Friday, October 21, 2016

A Day in Our Lives in 2016: Balancing Homeschooling, Work, and Rest

It's been a pretty crazy year, as far as I'm concerned. Since Mark and I set up the training consultancy and the online store over two years ago, what used to be a pretty constant daily schedule with the kids has been thrown to the wind. And to be honest, so has much of our formal homeschooling schedule. (Which also explains why things have been pretty quiet on the blogging front with me - Mark has been doing most of the writing.)

I must admit it has not been easy for me to deal with the guilt and tiredness that can come with trying to juggle all our different commitments in work, family and ministry, but looking back on the year I believe we have all grown from this time of unpredictability and change. There's always a bigger picture we can choose to find perspective in, isn't there? We are not only making do, but learning to continue extending roots in whatever season we might be in.

I have learnt how much I could actually be stretched while relying fully on God's grace to carry me through the various workshops and training sessions; the kids have learned to put on super flexible hats (their question for each evening has been. "Where are we going tomorrow?". Mark has been exploring exciting paths in his career and calling he'd never dreamed of. And I now have a little more empathy for working mums and the struggles they face. I am now actually looking forward to the end of the year, when we can hopefully slow things down a bit and enjoy time as a family. We have also learned to treasure the simple moments - scooting at the park, eating prata at the coffee shop, building Lego together.

The sort of moment I've learned to be thankful for this year - enjoying the company of my boys and time spent outdoors.
So... when it came to deciding which day of our schedules to write about, I had no idea which of our days to choose - because there has been no typical day for us in the longest time! I am nevertheless going to try to capture a snapshot of what our lives have been like in 2016.

7.30 am:

The alarm goes off. I wake Mark and the boys and we wash up and get ready for the day. We have our Classical Conversations Community Day once a week, which I currently direct and the boys both participate in. It's E's first year joining in, and Z's second year.
Our Classical Conversations Curriculum Guide. The curriculum is from the US and there are quite a few homeschooling communities doing the programme in Singapore.
We usually let our boys sleep in, so CC Day is an exception.
8:00 am:
I whip up a standard breakfast. Eggs done according to each one's preference. Sunny side up for Z and a large cheese omelette for E. On a good day, he wolfs down the entire thing. All three eggs and a slice of cheddar. Protein is good for growing boys!
E's classic breakfast. A cheesy omelette.
8:30 am: 
We get changed and scramble out of the house. I usually look like a karang guni lady, carrying all these bags with me. Thankfully, Mark has had his Friday mornings free to shuttle us to CC. And... it's Children's Day in school today! Homeschoolers should be able to join in the fun. There are goody bags waiting to be given out today, which I had fun packing the night before.
Our packing for the day - includes materials for the Science experiment, the kids' seat mats and Geography mats, and snacks and water. 
8.35 am:
In the car, and off we go. We usually play our CC Audio Memory Work CD on the go, so the kids can learn their new grammar and review what has been taught in previous weeks. 

We are currently striving to embrace the classical approach to education in our homeschool journey. There are three stages - Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Our kids are at the Grammar stage, where the emphasis is on learning to memorise what we call the "grammar" of each subject - History, Geography, Latin, Math, Science, English, and the Time Line of the World.  It might sound a bit intimidating at 4 years, but they are able to! 

We do all of this in a loving community, and the focus is not on perfect memorisation of the facts, but exposing the children to all these facts at an early age, such that when they get a bit older, they will start to connect the dots to what they have learned before. They are learning how to learn, which is a skill that will help them learn whatever else they need to learn in new subjects as they grow. Their minds are exposed to whatever is pure, noble and good at this age, and our prayer is that they continue to grow in an appreciation of beauty and excellence in their learning journeys.

