Wednesday, May 19, 2010

School time?

Warning - extremely wordy post... put toothpicks in your eyes to stay awake if only vaguely interested...

The kindergarten in our compound opened its doors early last month and was ready to register students for its kindergarten (here, they go to school when they turn three, though some places take in students who are younger), and started scheduling play groups (i.e.
亲子班) for various levels. Many of Rosabelle's playmates also signed up for the RMB80 per 90-minute session classes taught by a teacher from another supposedly reputed local play group instituition. 'Go get your girl signed up as well, as she will then be put on the priority list for kindergarten classes when she's due to start. If not, she can't get a place on the waitlist.'

Bah, I say. I took a look at the facilities of the kindergarten and felt that this wouldn't be somewhere I would leave Rosabelle at for the better part of her day (it's more popular for full-day, i.e. 8am to 5pm, kindergartens here). First off, fake Disney characters with distorted Minnies and Daisies on the walls. Pass. Secondly, I saw that there were only three classrooms, and true enough, there is concern amongst the parents that there aren't enough classrooms to contain so many kids. Thirdly, the school 'principal' just scribbled my name and details on some rough paper when I said that I would like to sign up for the play group (had considered signing up then, and luckily put off paying any money to 'confirm' our place), and did not follow-up with any phone calls before the classes started - how diligent will they be in paperwork and follow-up for my girl's stuff in future? Ultimately, there seems to be a lack of safety - Rosabelle slipped on the slippery fall twice walking towards the rooms, and it's not because she's not walking well - even I also had trouble balancing at some areas.

And so, I am glad that I did not sign up for the play group or kindergarten because I heard from another mother (rumour?) that there was a recent case of HFMD (!) in the compounds, and we should stop going to play at the slides. Rosabelle and the rest of the kids enjoyed playing at the slides before the kindergarten closed its doors after school term officially started after the May holidays, but boy, am I glad! The play groups were also supposedly not very good as the teacher was very disorganised and it was more of a big gathering at a playground for the many kids. The kitchen isn't even ready and can't provide meals for the kids.

It got me thinking, though. Other kids her age are attending playgroups and scheduling for kindergarten – should I also be bringing her for such sessions, or at least planning for them? Am I being too ‘laid-back’ a parent and depriving her of the goodness of such lessons? Truth be speak, a lot of the parents attend the classes as it gives their children a bilingual environment (we already have that, check), and teaches their kids to socialise with other kids and adults alike (Rosabelle is already quite friendly enough, and mixes well with other kids on our walks outside, so check), providing them with activities that aren’t normally enjoyed at home (ok, we sure do not have the gym equipment at home, but we have reading, singing, dancing, exploratory stuff I get ideas from books or online – admit I could do more on the crafts bit as I’m afraid of the mess; I have yet to get her started on the paints I bought last year!), and for the child to learn a sense of discipline when it comes to listening to instructions and operating as a group (this last bit, I think it will come in well and handy as it prepares our girl for kindergarten).

Anyway, being a typical ‘kiasu’ (
怕输) Singaporean, I started scouring around for various play groups that had free trial classes, to get a sense of what they offer, and what, if any, that Rosabelle was missing out on. I do not have many photos since I attended the classes alone with Rosabelle (with the exception of the last place), but also rightly, it lets the child, and other children, focus on the activities at hand, so I get quite irritated when parents do not follow this rule and even have the cheek to get piqued when Rosabelle gets into their picture – hello… my child is enjoying the facilities, what right do you have to ‘cordon’ off this area for your camwhoring needs, right? So cheapo – go rent a photo studio and knock yourself out lah, DUH…

And so, Mummy and daughter embarked on a mission to look for a ‘cheap and good’ play group:

Stop 1: Play Gym (9 April)

Their staff were handing out brochures some time back, and it’s across the road from my place, so we tried out a class for 18-24 month-olds, where there were 3 other kids (rather dirty-looking, I must say, with one spotting a suspicious-looking rash all over the face – alert, alert!). The classrooms were rather huge, though, and had different gym facilities, and a local Chinese lady and man were the teachers for the day.

