As Ravi and I began to seriously consider our stay here more permanent that we did when we first moved here, schooling has become the uncomfortable elephant in the room. While early on it was easy to just say I’ll home school E, there are reasons why that is not necessarily going to be a viable option, and that we may be here long enough that it would make a move back home easier if she were already used to a traditional school setting, as I have no interest in homeschooling once back in the US, or homeschooling long term. I left the education field for many reasons, among them that teaching is not my calling.
I’ve hinted before that I’ve been moving towards a new career, and that path is going to require time for me to pursue education, travel, spend more time writing, and give talks/workshops. I’ve decided to pursue my interest in sexology and counseling and to focus on working with pregnant and postpartum women surrounding issues of sexuality. It is highly unlikely that I will be able to make a living at this here in Singapore (cultural hangups on sex abound here, and sexology isn’t considered a valid field), nor will I be able to complete my education fully here (at some point I will need a master’s in social work and the required practicum hours to become an LICSW), but I have begun to pursue the additional education that I can receive while abroad.
With that in mind, Ravi and I began to talk about schooling that wasn’t just the simple “I’ll home school her” solution. We have no real answers, no master plan, but we have a solution that works for us for now (and in theory could work until Elanor is old enough for P1/first grade). We are struggling to find an answer that will work for everyone.
Private Schools–We began to research private options a little more and (on paper) found that the new school “Stamford American,” is probably a good fit for our educational philosophies and values. However, we aren’t ready for Elanor to be in school five days a week, and we’re not ready to give up longer trips home (or force them to bend to the school calendar) at this time. The tuition is also incredibly high, and we struggle with the value of paying that level of fee when Elanor might well miss a month of school a year with home visits. So for this year (and the upcoming 11/12 academic year) we are not investigating that avenue further. However, we are nervous that hesitating to enroll her in a private program earlier will mean zero availability of a slot later.
Public Schools–Not even an option until P1, when Elanor is six years (and that’s not even touching on our issue with Elanor being “held back” a year because her birthday fell on the wrong side of September 1rst…we both started K at 4 going on 5 with birthdays only weeks or days before hers on the calendar and were successful…if she’s ready, we have all kinds of issues with the 9/1 cutoff…and part of me dreams of moving to NYC if only because NY state has a December 31 extension of the September birthday deadline if the child tests as ready to start). Regardless, potentially problematic for a wide swath of reasons ranging from being bottom of the list for school assignment to the socio economic gulf between Elanor and her peer group. Would she struggle to make friends? Would her friend’s parents be comfortable letting their kids come to her home and birthday parties and such? We don’t live extravagantly, but compared to her classmates, we might be seen as such. However, it would be a unique opportunity, and I believe the quality of her Mandarin would be far better than what she might get elsewhere (assuming they’d let a child of Indian descent take Mandarin as their second language instead of making her Tamil, which has no usefulness in Ravi’s Gujarati family).
What we have opted for, for the moment, straddles the line between public and private. Growing Up Gifted (yes, it’s a terrible and pretentious name…but all the equivalent programs are just as badly named) is a pre-school program that goes through K-2 (what we just call Kindergarten in the US). Right now Elanor is attending two days a week for two hours each day. At the current stage of her schooling, an adult accompanies her and stays with her in the classroom, which I’ve chosen to do to build confidence from me in the program and the teachers. She could technically start attending nursery school next term, when she’s 2.5, but we’re not ready to move her up just yet. We want her to get used to school, the expectations of the program, and to feel comfortable before we leave the room. We’re currently thinking of moving her up to the nursery program in the fall. That would be 3 days a week, and a slightly longer program (2.5 hours as opposed to 2 hours).
While I’m not an “early childhood educator” (my certification begins with first grade, or the equivalent of P1 in local schooling), I do have a better than average working knowledge of how reading skills and numeracy can be introduced. More importantly, I have a firm grasp of how ELANOR best learns. I really like the GUG approach, which leans heavily on the “zoo phonics” program.
Each letter has an animal connected with it, and at her level, each letter/phoneme is focused on for a week.
The alphabet is taught with song “Allie Alligator, ah ah ah”, the animal connection, repetition of the most common phoneme for that letter (for example the letter “c” can both have a soft and a hard sound, but they use the hard C sound, vowels are emphasized with the short vowel sounds as long vowel sounds don’t usual come into play until you have vowel/consonant/e or two vowels coming together to make the long vowel sound), and a physical action connected with the vowel/animal. This appeals to children with various learning styles/multiple intelligences approaches.
In terms of Elanor…she’s very musical, and very physical. While she does well with the parts of class that require sitting still, she benefits from the song and the getting up and doing a physical movement for each letter. All the of the songs incorporated in the class involve physical movements, so that’s very beneficial to her.
Personally, I believe in phonics, rather than sight word recognition as the correct approach for early reading, so this again aligns with my personal philosophy.
The teachers (or at least, OUR teachers) are all high energy. This helps keep Elanor’s attention and keeps her engaged (so engaged, in fact, that I’m constantly pulling her from sitting RIGHT IN FRONT of the teachers, blocking everyone else’s view).
Art, music, science and math are all taught with age appropriate materials. (For example today’s “science/math” lesson was making lemonade…following pictograph directions with numbers, sequencing, talking about how sugar dissolves in water, etc…all appropriate math/science for 2 year olds). Elanor has enjoyed all the messy projects, the singing, and the yummy food related projects this term (we made popcorn in mandarin class last week, where I learned the translation of popcorn is “exploding rice flowers”–how COOL is that?)
There’s also Mandarin each class, taught by a native speaker, which is done with music, art, etc, for 20-30 minutes at the end of class. It’s complete immersion, which all the research says is best, especially for this age group, who can pick up languages far easier than adults/older children. I can assure you that I struggle here more than E does.
The most important part of our decision to enroll Elanor with GUG, of course, is that she loves it. She asks daily if we get to go to school today.
She is the only partially white child in the class (although I’ve spotted plenty of expat kids/families) which is mostly made up of Singaporean children, so I’m excited by the opportunity for Elanor to make friends with non-American kids. Also a point in the favor column as far as I’m concerned. I’m also not the only mom, and I’m making friends with a grandma who regularly brings her granddaughter.
Assuming they continue to be a source of fun for Ellie, and a good foundation in the basics (and Mandarin!), I don’t see why we wouldn’t keep her with them through K2. (which also lets us delay a more permanent decision for 3-4 years). They are also considerably cheaper than the private alternatives, which is a huge bonus (and allows me to feel less guilty about pulling her out for 3 weeks in April/May, and again later this year).
Right now we pay just under $300 a month for 16 hours of instruction (which makes it technically cheaper than her gymnastics classes).
It’s also a relief to find a program that fits with my personal educational philosophies and won’t make me feel like I’m abdicating responsibility for her education, while allowing me NOT to be her teacher and to pursue my interests without (much) guilt.