Primary 1 (Grade 1 or Elementary 1), or P1 as it is called in Singapore – marks the start of formal education for most children and it can be a big shift in terms of academic intensity and expectations for parents and their kids. Preparation for entering Primary 1 ought to have started at least a year before the first day of school, yet the expectations of what a child ought to know on day 1 are not very clearly defined anywhere. This applies to all subjects, but especially so to the English language in countries where English is the medium of instruction for all other subjects.
So how does a parent know if his/her child knows enough for Primary 1 English?
Generally, the child should:
- Be able to recognise all the letters of the English alphabet in both upper and lower case.
- Know when to use upper or lower case letters.
- Be able to write his/her own name in full.
- Know basic use of punctuation.
- Be able to understand simple instructions like “go for recess”, “do your homework” and “keep silent”.
- Be able to spell simple words confidently like “cat”, “dog”, “ball”, “tree”, “high”, “low” and “hat”.
- Already have some knowledge of phonics.
- Be able to read simple books and instructions on children’s worksheets.
- Have neat or at least legible handwriting
- Have an understanding of tenses and how they convey a frame of time.
- Know that spoken and written English can be different.
- Be able to recognise common daily use words even if spoken in a slightly different accent.
- Be able speak with other children his/her age in full sentences.
- Be able to focus on lessons even if the lesson is not conducted in a fun and enjoyable way.
Since we are on this topic, we thought we should also list the things that a child really does NOT need to know or do before entering P1:
Generally, the child should need not:
- Memorise every grammar rule in the English language. In fact, it is perfectly okay if your child cannot name grammar rules but is still able to write grammatically correct sentences.
- Be able to speed read, or read as fast as any adult.
- Be able to write in cursive.
- Have exceptional handwriting.
- Be able to write as fast as an adult.
- Be able to use uncommon punctuation marks like “-” or “;”.
- Be able to read newspaper articles.
- Be able to use a dictionary.
In case you skimmed this article and just read the list above this line, let me state again that the list above is a list of things that children do not need to know about English before they enter Primary 1. Obviously, if a child shows a special interest in any of the above areas, parents should not stop them from learning.
Primary schools will expect students to have varying levels of mastery of the English language and will generally be able to accommodate most students within a reasonable range of fluency. However, if a child enters the class with no knowledge of the language, then he or she will lag behind everybody else. One would also have to assume that teachers cannot simply slow down an entire classroom’s learning progress to allow any 1 individual to catch up.
So what can parents do if they think their child is not ready for Primary 1?
If a child is scheduled to enter Primary 1 soon but parents think their kid is not yet ready – there still are some actions that parents can take to ensure that their child does not get left too far behind.
- Speak with the class teacher. Parents will have to speak with the class teacher to explain that their child has a poor command of the English language and hence may not be able to fully understand the lessons being taught in the classroom.
- Request for the weekly syllabus in advance. With knowledge of the weekly syllabus, parents can do some coaching at home over the weekends to improve their child’s understanding in specific areas so that he/she will be able to follow the lessons being taught in the classroom.
- Enroll their children into an English enrichment programmes or tuition. This option can get costly, but parents can reach out to community centres near their homes to see if any enrichment lessons are being provided. Some not-for-profit organisations also offer English enrichment lessons at very affordable rates or even for free.
One thing that parents should never do, is to request for teachers to teach their children other subjects like science and mathematics in another language, even if the teacher is willing to do so. Such an arrangement will be severely disadvantageous to the child, because such arrangements will be hard to make as the child progresses in academic levels.
Mastering English is not an option in any country where English is the (or one of) official languages.
English fluency is also a pre-requisite to gaining employment in many companies and scoring consistently good grades in English can be a pre-requisite for gaining entry to some institutions of higher learning, so parents should never simply aim for their children to pass or scrap through the English language. Instead, parents should aim to have their children gain strong mastery in the language from as young an age as possible. This is critical because if a child’s foundation in any language is weak, he/she will have to work exponentially hard to keep up with peers as he/she goes on to higher levels of learning.
Why can’t I let the education system do what it’s supposed to do and educate my child?
Like any system designed to cater to the general public, the education system has its limitations. Teacher to student ratios are not small enough in most countries to allow teachers the flexibility of time to guide each and every child through their difficulties in school. Put simply – this means that in any class there may be some children struggling with either reading, writing or speaking – but the teacher will not be able to sit down and coach every single student in his/her weak areas. There will simply not be enough time. In competitive countries like Singapore, many parents would have already invested a lot of time or money (or both) in ensuring that their children have beyond the expected levels of mastery in the English language before they enter Primary 1. Although it may seem unnecessary to use other children’s competencies as benchmarks – the harsh reality is that if any particular child is ill prepared for P1 English, he/she will quickly find himself/herself at a severe disadvantage during class, because it is only natural that the class will be conducted at a general pace that engages and challenges the majority of students – leaving the rest to scramble behind.
Brought to you by the KidsEnglishCollege™ Editorial Team.
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