This may come as a surprise to many Singaporean parents – but Singapore’s Ministry of Education shares detailed subject syllabuses online. In fact, these documents can get really detailed; you actually get 140 pages of information when you click on the English Language syllabus document for Primary and Secondary (Express/Normal). The great thing is that information on this document is well structured and includes reasonably easy to interpret tables and diagrams. It may be tempting for parents to skim over the content- but we feel there is tremendous value in reading the whole thing, or at least the portions that pertain to Primary school education.
Unfortunately, as detailed as the information provided by MOE is, it does not exactly specify what level of mastery a child should have in the English language before entering Primary 1. In this article, we try to tackle that question and have put together a list of English language tasks that we think children should have already mastered at that stage.
So let’s get on to it!
Before a child enters Primary 1, he/she should already be able to:
- Recognise all the letters of the English alphabet.
- Recognise numbers from 1 to 10, when they are written as either numbers or words.
- Be able to use “he”, “she” and “it” appropriately in short sentences.
- Be able to write out their own name independently.
- Be able to spell out the names of colours.
- Know that sentences need to start with upper case letters and end with full-stops/periods/exclamation marks or question marks.
- Speak in complete sentences.
- Read and pronounce the most common words of the English language. A useful reference list of common words can be found on Wikipedia.
- Read simple sentences out loud, even if very slowly.
- Make up stories with their imagination.
- Read instructions on worksheets and in work books.
- Comprehend verbal instructions.
Obviously, preparation for Primary 1 cannot start a few weeks before the first day of school. It has to start when the child is about 4 years old.
Oftentimes, parents tend to buy all sorts of workbooks and activity sets that promise to bestow young children with all kinds of English mastery within record time. Unfortunately, language development does not work in this way. No amount of money can buy fluency in any language! Parents hence need to understand that preparing their child for formal school has to start early, but it does not mean that children need to sit down and start mugging text books when they are 4.
If parents start teaching English to their children in a loosely structured manner for 30 mins a day from the age of 4, the child will likely have way above average mastery of the language by the time he/she enters the formal education system at the age of 6 (Primary 1).
So what do we mean by loosely structured?
- Have a game plan. Parents should have an idea of what they want to teach their children and in what order. It is irrelevant if children pick up other aspects of the language along the way – that is a bonus. In fact, if children start to show interest in learning vocabulary around a specific theme, parents should encourage it and not stop them, but at the same time, they should be mindful of the overall plan. For example, parents can start by setting a target of memorising the spellings of 10 new words relating to the zoo within a week, but if the child decides that he/she wants to learn about vehicles that week – the parent can switch out the 10 words to be all about vehicles instead. At the end of the week, the child has the spellings of 10 new words stored safely in his/her mental database.
- Allow jumping ahead. One fine day your 4 year old child may ask you to explain how plants create food. You may be tempted to brush it off with a “let’s talk about this when you are older”. Don’t. Instead, explain photosynthesis to your child as best as you can. Repeat yourself in different ways. Try different approaches and drawing diagrams. Your child may still eventually not understand the concept – but along the way he/she would have learned a whole bunch of new words and this will make the difference the next time you or anyone else tries to explain the same thing to him/her.
- Use textbooks and workbooks and activity sets, but aim for understanding and mastery of concepts – not volume of work done. Every time your child completes a worksheet, ask questions to test his/her understanding of the work he/she just completed. It is better for your child to complete 1 worksheet in phonics based on his/her understanding of the concepts than it is for him/her to complete 10 worksheets yet still not be able to read simple consonant – vowel combinations out loud. You will over the course of your child’s school years hear several parents saying things like “I made him do so many worksheets yet he still does not get it“, and this is usually because they tried to overcome low quality understanding with high volume effort. If you hear yourself saying something similar at any point of your child’s first few academic years, you really should revisit the teaching approach and take a step back to revisit basic concepts if necessary.
Language development is a marathon and not a race. It takes a great deal of exposure to various styles of good writing before an individual’s language competency can be described as being above average. Schools will undoubtedly provide the opportunities needed for children to develop their competencies in the English language but parents have to do a little bit of heavy lifting at home. Otherwise, their children will enter the formal education system with an immediate disadvantage and while the rest of the class is building on their strengths in writing, reading and speaking, their children will be struggling just to follow the lessons being taught without behind left behind.
Do you agree or do you have another view? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section down below.
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