A deep breath and a moment of thankfulness before the day begins.
Off we go! Still sleepy.
Snacking in the car... already!
Someone expressed a desire to borrow books from the library.
9.00 am:
We arrive at our class venue, set up, and start Community Day with a morning group assembly time. Our community is currently divided into two groups, the 4s to 6s and the 6s to 10s. Our boys are in the younger group. We have a time of prayer, worship, reciting the pledges of the various countries we come from, and there is also a family presentation time where one of the families shares something about themselves so we can get to know one another more. It's been wonderful hearing from everyone!
Morning Assembly as a whole group. We have 19 kids in total.
9.15 am:
We divide into our indvidual classes and the lesson begins. There are five segments to it: New Grammar, Science Project, Fine Arts, Presentations, and Grammar Review.
Practising the time line song. The children recite the whole time line of the world, from Creation to modern day, through songs and actions.
Super excited to have our first tin whistle lesson for Fine Arts this cycle!
E still finds it a challenge sitting through the entire 3-hour class. He paid full attention during the tin whistle segment, though! Looking forward to seeing how his interest develops over the weeks.
Time for the Science experiment. The purpose was to test out the hypothesis that different parts of the sun rotate at different speeds. We were reminded that the sun is made up of various burning gases!
Presentations are normally delivered after Science experiments and the
children learn public speaking from an early age.
12.00 pm:
Time for lunch! The kids are usually restless and starving by this time. My dearest mother came to help me with the boys this morning, and we enjoyed a peaceful lunch together at a nearby food centre before the boys went back to nap at my parents' place. They are usually bushed on CC days.
Learning gives one a voracious appetite.
2.30 pm:
Lunch is over, and I have tuition in the afternoons (working with children with learning difficulties referred to me by a friend who is an educational therapist). The kids usually go over to their grandparents' home to nap and spend the rest of the day, till we pick them up after dinner.
Winding down with their favourite toys at Kong Kong and Mama's house before nap time.
Who needs Kidzania when you have Kong Kong and Mama's?
6.30 pm:
They wake from their naps and have dinner. These two are still napping - and I am glad for that! Kids need lots of sleep in order to grow and for their brains to develop. Time for dinner. They love the food that Mama cooks, and they tell her all the time that she is a good cook! She is!

Macaroni soup. One of their favourites.
Red bean soup for dessert!
8.00 pm:
After dinner, it's play time. I would not, I repeat, would not, have gotten through the year with its heavy work commitments and still homeschooling, without the support of both sides of grandparents. I tell myself that the boys get loads of opportunities for play at my parents' place, and these contribute to the essential neurological development which they need in these early years. These experiences form building blocks for later literacy and numeracy skills. The most important part of it... curious, happy and confident kids. They are thriving with my Dad's crazy fun ideas and creativity and my Mum's unconditional love and nutritious food!

They get to play with Busy Town - well-preserved from when my sisters and I were this age!
Then it's time to battle Darth Vader before bed with the light sabers my sister got for their birthdays this year.
9.30 pm:
They wind down for the night with a time of reading, after milk and supper, and brushing teeth. They are staying over at the grandparents' tonight, because Mark and I have a dinner appointment.

It's bedtime at Mama's!
Z is into the Noddy series at the moment. I managed to get him some preloved copies from EBay! I used to love them at his age too.
Meanwhile, in an alternate universe at 7.30 pm:
We have made an appointment with our marriage mentors from church. This is something we decided very early on as a couple to do. L and R are an amazing couple with three older girls. We go to them with the issues that we might be struggling with - be it work or parenting. Heart to heart stuff. Much needed and welcomed. It's good to be accountable.

A much-needed and much-appreciated time!
At their home, we felt pampered, loved and encouraged. We also learned precious principles which we are going to apply in the days and weeks ahead. We will be better spouses and parents because of this time we have been blessed with. We are so grateful for the blessings that they are to us. And so thankful to the grandparents for always being able to watch our kids and have them overnight.

12.00 am:
We reach home, shower, and turn in for the night. I feel more rested than I have for a long time, despite the busy day we've had. 

This post pretty much sums up our lives so far this year... there's been a need for juggling, being flexible, taking deep breaths and finding refreshment from sources both sought after as well as unexpected. We drink deep when we can, in order to find strength to soldier on. And we choose to give thanks for the little and huge blessings of support, encouragement and love, from our parents and the community He's blessed us with. Still grateful and thankful, though tired. Always grateful.

Next up on the blog train is Jennifer, who writes from DinoMama.

