SINGAPORE – As school resumed on Tuesday last week, many parents probably breathed a sigh of relief after the unprecedented school holidays under Covid-19.
Since April, parents have had to support their children doing home-based learning, as well as find ways to keep them occupied during the shut-in holidays last month.
For some kids, however, overseas trips and enrichment camps – traditional mainstays on offer during the long school holidays – were hardly missed.
In fact, what many youngsters appreciated, even during an anxiety-tinged pandemic at home, was far simpler, says Ms Skye Tan, a family life specialist at Focus on the Family Singapore.
“The kids’ priorities were to have fun and enjoy unhurried quality time with their parents,” she says.
Parenting experts observed two distinct waves of stress levels during the circuit breaker period of nearly two months.
During the school term, there was an escalation of concerns about keeping children occupied after they did their home-based learning, while parents were less stressed during the holidays, says Mr Shaun Liu, a trainer in the family wellness division of Morning Star Community Services.
Parenting expert Yip Kwai Heng notes that some parents had become less stressed towards the end of the school holidays as spending more time with their kids, even while busy working from home, may have strengthened their bond.
Some parents even reported that their parenting skills had improved during the circuit breaker, adds Ms Yip, senior programme lead in early childhood programmes at Seed Institute, which offers training and other services to early childhood practitioners and parents.
Asked about their best memories of home-based learning and the holidays, children interviewed by The Sunday Times seemed oblivious to any struggles their parents may have faced.
The kids gave a glowing report card to small pleasures – more play, more free time and simply hanging out with the family.
TEACHING HIS FRIENDS TO MAKE STAR WARS ORIGAMI ON ZOOM
Doing home-based learning is better than going to school, according to Eli Sim, aged nine.
“In class, we cannot talk and move around. When we stay at home, we don’t need to wear our masks and we can talk freely,” says the Primary 3 pupil, who is the second of four sons.
His mother works in client management at a technology firm and his father has an e-commerce business selling tech products. Both are 43.
Eli likes seeing his friends on-screen during their online learning sessions.”We get to have lessons together on Zoom, which is special because we seldom go to the computer lab in school.”
After he was introduced to the video-conferencing tool for home-based learning, he used it to keep in touch with his friends.
He has been showing some of them how to fold Star Wars origami on Zoom, making stormtroopers, Yoda and the X-wing starfighter spacecraft. He also shares his progress learning basic Japanese and Malay with his buddies, showing them phrases he has picked up via Google Translate.
He also enjoys taking online lessons in Japanese pastel nagomi art.
Eli, who does not have a mobile phone, likes the immediacy of video-conferencing.
“If today is Sunday and you have something to talk to your friends about, when it gets to Monday, you may forget to tell them. You can tell them on Zoom instead.”
DOING BODY COMBAT WORKOUTS WITH THE FAMILY
Nine-year-old John Goh cherishes spending more time with his family during the circuit breaker, which has helped him to know them better.
“I learnt that my parents sometimes do devotion together at night, after we do that as a family. Also, sometimes at night, they eat potato chips,” says John, who is in Primary 3.
He had spied a Christian devotional book his parents had used after family prayers and Bible reading, which take place every night.
The budding detective had also spotted the potato crisps wrapper in the dustbin. Usually, after he comes back from school and student care in the evening, the family’s domestic helper would have cleared the bin, he explains.
The discovery was heightened by the fact that his mother generally does not let John and his two younger brothers have snacks, except at parties.
“He was laughing at us,” says his mum Jean Ho, 39, a finance manager in a technology company. Her husband, also 39, works in risk management.
An active boy whose weekly football classes and hip-hop co-curricular activity have been suspended because of Covid-19, John had noticed his parents, who have been working from home, doing body combat workouts, and asked to join in.
Now the whole family does body combat workouts every day, including the youngest child, who is 18 months old and is throwing punches and kicks and doing push-ups (on his knees) with the rest of them.
John says he liked hugging, kissing and wrestling with his younger brothers, whom he saw more of, during the stay-home school holidays.
Engaged in home-based learning this past week, he returns to school on Monday. He has missed his friends and the canteen food, and looks forward to ordering a black pepper chicken don (rice bowl) from the Japanese food stall.
PRETENDING TO BE A YOUTUBER
“I like staying at home best,” says Muhammad Nihar Zaffar, aged eight.
While others may have chafed at restrictions on spending time outdoors during the circuit breaker, the Primary 3 pupil is a homebody who was content to stay indoors for a month before his eldest brother took him for a walk.
His mother Shamaila Naeem says Nihar, the youngest of her three sons, relished “pretending to be a YouTuber” during the school holidays.
Ms Naeem, 44, a housewife, is married to a businessman in his 50s.
Nihar asked her to film him demonstrating to his “viewers” (herself) how to download his favourite games.
MAKING KUEH, LEARNING ABOUT CULTURE
Mel-Ee Tan, 12, saw the shut-in school holidays as an opportunity to explore interests she had not had the time for.
Chief among these was making kueh.
Her family members have always enjoyed these traditional desserts and the adjustments they had to make during the circuit breaker period were conducive to her new hobby.
Before the stay-home Covid-19 restrictions came into effect in early April, her household of six did not cook at home. They regularly ate at her grandmother’s home nearby and had to buy pantry staples like salt and cooking oil.
Their steamer, which was among the few kitchen appliances they had, has since been put to use for many kueh recipes. Besides helping her domestic helper to cook for herself, her two younger sisters and her parents, Mel-Ee, a Secondary 1 student, has churned out steamed kueh lapis and ondeh ondeh, as well as cookies and egg tarts.
Her mother Jorelle Chan, 39, a corporate learning and development senior executive, added to Mel-Ee’s knowledge of heritage foods by buying her traditional Chinese snacks like peanut candy and haw flakes.
Mel-Ee says: “I’ve always seen those snacks around but hadn’t tried them. Now I find them more addictive than chocolate.”
SINGING AND DANCING TOGETHER
Sisters Celine and Claudine Ng agree that the best part of their school holidays was having their parents work from home, even though the couple, who work in the same financial advisory firm, have “many meetings”.
Still, Celine, nine, and Claudine, seven, keep themselves entertained when their parents are not available to bake chocolate chip cookies or play board games with them. Claudine, who is in Primary 2, likes Monopoly so much that she sometimes plays it on her own, using two counters.
Celine, a Primary 3 pupil, says: “Every day, I spend a lot of time with my sister. We like to sing and dance.”
They made video skits for YouTube during the school holidays, including an adaptation of Disney’s 1989 film The Little Mermaid, called Ursula And The Eco-friendly Little Mermaid.
Their mother Jenny Chia, 37, says her daughters have grown closer because of the stay-home school holidays.
“Though there were more arguments, they learnt to work things out better between themselves. I noticed fewer fights along the way,” she says.