Recess is a time to eat - and play! The Recess Freeplay programme includes options such as Jenga.
It felt almost like a rock concert. The crowd was full of energy and on their feet, waving their hands in the air. They knew the words to every song. When the magic words, "Who wants to come on stage?" were uttered, everyone started clamouring for a coveted spot on the platform.
Never mind that these were just seven-year-old pupils. On a Wednesday afternoon at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Primary) (PLMGS), the Grow in Faith and Truth (GIFT) programme was in full swing. It's designed to promote desirable values through games, story-telling and songs, and is carried out by parent volunteers.
Believing that the home and school spheres should overlap, parent volunteer Mrs Renee Wee-van de Bult observes, "I see how much the children enjoy it when you are around and how they cherish the fact that you are interested in what is going on in school." Fellow parent volunteer Mrs Christina Chai adds that the children benefit from having the "Aunties" around, as their presence shows that "we are here to support you as a parent, and also as your friends."
The GIFT programme is just one of many in place at PLMGS to promote better physical, social, mental and emotional well-being in the school community. Little wonder that the school's efforts have garnered them the Platinum CHERISH (CHampioning Efforts Resulting in Improved School Health) award from the Health Promotion Board, which recognises schools that have comprehensive programmes to foster good physical, social and emotional health. This caps off PLMGS's previous achievement: attaining the Gold CHERISH award for two CHERISH cycles (i.e. four years).
During Recess Freeplay, pupils can stretch their muscles and have fun with friends, before returning to the classroom.
Champions for healthy lifestyle
In terms of promoting better physical health, one of the school's cornerstone programmes is Recess Free Play. During recess time, pupils can choose to participate in a range of novel new games such as scoop ball, big foot striders and roller boards, alongside familiar favourites such as soccer, badminton and volleyball.
Leading the charge towards a healthier lifestyle are the school's Pupil Health Ambassadors, or Sporty Pals. These Pri 5 pupils go by the mantra of "keeping fit while having fun" as they plan activities to promote a greater sense of well-being among their peers. A captain's ball tournament is currently in the works, to be played during recess time by Pri 5 pupils. "When we see others having fun during the activities we organise, we have fun too!" enthuses Pri 5 pupil and Sporty Pal Danisha Liang Yi Fang. Fellow Sport Pal Mathena Vaythamanickam adds, "We also encourage our Sporty Pal members to encourage others."
Pupils were rapt listeners during a storytelling session by parent volunteer Mrs Renee Wee-van de Bult, as part of the GIFT programme.
Beyond just their peers, Pri 5 pupil and Sporty Pal Sherilyn Tan describes how they help to raise awareness of healthy living among kindergarten pupils. "We planned games for them but they found it hard to catch the ball. So we had to run with them and hold their hands, and we ended up exercising too!" she enthuses. Another approach was to use art to convey the message of eating more vegetables, such as by guiding their young charges to create bookmark designs using cut vegetables dipped in paint.
Better health, holistically
On hand to address the pupils' emotional issues is the full-time school counsellor Mrs Koh Eng Keng. "When they move from the afternoon session to the morning session in Pri 3, the current Pri 2 pupils experience many changes, no longer having the same classes and teachers," she explains. "I help them anticipate these changes, and when they are in Pri 3, I hear from them to find out if they are adjusting to the new environment and facing a smooth transition." Understanding the pressures they face in sitting for their PSLE, Mrs Koh also makes sure she is always there for the Pri 6 pupils.
"Follow after me!" says parent volunteer "Auntie Lily", leading a song-and-dance session.
Perhaps the best evidence of the school's success in developing the students holistically and instilling the importance of a healthy lifestyle amongst its students is that the lessons do not stop when they leave the school gates. Now the self-appointed and unofficial "health ambassador" of her family, Mathena says, "I always tell my sister that she should not skip meals. Just choose the healthier options!"