READ... at all costs

Last week, there was an online article on a primary school in the west that reportedly made its pupils bring a book with them to recess in order to be allowed to eat (“Pupils forced to read during recess, or starve”, Asiaone Edvantage, 4 August 11).

The story said that the students were required to read while queuing to go back to class after recess. With few other details given, it got me wondering:

Do the teachers/prefects check each student before allowing them to enter the canteen?

What happens if a student honestly forgets a book? Is there a stack of books on standby, like what happens when you turn up at an highbrow restaurant without a tie?

Exactly how long does it take for the students to queue up to go back? (Must be long enough that the students can get into their places, stop chatting and STILL read a few pages.)

What happened to using recess time just to eat, interact with friends and well, PLAY?

Though the above is more like a ‘book AFTER meals’ scenario, I’ve had my share of ‘book AT meals’ experiments. I used to make my kids bring a book whenever we ate out so as to keep them occupied while waiting at the table. This had moderate success but the 10-15 minutes of reading time just wasn’t worth the ensuing bother when the books got left behind, or survived with food stains and slight tears (yes the books also got fought over). I abandoned this idea altogether when I realised that these few stationary minutes were better spent chatting and catching up with my kids.

So, it intrigues me as to how, and why the school is doing this. Like a parent who commented during the article, I too question the worth of a hasty five minutes, more so when they’re reading while queuing. I’ve no doubt that under the threat of ‘no book, no eating’, the students will toe the line, but I’m inclined to consider any benefits from this exercise at face value.

What do YOU think of this school’s policy? Do you try to find pockets of reading time for your children, and how do you do it?

Do share your thoughts with us.

Pay for an A?

motivatingstudentsWith the exams looming just around the corner, how far would you go to get good results?

Whether a parents falls into the ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’ category, one thing is certain: we’re unlikely to sit by and let things go with the flow. Too much is at stake nowadays for parents to just hope for the best.

One debatable issue is whether we should reward our children for good grades. But wait a minute – are we saying that we should reward our children for learning? It is one thing to want our children to enjoy school and develop a passion for learning, and another to expect them to get good results. Would that be asking for too much, considering the demands of the curriculum and the pressure cooker academic environment we associate with Singapore education? Forum pages and discussion blogs are littered with an all-too-common grouse – that our children are too stressed by the education system to really enjoy school. Even the language that we use, whether subconsciously or not, reinforces the notion that education in Singapore is a task. How often do we say ‘what did you learn today?’ as opposed to ‘Have you done your homework’?

Therefore, since working adults get paid for the tasks they do, those who use the ‘carrot’ method believe that children should also be rewarded in some way for doing a good ‘job’ of their studies. However, using cash - as opposed to buying kids a computer, gaming device or going on a holiday – further divides pro-reward parents into 2 camps. Rewarding kids with cash empowers them to manage their own money, but some worry that this not only encourages children to be money-minded but also indirectly teaches them that everything can be translated into monetary terms.

I say: there are enough lessons rooted in reality to teach us about life’s intangibles and money’s role in the wider scheme of things. In the wake of the Japan earthquake tragedy, my children realised that no amount of money can save a loved one from being swept away, but money from goodwill donations can gradually help to get a struggling village back on its feet.

Now the cons - some researchers have found that attaching a cash reward to tasks can effectively remove any internal motivation for doing such tasks, whether for enjoyment or sense of obligation. Hence, once such a system is in place, it would be very hard to encourage children to keep up their previous effort once the reward is taken away. In addition, things get even more complicated when dealing with children of different abilities. Would it seem fair to give more for an easily gotten A grade, and give less for a hard-won C grade?

I have no qualms about promising cash rewards for my children in return for decent grades, but I do impose a condition – that a portion of the money be saved, and that they discuss with me what they intend to do with it. As for the challenge of ensuring fairness, perhaps one solution lies in rewarding effort rather than actual result. In this way, an above-average child can be set more difficult tasks that will pose a greater challenge.

Do YOU believe in paying for good grades? Do share your experience with us.

11 resolutions to AVOID in 2011

resolutionsThe beginning of the year is often a time for resolutions. However, making resolutions and keeping them are totally separate matters! In addition, some believe that instead of making a resolution that would be difficult to keep, it would be better NOT to make any resolutions at all.

I was reflecting on some "tricky" resolutions that many of us grapple with each year without fail - why are they so difficult to keep?
I've put some of them here, together with thoughts on how we could re-phrase, rethink and re-strategise -  so as to turn them from hopes and dreams, into reality.

I will do better in school this year

From the very beginning, zoom in on troublespots in subjects or set specific objectives. For example, aim to ‘cut down on commonly made careless mistakes to less than 3’, or ‘increase marks for Maths Paper 2 by at least 20%’.

