Primary 1 Adjustments

I figured perhaps there would be parents out there who have kids who are going to Primary One next year (or soon) who may like to know what kind of adjustments they can expect come January. I have been through the P1 “baptism of fire” once and it was quite a culture shock for both the kid and the mom. So I am going to write about our experience in a nutshell. I will write about the adjustments we went through as well as some of the things which I think is helpful to do. Bear in mind that the experience will vary from person to person, from kid to kid, and from school to school.

1. Waking Up

If your child is going to be in the morning session or going to a single session school, the very first and major adjustment is wake-up time. Kids in primary school wake up as early as 5:30am or even earlier, depending on how far the home is from the school. If you and/or your child are not earlier risers, then you might want to consider starting to adjust your body clock slowly in December.

2. No more ‘sayang, sayang’

“Sayang” means caring and loving, which kids get lots of in preschool, even if it is not obvious. They get more attention from teachers and parents and their feelings always taken into consideration. Some preschool teachers are especially loving towards their young charge. Things are very different in the primary school, where the kids are taught to conform to rules and expectations, and ensuring the the smooth running of classroom affairs takes precedence over a lot of petty issues. A typical preschool class size is about half that of the primary school. It is inevitable that the child has to learn to fend for himself more because the teacher can hardly spare the time and attention on individual kids. This can be quite a culture shock for a child who is used to getting a lot of attention from his preschool teachers and parents.

3. Greater Conformity

A greater extent of conformity is expected in primary school compared to preschool. There are more rules to follow and rules are unlike those in the preschool in that they are meant to be strictly followed and not broken according to the whims and fancies of the child or the parent. For instance, in some childcare centres, even though the child is expected to wear the uniform, most of the time, teachers won’t raise an issue if the child occasionally wears other clothes to school. This can never happen in the primary school.

4. Less Communication Between Teacher and Parents

Although this may not be the case for all schools, or all teachers, I find that generally, compared to preschool schools, the channel of communications between parents and teachers are not as opened in the primary school. You may have emails or phone numbers of the teachers but it is not unusual for parents to experience unreplied emails and unreturned calls. Younger teachers tend to be easier to get in touch with, perhaps because of their affinity for technology such as emails and blogs, and them being in the generation where being constantly in touch is a norm rather than the exception. You are likely to still come across “old school” teachers who aren’t very proactive in interacting with the parents. Some schools also don’t conduct regular parent-teacher meeting. Some only have parent-teacher meetings for ‘problem students’. I found that I had to do more to make myself heard.

5. Greater Amount of Work

This goes without saying. In preschool, there is hardly any homework. In primary school, you can expect to have more homework. A lot of schools now do not have exams for Primary 1 and 2 students. But there will be many, many ‘mini tests’ in between instead. Frankly, I do not know which is worse.

6. Greater Independence Required

Your child will need to learn to buy food from the canteen (hence, how to use money is also something that you have to teach quickly), take care of himself in school, take care of his property (school books and stationary). Teacher is not going to pack his bag for him, mommy should not be packing his school bag for him, and he has to learn to be accountable for his possessions. Please train him to be independent. You are doing a disservice to your child if you continue to do things like going to the canteen during recess to help him get a place to sit, buy food for him, pack his bag for him, etc. He will become a laughingstock among his friends. If he is not embarrassed by this, it is also a problem in itself.

It is not very easy to list everything down in neat little bullet points. The above are just some of the more obvious. I found myself learning to work around the system rather than with the system, and I found myself having to teach my son to do the same. That was after spending some time being very frustrated with the system and getting nowhere. E.g. if he had a dispute with his friend and could not get a satisfactory settlement through the teacher, what should he do? The common refrain that I get from him whenever I asked him to ‘just tell the teacher’ was “but she won’t listen to me!” So basically, I had to teach him how to fend for himself instead of reporting everything to the teacher and hope that the teacher will resolve the issue for him (like what he was used to in the preschool).