Jennifer or DinoMama as she is fondly known as to some, is a full time working mum who believes home cooked meals are the best and tries to cook healthy meals for her family as often as possible. When she has done coaching DinoBoy with his school work or not playing & bonding with him, she will be sitting at a comfy corner in the house busy working something on her crochet hook. One day she hopes she will be able to be a full time stay at home mum where she can fuss over her family 24/7.

This post is part of the Day in a Life blog train hosted by Mum in the Making (link to Click on the button to take a peek into a day in a life of other mummies!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Painting with a Magic Brush: Fun Facts & Giveaway

I Theatre's The Magic Paintbrush is back in the theatres after 16 long years!

Here are some fun facts about the acclaimed I Theatre production. If you read carefully and answer the questions below, you might just get a chance to win two free tickets to the play!

1) In 2004 the play was made into a book, and published by Marshall Cavendish. It sold out! The books are now very rare as it was not reprinted.

2) In 2000, I Theatre presented 13 performances in a 300 seater theatre. This time they are presenting 24 performances in a 609 seater theatre.

3) The Magic Paintbrush was presented in 2000 by Imaginarts, the parent company that spawned I Theatre in 2001 - and the income from The Magic Paintbrush helped to launch the company.

4) In 2000 they had a cast of 8 actors and 27 puppets. In 2016 they have 9 actors and… count to see how many puppets!

5) For 2016 there are two brand new characters - Peony Blossom and Lotus Flower. Exactly who and what are they? You will have to watch to find out!

6) It took six weeks to build the scenery, and two days to install it in the theatre.

7) The actors only had three days in the theatre to get used to working on the stage, with all the props.

8) For the 9 actors, there will be over 25 different costumes, and each actor will have to change costumes up to 10 times during the play.

9) There will be approximately 150 lighting changes during the play - and the play is only 75 minutes long!

10) This will be the 82nd main-stage production that I Theatre has presented in Singapore (not including their overseas performances!)

Parenting on Purpose is pleased to partner I Theatre to present 2 tickets for the 11am show on Saturday 29 October 2016.

How to qualify for the giveaway:

1) Like the Parenting on Purpose Facebook page.

2) Share this blog post on your Facebook Wall and tag three friends (not including the friend who had tagged you. Remember to ensure that privacy settings are set to "Public".)

For an extra chance to win:

Comment on this post and share with us one interesting thing you have learnt about The Magic Paintbrush and why that interests you! Please leave your email so that we will be able to contact you should you win the contest!

The giveaway will end on Sunday 9 October and entries must be submitted by 10pm.

And the winner of the giveaway is....

Agnes Chin!

Please collect the tickets at the I Theatre office before 28 Oct from 10.30am to 5.30pm.

Address: 27 Kerbau Rd, Singapore 219163
Phone: 6341 5960

Congratulations Agnes!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Twinkle Twinkle: A Review of I Theatre's "Little Star"

The little star shone brightly in the living room of Cosmo and Celeste; a dazzling display of brilliance and enchantment. Lost in the midst of their squabbles, the brother and sister pair realise that there are better things to do than to fight - they need to help the little lost star find its way home! And so it's off on a grand adventure. Is the star's home beneath the deepest depths of the sea? Is it beyond the furthest reaches of the galaxy? Or is home really where the heart is?
Little Star, Little Star, how can we help you find your home?
Little Star is I Theatre's second production intended for younger audiences between the ages of 2-6. The first performance, Round the Moon, Blue the Sky, was a regional collaboration with Asian theatre powerhouses in Hong Kong and Japan. But Little Star represents a first locally for I Theatre in its outreach efforts to younger theatre audiences. It also represented an experiment by Artistic Director Brian Seward, who creatively stitched together various theatrical effects in order to appeal to younger children.

The black light theatre undersea effect was reminiscent of an earlier production this year, The Rainbow Fish, which I Theatre performed to great success by immersing the audience completely in darkness from start to finish. The Little Star production, while adapting some of the elements from The Rainbow Fish, had its own appeal, and the young audience was treated to lovely dances from the fish, as the adventurers scoured the seas in search for the supposed home of the little lost star.
Does the Little Star belong in the depths of the ocean? Will it find a home there?
In addition to the visual effects, Little Star also created a whole new world of imagination through the use of puppetry. The three major characters each had a life of his/her own, and the actors did their best to speak through the brightly-coloured puppets.

