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The Kids World 2017 Primary School Survival Guide

Thursday, 20.10.2016

In this two-part feature, seasoned mom of two Cheryl Sim gives you a comprehensive walkthrough of what you need to know, what to expect and what you might have overlooked for your child’s all-important, all-exciting, all-out primary school journey!

While it is true that the school year is at a close, it doesn’t matter—especially if your child is joining primary one next year, it’s likely you already are counting down to the big first day! And for the remaining parents with kids in primary school, there’s nothing like a reassuring heads-up before you hunker down for the holidays ahead.

Indeed, whether your child is stepping out in primary one next year, or whether he’s a few years in as a lower or upper primary pupil, we trust there’s something for every parent (from need-to-know info and timely reminder(s), to a dose of nostalgia, perhaps)!

Good luck for this significant stretch, as never again, will your child be in a single educational institution for this long (six years). Here’s to every success for these formative, essential years of official schooling!

Part I: FIVE Primary One Pointers! (plus a dash more!)

Is your kid taking the biggest step yet in his formal education and entering Primary One in 2017? Parents, we understand you can be just as jittery as your child the moment you officially walk through the school gates come Monday, January 2nd. In part one, we’ll address the more immediate issues parents are likely to encounter before, and shortly after your child enters primary one.

#1: Reset your child’s body clock

In 2017, 182 of Singapore’s 190 primary schools will be operating in single session, which usually starts at 7.20am. Unless your child is going to attend any of those eight remaining schools (where P1 and P2 classes begin in the afternoon), chances are he has to consistently begin waking early once the semester begins.

Consider as well, that a majority of schools require all students to be assembled 10 minutes before the flag-raising ceremony, which means an even earlier start to the actual reporting time!

You’ll have to ensure that there’s sufficient time for breakfast too, as the first break is only around 9am at the earliest (most schools have staggered recess times). A child skipping breakfast would have to endure a few hours on an empty stomach, which certainly isn’t optimal for learning.

#2: Plan mode of travel

If you’re intending to drive your child to school, plan a couple of trial runs to assess traffic conditions before the academic year ends (that’s on Friday, November 19 this year). Do check out the congestion on a typical morning, and get familiar with drop-off points, pedestrian crossings and school bus no-go zones.

The same applies for public transport if that is going to be your preferred mode—but check approximate arrival times and time the journey too.

Meanwhile, parents planning to park their car on the first day accompany their rookie right to the doorstep are advised to do a recce beforehand (find alternative parking zones as most parking lots within schools are reserved for staff).

Depending on the distance from your residence to the school, some parents may decide on the school bus. Most schools usually have an assigned day(s) to conduct P1 briefings where parents can also do the necessary, from purchasing textbooks to confirming a seat for your child on the designated bus for your zone. One of my friend’s daughters rises at 5am every weekday as the bus arrives at 6am!

Not only does she live a distance from the school, the bus also has to make numerous stops en route for other students residing in the area. I can personally attest that closer proximity doesn’t necessarily grant the luxury of a much later pickup time. Although we live barely a kilometre away, it was my decision that my son take the school bus—and he had to be downstairs by 6.30am, when school was just a 12-minute walk away!

I must stress here that children who reside within walking distance to school have it best, so please take advantage of that and don’t make the same mistake I did! (I finally realised my folly when my son was in P3...duh.)

As for getting home after school, that also varies. Some parents may stick to fetching their kids if they are enrolled in the student care centres within the school’s premises (see #3 for the afterschool options available). You can also opt for the one-way school bus home.

As for dismissal times, morning sessions usually don’t extend beyond 1.30pm. Students are dismissed earlier on Fridays however (by 12.30pm). This isn’t due to TGIF rah-rah, but to accommodate Muslims who attend Friday prayers at the mosque.

#3: Look into after-school care arrangements

After-school care will remain essential for children of working parents. While this service is available in some childcare centres, others only accommodate kids up to kindergarten. If your child requires after-school care, the safest and most convenient option is to register him at a primary school-based student care centre (SCC), if this is available. Since the centre is located within the school compound, your little one will also be able to sign in by himself once classes end for the day (usually by 2pm).

According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), a “student care programme includes supervision of children’s homework, organised play, enrichment and recreational activities.”

By the year 2020, the ministry hopes to achieve its aim of having an SCC available in every primary school, and so far, 130 out of the 190 schools already do.

Each SCC can accept 60 to more than 300 students, but take note that they are not run by the primary school. As such, interested parents will have to directly approach the centre’s operator to secure a place for their child in advance. Similar to a childcare centre, SCCs usually end operations at 630pm or later, with half-days on Saturdays.

There are still centres outside of schools, although their fees can be higher—up to $500 a month, whereas those based in primary schools charge around $300 maximum. To locate a student care centre, parents can conduct a search at www.childcarelink.gov.sg.

#4: Get set for first-day jitters

The good folks at MOE have always been aware of how overwhelming the transition to primary school can be—and in 2016, they introduced a parent-child activity book designed to help parents and children ease into primary school life.

I’ve read rave reviews of it on the blogs of some parents, and I wish I’d access to it when my two kids were starting P1!

