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Learn to Play, Play to Learn

28 Oct 2015

Parent support group, Casuarina Primary School

Farzana Begum is supportive of her daughters’ interests and encourages them to pursue their passions.

Joining a Parent Support Group helps restore a mother's faith in the value of learning while opening her eyes to the fact that school can be fun. 

As a child, Farzana Begum hated school.

“As a single parent, my father wanted the best for us, especially in education,” the 36-year-old mother of three says. Besides the daily grind of homework and revision, she had tuition classes for all her subjects thrice a week, on top of enrichment classes like computer lessons which her father thought would give her an edge. “It was so overwhelming I started to push it away.”

It wasn’t until her eldest daughter Neelufer Zahra, now 10, enrolled at Casuarina Primary School that Mdm Farzana started seeing school in a different light. “I love how the school gives her exposure to different areas like the arts and sciences. They promote a lot of learning through play,” she says.

Whether it’s bringing home mealworms and watching them morph into beetles for Science or creating scrapbooks for English, Mdm Farzana likes how the school makes learning fun.

And when she started volunteering at the school three years ago, Mdm Farzana, who is now the vice-chair of the Parents Support Group (PSG), realised the school’s philosophy of engaging students through play often extends beyond the classroom.

Take the school’s Math Activity Day for example, where kids learn key concepts like weight and skills like multiplication by playing games at booths in the canteen – manned by Mdm Farzana and her team of parent volunteers.

“The kids work in a team to solve the problems and they collect stamps from each booth, which they can exchange for prizes later,” she says. One of the booths she ran incorporated the game tic-tac-toe, which was a hit with the younger ones. “In order to make a move, they first have to solve a mental sum,” she says. “It taught me how we can make learning fun for the kids and I’m able to help my kids better when they have questions at home.”

With the school’s support, the PSG also introduced a parent storytelling programme where students can spend their recess time at the library listening to a story or doing some simple crafts. Mdm Farzana is in charge of planning the calendar of library activities. “It’s a fun way to spark their interest in books and reading.”

Most of all, she appreciates how the school “promotes a lot of bonding between parents and kids”. Every Father’s Day, the school, with the help of the PSG, organises a fun activity for dads and their children, be it kite-flying, chocolate-making or bowling. Every other month, the PSG also organises a movie night where they encourage parents and children to bond over a blockbuster and some simple snacks. “I get my husband to help out with these activities whenever he can. When my daughters see him in school, their faces always light up,” Mdm Farzana says.

It’s a far cry from school back in her day when parent involvement wasn’t as common. “During my time, parents only came to school when you were in trouble or when you had done extremely well. Those of us who were in between were somewhat invisible,” she says. “Today, parents have more opportunities to be part of their kids’ growing up years.”

By taking part in the school activities, she gets to bond with her kids and more importantly, get to know their friends. “When my daughters tell me what’s happening in school with their friends, I can relate to it. They feel comfortable to let me know when they quarrel with friends,” she adds. “And I take the chance to teach them how to resolve conflicts.”

For Mdm Farzana, being a parent volunteer has changed her view of what school and learning can be. “It’s not a prison,” she says. “It’s more like a playground for kids where they get to do a lot of fun stuff.”

It has also made her a better parent. Through networking with the teachers and other families in the PSG, Mdm Farzana has gleaned useful parenting skills and ideas on how to make learning fun at home.

She used to avoid answering the endless questions put to her by youngest daughter Roushana, 6. Heeding the advice of her PSG peers, she now takes the time to research the answers. Speaking with another parent led to her decision to let her eldest daughter Neelufer start a blog. “I thought that it was a good way to help improve her composition skills,” she says.

While grades are important, Mdm Farzana believes building life and social skills is just as critical. “During my time, school was really just about books and exams. When you are asked to talk about yourself during a job interview, you’re at a loss for words.”

After school, she encourages free play as soon as homework is done. Her daughters only have tuition for subjects they need extra help in like Chinese and Maths. Mdm Farzana is supportive of her daughters’ interests.

Neelufer started expressing her interest in becoming a fashion designer when she was five. Last December, Mdm Farzana bought Neelufer a kid’s sewing machine so she could make little dresses for her dolls. When her daughters jumped onto the loom bandwagon, weaving multi-coloured rubber bands into eye-catching bags, pencil cases and accessories, she encouraged them to start a DIY YouTube channel to teach others how to do the same. The girls also turned it into a little business for extra pocket money.

At times, she even shares a small corner of her booth at flea markets with the budding entrepreneurs so that they can experience first-hand what it takes to do well in business.

“They learn patience while waiting for customers,” Mdm Farzana says. “This way, they know it’s not easy making money.”

She tries to turn everything her daughters do into a learning experience. “I want them to try as many things as they can when they’re young,” she says. “If you don’t try, you might never know if you’re good at something.”

And personally, she’s glad she gave volunteering at school a shot. She has gained a better understanding of the school curriculum through organising activities for kids. “You get to know in-depth what they do in school. It’s a two-way thing,” she says. “Even parents learn.”