An I Theatre production would not be complete without a good theme. For Little Star, it incorporated familiar concepts of childhood curiosity and individual exploration, as embodied by the human characters Cosmo and Celeste. The brother-sister pair exhibited aspects of sibling rivalry which all young children can identify with. Both children also illustrated an innate desire to explore and to seek out adventure, an occurrence not uncommon with children of that age. I Theatre pieced together these interesting elements seamlessly, and incorporated them into the broader story of the siblings' search for a home for Little Star.
He ain't heavy. He's my brother.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
How I Wonder What You Are

Children young and old have always looked up into the sky, and marvelled at those tiny twinkly things we call stars. What are they? Where do they come from? Our human minds can only compare them to diamonds in the night sky. But if we stare hard enough into the vast expense above, and search the inner recesses of our hearts, perhaps then we could possibly find an answer to the numerous questions that bombard our minds.
What answers lie within us, within the recesses of our heart?

Artistic Director Brian Seward and the cast of Little Star.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sensory-Friendly Play at the Theatre: A Review of the Esplanade PLAYtime! Series 2016

It was a musical thriller for the senses! Eddy, the Bird Who Was Afraid of Heights, was going all out to rescue his friend Matt the Rat from the clutches of the evil crow. The children witnessed the entire drama unfolding in front of their eyes via different mediums such as light play, wayang kulit, and human puppetry at its finest. And the crowd of kids from preschools and special education schools across Singapore were completely mesmerised! Coupled with catchy tunes, memorable characters and a large component of audience interaction, the performance was truly Children's Theatre at its best!
Esplanade PLAYtime's The Bird Who Was Afraid of Heights has larger than life characters 
that fly into the hearts of the kids.
Kids were enthralled by the use of light play and other theatrical delights.
The Bird Who Was Afraid of Helghts is the third production from the Esplanade PLAYtime series this year which introduced sensory-friendly elements in order to make theatre more accessible to children with special needs from all ages and abilities. Esplanade says a sensory-friendly performance has the following features: a generally brighter environment with no total blackouts, no sudden loud sounds, as well as free and easy access into and out of the theatre during performances. And, if kids need a place to take a break and relax from the performance, they can also head out to a space created specially for them - PIP’s PLAYbox, which is located just next to the theatre.
Pip's PLAYbox is a lovely space for kids to relax and chill out.
Sensational Play has been supporting the Esplanade by loaning our items for
the kids to enjoy!
Parenting on Purpose has had an exciting journey with sensory-friendly productions. Since we were invited to take part in Singapore's first sensory-friendly performance by the Ministry of Bellz earlier this year, we have been privileged to be part of a group of individuals who were consulted by the Esplanade on how to make a concert sensory-friendly. This was in order that children with special needs would be able to enjoy the arts without getting a sensory meltdown at the theatre. Given our increasing involvement in the area of special needs (through our store Sensational Play and our training arm The Social Factor), as well as our background as educationalists, we were glad that the segment of the population with special needs has been getting more attention here in Singapore - a key highlight has of course been the 2016 National Day Parade, with my long-time theatre idol R. Chandran helming a segment featuring participants with special needs.

And so Parenting on Purpose has been privileged to be at all three productions of the Esplanade's PLAYtime! 2016 series which featured sensory-friendly elements.
Esplanade's plays have a strong audience participation element and children love helping the actors
in little collaborative tasks.
The first performance, Bunny Finds the Right Stuff, was adapted from a popular children's book by author Emily Lim. It spins the tale of a soft toy rabbit Bunny, who just didn't feel right with the way she was. As such, Bunny gets the help of her friends to find the right stuffing needed so that she would not be floppy anymore. But what is the right stuff? And is our identity related to finding the right stuff?

