updated 14 Jan 2012, 15:02
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How I turned into No Fun Mum
by Clara Chow

DESPITE our best intentions to let our kids have a fighting chance at an idyllic childhood, the Supportive Spouse and I sometimes get ahead of ourselves in the rat race that is the Singapore education system.

Last week, a few days into the new school year, the SS sat our eldest son Julian at our kitchen table, and set him a Primary 1 English model test paper.

Sometimes, I wonder if Julian, five years old, has managed to avoid inheriting any of my genes: While I had hated assessment books with a vengeance as a kid (surreptitiously tearing undone pages out of them before my tuition teacher arrived), the boy actually enjoys the work, going so far as to volunteer to have a crack at the problems in the book.

So, for him, it was something of a treat to do grammar and comprehension worksheets with Papa.

On that day, however, Julian was probably a little sleep-deprived, after staying up late over the holidays and then having to wake up early for Kindergarten 2. He pouted, he dawdled, he scratched his head with his pencil and whined and moaned that he didn't know the answers.

Finally, in exasperation, the SS snapped at him: "The answer is just there on the previous page. You just need to flip over to check, and then copy the words on that line. Just do it."

It didn't help that our younger son, two-year-old Lucien - who has just started Nursery 1 - was clamouring for multi-tasking Tiger Dad's attention, too.

I popped my head out of the room that served as my home office and motioned the SS discreetly over.

"He's only five," I hissed. "Don't traumatise him, or he will refuse to do any more workbooks next time."

The rest of the test was completed without incident, aside from occasional, dramatic groans from Julian that he was "very tired" (I wasn't about to fall for that ruse, as I had used that one, too, to get out of finishing my homework and then wildly capering about the house).

Still, Tiger Dad's outburst made me wonder if he has sub-consciously absorbed the stress other parents have, and perpetuate, over their children's education by osmosis.

Some days, he returns home and tells me about colleagues who take leave to coach their kids during the exam period. After the requisite period elapses, he updates me on how relieved these colleagues are when their kids don't fail said exams.

"I don't think kids should be doing so many assessment books anyway," I complained to my friend K, after I caught the SS sheepishly trying to conceal another maths assessment book he had bought for Julian.

"It's all so rote and repetitive. If I had to do them myself, I'd get bored, too!"

"Yeah," K agreed over Instant Messenger. "They should be learning the principle behind the thing, instead of just memorising."

"I have to go now," I typed back. "I need to go make a night sky projector with Julian."

"Science project? So fun!" she wrote, to which I replied smugly that yes, I am indeed a very fun mum.

Barely five minutes later, I was yelling at Julian for not pricking the right-sized holes for constellations in the night sky template. "You're not trying!" I exclaimed, as he kept making big donut-holes through Hercules, Cassiopeia and Orion.

This time, it was the SS who swooped in to rescue the poor boy, who was mumbling "I don't want to do it any more" over and over again - no doubt traumatised by No Fun Mum. Stewing by myself in the room, I tried to think what went wrong. Wasn't the idea to make him learn through fun and games?

Then it struck me: Being as serious about letting a kid have fun is just as detrimental as forcing them to do workbooks. So I can go cram my self-righteous, no-cramming attitude back where it came from. I'll be sure to remember that - right after I let myself out of the dunce corner.

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