words.” And then she cried even harder.

In a bid to soothe your mother’s emotions, you immediately reached out for the workbook, picked up your pencil, and filled in every blank on the page. The result of your tense, urgent need to finish your homework under pressure was this:

I had gone out to get dinner for the family during the entire time. When I reached home, I saw your teary-eyed mother on the sofa looking defeated, and you sitting next to her, watching television. She told me what happened, and I, too, started wondering what the school was trying to achieve, and how they were expecting you to deal with such an advanced level of learning.

Later in the night, I read about children’s milestones between 36-48 months whilst perusing through the Internet. Most of the web articles I read seem to hold the same agreement: that children will only start learning to write at 5 years of age. Your father then understood why many of his friends decided to migrate with their children.

I didn’t intend to write a follow up to my last letter to you, but as a relatively new parent, the overly advanced, competitive nature of the local education system has only now begun to slap me – and your mother – in the face. I always wondered why I never felt I had an enjoyable childhood; and if it was a lot simpler back then, I dread to wonder what the future holds for you here.

What our society expects from its children quite honestly does not sit very well with me.

Love,

Dad

What Your Parents Want

Dear Xander,

The past few weeks have your parents a little distressed. Your English teacher in your nursery class has been dropping notes to us in your daily assignments, telling us you really need help in your writing. In nursery school terms, of course the teacher means writing the alphabet, not a research paper on understanding the reproductive behaviour of 3-month-old dwarf hamsters (a topic that your mother and I unfortunately have too much information on).

Over the weekend, the greatest accomplishment I have achieved with you was making you write the X in your name. Your mother is much better at this; her greatest accomplishment the same weekend was getting you to go to Settings and recognise the word General on an iPad. She’s still trying to figure out how to make you recognise Brightness and Wallpaper.

Let’s put this in perspective; you’re 3 years old, and born on the tail end of December too, for crying out loud. My worry is not so much that you may not be able to keep up with the Singapore education system, but that the Singapore education system is not structured to your benefit.

Being born in November myself, your father can understand your predicament. I was a late bloomer; I completed my tertiary education at the tender age of 27, when everyone else in my class got their diplomas at age 19-20. My primary/secondary/pre-university education was absolutely nothing to brag about, save for my ability to scale a 3-metre barb-wired school fence to avoid the discipline master when I was late for school. By the time I was 15 years old, your grandparents had given up hope on me, at one point sitting me down in a serious discussion about me just focusing on a career in cooking Indonesian food, since I was enjoying eating so much I was getting fat enough to wear a bra.

It would be hypocritical for your mother and I to say we don’t expect anything from you; if we held no expectations, we wouldn’t have bought the 5 canes strewn all over our house with 1 tucked under the sun visor of our family car for emergencies. What I have learnt from dealing with my own father, though, is to think back on my own history as a toddler/child/teenager/adult son, and quite frankly decide not to ask too much of my own children.

Admittedly at some point this year or next, you will need to learn and demonstrate writing out your name in full (English and Chinese). But for now, I’m just going to wait for the next parent-teacher conference at your school and ask what exactly your teacher is expecting out of a 3-year-old born in late December, because as far as your mother and I are concerned, you’ve been able to fulfill most of our expectations. You eat your vegetables, are polite to strangers, manage to pee standing into the toilet bowl most of the time (I have explained to your mother and she has understood that sometimes just after you wake up in the morning this is not physically possible), and above all that, you’ve given us your laughter, your funny quips and, well, you.

All we ever wanted from you, you’ve already given us. You’ve given your mother and I happiness; what more can we ask for?

Love, Dad