Monday, March 2, 2009 ;
Mil called last Sat. She asked about the kids' Chinese standard again. And then reminded me to register them for the local schools now since the next school year will start in Aug and it's time to hunt for a local primary school for both ds.
Actually both Dh and I had decided not to let the kids continue in the Intl School after this year, but we didn't want to enrol them in the local schools. There are many different reasons.
One would be the uncertainty of our next year here. With the financial crisis, not too many people are buying violins or bows, and we do not know when the stint in China will end. Dh's work permit expires in Dec (it has to be renewed yearly) and we don't know what will happen then.
Yet all the schools here require us to place a hefty deposit, registration fees, and pay up the entire year of school fees at the start, so we feel we don't want to commit as it is a huge sum involved.
There are other reasons, but I didn't explain to mil since it's tough listing everything out thru the phone. Anyway I didn't really get the chance to talk.
She proceeded to tell me how good the kids' Chinese, Math and Science will be if they are in the local school, and they'd have a very strong foundation when they return to Spore. Then she gave me some detailed advice on how to teach them Chinese now, at home. Writing, reading, learning new words everyday and so on.
I nodded in agreement and agreed with everything she said. Then the phone call ended, and I sat there thinking.
I know the kids are tired on weekdays. After school, they just want to play. With each other, and by themselves. Already I find their weekdays very full. I will read Chinese stories to them but probably not have time to sit them down and do writing. It may just kill their interest in Chinese too. I remember writing 习字 (lines and lines of words) in Primary school. It was the most boring homework ever.
On Saturdays, something can be worked out. Probably not writing too, cos I really think that's stifling at this age. H also shared with me that the China education system also believes that writing should only start in Pri 1. They have a lot of research studies backing them up.
For H's kids who are in the local system, she shared that for both boys, when they were in kindergarten, there are a lot of language activities, reading, singing, recitation but not much writing. They had no homework (in writing) either.
Only when her older boy started Pri 1 then a lot of writing homework came in.
They mostly focused on word recognition and communication before that.
So I thought maybe the thing that would work for me would be to expose the kids to more local kids, and a local teacher, but in a non-academic setting first. Something fun would be ideal. So I obtained a copy of enrichment activites conducted by a local kids' center.
When I asked the kids what they would like to sign up for, they unanimously said "art"!
So Art it is. Both of them would have classes that started at the same time on Sat evenings. It was a perfect timing cos it's from 5.10 to 6.30pm for ds1 and then we can have dinner outside then return home. ds2's lesson is shorter, from 5.10pm to 5.50pm.
For ds1, the full semester's fees (yes they always collect all the fees due right at the start) is 445 yuan (S$89) and there are 16 classes each lasting 1.5hours. That works out to S$3.71 per hour for art instruction, art materials and free exposure to Chinese.
I am of course very very happy with it.
Unfortunately, there were some hiccups. When we did the registration, it turned out that ds2's class will not start till 14th of March as there were very few kids who signed up so far. He cried when ds1 went for his class, and kept saying he wants to have class too.
Even though I explained and explained that he will have his class, only 2 weeks later, he still remained sad throughout the whole 1.5 hrs and was staring longingly at his brother from outside the window!
See that's him, and he didn't move for a long long time. Just kept looking in. And the other grandmas and parents watching too.
I found it amusing cos for me, I would probably only observe for a while for the 1st lesson and then be so happy to have time for myself. I would go out and explore the area.
But the parents there really sit there for the entire time. Maybe cos it's winter or maybe cos they've been sending kids to the center for so many years they just don't feel like going anywhere.
If I am a businessman, I'd set up a Starbucks or Snack Hut somewhere nearby. All the bored parents will surely patronise my stall. Some of them have back to back classes too, so poor parents have to wait for a long time. And it's not near any mall so no window shopping to do either.
[Update (May'09): Now there are! There is a small snack shop with limited choices but they just opened a new Western restaurant on the 2nd level, selling all kinds of food.]
This will be ds2's classroom. It was empty and ds2 had tears in his eye still when he walked to look at his classroom. They had this map and the countries were written in English above the classroom door. There were Singapore, Malaysia etc too, wonder what it means. A lot of foreigners take classes here too?
I didn't see any that day, and we walked up and down the entire 6 floors of that block.
That's the class in progress. Blur cos it was taken through a thick glass panel. About 9 kids I think. ds1 is in the front row, 2nd from the inside of the classroom, nearer the calligraphy.
His teacher later told me ds1 did not really understand some of his instructions. For example, he said "用鲜艳的颜色涂蓝天” but he said ds1 did not follow the instructions and used dark blue for the sky. haha.
I told him we're foreigners and are not so used to the accent yet, furthermore ds1's Chinese is not that strong yet. He probably didn't know what 鲜艳 (bright and vibrant) meant.
The teacher said he will spend more time with ds1 next week and explain terms to him clearer. I asked if he could speak slower to ds1 also. Cos he spoke very rapidly to me too, and even I couldn't catch some words.