It was a bilingual session, but the English sounded quite ‘Chinglish’ to me, and when they said ‘put away the puppies’, I was wondering where the dogs were, until I realised they were referring to the Ikea finger ‘puppets’. -_-

It was a lesson about ‘up and down’ as they taught children to climb up and down obstacles, and Rosabelle was quite intimidated by the huge parachute cloth they brought out and engulfed/encircled the children. The teacher said I was doing a good job of teaching/explaining to Rosabelle beyond the basics (for example, ‘This is a yellow banana’, rather than ‘This is a banana’) and suggested I should let go and let her explore things more on her own as Rosabelle would at times look to me to guide her, or be overly-cautious about climbing around herself. When the lesson ended, the teacher blew bubbles around, and she observed that Rosabelle was not very keen on them, so I also got my own bubble blower to let her know she can chase/pat/poke/clap them (she’s quite good with that now). She also said Rosabelle seems to be a good observer, and would not really participate now, but can remember and do things later on her own accord.

The folks at this place were friendly and enthusiastic without being overly-pushy, but I still decided not to sign up as their English isn’t exactly good, the children mix wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, and if they are teaching the ‘Head and shoulders, knees and toes’ song for 18-24 month-olds, it isn’t something new that I have not already been teaching Rosabelle since she was 3 months old! And so we headed on to…

Stop 2: Kindy Roo (10 April)

This was at Jianwai SOHO, and I did not like the feeling once I stepped in (slightly late) – nobody was there to greet me, and I had to manage taking off our winter clothes and shoes on our own when the fat/unfriendly/unhelpful/ugly (ok, that last one is uncalled for, but this is my blog, and I can rant if I want to) receptionist almost shooed me out for wearing shoes (no pun intended) in – it’s my first time, how was I supposed to know?

And then she asked me to follow her to the lockers just when Rosabelle was running away from me towards all the gym facilities, so I asked her (maybe not sarcastically enough), ‘Am I supposed to follow my daughter, or follow you?' (the former, of course), hoping that she will take the hint and offer to place my things in the locker for me, but no, thick-head fatty said ‘
这是个亲子班,你得跟你女儿一起上。’ (vomit blood…).

And so we went into class with 3 other kids around as well – hmmm, they looked slightly better than the ones at Play Gym, and their guardians looked more clean-cut. So it passed my first check.

However, the two teachers, both female, were not very warm nor welcoming. They were in the midst of a song, and did not greet/acknowledge us, and when Rosabelle went towards them to watch them ‘perform’, they shooed her away with a ‘Go back to Mummy…’ – faint…isn’t the point of such sessions to teach them independence/curiosity? If I wanted sticky and unsociable children, why on earth would they need to come to your class, right?

And Rosabelle, being the ever-loving girl, spotted the baby dolls behind the teachers, and started going ‘Baby! Baby!’ and heading towards it, wanting to touch/hug it, and the teachers actually hid the doll away… aren’t you supposed to acknowledge, and heck, even encourage such loving behaviors in children? If you are afraid that they will disrupt the class, for goodness sake keep them away until you need to use them, right? (The dolls were used for ‘massage’ demonstrations.)

Although the teachers spoke rather good English, I did not like their hastiness (as if they were rushing through the course and just going through the motions - not much real interaction with the kids), and one of them was so fat that her sleeves were torn at the seams! Sorry, but I pay attention to such things… but what kind of message are you sending the kids if you are so overweight and then encouraging them to roll/skip/hop/jump and basically be healthy? What is it with this place and fat people anyway (no offence to fat people – I like them, just that I do not like unfriendly ones…).

And when it came to using the dolls for demos, Rosabelle went over and took away the doll, so fat-till-bursting-at-seams teacher used Rosabelle as a demo tool and lifted my girl up by her ankles and dangled her upside down – giving me or her no warning whatsoever! Aiyo… I know fat people are strong, and luckily Rosabelle did not cry though she looked shocked, but I sure would not want to be dangled by my legs by somebody who seems to be irritated at me for disrupting the lesson man!

The parachute came out again and Rosabelle was again not willing to go near it, hmmm....

And after the session ended, there was bubble-blowing as well, and they gave out course notes to the other children. Rosabelle went forward and said ‘
拿!要!’, indicating she wanted more bubbles, but no, the teacher thought she wanted the course notes and said ‘这些教材是给付费的小孩的。’ – I wanted to go smack the woman on the head – who on hell wants your lousy course materials? Our girl, for all 18 months of her, wants your god-forsaken bubbles, and what is she going to understand about 付费 or no 付费!My mind was made up, no way I was going to enroll her in this place, no sirree, not even if it was free!

