Mrs Ong demonstrates the right way to greet one's elders during Chinese New Year.
Pri 2 pupils of Canberra Primary School could have been forgiven for thinking Chinese New Year had come a week early. During curriculum time in January, their Chinese language teachers brought them to the school hall - and there, brightly decorated, were six booths featuring Chinese New Year ornaments and goodies.
The booths were manned by parent-volunteers such as Mrs Chris Ong, whose son Axell Ong is a Pri 2 pupil. She was in charge of a booth featuring tidbits associated with the New Year. "We introduced the food to one class at a time, and I enjoyed the opportunity to relate to my son's friends at a different level when I spoke to them about the New Year goodies and their significance," she says. "Those who knew me as Axell's mother saw me as a parent-educator and presenter that day. We could still connect, but on another level."
And connect they did, as the seven Pri 2 classes learnt about Chinese customs and culture, traditional New Year food and the reunion dinner. Spending about 15 minutes at each booth, the pupils built on their knowledge of auspicious couplets (chun lian), lucky star knots, red scrolls, ang pows and the correct etiquette for greeting their elders.
Pupils show their appreciation by presenting tokens to their parents.
Among the food booths, one featured new Year cakes (nian gao), yusheng, Teochew sweets, waxed duck and abalone. Another showcased the importance of the reunion dinner and typical steamboat ingredients. it wasn't just all show and tell, either - pupils could also take part in quizzes and food-tasting sessions after each presentation.
Lessons come to life
This Chinese New Year activity was just the latest in the school's efforts to engage parents in its Chinese language programmes for lower primary pupils. For the third year running, the school is drawing parents in as partners in education. "They can help in the pupils' holistic development and provide support in their learning and development," says Mdm Gina Kuan Yen Ling, Level Head for Pri 1 and 2, Chinese Language in the Mother Tongue Department.
In 2007 and 2008, parent-volunteers brought to life selected stories from the pupils' Chinese-language reading list. "The parents have almost completely taken over the language reading programme since 2008," reveals Mdm Kuan. "They chose the stage backdrop, props, costumes and music for the skits - they've even changed the script we prepared for them."
Mrs Lim donned a beak and crown in previous years to play the role of a cockerel; Mr Leong is another regular volunteer.
One parent-volunteer who's been involved for the past two years is Mrs Val Lim, whose son Dayton is now in Pri 3. To make learning fun for him and his schoolmates since he entered Pri 1, she has donned a red beak and crown, attached dolls to her clothing ¬and stuck her hand into a puppet.
"Last year, we had a skit that focused on good morals," she recalls. "Although the teacher gave us a script, we adapted it to fit the learning environment because we wanted to encourage pupil participation. For example, at the end of the skit, when we needed more characters, the pupils were invited onstage to join us. To maximise the effect of the lesson (in morals), after we've completed the skit, we asked the pupils to take over and act out the story."
Reflecting on the experience, Mrs Lim adds, "I think such parent participation and pupil involvement help the children to learn better. The novelty factor and the way the activity helps to reinforce their learning of vocabulary raises their interest levels. They can absorb the information more quickly." She hopes that in future, the pupils will take the lead in such presentations as they can learn about and practise teamwork and cooperation.
Parents helping pupils get into character for a Chinese-language skit in 2007.
Both Mrs Ong and Mrs Lim enjoyed their stints as parent-volunteers in the Chinese-language programmes, as they feel that they have contributed to the pupils' development. Their sons are also very proud that their moms got involved. "If it fits into my schedule, I'll be happy to volunteer my services again," says Mrs Ong, who has a full-time job.
For Mrs Lim, volunteering is a must this year as her second son Darwyn has just enrolled in the school. "But I've returned to the workforce, so my husband might be the volunteer this year. We've been watching the skits on the videos the school made for us. It's a great way to bond with the family as we all enjoy a good laugh together!"