The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Who taught you to read?

on July 14, 2014

It has always fascinated me how children learn to talk just by absorbing language around them. #1 knew a lot of words by the time he was two but most of them were the names of trains from Thomas the Tank Engine. When the Doctor asked me at his two year old growth and development check up whether he knew 20 words and use them in the right context, I couldn’t actually be sure that he did.

#2 on the other hand could articulate herself quite well way before the age of two and the other day we all sat down as a family to add up the words that #3 can say, it’s over 30. Such are the benefits of having older siblings. But I also know that even though #2 has a wide and varying vocabulary, it’s often not much help if she doesn’t understand the meaning of the words or sticks by her own interpretation of the words that go in her favour.

In our household, there is constant chatter all the time. Some of it in the form of needs and wants, some in the form of delightful, funny two way conversations and some in the form of unintelligible wailing. All three at the same time ever proving that they are on their way to mastering the power of language.

I have often wondered though, how #1 was ever going to learn to read let alone to write. For I have to admit that I have not been one of those parents who have religiously sat in front of #1, 2 and 3 whizzing flash cards past their faces even before that first tooth had popped out. Judge me not.

Should I be sitting with them practising their alphabet and sight words for an hour a day? Should I decorate the walls with useful educational posters? Should I be turning everyday activities into a learning experience?

Then some time last year a friend of #1 who was only five months older than him was able to read a book. All by themselves. READING? At the age of just four? I felt a frisson of panic. How did you manage that? How do you teach them to read when they barely acknowledge the alphabet?

As it turns out, the sensible Mum of #1’s friend said, ‘Just leave it to school’. So I did. And lo and behold #1 came back from school earlier this year with his first ever reading book. Admittedly the book consisted of four words arranged in a combination of ways to make new three word sentences but it was a book that he was reading all by himself all the same. Husband and I were very proud. Whilst #1 couldn’t see what the hoo ha was all about. He’s progressed far in a few months.


It’s a funny thing when you think about it but being able to read and write is just one of those things that you know how to do without remembering who or how you were taught. Besides having a firm belief that school was invented to give parents and children a break from each other, it’s amazing the skills that school and an education equip us with. It is a privilege that we can take for granted now but that’s not the case for all around the world and you only need to know a little about Malala Yousafzai’s story in Pakistan to consider just how lucky we really are. A few months ago, I listened to an interview with Malala and she touched upon how it makes her feel that some of her contemporaries fail to see just how lucky they are to have the right to an education and sometimes not appreciating this right appropriately.

At the moment I have no predictions for the educational goals or career aspirations for #1, 2 and 3. There is the underlying hope that they will do well and follow a career path that will give them stability and fulfilment but how that looks is entirely up to them as we go along.

For now, it is enough that they enjoy learning. I enjoyed learning as a child. I loved learning in fact. The old fashioned way with text books and pens, libraries and reference books. I don’t know how I will greet this new world of laptops and iPads for all children. At searching for information and getting answers to the most complex of questions within a few keystrokes. I get that we all have to move with the times and a digital generation will still be one that is sophisticated, enthralling and challenging. My worry is that they will not be as adept at remembering things. If we’ve become such a throwaway society with material things then does that go for our memories too? Even now I can only recall several telephone numbers off the top of my head and Birthdays because all that information stored in that one small gadget.

This past week, I attended the Parent Teacher meetings for #1 and 2 and I marvel and respect the hard work and effort that their teachers have put into laying the foundations for their educational future.

Make learning fun is definitely the key for all ages and I can only be complimentary to what the school is teaching my children. It’s a beautiful little school in an old black and white house set off a rural track, quite a rarity in urban Singapore. #1 and 2 are leading this whole other independent life enriched with knowledge, creativity and happiness there. I love how they come back from school with facts that I have long forgotten about which they have heard for the first time and think is wonderful.

They do lots of fabulous arts and crafts and I’m beginning to wonder where everything is going to go because how could you possibly throw away anything that your children have painstakingly created?


In and amongst all this fun stuff though, there has been a structured learning programme in place working hard behind the scenes. The letters they were encouraged to copy with pieces of pasta and string at the age of two, revisited at the age of three and reemphasised at the age of four. All these steps have been leading up to the moment when #1 comes home, without much fanfare, with his first reading book that brings a whoop of delight from us at this most exciting moment.

I spare a thought for my Dad, Mr Li having to attend my own Parent’s Evenings. I’m not sure whether much was gained by him being there or not but who wants to be the only child in the class whose parents don’t come to Parent’s Evening? When you spend the day at school making sure the classroom is tidy and get your tray ready with all the fruits of your labour so that you can proudly show your parents where you sit in the class and the work you do.

My Dad, Mr Li came of course but always with the slight air of anxiety and perhaps embarassment that he couldn’t understand much of what was being said beyond, ‘Hello, Mr Li, very pleased to meet you’. And ‘Good, no problems here’. To which my Dad, Mr Li would nod and smile and say ‘Good, Thank you’ and feel very relieved that there are no problems. Needless to say discussions were short. My Dad, Mr Li once said that he understood his limitations in being useful as a parent who could sit down and help with reading, writing and doing maths. How sad and worrying must that have been for him at the time.

You see, even though my Dad, Mr Li has no idea what I’ve been doing all these years, it doesn’t really matter to him. He feels pride enough to see that we’re doing something. He doesn’t really understand what I did in gainful employment but then neither do I fully understand what Husband does in his gainful employment.

For #1 though, the serious stuff has just started. The reading, the writing, the basic maths. There’s still a long way to go though for all of us but I hope he relishes the world of information out there and never wants to stop learning new things. He will be guided to appreciate the effort and amazing work teachers do. For although Husband and I can credit ourselves with many things he knows, we did not teach him the basic skills in how to read which makes it so much easier for us to encourage him onward with his reading. One of life’s best gifts.


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