The sets for Bunny Finds the Right Stuff were delightfully illustrated yet simply designed.
My two kids, then aged 5 and 3, loved the Bunny production. Its interactive elements left many in the crowd wanting more. A case in point was my 3-year-old's desire to give his stuffed toy bear to Bunny, in order that she would be able to "feel right" again. Both boys also loved the catchy songs and the excellent acting and puppetry by the four-person team of Andrew Marko, Bright Ong, Lian Sutton and Selma Alkaff.
Meeting the sharks. Lighting has always been a strong element of most of the PLAYtime plays.
A wonderful and interactive time for the kids.
The second production, Grandpa Cherry Blossom, is a retelling of a popular Japanese folktale, Hanasaka Jiisan. It tells the story of Ojiisan and Obachan, an old couple who longed to have a child but couldn't have one. Then one day they found a little puppy and decided to care for it. Little Shiro, whose fur was as white as his name, was the apple of their eye, and the old couple showered all their love on him. So the little dog decided to repay Ojiisan and Obachan for their kindness. He had a secret that no one else knew about - he could sniff out gold! What happens then when Ojiisan's evil neighbour finds out about Shiro's special gift, and schemes to keep the dog for himself?
Grandpa Cherry Blossom featured characters who were larger than life and much loved by the children.
Esplanade keeps its production ideas fresh. In this scene, the animated river comes alive to share its
tale of how Ojisan finds little Shiro.
Grandpa Cherry Blossom transports the audience into heartland Japan, with its quaint traditions and deep respect for honour and gratitude. Any student of Japanese culture would be fascinated by the extent that the drama took to transport its audience into the Land of the Rising Sun. And the story was told with stunning digital animation and fascinating light play, to complement the excellent acting of the four cast members. 

Spectacular digital animation was a key feature of this production, presenting to the audience the
ethereal and magical nature of the story.
It has been a most enjoyable journey partnering the Esplanade in its sensory adventure. Through it all, the experience has made us more aware of the needs of those around us; everyone after all, needs to be be the opportunity to be exposed to the arts. Consider my older son, aged 6. He has had outings to the theatre since the age of 2/1/2. From a child who used to be scared of clapping in the theatre, he has grown into a boy who choreographs his own theatre performances at home, complete with "black light theatre", puppetry and "audience participation". I can see how comfortable Z is with theatre and the arts, and as a parent, that really beings me great joy. Perhaps one day I will see my little boy directing his own plays, or being an actor on stage; and that, I believe would be a day I look forward to!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Schooling for Gold: a Parent Reflects on Singapore's First Olympic Gold Medallist

50.39 seconds. The (less than) one minute of time that made history for the small island nation of Singapore. Millions in Singapore and around the world watched as 21-year-old Joseph Schooling defeated his long-time idol and heavily-decorated Olympian Michael Phelps, the man described as "the most-decorated Olympian of all time". Indeed most of the international news footage had been previously focussed on Phelps, given that the American is expected to retire at this year's Rio Olympics. The New York Times even ran an article with the headline: "Somebody (His Name’s Joseph Schooling) Finally Beats Michael Phelps"!

For Joseph Schooling, it could not have been a prouder moment, as he not only bagged Singapore's first and only Olympic Gold, it was also a race that proved he had not only matched, but also beaten his childhood idol. Indeed a 2008 photograph of 13-year-old Schooling standing side by side with Michael Phelps has been spreading like wildfire on social media, alongside another photo taken in 2016, with both men in a similar position.

In the wake of the Schooling victory, news feeds across social media has been rife with numerous questions, for example whether the Singapore government would declare a public holiday to celebrate the historical win, or what the 21-year-old Singaporean would do with his 1 million dollar prize money, or even whether Schooling should be deferred from serving National Service for another four more years.
What does the future hold for young Singaporeans? Can a small country like ours
actually produce an Olympic great? 
For Sue and I, what has captivated our imagination has been Joseph Schooling's Olympic journey - all the way from the age of 6. It seems Schooling had a chat over dinner about his granduncle Lloyd Valberg, who has Singapore's first-ever Olympian in 1948. The chat was apparently what inspired the young boy to decide there and then that he wanted to follow in his relative's footsteps. His parents Colin and May supported the decision, and made every effort to prepare him for his training; with his father taking him for training every morning, and both parents eventually sending him to the US to be trained under a leading coach.
As parents, are we walking alongside our kids and supporting them
in all that they want to do? Difficult questions for difficult times.
I strongly believe that parental support was a strong reason for Schooling's success. Moments after winning the race, Joseph called his father, who affirmed him strongly: "Son I love you, you've done the nation very proud." And the 21-year-old responded: "I love you too Dad." Even before the race both parents were strong in their support for him, with the father declaring, "I want you to stun the world" and the mother stating: "If all goes well, Singapore will rejoice with us."