All in all, the teacher is very nice, attentive and ds1 enjoyed the lesson immensely, so Dh and I are really glad.
We are also very impressed with the center because it is well organised and the staff are actually helpful and polite for a change. That is really the exception here, so we really like them.
And when we wanted to distract ds2 and were also curious about the rest of the center, we explored the 6 floors of this Block A. That was enough to convince us that this center must be good since it was like all the kids in Tianjin city were here for enrichment classes.
Each floor had at least 15 classrooms. And each floor was dedicated to a different field. For example, level 3 was the Arts Dept. Level 2 was all for toddlers (classes for parents and kids from 1-3yrs old). Level 2 was really attractive, very bright colours, lots of Little Tikes vehicles, play gym equipment etc.
Within Level 3, there were ongoing classes of children's art, cartoon drawing, anime art, paintbrush, Chinese art, calligraphy, still life, sculpture, oil painting... There were exhibition areas too with a lot of published work. When we saw the works of kids from the same age group and course as what we signed both ds up for, Dh commented that if our kids drew like that at the end of the course, he will be really surprised. I too, cannot imagine them drawing so well.
Level 4 was the Music Dept. We were treated to a viewing of many different instrumental lessons being conducted. Very interesting. There was a girl learning saxophone (1on1), a whole class of very little kids on the violin (Suzuki maybe, cos their parents were there too), electronic keyboard group class, drumming group class, western percussion group class, Chinese orchestra group class, guzheng (Chinese zither), and several vocal singing classes. One of them was a group of very young kids singing together, so cute!
Level 5 was dance. Ooh! Look at all the girls! Yes, i didn't see any boys on this level. There were ballet classes, Chinese traditional dance classes, tap dance classes... (the girls were older in this class and while we were watching the catchy number, 2 girls came out for a toilet break and they ran all the way to the toilet in their shoes with metal soles. So funny, and so loud.)
Then we saw this Latin dance class or ballroom dance? It was rather weird though, for us. We are used to seeing older couples dance these kind of dances, so when we saw the little girls, some as young as 3 or 4, wearing the sexy Latin costumes, twirling and doing the various sensuous poses and actions, it was a little strange for us. And I have to say, some of the little ones can dance really, well, and they were really very sensual indeed.
Another reason why all the dances were so entertaining was because they were all wearing costumes. Chinese dancers wore Chinese-pattern leotards and tops with embroided motifs? Ballet dancers wear those ballet leotards and whatever you call those tops.
The other levels had kids wearing normal clothes.
Then the last level. It was something like a Drama or Theatre Dept. We were so shocked to see a class of little girls doing somersaults, but we didn't think it was possible to do it that way! There were too many parents crowded around the window so I couldn't take a video of it, but they were doing a backward somersault, with the tummy curved at an amazing angle, and like a hula hoop, managed to have enough momentum to somersault across the whole classroom mat several times. Whenever the somersault reached from tummy to head, the girls' faces will turn sharply to the side so the sides of their faces were in contact with the mat, and as we watched, it was as if their necks were going to break and the heads would roll off. Amazing! It is like watching acrobatics.
I took a look at the course name, it says Operatic Performing Arts class. Wow.
Then there were other classes like voice training, projection, speech and drama for little kids, 小小主持人 (little hosts/ masters of ceremonies/comperes/emcees??) classes and so on. Not so action packed, but interesting to see all the kids so attentively seated and listening to the teachers.
After class, we took a cab to meet up with H and her family at the Thai restaurant where Y had her farewell dinner, so we could eat kangkong again. haha.
The older boys sat together and had a whale of a time. They made so much noise that I was glad we were seated in a separate section from the rest of the restaurant. Also our section was non-smoking, so it was ideal. ds2 sat with me, apart from them, but throughout the meal he was looking longingly at them.
It was so funny. The last straw came when at the end of the meal, we were getting into H's car to go home together (yes 8 people in the Mazda sedan), Dh carried him to sit on his lap in the front seat. He cried and cried, saying he wanted to sit with the 3 older boys in the back.
It was hilarious to me and H. I carried him to the back then. Finally, he had the chance to be with the older ones. Imagine, the poor boy, had to endure being left out at art class, then dinner, and now the car trip home! It was too much for him!
Those are the materials we received from the class. A set of really good crayons, a black marker, 2B pencil, a 4B soft eraser and a drawing block.
That's ds1's first piece. It's not superb for his age but he has never drawn like that before, so we are pretty impressed and proud of him. He was so proud of himself too, because he probably never thought he was even capable of drawing and colouring to fill up the whole piece of paper, haha.
At home, he always draws stick figures and line drawings. Occasionally he colours some items in the drawing, but never like this. It is a different style for him, and it is nice to try different things.
It's an aeroplane in the sky, btw, with a rainbow, sun, clouds and birds. You can't see the birds because of the dark blue. That was the part the teacher was telling me about, that ds1 did not seem to hear that he said to colour the sky a lighter and brighter colour.
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow