When parents pack their preschoolers’ days with enrichment classes, are they helping their children or overloading them? Mrs Peggy Chan of Maha Bodhi School explains why anxious parents need to relax.
Just how much does a child need to know in order to be ready for Primary 1?
Preschool and lower primary educators often remind parents that what is more important for their children entering Primary 1 are soft skills such as self-control and getting along with their friends. But parents are naturally concerned about their children’s book smarts too.
They see all kinds of enrichment classes springing up around them and wonder if their preschooler should be learning a third language and competing in an Olympiad too. If their friends’ kids have schedules that are packed to the brim, they worry when their children have an hour of free time.
As preschools each have its own curriculum, children also enter primary school with varying levels of academic readiness. Some parents may feel concerned enough about this as to sign their children up for “academic-type” classes such as math brain training, science workshops or creative writing. They may even buy textbooks ahead of time for pre-reading. As they say, the FOMO – fear of missing out – can be very real.
The good news is, there is no need for anxiety, says Mrs Peggy Chan, a Senior Teacher (Lower Primary) of Maha Bodhi School, who has taught lower primary students for 19 years. In fact, when parents load up on classes, they may end up over-preparing their child for Primary 1.
What should my preschooler know?
As a guide, when it comes to language, students entering P1 should know the alphabet, be able to express their basic needs in English, and ask and answer simple questions. They should also be able to count up to 10, and have a basic understanding of numbers.
Apart from that, “parents need not be too concerned as there is sufficient time for children to pick up what they need to know academically in primary school. Instead, parents should help their children develop a joy for learning, encourage them to forge friendships, and promote their wonder about the world around them”, says Mrs Chan. Underscoring this is the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) removal of examinations for Primary 1 and 2, so students can focus on settling into school life.
“The children will need time to adapt to learning in a bigger classroom setting, with more classmates, and only one teacher in class at a time. Also, learning more subjects can be quite trying for some children with longer hours in school during this period of time,” explains Mrs Chan. She assures that primary schools put in considerable effort to help pre-schoolers adjust to their new school life.
Overpreparing may hinder learning
When parents seek to give children that proverbial headstart in primary school, the child may be equipped with knowledge ahead of what is being covered in school; they may be assuring to the parent, but backfire for the child.
“Why must I do this again when I already know how to?” the child may wonder as boredom and impatience with school sets in. When he loses focus, he may listen selectively according to what interests him, and miss out on other important details of the lesson. He may also grow careless with his schoolwork or become disruptive to his classmates.
Children with packed schedules may also be over-stretched and fatigued.
The joy of learning, active participation in class, and the chance to grow cherished relationships and experiences in one’s growing up years, may be compromised early in the game.
What if my child is a fast learner?
If indeed the child has picked up on topics ahead of his or her peers, and enjoys a fuller schedule, parents can still “occupy” their child by teaching values and skills which develop the child into a better citizen or leader for tomorrow, such as to help their classmates out, lead group discussions, and seek new knowledge by reading widely and taking up hobbies.
To stave off boredom, parents also need to stay two steps ahead to sustain their child’s learning. When playing at the park, for example, parents can have their child observe the kicking, jumping and cycling movements around his or her own skill and have discussion on improving the psychomotor skills. A mathematically inclined child could be encouraged to create mazes or solve fun puzzles.
“Every child needs time to rest, grow, play and be happy,” says Mrs Chan. “Give your child time and space to learn, observe the things around us so that we do not kill the joy of learning. In the long run, students who maintain a positive attitude in learning become good role models, be intrinsically motivated and continue to excel holistically.”
Does this sound like your child?
Mrs Chan shares two cases of students whom she considered were too prepped for school:
Student A: Exhaustion led to rejection of learning
Ava had her days filled up with tuition and enrichment classes for dance, piano, swimming and abacus since pre-school. Her parents had signed her up for the classes to keep her occupied.
At the start of Primary 1, Ava was a happy and outspoken student. By term 2, she started napping in class and stopped contributing to the classroom chatter. When Mrs Chan asked her why,
Ava said she felt tired from all her activities. By term 3, Ava would cry and reject going to school. Only when her parents sat down with Ava to work out a fresh timetable, that came with adequate time to play and rest, did Ava bounce back to her normal self.
Student B: Boredom led to shortcuts
Bill was a fast learner who attended enrichment classes for all subjects. Hence, he was learning Primary 4 Mathematics at Primary 1, for example, and would not show any workings and equations to his sums. Showing the steps was meant to pen down the metacognition in the learner’s brain.
Instead, Bill worked his sums mentally, completed his assignments quickly, then asked his classmates to copy his answers. In time, he found school “too easy”, lost interest in his studies and started to make careless mistakes with his poor writing.
Mrs Chan informed Bill’s parents that not showing algorithmic workings or equations could result in him losing marks at his future exams. When his parents took a closer look at all his work, they realised that he was completing all the sums mentally. When they insisted that Bill should pen down all the steps, he refused. Both parties struggled. It took six months before Bill cultivated the right math habits. That was when his parents realised that they were over-preparing him. The greater lessons, including learning to follow instructions and to think and grow as a team, would be lost too.
“Do we really want to stretch our child like a rubber band, and to what extent so that he or she does not snap?” says Mrs Chan. “Let’s give children the opportunity to learn the right approach at the age-appropriate years.”