And so, knowing that I would never ever come here again, I let Rosabelle enjoy the rest of the facilities after class as we waited for Wayne to pick us up. Nobody came to approach us to follow-up and ask me about the class, or even bother to get me to sign-up (unless I had a ‘Don’t come and bother me’ look clearly written all over my face), and I observed that the staff (fat receptionist included) were all super-friendly to the paying patrons. Sheesh – disgusting… so obviously, on to…

Stop 3: My Gym (20 April)

Vanessa actually signed us up last time for a trial session when Rosabelle and Rachel were only 6 months old, but trusting that they won't keep records well, thick-skinned me requested for a session this time round again, haha!

This place at Lanbao is really about working the kids out with different activity stations, but Rosabelle did not seem very keen on the swings (or letting the teacher help her into it), nor rolling down a slope (yelped for help as did other kids). However the rest of the kids looked pretty decent, there were more than 10 in the class, and luckily there were enough assistant teachers around who all spoke pretty decent English as well, and they seemed more warm and loving than the KindyRoo hypocrites (i.e. friendly only to paying patrons).

Other than gym class, the teacher also told stories/sang (to this day, Rosabelle can remember the humming bird 'Hmmm, mmm' sound made by the

However, I find that My Gym does not have many much integrated classes like for music, creative sessions etc, and the sales person was so boring and so-not-interested (no follow-up call) that I can't justify spending so much money on my own accord... and so... on to...

Stop 4: Gymboree (15 April)

Our trials cannot be complete without trying this out at Guanghua SOHO - some of the other parents in our yard have attended/are attending their classes and give rave reviews, so I figured this place, other than the steep price (RMB168 per session with the best package, for 45-minutes, compared to other schools' 1 hour), should get my vote in the end.

The sales person sounded/behaved professionally enough, and was very friendly. When Rosabelle reached the place, she shrieked happily at the many balloons at the open area, but I really wasn't prepared for soooooo many people/kids/parents milling around. Take note that this was a weekday, and weekends are even worse. And so we got ready for class (again 'Up and Down' - seems like Play Gym is copying them?) with about 13 other kids (can you imagine the crowd???), and the teachers' English was fine, and after that I heard from the parents in my yard, that the guy is a favourite as he is very enthusiastic and a good performer.

However, Rosabelle, as with in other play groups, got distracted by so much other equipment around, and kept wandering away to play with them. I notice that at almost every other play group, she would like to hold balls in her hands, and obviously it would hamper with her participation in and climbing activities. Maybe it's a security issue... however, she still received praise for her problem-solving skills as during one activity, the rest of the children were banging their hands on a log, and Rosabelle was typically away from the group, and started banging on the log next to her. The teacher said that it was her knowing that she was too far away, and that there were too many other kids around, so she knew enough to look for her own tool. Hmmm... never looked at it that way, but it sure is a positive way of looking at it, rather than just thinking 'Oh no, how embarrassing that I have a social deviant of a child who would spend the rest of her life flying solo and never participating in group activities...'.

I don't know what it is with such playgroups, but the parachute and bubbles came out again (who is copying whose syllabus, huh???), and Rosabelle was again afraid of the parachute. The helpful sales person explained to me after that I should expose Rosabelle more to large expanses of materials like bedsheets, so that it's not as intimidating to her - that much I've been doing as I get her to hide behind curtains and bedsheets as they are put to dry these days - hopefully it'd help her get over this seeming phobia.

Gymboree also has many other classes for music and art etc, and the kids and staff seemed happy, but I was really put off by the price, and for the fact that there are just so many customers and kids - how are we going to enjoy VIP treatment and feel special (Am I asking for too much? But I want 'too much' if I am going to pay so much, no?). And so, on to...

Stop 5: 3e International (23 April)

Now this is not really a trial, as we had to pay RMB80 for 45 minutes of pure music and movement with teachers at this international school, but it was money well-spent (more justified than for Gymboree, I must say). Firstly, the mix of attendees was rather elite (looking like tai-tais and expats with a mix of foreigners, Koreans, Japanese), and the facilities and teaching equipment used were all very good.

The teachers, being foreigners, obviously spoke good English (no Chinese at all), and introduced many different activities (ball-rolling, playing with scarves, tapping with instruments, singing etc) to let children understand/appreciate/enjoy music. To this day, Rosabelle will go '
ah' when she's hitting sticks, as we enjoyed a session of using sticks as instruments, and she will go 'thump, thump, thump'. Rosabelle now knows to use different surfaces (like pails)/drumsticks (like twigs) for music-making, and when she saw a boy hit twigs on a stool in the park one day, she went looking for twigs to make similar sounds when she saw the stool the next day.

