[The PV Series] The Children's Day Funfair

Children’s Day has been pretty confusing of late for us parents. I always preferred the 1 October allotment over the current First Friday of October arrangement, simply because it was so much easier to remember. But I did see the point for the day to be moved right into a long weekend for the kids. And so it was that the school I volunteered in was planning a funfair for the kids just the day before they had their long weekend break.

funfair

Now, technically speaking, the annual Children’s Day Funfair is a Parent Support Group (PSG) event, and for the uninitiated (that means pretty much all of us young parents) there is a significant different between the PSG and parent volunteers (PV), namely that the PSG volunteers are parents whose kids are already in the school and PSG volunteers are self-managed, while the PVs volunteer in the hopes that their kids can eventually get in, and these volunteers are managed by the school.

Thus it makes sense that the PSG committee take the reins in planning annual events such as this, since it would take experience to run such things relatively smoothly. But then, how did The Blogfather get involved with the PSG as a PV then?

For one, I can draw (specifically, on Adobe Illustrator).

signs-group

When the signs were produced, the committee members were so enamoured with the artwork, they proudly included the signs in practically every single groupshot they took at the fairground.

signs-collage

And then, there was the fact that I knew some people who knew some people who could get me some things that some people I knew might find useful.

contri-hasbro

‘Nuff said.

I will add that I was with the funfair planning committee through the 3 months it took to get everything together. And boy, were these people resourceful. Most of the games equipment were sourced online from suppliers based in China, which were then delivered to a PSG member’s sister’s China office and flown over via a couple of trips worth of check-in luggage. The rest were either made or recycled from last year’s funfair. And by the day of the funfair, the committee managed to bring together about 100 volunteers over two shifts to take care of 17 game stalls and large waves of primary school children from every level.

The foremost thing on everyone’s mind, though, was making sure the kids had something to remember their life in school by. Unfortunately, The Blogfather isn’t quite able to comment on the proceedings of the day, but I did get The Wife to attend the funfair, partly to help me document the event in words and pictures, partly to get her to experience parent volunteering at a primary school for the first time.

How did it go for her rather pregnant self? All I can say for now is that my phone was buzzing non-stop at work that day from her excited up-to-the-minute WhatsApp updates. You need to keep an eye out for her post, coming soon on Mother of Xander.

ty-hasbro

In the meantime, on behalf of the schoolchildren, the school PSG and me, I’d like to give a thousand thanks to HASBRO SINGAPORE for their generous contribution of toys and other goodies as part of the funfair’s prizes and games equipment. Your generosity added even more brightness into the hearts of our funfair volunteers, and in the faces of a thousand happy children.

[The PV Series] Canteen Duty During Ramadan

The past month, I’ve been hanging out at the primary school where I volunteer almost every evening. Parent volunteers and Parents Support Group (PSG) members (volunteers whose children were already enrolled in the school) were being called in to assist in caregiving during the Ramadan period, so the Muslim teachers in the afternoon session could leave earlier to break their fast. The classes they were in charge of during the last period of the day would all be seated in the canteen for about half an hour to the capable hands of the available 1 or 2 non-Muslim teachers, and us.

PV-Canteen-Duty

When we were first briefed in what the school called “canteen duty”, we were handed a list of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to follow, which went to the tune of the following:

***

SOP for doing Canteen Duty during Fasting Month

1) Do ensure that the pupils are doing their own work in the canteen.

2) Do ensure the safety of our pupils in the canteen.

3) Assist the pupils in their work (when needed).

4) Allow only 2 pupils to go to the restroom at each time for each class.

5) Assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the parade square at 6.30pm.

6) During wet weather, do assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the respective gates upon the instructions of the teacher-in-charge.

***

It seemed simple enough… until the pupils came in.

How Do The Teachers Do It?!

The most notable difference between full-fledged teachers and parent volunteers is the volume of their voice: parent volunteers will tend to speak gently to the oh-so-cute Primary 1 and 2 kids, making sure we attend to as much of their needs as possible within the stipulated guidelines. The teachers, however, have no qualms carrying their voices across the entire canteen area to make one simple point to the 5-6 classes – SILENCE, OR ELSE.

You can imagine whose heads the kids will tend to climb over.

About 4 sessions later of observing how the teachers skilfully navigate their way around the rowdiness, and I was barely getting the hang of controlling a crowd I never imagined I would have an audience of, though I was gaining a reputation among the other parent volunteers as “the one who will scold”.

As for the SOPs…

1) Do ensure that the pupils are doing their own work in the canteen.