2. I will save more money

Both parents and children will find this difficult if they don’t set specific targets. After deducting expenses, decide on how much you want to save each month, or even each week. Creating frequent, smaller targets is easier than setting yourself a large ballpark figure.

3. I will exercise more

Make this resolution an achieveable one by deciding how and when you want to include exercise-related activities in your daily schedule. For example, aim to include a 15-minute walk every evening, a game of badminton with your children twice a week, and so on. 

4. I will lose weight

This is one resolution that is usually dependent on a lot of other resolutions! You need to do more than just target-setting to make this one a success. Look at and manage other aspects of behaviour and lifestyle that will affect you or your child’s chances of success: how much exercise are you planning to do? What types of food do you tend to eat?

5. I will not spend so much on toys

It is easy to tell this to your child, but just as importantly, you need to find incentives or implement complementary habits. Perhaps it is not so much on how much your child spends on toys, but the quality of these toys or long-term playing value.

6. I will eat fewer sweets and chocolates

A sweet-toothed person may not take too well to this resolution, but you can turn it into a positive by saying, ‘I will be more careful in choosing the snacks I eat’. For example, instead of chomping on an entire sugar-laden candy bar, choose to savour a piece of handmade Belgian chocolate! 

7. I will stop fighting with my brother/sisters

Parents often wish that their squabbling children would stop fighting with one another! Instead of focusing on the negative aspects, turn this resolution into a positive one by saying ‘I will find more meaningful and enjoyable activities to do with my siblings’. Many parents find that when they children start to enjoy each other’s time in meaningful activities or simple projects, they do get along better.

8. I will do more reading

To make this possible, you MUST set aside time to read, and make it easier too by having your reading materials on hand. Take a good look at you or your child’s schedule and see when you can slot in ‘family reading’ time. Have a book in your bag at all times or switch to e-books – you’ll be able to carry an assortment of reading material with you anytime, anywhere. 

9. I will watch less TV

To make this one work, you need to figure out what you’ve’ been watching and when. Find alternative activities or make some adjustments to your daily routine. For example, if you have a habit of turning on the TV during meals, why not switch to some soothing music instead that will allow you to concentrate on the food and chat with your children? In addition, what you watch is just as important. By choosing to focus on improving the quality, rather than quantity of TV content that you are watching, for example, more documentaries and non-fiction programmes, you’ll be enriching your family life as well. 

10. I will spend more time with my children

To make this a reality, take a good look at both yours and your children’s schedule, and what they like to do. If setting aside specific time periods for ‘family activities’ proves difficult, quality time can be inserted in so many ways – making it a point to have dinner each day as a family, giving each child some ‘private time’ with you for a walk, a drive or a stroll, and so on. 

11. I will keep my resolutions next year
If you’ve been going through this list, you’ll see a definite pattern of steps that can help you to review and keep your resolutions – refocusing, turning negatives into positives, target-setting and studying related behaviours and activities. Hopefully, you will be able to drop THIS resolution from your list next year!

Do you have other resolution-making tips? What do you think is the hardest resolution to make? Do share your thoughts with us.

i-Connect with your child
boy_ipadIn the last six days, we've been busy sharing with BookFest visitors a preview of upcoming POPULAR content on iPad. The children are attracted to the bright displays, but it is their parents' feedback that will come in handy to help us decide on future offerings for iPad.

Children take to digital devices with such ease and intuitiveness that it puts  adults to shame. Yet, if we don't get up to speed with what they're up to, we would have lost another way to reach out to and connect with our kids. Though digital games, or rather, the addiction to them are the bane of many a frustrated parent, on the flipside, you can find some surprises. In my household, my 'Tom and Jerry' boys aged 6 and 10 can be found squabbling more often than not, and peace on the homefront is usually cause for suspicion! However, one particularly quiet evening last weekend, I was curious enough to see what the  two bent heads were doing. It turns out that they were trying to work out the best way to to 'Cut the Rope'.  This is a popular iPhone game where the objective is to feed a green monster with candy balls suspended from ropes in various ways. For once, the kids were working WITH each other instead of against.. a pleasant sight to behold. (Er...I've become quite a fan of the game myself).

I don't think digital games will ever have the same fascination for me as they do for the kids, but I've found that showing an interest in them, or even displaying prowess in one or two, can go a long way in raising our 'cool parent factor'. Plus, you'll know if they're trying to pull a fast one when they tell you 'this round is only going to take 5 minutes' Cool

Do you play digital games with your children? Do share your experiences with us.

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Term 3 Week 9 EduTip

Use the 4Rs technique to remember facts and figures – read the information or fact, rewrite or summarise, commit it to memory, and then try to recall it by reciting it out loud or writing it out. For more revision tips, click here.