Painful, precious lessons from P1

SINGAPORE - Hours before we were due to leave for a road trip to Malaysia, seven-year-old Jason's Chinese-language teacher called to remind us about a test that would take place the following week.

"The marks for this test will be counted at the end of the year, so please make sure he studies for it," said Miss T. I was so surprised by her call in the middle of the September holidays that I managed to only mumble "thanks" before she hung up.

And so, his Primary 1 Chinese textbook went into our luggage, on top of his Monopoly board game.

I'm not sure who was more disgruntled: Jason, at the fact that he had to study during the holidays, or me, upon hearing about tests that "count" when there was supposed to be no exams in Primary 1.

Either way, there was no point brooding over it.

We had fun during the day, playing by the beach and visiting an ostrich farm where we sampled some chewy ostrich satay, and squeezed in about 30 minutes of revision each night.

There were tears and tantrums the first night, but it got better on subsequent nights. I supposed it was a matter of getting used to the routine, as with many things this year.

The year has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. It has passed in a flash, complete with its highs (his newfound independence) and lows (struggle with Chinese). There were moments of exhilaration and exhaustion. But while I had wondered how my happy-go-lucky son with his devil-may-care attitude would cope in the Big School, I found out that when it comes to the crunch, he will do what it takes.

Thankfully, homework days at his neighbourhood school are few and far in between, especially compared to kids in well-known schools that I've heard of.

Chinese was and still is the subject he finds the most challenging. But he did come home last week bearing a gift from Miss T.

I asked him why he received the pencil, he shrugged and said he did well for something in Chinese. What exactly it was, he wasn't sure. "Miss T spoke too fast, I didn't understand," he said.

Still, Miss T says he has improved and is now more conscientious about handing in his work, never mind that his worksheets are dog-earred.

He is still forgetful, and so I don't always find out about tests before they happen. In fact, there have been several occasions I found out an assessment had taken place only because he needed me to sign on it.

I'm equally guilty of not keeping up with the schedule given at the beginning of each term. If not for a parents' WhatsApp group that keeps me updated, I think it could be worse.

Besides academic lessons, the bigger lessons Jason learnt this year took place outside the classroom.

Without doting childcare teachers to help him navigate friendships, he learnt the hard way that he would not have many friends if he insisted on having his way all the time.

For the first few months, questions about his classmates yielded one-word replies, unlike in preschool when he would chatter about his buddies all day.

From various conversations, I guessed that he rubbed his friends the wrong way during group discussions when he insisted on his ideas.

But apart from reminding him once in a while that he had to respect the ideas of his friends, I decided this was something he had to deal with on his own.

Somehow, something clicked in the middle of the year after an inter-class singing competition.

Later, Jason's competitive streak was put to good use when he strategised with his friends and came up with what he thought would be a winning formula for an inter-class sports competition.

They didn't win, but he walked away with prized friendships that have since progressed to sharing jokes and impromptu parties in the canteen.

All in all, it has been a fruitful year. It was just as well that he did not attend any Primary 1 preparation class last year. Many things he learnt this year were nothing that could be taught in any preparatory class; some of these he will carry with him for life.

And even though he had to revise Chinese lessons during the holidays, the fun he had was unforgettable.

A week after the trip, on a rare occasion when he came home with five pages of mathematics homework, he nonchalantly described it as "chicken feed".

His papa then teased him, "If maths is chicken feed, what is Chinese?"

Jason's reply: "Ostrich meat - tough."

janeng@sph.com.sg facebook.com/ST.JaneNg

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