I have been running a parenting workshop on "How to Help Your Child Succeed". The premise of that workshop is that grades are no indicators of a child's future success in life. What's important is for parents to learn how to communicate with their children and how to help them develop a love for what they want to do; supporting them as the kids inch closer to their personal goals.

Joseph Schooling's parents clearly had the end in mind as they chose to support their 6-year-old child in the "crazy" dream he had. Consider that Singapore is such a small country with a minuscule population in comparison to other demographical greats such as the USA. What makes someone in Singapore dare to dream that he or she could be on par with America, the leading country in the world! But the Schoolings believed in their son; to the point of sending him overseas to learn from the best, in the way that they felt would help him achieve his goals.

I have the privilege of speaking to parents from all segments of the population. One question I often ask them is: "Do you know what you child likes to do?" or "What is your child's favourite hobby?" The sad thing is that most parents are not able to answer my question, even if their child is as old as 6 or even 10! If we don't know and understand our children, how can we help they realise their dreams and to achieve self actualisation?
I've spoken to many parents at the end of my workshops. While some of them have a clear picture
on how to help their kids, many appear clueless, and it is so sad to hear their stories. 
I believe another key reason for Joseph's success was his dogged determination to achieve his goals no matter the cost. Indeed his father recalls how he would go for training rain or shine; and even though he did not have enough sleep. In today's society, how many of our children are as resolute and disciplined as Joseph Schooling? How many of our young people possess the resilience that will bring them through to the end? That is something I share with the young people I talk to during my career guidance workshops. And I can see many of their eyes light up when I tell them that passion without focus is dead. We have to teach our kids the importance of perseverance; and not to give up even when the going gets tough!

Our two sons Z and E are now 6 and 4 respectively. Before their birthday last month, both boys had very specific requests for their birthday presents. For Z, he asked us to help him build a real water playground, complete with tilting buckets and all related paraphernalia. We knew that was largely a result of his desire to become an architect when he grows up. As for little E, he asked specifically for a dead frog, a dead scallop and a dead crayfish; complete with a real scalpel - he wants to personally dissect those animals so that we can examine them clearly. As parents, we were more than slightly amused by their requests, but we have taken them seriously even though both of us know next to nothing about construction and dissection. 
Our two little boys, whom we are so very proud of!
Just yesterday I told my wife the story of a world-famous architect. This Nobel Prize winner was apparently responsible for a massive integrated entertainment resort in Asia. At the centre of the complex was a gigantic water playground, and it was flanked by a zoo, a farm and a bird park. I told Sue that the architect had dreamt of such a structure since he was 6; and that he had even come up with the plans for the resort at that age. My wife was very curious and asked me who this famous architect was. With tears in my eyes, I smiled, "His name is Z Lim; and I am so very proud of him."

Yes, my dear sons. Your dreams are your destiny. May us, your parents, always help you to reach towards your goal. May you fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Changes & Choices: The Primary School Consideration

There was a burning question that was at the back of our mind; it had been there for awhile, since the beginning of the year, but it grew more and more pronounced as the dates grew nearer. Then about a few weeks ago, the question came to the forefront of our consciousness, as the dates of the Primary One Registration drew nearer: Should we enrol our older son Z into Primary One? 

Yes we had made the decision to homeschool our kids even before either of them arrived; and yes we have been preparing ourselves mentally and emotionally to start the application process that could get Z exempted from compulsory education. But the question was especially difficult since I had come from a wonderful school with a rich history and a strong Christian tradition. What if my sons "lose out" from experiencing the education that I had gone through? After all, it could do no harm if we just showed up at my Alma Mater during the Phase 2A stage of the Primary One Registration Process, and secured my son a place there. We could always change our minds and chosen to reject the offer later. 