However, the discouraging factor is the distance (it's at Lido), and the fact that the attendees are rather too elite for my liking (not enough local Chinese) - Rosabelle was being quite a terror at wanting to play with a Japanese girl's instruments instead of the ones she was given, and kept pulling at them, and I could see the girl's mum getting visibly irritated as she pushed Rosabelle's items away and shifted her girl away. No way am I going to teach Rosabelle about segregation at such a young age - it's so elitist that I really am quite put off.

When waiting for Wayne at the lobby, Rosabelle probably crashed into an older angmor girl and fell on top of her, and the girl wailed away whilst Rosabelle was really quite unaffected. I did not witness it at all, but am sure from the position they fell, it should not have hurt that much, and they probably just ran into each other, but when I asked Rosabelle to give the girl a toy, the mum just haughtily carried her away without saying 'It's ok, they are just children, she did not push her...' - I could have just ignored them but I was teaching my girl manners - kiss and make-up even if it's not your fault, right? Or was it because they thought we were 'local Chinese' that we were seemingly marginalised? I got quite disgusted really - almost on par with my disgust for the KindyRoos' fat Kangaroos of a receptionist and teacher...

And so, lastly...

Stop 6: KinderPlace (2 & 13 May)

I got brochures for this place at Guanghua SOHO on our outing to Chaoyang Park and decided to also try it out, given my satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) levels with the other places. Know what they say about never giving up and trying till you find the right one? I think I just might have found the right place for Rosabelle (surprise, surprise - someone with such high standards can actually find the correct play group?????).

Firstly, the place, though lacking in the climbing/gym equipment the other places have, have a great variety of other toys to play with, like swings. One older girl was so naughty and came up to Rosabelle and whined '
我要坐,我要坐!' as the only other swing was also occupied, and then proceeded to bawl in her Ayi's arms, and even bite the poor woman, when she could not get her way! My friggin' goodness! If the girl was nice about it, I would have asked Rosabelle to give way to her, but no man, I just turned around and became bitchy Aunty and said '小妹妹,这不是你的家。' (and bit my tongue from exclaiming 'spoilt brat' as I turned back and literally rolled my eyes) - what kinds of parents are raising such terrors of kids?!?! Playhouses (Rosabelle's favourite open/close of door)...
And a sand pit - great for someone like me who cannot stand the thought of mess, and can let her mess up someone else's place - haha! As you can see, Rosabelle wasn't very keen on the texture of the sand in the first place, but she quickly warmed up to it and used the different scooping vehicles for play, even daring to snatch from other older kids. One older girl was so angry she poured sand all over Rosabelle - haha! I was more amused than angry because her mother was very nice and apologetic, and I taught Rosabelle to acknowledge the apology, and importantly, taught her that she has to learn her lesson for snatching other people's things.
They also have indoor play areas of rocking dinosaurs (as seen below), a well-stocked library with English and Chinese books (members can borrow then for two-week periods), and other interesting toys. We met another spoilt brat no. 2 at the shape sorter board when this older girl was sitting down on the chair, putting shapes onto a board, and Rosabelle went up and wanted to take the shapes from behind (note, not on the board, so totally not interfering with the girl), and the girl cried out '不可以!不可以!' and started to bawl, and her father just ignored the tantrum, so bite-my-tongue-and-pretend-to-smile Aunty said '姐姐,你给妹妹一起玩,好吗?', not realising that Rosabelle had already snuck behind the board, took out a shape, and proceeded to give it to spoilt姐姐 as a gesture of goodwill. So sweet of her, and so proud of my girl! That olive branch placated spoilt girl no. 2 and she let Rosabelle sit next to her, but immediately whined again when Rosabelle took out the shapes she'd just put in, so I had to again patiently say '你玩你的,妹妹玩她的,好不好?' before she said ok - did not help that she's not very cute, and later that day, I saw her roll on the floor and throw a tantrum as her father threatened to leave. *roll eyes*

Other than such spoilt brats, the rest of the folks seemed pretty nice, and were rather decent. I like the fact that they have music and dance classes as well (and their art classes are in the midst of starting), which are taught by foreigners. I saw girls dressed up in ballet gear too - so cute!

We attended this place twice - once for the KinderMusic class on the first day, where we were the only kid in class as there was no-show from the rest of the attendees, and another time (the sales person very nicely volunteered another free trial session) for the KinderExplorer class (about 4 other kids). The same male teacher facilitated both classes, and having been educated/taught in New Zealand before, his level of English is pretty good for a local Chinese (he speaks both languages during class), he is very enthusiastic and does not mind making a fool of himself, and seems to take a genuine interest in the kids (though he at times gets too close for comfort and I saw him nestling his face next to another girl!).

