Monday, March 29, 2010

At the playground


The weekend was two welcome days of rest. Richard and Ryan have beaten the bug and everyone is just happy doing nothing. No classes this week, giving swimming a miss and the Shichida term is over (classes start again next week).  We met up with Kenny, Belinda and Matthias for dinner on Saturday and on Sunday, we went to Vivocity. Ryan had loads of fun at the playground there.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can I be no. 555 on your list please?

As I mentioned in my last post, we've been looking at pre-schools for Ryan. Ryan is now 14 months and will be eligible for pre-school when he turns 18 months. Apparently, we're much too late already. People are rushing to place their newborns on waitlists at pre-schools the moment they get the birth certificate. Madness? Well, perhaps not, if the pre-school is truly top-notch.

I keep hearing about these long waitlists at some pre-schools, how they run into the hundreds and how you have to get on the lists three years in advance. Interestingly, there is not a lot of talk about what these pre-schools teach, how the children learn, the environment there, etc. Maybe I'm idealistic but surely you can't select a pre-school solely on the basis of how popular it is? Surely you have to look at the reason for the popularity and see if that reason is relevant to your child? Yes, I know nursery years in Nanyang Kindergarten are taught entirely in Mandarin. Well, that may be the reason for being "waitlisted" as student no. 55 but I'm unconvinced that it can be the reason for being student no. 555.

Let’s not dismiss the powerful herd instinct and the (Singaporean?) love for the queue -  the longer the waitlist, the more attractive it is, no matter what is at the end of the queue.  So what is at the end of the queue? If I have to fight off hundreds of parents so that my son has a place in a pre-school three years from now, then that pre-school better be producing super-humans. I’m talking about talented musician plus multilingual socialite plus Olympic medallist plus nuclear physicist plus charitable humanitarian plus plus plus. What, they’re only 6 years old when they graduate? Well, that’s exactly my point.  If he can spell his name and tie his shoelaces, I'll be jumping for joy already.

To be honest, I was excited when I first heard of these long waitlists. I thought that there were all these pre-schools offering top-quality teaching and learning, how fantastic! These pre-schools were at the top of my list.  Unfortunately, when I inquired further, I realised that their popularity was, more often than not, due to other, more practical, reasons.

The most obvious reason for long waitlists is vintage.  The older the pre-school, the bigger its alumni, which means more sentimental people wanting to send their little ones to the same pre-school that they/their parents/their aunt/their long-lost brother attended. For example, Nanyang Kindergarten was founded in 1934. That’s nearly 80 years worth of students with family members and relatives. Result? The Wait List. Which I hear is running close to 600 names and still going strong.  Ask the school about your chances of actually making it to enrolment day and they'll tell you that, if you're not remotely related to an ex-student, then you should have a back-up plan. In defiance of all things logical, "outsiders" still sign up. I’m not going to ask why Nanyang even keeps a waitlist of that size but I suspect that the $100 that they charge for a spot on the Wait List isn't deterring anyone.

Similarly, places in pre-schools run by churches with large congregations can also be hotly contested, as are places in international schools with large expat communities. Birds of a feather flock together.

Remember that, in pre-school terms, a “big” cohort is still very small in actual terms. St James Church Kindergarten takes in only 70 students at its pre-nursery level (3 years old), which is considered a big cohort.

My point is that, at pre-school level, the difficulty of getting a placement does not necessarily correspond to the pre-school being ‘best of the best’ in terms of quality education. You can’t possibly conclude that the school’s standards are very high or that they let only the brightest children in because we are talking about children who are 18 months old with no previous education transcripts/talent/whatever to compare. Apart from alumni connections, the waitlists are on a first-come-first-served basis, and everyone, from the man on the SBS bus to the CEO in the corner office, are accepted upon payment of the waitlist fee.  Also, note that the pre-schools with long waitlists are not the expensive ones (otherwise the queues will be considerably shorter). So forget the thought that a long waitlist means that your 18-month old child will be hobnobbing with only the rich and famous. It means precisely the opposite. Think Raffles Town Club.

The prize for exclusivity has got to go to schools like British Tanglin Trust School. It is so exclusive that, even if you have both the connections and lots of money, you may not get in. You can speed yourself up the waitlist by buying “Guaranteed Placement Rights” at S$165,000 (plus GST of S$11,550) for 7 years, although your child still has to be “assessed” before they will accept him. The sum is just to secure a spot, by the way. It does not cover school fees or anything else - it’s a contribution to the school to build its new building. After all, the school is a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation and money must come from somewhere. Now that is what I call an expensive school.

My point is that, popularity does not necessarily equate to top-quality. Which makes my task of selecting a pre-school more difficult.  Being "value-driven", I want to ensure that Ryan has access to the best in terms of teaching and learning.  If popularity truly represented top-quality, I could simply place him on one of these long waitlists and rest assured that he will end up in an 'elite' pre-school, the best of the best. Unfortunately for me, that is not the case. So I had to do a lot more research and fact-finding.

So how to decide? The madness continues. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A short update

I know posts on the blog have been few these past few weeks. Take that as a good sign that life has been very full and I haven't had the luxury of being alone with my notebook to properly compose a post.

Just some notes for now.

Our new condo is keeping us occupied - we just finalised the design of the kitchen and the wardrobes yesterday. Hopefully everything will be installed by end April. The next time we go back to KL, we will just need to buy the fridge and the beds. After that comes all the packing and shifting out of the old condo and the unpacking and the settling in at the new condo. And, when we've recovered from all that, we will need to do up the old condo and get it leased out.

Back home, Richard and Ryan are not feeling well. Apparently, there is a flu virus going around and the soggy weather isn't helping. Ryan had to miss his swimming lesson and his Shichida lesson last Sunday and Richard is off work for two days.

Last week, we spent quite a lot of time shopping for toys.  I realised that we haven't sourced new toys for Ryan for quite some time and he's fast outgrowing the toys which he has now. We buy lots of books and Ryan loves to read, but a boy needs his toys!

Richard and I have been visiting some pre-schools to find a suitable one for Ryan. Not an easy task because they aren't usually open on weekends so we've had to take time off work here and there to do this. I've got quite a lot to report, so I'll save this for a separate post. I've also been reading up on various teaching/learning methods, all quite fascinating.

Lastly, I've been working on some changes to the blog, which I will reveal soon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Resting and relaxing

As usual, Ryan had his swimming lesson this morning.



In the evening, we had a small gathering at Shann's lovely house. Great company, delicious potluck, a great way to wind down the weekend.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Food adventures

After swimming, it was off for spaghetti bolognaise at our regular haunt, The Botanic Gardens.






It wasn't too long before Ryan got himself all covered in bolognaise sauce. He got a good smear on his face,

ran his sauce-covered fingers through his hair,

not forgetting to get some of that lovely sauce in his ear.

After all that hard work...

there didn't seem much point in keeping the serviette/makeshift bib on.

As always, Ryan was attracted to the fountains - see his little feet straining towards the water!

Happiness.

We spent Friday and Saturday in KL and, as we did a few weeks back, we rushed back to Singapore on Saturday night so that Ryan could have his swimming lesson on Sunday morning.

The two days in KL were well spent. We managed to get the renovation work at our new condo going, bought some furniture and met up with various contractors and suppliers. Of course, we also met up with Richard's family over lunch/dinner and Margaret even babysat Ryan on Saturday afternoon while we ran around doing our errands. Looking forward to getting the place all fitted out.


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