I also had to teach him to work around situations and not sweat the small stuff. There was one time the school issued a letter to everyone, asking the parents to let their kids bring a healthy snack, e.g. sandwiches, to school on a certain day for ‘Healthy Eating’ programme. I had been packing bento snack boxes for my boy everyday, so that was no big deal. On the “Healthy Eating” day, I packed the usual snack box – most definitely healthy stuff – only to have my boy come home to tell me that he was told off by the teacher because he did not bring a sandwich. Duh!

For a P1 kid, being told off by the teacher was a very big deal. So once again, I had to manage the situation by explaining to him that first of all, not all sandwiches are healthy; secondly, he didn’t have to feel bad because he did not do anything wrong at all and that the problem was with the teacher’s definition of healthy food.

So that was another example of how we had to learn to work around situations and systems and find the ‘equilibrium’ ourselves. I won’t say that it is a bad thing. In fact, I see it positively as some kind of training for the real world where justice does not always prevail and one is bound to be met with some unfair or frustrating situation in one’s daily life.

Good Habits to Instill

My son was in the afternoon session when he was in P1 and I got this all the time from neighbours and other parents : how did I manage to get him to wake up early and finish his homework early such that he actually had time to play outdoors for an hour everyday before going to school?

Answer : Have a Daily Schedule. Start from Day 1.

This was my boy’s daily schedule :

7:15am – 8:15am : Wake up, wash up and have breakfast

8:15am – 10:15am : Do homework/revision

10:15am – 11:15am : Outdoor time

(A copy of the schedule can be downloaded here. You may modify it for your own use. The file is in .docx format.)

I was kind of surprised when I heard from so many parents that their kids would laze in bed until 9 to past 10am in the morning. By the time they woke up properly, had their breakfast (much as well be lunch), they hardly had time for homework, much less outdoor time. The parents were perpetually harried and rushing them to finish their lunch (no surprise there since the kids just had breakfast) and get ready for school.

You may prefer to have your kid do all the homework in the evening. Your child may be in the morning session instead of the afternoon session. Whatever the situation and preference may be, the key here is to have a set daily schedule and the schedule should be designed in such a way that play and me-time must always come after all the homework and revision is done.

Why is it useful to have a daily schedule? First of all, a child freshly out of preschool has no concept of time. In preschool, they basically follow their parents’ and teachers’ instruction to do A first, before B and then C, and finally D. They receive cues from teachers and from the activities they do. Many of them cannot even tell time properly. Even for those who can tell time, the concept of time is still very hazy to them. Hence, you battle over things like why 5 minutes seems so fast during play time whereas 15 minutes of study time seems so long. For the first 2 or 3 months, I had quite a bit of problem getting my son to ‘watch the clock’ because of his lack of understanding of the concept of time. But once he got it, things moved pretty smoothly. You may need to spend the first couple of month getting this done.

Secondly, if things are always happening the same way everyday, you don’t have to fight battles over when he can’t have tv today, or why he cannot play a little longer, etc. It is very tiring to constantly battle with your kid over tv time, computer time, play time. It is very tiring to deal with whining and temper tantrums all the time. If you allow tv before homework one day, then insist your kid finishes all his homework before tv another day, you will get all kinds of whining and tantrums all the time. If you stick to a schedule, soon, the kid will learn that things always happen this way (for good reasons) and there is no point whining and throwing up a fuss about it.

Simple rules like ‘finish all homework before play’ should be incorporated into the schedule and the rule strictly followed. Therefore, do no schedule tv time before homework time because it makes no sense. The other benefit is that the ‘play time’ becomes an incentive or punishment depending on how the child does for the work part. If he finishes his work quickly or in time, he gets to play. If not, he basically eats into his play time and will have less time to play. The kid will eventually learn this and your life will be much easier.