So, lucky you: All parents of P1 kids in 2017 will receive this helping hand in December, as the MOE is now making this a regular resource. The 104-page book contains 10 chapters with tips for parents, as well as over 50 activities to familiarise kids with essential tasks in a fun way (eg. packing their bag, buying food in the canteen).

From experience, I can tell you that every primary school will have a different orientation programme for their P1 intake. My son’s school allowed parents in (but only on the first day), and I recall being swept along in a massive crush of bodies, each desperate for a glimpse of their precious son. In fact, the boys were more subdued and orderly than their parents!


"First time jitters" - Photo courtesy of Cheryl Sim

You would think that a celebrity was in the vicinity, judging from the incessant flashes coming from every image-capturing device imaginable, and excited shouts of: “over here!”, “smile!”, accompanied by enthusiastic waving. Similar mayhem ensued during recess time, with kiasu parents hogging the best benches closest to the food stalls!

It was an altogether different experience at my daughter’s school. From day one, parents were totally restricted from venturing anywhere beyond the school gates! Instead, each P1 girl was assigned a “buddy”— a P3 student who would help her adjust to the environment and offer assistance from queuing up to buy food to guiding her to the restrooms. There was nothing to be done except to leave (parents were advised by security not to loiter about), and I remember feeling almost stalker-like as I poked a small opening through the shrubbery surrounding the school fence, where by sheer chance, my roving eye was lucky enough to spot my daughter’s classroom and where she was seated!


Photo courtesy of Cheryl Sim

Just in case you aren’t allowed to accompany your child on his first day at all hours except dismissal, I can assure you that a daily pocket allowance of $2 is adequate; $2.50 is more than enough. A regular-sized meal (say, noodles or rice) costs $1.20-$1.50, and a packet drink is 80¢ to a dollar.


Photo courtesy of Cheryl Sim

#5: Other advice

Since I’ve already gone through the drill—twice—of putting both my kids through primary one (in different schools and six years apart at that), here’s some other pertinent advice that I’ve found to apply both rounds, and which are useful to highlight:

Attire:

I’ve found uniform fittings to be a real drag, as usually you are required to travel to the supplier’s address or contend with long queues on the assigned days. Some schools require students to have nametags made in advance and sewn on by the supplier, but this requires the uniforms to be collected at a later date. Other schools will have pin-on badges custom made (this, I prefer!).

I also advise getting two sets of uniforms in a slighter larger size: But not too large to the extent that your child looks ridiculous—I’ve seen little girls in skirts that are ankle-length! If the uniform has a school tie, have no fear of fumbling: these already come pre-knotted and can be attached to the collar via a Velcro fastening. Also, a note on socks.

Don’t assume (like I did) that plain, all-white socks are fine. Wearing this could actually get your child issued with a disciplinary warning as some schools are fastidious that students wear only school-issued socks with the school’s crest visible on the ankle.

School bags & such:

Luggage on wheels used to be a common sight at airports, but not anymore—now they’re seen at schools too, of all places! Such things are cumbersome, bulky, and certainly not for the average schoolkid if you ask me. Imagine lugging that heft up the stairs or onto the bus! And don’t get me started about kids who resemble tortoises with plastic shells literally moulded to their backs.

The biggest favour you can do for your kid is to guide and monitor him every night to pack his schoolbag for the following day (after all, what’s the timetable for?).

As for what makes an ideal schoolbag, all students really need is a sturdy backpack made of waterproof lightweight material and with enough compartments to get organised.

Cross-body satchels aren’t as roomy and practical, and weight distribution is uneven. Parting note: bring your child along when you go schoolbag shopping. It’ll give them a sense of ownership, and they’ll get to “try it on” for size.

Getting involved as a parent:

Communicating with your child’s form teacher and subject teachers has been simplified thanks to email. At the start of every school year, your child will receive a list with the necessary contact information. Teachers increasingly send updates via mass emails too, but you can request for traditional hardcopy handouts if you prefer (in any case, these are not yet obsolete as most correspondence still require a parent’s signature as acknowledgement).

You can also expect to meet with your child’s form/co-form teachers at least once every school year. Usually referred to as the PTM (Parent-Teacher Meeting), this is usually conducted on a weekday before the mid-year holidays, or at the end of the academic year. On PTM Day, you will receive updates on your child’s progress and performance, as well as his/her report book.

While taking a full or half day off from work may seem excessive for a meeting that lasts merely 10-15 minutes, it’s definitely not a futile exercise. Parents get to make that all-important connection with their child’s teacher(s), and a lot more information can be conveyed during face-to-face meetings. I would encourage both parents to attend if possible, and to bring your child along as well. Your kid will likely jump at the chance to bring mum and dad around on a show-and-tell! Overall, it’s an excellent way to get to know more about the school from your child’s perspective.

If you wish to be more actively involved in school matters, every school has a Parent Support Group (PSG) as well. Again, membership rules vary from school to school; some even require an annual fee. Some PSGs are also very large and active, and hold regular meetings with voting on who gets to serve on the committee. 

Lastly, remember that joining isn’t compulsory and you still can play a crucial role in your child’s education without being part of a PSG.
 

The Kids World Primary School Survival Guide continues in part two, which offers a taster of primary school education, with highlights of what’s in store for your child as he settles into the longest rite of passage in Singapore’s education system.


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