Isaac’s First Weeks at School

It’s been a few weeks since Isaac started school in September and it’s been quite a challenge.

His first day was basically a minor disaster — he was good and quiet on the way to school at the back of the car, but started bawling as soon as I left. When it didn’t let up after an hour, the principal called to ask someone to pick him up to avoid traumatising him and creating an aversion to school. For the past two weeks, there’s always been someone accompanying Isaac at school to help him adjust to the surroundings and teachers. Then this Tuesday everyone was a bit more confident — Isaac seems to like one of his teachers, and could be alone for a longer period. So yesterday, I dropped him off alone again, with my dad on standby near the school to pick him up in case he started bawling… which he did, after an hour, so it was a bit of a setback again. But today! Today, my parents dropped him off, he cried for a bit, but managed to settle in. Eventually, he managed to do quite well and lasted around 3.5 hours alone in school before my dad picked him up (it was only half an hour from the end of school by then). So yay Isaac! Hopefully this is the start of genuine adjustment for him =)

But what I really wanted to say, apart from a boring recount of Isaac’s first weeks, is how grateful I am for the wonderful support I have been given.

First, for my dad’s willingness to pick Isaac up from school on a regular basis, and for so gamely being on standby and accompanying Isaac and doing whatever it takes to help Isaac settle in.

Second, I am very glad that I made a right choice with Isaac’s school. During this period, everyone involved was flexible and genuinely concerned about helping Isaac settle in. Although Isaac’s only supposed to attend school two days a week (and we only paid fees for such), the principal suggested that Isaac come in more frequently during this period so he can get used to the surroundings more quickly. He ended up attending school almost every single day. It reassured me that the school wasn’t out to just make a profit, and truly cared for the well-being of the children.

Finally, I’m also glad I made a right choice with my helper Lyn. On the first day of school when Isaac cried very badly, my dad brought Lyn along to pick Isaac up in case he needed someone to settle him at the back of the car. When Lyn was in school, she also took note of what the teachers’ suggestion that someone accompany Isaac in school for the first two weeks, and actually offered to do so. in fact, I hadn’t thought of asking her, and she could have just stayed alone at home and enjoy her free time away from him. Instead, she offered to spend half a day with Isaac in school, leaving her less time for housework and rest. Of course there are no perfect helpers in the world, but at the end of the day, she genuinely cares for Isaac and that’s all I can hope for.

Transitions are always tough for children and their parents — and there will be more and more of them. So I am endlessly grateful for having a strong support system of family, for strangers who have become family, and just for good, kind people in the world =)

Starting School

Isaac will be starting school very soon once September begins! Happily, his school offers weekly parent-accompanied sessions so to ease him into the drop-off sessions, Ning and I are taking leave to accompany him to these sessions to familiarise him with the school environment and teachers.

So yesterday was the first session, and we’re delighted that Isaac took to the place very well! In fact, he did better at a couple of things compared to being alone at home. For instance, he always gets impatient with story-time at home, but because he saw a couple of older boys sitting down to listen, he actually managed to sit through a story-time, and even growled at the appropriate lion bits.

We were also very very reassured that we chose the right school for Isaac, especially at this point in his life. Here’s what we love about The Garden House pre-school!

The open-ended play. One of the activity stations yesterday was three large shallow containers of coloured soapy water, filled with lots of different types of ladles and pots and scoops — common household objects. And Isaac was intensely focused on it, scooping the water, trying out different ladles and pots, and pouring water on the ground. Instead of saying no or worrying about a mess, the teachers were encouraging him, showing him the different ways water flowed from the scoops, and telling him to listen out of the splashes on the ground. It was nothing complex, the equipment were simple every day stuff, but Isaac had so much fun with it! And many of their other activities — taping drawing block to the underside of tables so children can draw upside down, buckets of toys with buckets of paints so they can create “art” by rolling toy car over paint and paper — these are the stuff of what makes a fun childhood and I’m glad Isaac will be able to play.

The small class size and child-centric environment. One of our concerns when choosing a school for Isaac was that he might start falling ill in a big class. So we chose The Garden House because it was a small school — no more than 50 children in total in the school, and only around 10 – 12 at his level. In addition, as he’s in the youngest group, the class is further split into two groups of 5 – 6 to avoid overwhelming that. What that means is lots of teacher attention! Yesterday, we were happy to see that when Isaac hadn’t want to leave the water play area for story-time, the teachers didn’t rush him but encouraged slowly until he was ready to put down his ladle and walk over =)

The bilingual immersion. Another feature of his school is bilingual immersion. Because the school is based on an emergent curriculum, the day is not set up into structured classes but broad activity times — morning is outdoor play, followed by snack, then indoor story and music time when it gets hot. Hence, there isn’t Chinese/English classes proper. But each class has two teachers attached to it — one English speaking, and one Chinese speaking and children are encouraged to pick up the two languages through immersion. There are different schools of thoughts on whether an immersive or structured bilingual curriculum is better, but we’re happy as long as he is able to pick up language in a fun environment.

The environmental-friendliness. When I first visited the school when Isaac was younger, I was very impressed when the director showed me a “toy” that a teacher had created out of recycled toilet rolls. It was a board with toilet rolls pinned on, that the children could turn this way and that, and roll things through them. Although Ning and I are quite generous with buying toys for Isaac, we have also discovered that sometimes the most fun toys for him are household objects put to different uses. So we love that the school is not packed with expensive toys, but just fun, every day objects put to creative uses!

The healthy diet. The school has its own kitchen and a little vegetable garden. So all the meals are healthy, organic meals created on the spot! No sugar or salt or preservatives, lots of whole grains, fresh produce, fruits and vegetable proteins. We’re not super fussy with Isaac’s diet but it’s always good to know that he’s eating good stuff at school!

The physical environment. The school is set in a single storey-bungalow. Not too huge or overwhelming, with a cozy indoor space that is not air-conditioned (this was quite important to us because we feel that the fresh air would reduce the chances of illness!). There’s a nice big outdoor area with a sandpit and grassy areas for running and play which is great Isaac who is particularly active!

Overall, we were also very pleased with how attentive and nurturing the teachers were. Within a session, Isaac grew comfortable enough with one teacher that he ran to her to be picked up! =) When we first picked the school, we weren’t sure what Isaac’s personality would be like, but now we’re really glad we made a choice to go with a bit of an unconventional school, but one that turns out to fit very well with Isaac’s level of activity and personality. It’s also the right time for him to begin school — he’s going to be the baby of the bunch, but we can see how having older kids arounds helps to learn to be more mature.

Looking forward to the next few sessions with Isaac before he starts school proper!