If you schedule 2 hours of work time everyday, try not to let play time eat too much into the work time. If you want to incentivise your child when he finishes his work fast, try not to let him have more play time at the expense of the work time. My reason for saying so is because school work is important. Apart from homework, consistent revision is necessary. You can’t leave all the revision to the last minute. If you tell your child that he can start playing the moment he finishes his homework, yes, he may do it quickly in order to get another 30 minutes of computer time. But it also means that he will not have done any revision. So it should always be homework and revision before play. Extra 15-20 minutes play time once in a while is fine. But keep it in mind that revision should be as consistent as possible. By guarding the ‘sanctity’ of work time, you are teaching your child that studies is important, not to be treated lightly.

If you are thinking : having a schedule is so draconian, let me remind you that your child’s school life is run by the bell. He is already following a schedule in school. There is no reason why he cannot follow a schedule at home.

Another thing is this : try not to get yourself into a trap that you have to be there, sitting by your child’s side for him to focus on his work. In the long run, you will resent this trap, especially if you have other children to attend to. This is where having a schedule helps too. The child knows the rules. The child will suffer the consequence if he did not finish his work in time. Hence, there is already motivation for him to focus on his work. Of course, you may need to remind him to focus on his work every now and then when you spot him daydreaming. He is, after all, still quite young. But avoid instilling the habit and succumb to ” mommy, I want you to sit next to me and help me” whines.

Another Mission : Help your child to help himself.

When I said earlier, not to succumb to your child’s plea for you to sit next to him all the time to help him with his homework, I am not suggesting that you do not help your child at all. You have to discern whether your child is really in need of your help or just conveniently expecting you to do his homework for him by saying ‘I don’t know’ all the time. Don’t help him to solve the problem and answer the question. Guide his thinking. Teach him how to think. If he has to find out what a word means before he can answer the question, then teach him how to use a dictionary. Teach him how to find out the answers for himself. Don’t spoon feed him everything. You can’t be there to help him for the rest of his study life.

Good skills to teach on the onset includes : how to use a dictionary, how to use the encyclopedia (if you have one), how to find answers from the internet. Right now my P3 boy knows that he has to exhaust every possible avenue of finding answers before he can come to me as a ‘genuine case’. Otherwise, I will just send him back to find answers by asking him “have you checked the meaning of this word yet?’, “have you check your guide book yet?”, etc. Sometimes, he doesn’t know where to find answers. Then I will point him in the right direction and let him find the answers himself.

The point is : we want our children to become independent learners. Therefore, we have to teach them the skills to become independent learners. Giving them the answers at the drop of the hat all the time isn’t going to achieve this. Sitting next to them like a human security blanket for them isn’t going to help either. Remind the kid that mommy (or daddy) won’t be able to be there in school for him all the time. In the beginning, when your child is adjusting to the primary school system, you may have to hold his hand a bit, lovingly sit next to him to guide him a bit. But always keep it in mind to “wean” him off as soon as you can.

No Bail Out

Kids are forgetful. It is not because they are naughty or bad. They are just kids and sometimes, they can’t hold too many thoughts in their head and they forget things. However, this is not an excuse for bail out. If your child forgets to bring his homework or textbook to school, for instance, do not bring it to school for him. Let him suffer the consequences. He will soon learn. If he forgets his allowance, let him go hungry. He won’t die from it. If he keeps losing his stationary and books, dock his allowance to get new ones.

Again, this is so that your child will grow towards independence and self-help. Our kids need to grow up. By bailing them out all the time, we are keeping them from growing up. This is not loving them.

Last Bit

There are many things you will encounter starting from the first day of Primary One. There will be many things to get used to, and many adjustments to be made. One thing important to remember : Be there for your child. Even in the midst of ‘independence training’ which I have described above, our kids need to know that we are there for them to help them through adjustments and school problems. When they come back complaining about their friends, don’t be quick to judge “what have you done to provoke him?”. When they are disappointed and complained that their teachers won’t listen to them, give them our ears. When they encounter problem with their school work, help them learn. They must know that we are here to help them, even if the form of help we render may not be exactly what they wish for.