So as I mentioned earlier, Nene is not exactly writing or spelling or close to reading yet. Personally, I wouldn’t see this as a great problem – kids in Norway song start writing till 6 and they go on to top every educational indicator internationally at the end of schooling age (there is no evidence to suggest starting these skills early indicates greater level of general success) – but in Hong Kong , kids have to transition into primary school and the private schools have certain expectations. The government schools are not allowed to use these kinds of assessments so it’s essentially one big lucky draw which is how it should be. But pretty much all these schools are Cantonese medium or teach some subjects in Cantonese and so don’t work for us. Not to mention their teaching method is traditional and homework heavy (similar to India). In addition to our need due to language and the personality of our child to go private which meant I needed Nene to catch up a bit, I now have the impending joy of India admissions to look forward to if we move there in a year. So yeah. I should be starting on that any time now but I can’t bring myself to.
So even though Nene got into the school of our choice, I need to continue reinforcing phonics with him because of India admissions. Plus as one of Nene’s friend’s mum who has an older kid told me, when you kid is the only one in a primary one class can’t do something it’s bad for their self esteem. Though it’s also bad for their self esteem to push them before they’re ready I would think. So it’s a bit of a catch 22.
The question is ‘is Nene not ready?’ There’s a difference between can’t and don’t want to. I think Nene is in the latter group and needs to be pushed a bit. He’s a bit like me in that he likes to do what comes easiest (except in rare cases that he is so into something that he’ll persevere. Unfortunately reading is not one of those things. Footie on the other hand…)
Then there’s the fact that I am not a natural teacher. Of small kids at least. I can do the small class readings and presentations and I enjoy these but if they start acting up I lose patience. I’m also not one of those who thought to make this into a fun activity whereby every moment can be a teaching moment. Or at least in this regard. I’m pretty good at answering the “what is that?” and “why is that questions?” so my kids have a fair bit of knowledge on a range of random things. E.g. Nene surprised his playschool teacher by being able to identify President Obama at the age the age of 2 years and 7 months (and now unfortunately he can identity Donald Trump). He would also be able to give an adult a run for her money explaining menstruation (a post on that later). However, alphabets not so much. Writing this, I realise that I’m a learner led teacher – so if the child asks the question, I will answer it, but I don’t actively push topics. Hmmm this explanation makes me feel better.
Are you finding something strange about all this? Shouldn’t Nene be learning all this in school? Why yes. In fact, I am paying a tidy sum to the school, and frankly I feel they’re not holding up their end of the bargain, or my kid is just a super poor learner. Why I think it’s the former is that at the start of the year, they asked the kids to write words when they had not reinforced the alphabet the previous year (I suppose they expected them to magically acquire it over the summer). Then, they send worksheets home but there’s no communication on what the worksheets are supposed to be reinforcing. I’ve only belatedly realised that each sheet was to reinforce a phonetic sound contained in the word and not the starting letters of the word. If I had known, I would have ensured that I reinfornced this with Nene, but now it’s too late. Apparently, they have completed all the sounds. There is also a list of sight words (a concept I didn’t quite get the meaning off until I went on one primary school tour) which I only learnt about during a PTA meeting halfway through the term. But their list is so long and I have no idea how the kids are going to remember them unless the parents practice them at home – but how do we know which words are being taught unless the school tells us. I find this odd, but maybe it’s the norm?
So now I’ve been doing a bit of practice with Nene (and Mimi when she’s willing) every day. I started off trying to follow the list of phonetic sounds they had ostensibly covered over the term (ai, ie, ee, oo, etc), but then suddenly decided I’d do the simple sight words first and teach Nene how to make bigger words out of those so two birds with one stone (e.g. sight word “at” can make “mat” “cat”. I’ll admit I’m tempted to teach “shat” because I know Nene would love it and it might actually reinforce the concept. He’s all into potty these days). I’ve seen a significant improvement since I started this. I only do about 15 minutes a day, so I hope it’s not too onerous.
A gamechanger for us was when I let Mimi open one of her unopened present from their birthday party (yes, we’re still opening them, though we’re down to the last few) coincidentally on the day of Nene’s primary one interview, because she was upset that she had to go to school and not hang out with us. And guess what? I thought it was going to be a mini hockey set but it turned out to be whiteboard. It has been brilliant for practising words with the kids. It came with magnets so sometimes I use those or sometimes I use whiteboard pens. The kids like it so much more than writing on paper, and Nene’s handwriting seems better too.
Now my question for parents of 4-5 year old kids…
- Do you do a bit of alphabet, word, spelling practice with your child independent of school?
- Is there any method you follow? Free online resources you could point me to? (I’m trying to follow Jolly Phonics which the school does but their material is not available free)
- Are there writing/spelling/phonics resources I could get in India since I’m making a trip there soon?