PV-Pupils-Work

It’s one thing to guide your preschooler through spelling 8 words on a Sunday night just before bed (though the wife and I will still attest to it being suitably stressful). But just try to ensure a class of 30 kids will complete their allotted schoolwork in the span of half an hour, and you will appreciate why it takes 1 year of training for university graduates to qualify as a primary school teacher.

2) Do ensure the safety of our pupils in the canteen.

We had very little problems with this one, because the kids were mostly able to look out for themselves. In fact, they were so adept at it, they would avoid certain tables because “Uncle/Teacher, here got bird poopoo! We cannot sit here!”, and subsequently ostracise the poor table and benches for the rest of the period.

3) Assist the pupils in their work (when needed).

Again, easier said than done. You know you shouldn’t be giving them straight answers; they come to school to learn, don’t they? But it takes brain cells to come up with a suitable roundabout way for the pupil to come up with the correct answer him- or herself.

Pupil: “Excuse me, uncle. what is the answer to this?”
Me: “Okay. 7 plus 6 equals… what?”
Pupil: “I dunno.”
Me: “Er, well, count with your fingers.”
Pupil: “6, 7, 8, 9… Uncle. I not enough fingers.”
Me: “Uh… borrow some more from your friend.”
Kid next to pupil: “I duwan.”

4) Allow only 2 pupils to go to the restroom at each time for each class.

There’s a trick to this that I did not understand until a few days later: most kids do not go to the toilet because they need to pee. They ask to go to the toilet because they want to be anywhere but where they should be.

I learnt this the hard way, when two girls came up to me the first day of my canteen duty and asked to go to the toilet about 5 minutes before it was time to leave the canteen for the flag-lowering ceremony. They did not return until after the national anthem was sung and everybody was carrying their bags, ready to bolt.

After a while, you learn to identify when someone seriously needs to go to the toilet and when someone is just trying to make a break for it. When a pupil comes up to you with a slightly worried look, legs pressed together and doing tiny hops from left to right, they need to go. But when a pupil comes up to you, with a cheeky smile and an inexplicable glint in his eye, you say NO.

5) Assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the parade square at 6.30pm.

PV-flag-lowering

This brought back memories for me. The off-sync, faster-than-what’s-being-played-on-the-PA-system singing, the class-by-class dismissals, the occasional teacher silently sneaking up behind an overtly fidgety pupil who only notices too late that he’s just gotten into trouble, and the crying boy who was made to stand right in front of everybody at assembly because he already got into trouble earlier on in the day.

I used to be that boy.

6) During wet weather, do assist in the dismissal of the pupils from canteen to the respective gates upon the instructions of the teacher-in-charge.

This happened only once. The parade square was still a little damp from the afternoon rain that day. I’ve never seen such a large group of kids disappear so quickly.

The more I do this, the more I can’t wait for my own kid to get into primary school.

[PV Series] The First Assignment

To recap from my previous parent volunteer (PV) series post, I received an e-mail from a parent support group (PSG) committee member asking if I could fill in for a PV to attend a Primary 1 afternoon school outing. The excursion would be, er, excursed, the following Monday – just 2 days from the date the email was sent. Turns out another PV pulled out at the last minutes and they had trouble finding a replacement at such short notice.

I responded to say I was available, and was told to report at the school to a certain class at 1pm.

When I arrived, I was expecting some sort of briefing to clarify the scope of work and responsibilities the PVs had to undertake during the course of the day. Oddly, when I went to the school’s general office to report for duty, the rather flustered receptionist had no other information for me other than “Wait for the class to come down, then report to the class teacher.”

2 minutes later, 2 classes arrived at the school foyer and sat down, each class of 30 children forming lines of 2 and sat down, chattering away.

After another 3 minutes of wondering which of the class teachers I should introduce myself to, I picked the angrier looking one (because that’s how I roll), and asked if this was class 2J.

“Class 2J? Her,” she replied, pointing to the more docile looking teacher over at the head of the next class.

I let out a small sigh of relief.

“Oh, hi,” said the other teacher when I turned to her. “Parent volunteer? Hang on ah.” She proceeded to dig into a box, pulled out a plastic bag, and handed it to me. “This is for you.”

In the bag were a small mineral water bottle and a tuna sandwich. “Oh. Uh, thanks,” I managed to blurt out.

There still wasn’t much in terms of a briefing, but from the emails I had received about the outing and my own memory of what a primary school excursion was like, I managed to more or less figure out what I had to do.