Even as I write this article, my senses are rife with the deep emotional bonds I have had with my old school. Our school spirit is so strong that if any alumnus was to spontaneously stand up and to sing the school anthem in the middle of a crowded auditorium, that every other old boy in the room would also rise up and join him! It is a common identity that we share as old boys, based on many precious shared memories; and this deep "patriotism" often translates into strong networking ties among us former students, long after we had graduated from the school. 
Our older son's Classical Conversations homeschooling community.
This will be his alma mater!
The younger son learning how to make paints from natural substances.
Here he is conscientiously pounding chalk to create our own paints.
Yet there are other considerations besides "school spirit"; and one major decision was whether we wanted our children to be part of the education system that we had grown up with. And that answer was for us a unanimous "No!"

Consider the recent revamp of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). As educationalists, we were hopeful when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the system was going to be changed during a previous year's National Day Rally speech. Although we had hoped for the entire exam to be scrapped, but we felt that there was at least going to be some hope for the future of our children. However the Ministry of Education (MOE) announcement this week on the new Achievement Level (AL) system left both Sue and I feeling very disappointed.
The boys embarking on nature studies on their own accord. What better way for
kids to learn than to get them interested in their own pursuits?
While there were changes in the way students are assessed, from a peer-benchmarked system to an individually-assessed system, many of the PSLE's fundamental principles remain the same.

From our perspective as parents, and as educationalists who work with many academically weak students, we are most concerned with the narrow mark discrimination between the top bands as well as the huge mark range in the middle. 

For starters, the term "Achievement Level" is something we are not comfortable with. The PSLE revamp was intended to help foster a more holistic education system and help reduce stress among children taking the exam. How does a Level indicator bring about these changes? Especially since it portrays a myopic mindset regarding the efforts of students, diminishing their value to that of a mere number, and negating the more holistic considerations that an education brings. And what about students who do not score well in their academics? Does it mean that they have failed to "achieve" success in their education?

Considering the new system in greater detail, the narrow mark discrimination in the upper bands will result in an increased level of anxiety among parents and children, causing them to be pressured upwards towards a higher AL, especially since there is an illusory perception that it might be easier numerically to push a child from a Band 3 to a Band 2 as compared to a corresponding movement from Band 6 to Band 5. MOE's reply that the "majority" of students do well in the PSLE is also not comforting, given the many students we meet in our day-to-day work. These are not the top elite in Singapore, who lose sleep over the catastrophe that they did not make Band 1. These are the common majority, who struggle just to "pass" their exams, and to hopefully carve out a better future for themselves. We fear that the new system will not work for them, and that they will get further frustrated trying to better themselves from a Band 6 to a Band 5 and from a Band 5 to a Band 4. 

But education is not just about grades and academic achievement. I can understand the MOE's preoccupation with assessment and about channeling students from one academic stream to another. While the concept of academic meritocracy and achievement levels seems at odds with another idea that "every school is a good school", the PSLE does serve its function of streaming students into their allocated "lot" in life. In that respect, the normal curve effect of the new PSLE assessment will be effective. Top students will get into institutions of their choice. But these choices will be closed off for most of those in the lower academic strata of society, who will be banded into schools that they did not choose. That, to me, is the saddest part of the entire exercise. We seem to have headed back to the beginning of this entire PSLE rigamarole. 
Our younger son's fascination with the Venus Fly Trap first occurred during a nature hike
when he saw his first carnivorous plant. Now he is extremely interested in the mechanisms
of how plants are actually able to trap and digest insects.
Our older son will be of Primary School age next year. And as much as it is tempting to consider an option where he enters the school of my childhood, Sue and I both feel that the education system as a whole is not something we want him to be part of. 

Education should not all be about grades and assessment, and little Z would have been thrown right into such a system if he entered a mainstream school next year. 
"Mummy, can we do school?" asks the little boy. And this question has been asked on so many
different occasions;  not only at home in the afternoons,
but also during our travels overseas - in a busy shopping mall, and in our hotel room.
This is truly the essence of what a holistic approach to education should be all about!
We know that we are blessed to be able to even consider the choice of homeschooling our children, an option that not every parent is able to consider from a financial point of view; and for that we are grateful.

Since we have been given the privilege of making such a choice, we will aspire for our school to be about learning and about creativity; about exploring and about adventure. It will be about character-development and about resilience-building. And our school will be fun; for that is the premise that will drive our kids towards a stronger desire to learn; and towards having an education of a lifetime!