Best of all, he acknowledges distractions - he was reading a book, and instead of pointing to the animal he asked, Rosabelle pointed to the frog, and he proceeded to hop like a frog and go 'Wibbit!' - Rosabelle can still mimic it to this day. The KinderExplorer class is about the senses, and this session was about hearing (quiet and loud, something that Rosabelle already knows), and the kids had fun putting yellow beans into paper cups and making shakers. When Rosabelle refused to put masking tape on the cups to seal her shaker, he said 'It's ok, it's more about the process than the end product.' - something that we all know, but choose to neglect with kids as they explore on their own time and interest.

I felt that the activities designed were all pretty interesting, and Rosabelle actually seemed to observe very well and even participate in dancing/responding when the teacher was knocking the egg shakers. He chatted briefly with me after to say that Rosabelle seems to be understanding all the on-goings and instructions, and can do all that is requested of her, only if she is prepared and willing to.

After the second session, the sales person started her sales pitch, which I was prepared for. They now have a special deal of a half-yearly pass of 42 sessions retailing for RMB8112, but it means I need to bring Rosabelle for classes on average of about twice a week (my intention was about once a week), and since I am heading back to Singapore for a month in June, it would make sense to only sign up when back. However, she started her spiel of how limited the number of such passes were (left with only 10), how they can postpone our start date by a month, how I should ask Wayne to come upstairs now and we can mae a decision and sign up TODAY, that children learn best in such environments with other children, and that '
身为家长的,我们肯定不想耽误我们孩子的学习。' - that might work on some parents, but that statement totally riled me and put me off. Woman, are you suggesting that I do not love my child enough if I do not sign up today, or that I am too cheapo to invest in her?

In summary, I basically told her (off) that:

- This was RMB8,000 we were talking about, not RMB800, so it's not going to be a hasty decision.

- I take care of my child's progress and well-being very well, thank you. In fact, the concepts of 'soft and loud', playing with beans (she's played with rice before), the bilingual environment, the sociable nature etc, are all already ingrained eons ago in my home - i.e., been there, done that, yawn.

- The other companions during class today were no inspiration for learning as they were not responding at all.

- No way am I going to pay up today without discussing first with my husband as that's highly irresponsible.

- Your place does not have any gym facilities, and why should I pay additional fees to go to other playgroups to enjoy such facilities if I need them?

I saw this woman at work on our first visit with another potential customer, and she was very pushy, but when I started going 'blah, blah' and basically refuted all her strong points, I think I left her speechless and quite embarrassed, but she really did not count on triggering me off with her lousy reasons. So there you have it, I'm in limbo now as they have yet to call me (scared off?) as I am rather keen on this place, and am hoping that they approach me first (so that I have a strong bargaining position), and that I can talk them into bringing the price further down, or into throwing me more freebies. If not, oh well, no loss then... at least now I know what Rosabelle is missing, or not, if she does not go for such classes before she starts kindergarten. I just have to be an even more diligent mother and provide more of such activities for her at home, or otherwise...
And then I did further homework into kindergartens, as some of the older kids are starting to get enrolled. Unless Wayne and I are on an expat package that pays for our kid's schooling (even then, I worry about the elitist concept), it's probably going to be shortlisted to New Oxford Kindergarten (Jianwai SOHO) at RMB3,800/month, Ke'er (Pingguo) at RMB3,500/month, or New Garden (Fulicheng) at RMB3,400/month - all chosen because of their proximity to home, costs, facilities (I will definitely need to visit them all before I make up my mind) and because they offer a bilingual teaching syllabus (all at 8am to 5pm, with meals provided). However, all also said since I intend to get Rosabelle in only when she turns three, it's too early to start getting registered for waiting lists now (earliest is early next year) since they accept enrollment all year round (depending on vacancies available), so guess I can relax for awhile (am not keen to send her any earlier as being young, her immunity is not as strong, and I've heard how many illnesses can spread at such schools for children of a very young age).

There, end of a long-overdue post - and now I have to work on my final back-track of Singapore posts (and I'm already going back next month - gosh!)...


Vanessa said...

Have you tried enquiring at Yew Chung? They offer classes for 18mo and above, at least that's what they say in Shanghai. I believe Beijing is the same as its run under the same management. The last time I enquired (abt 2 months ago), its roughly RMB3300 for half-days, 5-day week, for 18-24 mo.

Wendy Loh said...

Aiya, too far away from us here lah, Yew Chung...and congrats on your new blog - more pix please!!!