The course of my work for the day went as such:

  1. Make sure everyone boards the bus.
  2. Distribute iPods and earphones (supplied by the school, and loaded with relevant videos pertaining to the excursion).
  3. Disentangle one student’s earphones.
  4. Make sure everyone gets off the bus.
  5. Disentangle another student’s earphones.
  6. Walk to exhibition entrance.
  7. Disentangle another student’s earphones.
  8. Divide the class into 5 groups and direct them to their respective activity stations.
  9. Disentangle another student’s earphones.
  10. Bring 3 boys to the toilet.
  11. Bring the 3 boys back from the toilet.
  12. Break for tea.
  13. Offer my sandwich to a student after finding out she didn’t bring her lunch. Then find out she actually didn’t want to eat in the first place and was very disappointed to have to eat my sandwich. (She didn’t finish the sandwich.)
  14. Bring 6 boys to the toilet
  15. Bring the 6 boys back from the toilet.
  16. Find out the whole class had to go wash their hands after their meal, and bring 14 boys to the toilet.
  17. Keep boys from other schools out of the toilet until the 14 boys were done
  18. Sit in during a workshop where the kids learned about the food pyramid and made their own fruit salads
  19. Scramble into crowd control when the teacher let the kids loose to play in the exhibition play facility.

One of the things that impressed me was the school’s use of handheld devices as teaching aids. The teacher later told me the devices are refurbished models supplied by sponsors, and change as and when the sponsors change.

The kids got quite dependent on the info supplied in their iPods. But the otherwise progressive and well-planned provision of tools hit a snag. The info provided by the exhibition organizers turned out to be a year old, and some of the exhibits had either been moved or removed since.

The other thing that impressed me was the class discipline. Perhaps the gods were kind to me; I was assigned a class of attentive, obedient students. I realised this whilst sitting in on the little workshop they attended, and I imagined if I were in Primary 2, I’d have given the workshop instructor a hard time (maybe gone into a snoreful slumber, thrown a chair or something; I was that kind of student back in the day).

But the kids were great. They listened quietly (which, from 30 8-year-olds, was quite a sight to behold), and dove right into their activities with the enthusiasm and gusto of… well, attentive, obedient 8-year-olds.

I was later told by the form teacher that this class isn’t even a top-performing class. There were a handful of high flyers, but the class had good EQ in general.

The teacher herself was well-prepared, given her 8 years in service. She packed light, but packed enough, like a seasoned traveller, equipping herself with a box of tissue, a first-aid box (which came in handy when one of the girls complained of an upset stomach), and a set of commands that would put a military sergeant to shame.

For example:

For silence

Teacher: “Class, Finger One.”

(Whole class falls silent, and everyone has an arm raised with one finger pointing up.)

For sitting still

Teacher: “Class, Finger Two.”

(Whole class falls silent, arms crossed with two fingers extended.)

For standing still

Teacher: “Class, Finger Three.”

(Whole class falls silent, arms placed behind, with one hand holding three fingers on the other hand.)

For attention

Teacher: “Class, all eyes on me.”

Class: (in chorus, and index fingers pointing at teacher) “Yes. All eyes on you.”

Newbie Parent Volunteer: “Phwah.”

[The Parent Volunteer Series] Beginnings

Back in the tail end of October, my wife pressed me into applying for a parent volunteer (PV) programme at a rather reputable school near our home. I was planning to make a living out of working at home at the time, and thought it might actually be a good experience to document here.

Yes, we also wanted to try and jump queue for our son. But given the debate over whether PVism actually does put your child in a better position to enter the school at the end of the day, The Blogfather will reserve comment… that is, until he finds out in the second half of 2014.

I got a call in late January from the school’s admin manager saying the vice-principal(s) would like to meet me for an interview. My wife (who insisted on going, saying this is officially a family affair) and I headed down a couple of days later, half expecting a job interview, and half not knowing what to expect.

The interview took 15 minutes. They were intrigued that a father was applying, and even more mystified that I was able to offer time during office hours. They were interested in my ability to design, but even more curious about my deep interest in the topic of parenthood (I put this blog and Dear Xander in as part of my r?sum?). We were confirmed on the spot (it’s “us” now, since my wife also attended; since then, every correspondence we receive from them refers to both my wife and I by our first names). I was also told at the end of the interview that in view of my interest in parenting, they will be placing me in their Parent Support Group (PSG).

There was no word from the school again until early March, when a slew of introductory emails came in, spearheaded by the PSG chairman, with a request to set a time for a group meeting. Before the month was over, while waiting for the meet-up details to be finalised, I received another email from another PSG committee member asking if I could fill in for a PV to attend a Primary 1 afternoon school outing — in just 2 days’ time.

I jumped at the request.

I don’t know about you, but to me, this is all terribly exciting, isn’t it?

To be continued…