No tuition for champ

Nicole Lim, winner of this year's RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship, has never had a day of tuition in her life.

This has not stopped the 11-year-old Singapore Chinese Girls' School pupil from making it into the top class of her Primary 5 cohort.

She says: "I hear of cases where people have tuition but not enough time to complete their tuition homework."

However, she will not rule out turning to tuition if her results fall below the targets she sets herself.

Her parents are happy to take the cue from her on such matters. Her father, electronic engineer Lim Chee Koon, 42, says: "As long as she's happy and motivated, we find it good to let her learn at her own pace."

This was the case, too, when she prepared for the spelling contest. Picked by her school for the competition, she did not receive special help from her parents until she qualified for the final.

And her mother, Madam Dawn Ho, 39, an adjunct lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic, helped her practise only when she asked for it to avoid giving her daughter too much pressure.

"I think I was more nervous than her," says Madam Ho, recalling the day of the final. The family, including Nicole's eight-year-old brother Ryan, turned up to root for her.

This is not her first time taking part in the competition. Last year, she did not make it past the zonal rounds.

Madam Ho quips: "I'm surprised that she knows how to spell so many words, actually."

Nicole, you are an avid reader. How many books do you read in a week?

Nicole: Usually I'll borrow six to seven books, and maybe a few comics as well. I finish them in one to two weeks.

Madam Ho: We used to buy her books, but we realised that we couldn't keep up with her reading habit, so we decided to go to the library.

Nicole: I read all kinds of titles, from encyclopaedias to comics to novels. I usually borrow novels. One series I like reading is The Hunger Games.

Do you worry about Nicole's eyesight as she reads so often?

Madam Ho: We do. We know that there are options such as wearing special lenses to sleep, but she's happy with her glasses, so we just go with her wishes.

Nicole: I started wearing glasses only in Primary 3.

Madam Ho: She has a tendency, when reading or writing, to put her head quite close to the book. We're still trying to correct her.

Who is Nicole closest to in the family?

Nicole: I'm not very close to anyone. I'd rather keep some things to myself.

Madam Ho: She shares what she's comfortable with and she knows that we are there when she needs a listening ear.

She and her brother had different interests when she was younger, but recently, they are spending more time together.

Mr Lim: They picked up cycling together. They also go swimming together on the weekends.

Who took care of Nicole when she was younger?

Madam Ho: She was in full-day childcare until the end of kindergarten. I stopped working full-time in 2011 to spend more time with the family.

Now, she and Ryan go to my parents' place after school. I join them there if I don't have to work in the afternoon.

How do the children spend their time at their grandparents' place?

Madam Ho: All they have to do is finish their homework and they're free to do anything that they like.

Nicole: We always watch a particular programme at 7pm.

Mr Lim: We sit down together and watch Mandarin- dubbed Korean dramas on television.

Nicole: The subtitles on television sometimes help in my Mandarin. The things they talk about on television stay in my head.

What is the naughtiest thing Nicole has done?

Madam Ho: Two years ago, she wanted to buy a book at a book fair, but we refused as the cover was torn. She threw a tantrum there and cried.

We were going to leave the place when my husband asked her again: "Do you really want the book or are you crying because we don't want to buy it?"

She said she wanted it and we bought it for her. She still reads the book, Queen Victoria And Her Enormous Empire by Alan MacDonald, quite often.

Do you believe in caning?

Madam Ho: I have never caned them. The most we have done is to smack their palm or hand.

I think there are better alternatives to caning. When Nicole was around two, the show Supernanny was pretty popular and I followed some of the techniques the programme used, such as the "naughty corner", which worked for her.

As a toddler, she threw tantrums. Now, she is quite a sensible child when we explain things to her.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Nicole: I would learn to bake, so that I can bake treats such as cookies and pies for everyone.

It seems fun, and people can eat them and be happy. My parents don't bake.

Madam Ho: I would be more organised and pay more attention to keeping my appearance neat.

Mr Lim: I think she has to learn to be closer to her grandparents.

She doesn't communicate enough with my parents and in-laws, who are Mandarin-speaking, probably because she prefers to speak English.

This article was published on May 11 in The Straits Times.

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