Should you send your toddler to Playgroup?

*UPDATE* 
Elise is now in K1 and attending a full-day childcare. Playgroups are few and far between. Then, I paid $200 per month for a 2-hour class and it followed the MOE schedule, meaning that there were breaks in March/June/Sept/Dec. I would now suggest sending your child to half-day childcare or even full-day if the price difference is not a lot.


*ORIGINAL POST*

If your toddler is currently being cared for by yourself/grandparents/a domestic helper, you may be asking yourself this question. Some parents choose to keep their children at home until they reach 3 or 4 years old and send them directly to kindergarten or a full-day childcare.  For us, my dad helps to watch Elise during the day when I have to work from home. She prefers him over anyone of us, but watching a child for a full day gets extremely tiring. Not all caretakers know how to educate young ones and they just throw the kids in front of the television for hours. 

He often resorts to using the tablet to educate/entertain her. He told me that he doesn’t know any other way to engage her in learning (honestly, that’s not his responsibility either). I’ve seen him stretched to his limits when Elise is overly tired and throws an uncontrollable tantrum (wriggling out of our arms, wailing, not wanting to walk or sit in the stroller etc.) and he has burst out at her before in frustration. When I first started working from home, I had all these ideas for sensory play and exploration at home, home-schooling according to some Montessori approach… let’s just say I overestimated myself. There ARE SAHMs who do an excellent job of managing the house and manage to implement a weekly thematic curriculum with various learning materials and tools.

I attempted to replicate a few activities like coloured water play and sensory play with kinetic sand (not sure if I recommend – the sand flew EVERYWHERE). I’d let her colour and paint, bring her out to indoor playgrounds and for play dates once a week or so but there was a nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing enough with the lack of themed learning especially at this age where she’s curious about everything. 

To save our sanity, I enrolled her in a 3-hour playgroup. She’s been there for two weeks now and IT HAS BEEN THE BEST DECISION EVER. Having her disappear for 3 hours to a safe environment with activities which aid in her learning is A+++++. My dad gets to recharge and read the papers or watch television without Elise switching it off and I get peace to do work or clear up the clutter (never-ending task because I just keep buying more things…). In the afternoon after she has her lunch and milk, she naps for about 2 to 3 hours so we actually have 5 free hours in total. Our moods are visibly lifted and her screen time is lessened. 

The 3 hour playgroup begins with the pledge and national anthem, music and movement in both Chinese and English. There’s snack time in between, then they learn about alphabets, colours or numbers. The last hour is for Life Skills, where they learn how to put on their shoes and work on their motor skills (egg transferring, threading, cutting paper). There’s a school uniform that she’s required to wear so it actually feels like school. Her uniform is a pinafore and she looks like Sailormoon! 

We’ve noticed that she is vocalising more, pointing out alphabets, numbers and colours she has learnt in school. She has always been sociable and her teacher tells me that she runs up to sit on her lap when she’s teaching. When told to go back and sit down, she’ll pout. She’s the tiniest and youngest in class, resulting in her receiving a bit more attention than the others. I can’t complain, because I get frequent photo and video updates of her in class. 


Pros

  • Frees up time for caregivers
    We save our sanity and get to do what we want when the kid is in school – run errands, relax, read the papers, nap, work…
  • New social circle for child
    They develop a new identity as a student and they learn about social structures, socialise with peers, listen to teachers and develop their self-esteem as they absorb new knowledge.  
  • Exposure to new activities
    In just two weeks, she has brought home two pieces of artwork – a ladybug with black stickers which she pasted over the dots for the letter ‘L’ and a mouse headband for the letter ‘M’. She has also been demonstrating to us how she jumps and hops (the milestone for jumping is 24 months). 
  • Peer Pressure
    Kids have a great sense of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, so you’ll find that that same kid who insists to be spoon-fed at home eats on his own without complaint in school. It’s uncool to be a baby amongst other babies. That quiet kid will become a rapper.

Cons

  • Viruses spread easily
    There’s no avoiding it especially when the place is fully air-conditioned. The children are screened before they enter the classroom but some illnesses are contagious before symptoms appear. We’ll just cross our fingers and take it as it comes.

Tips for Adjusting your Child to Playgroup 

  • Familiarise the child with the environment
    Before she officially started school, we brought her to the door a few times to watch the students enter the classroom and told her that she’d be doing the same soon. I also used this time to observe how the children reacted to the teacher to see whether they liked school or not. I noticed that the teacher greeted each student by name and none of the children displayed signs of fear.It’s common for children to cry when they first attend school. Elise survived the first week without complaint, but she cried during the second week when we dropped her off (stopped within 10 minutes, according to the teachers). Our neighbour’s child was frightened and even vomited but she now enjoys school.
  • Start with parent-accompanied classes
    Elise has attended MyGym and Kindermusik classes before. Such classes introduce the child to the concept of classes and an instructor.
  • Have enough sleep
    Insufficient sleep = cranky kids. We wake her up about an hour before school starts and ensure that she has her bath, breakfast and some quiet time before bringing her to school.

Overall, this arrangement has been working well for us. Elise comes home from school exhausted so it’s easier to put her down for naps, she’s more confident with her new skills which she shows off to us (damn haolian) and we all have energised spirits to watch her. 

My New Life as a SAHM

A few weeks ago, I visited my friend from secondary school who gave birth recently. Both her and her husband were all-rounded model students (smart, school councilors, leadership roles in their CCAs) and nurtured their young love for over a decade before getting married. I wasn’t close to them and didn’t keep in touch after graduation, so our only connection was Facebook.

She messaged me over Facebook after reading about Elise and told me about her newborn son having to undergo an emergency operation due to a congenital birth defect. Thankfully, her son is now healthy and thriving. After Elise’s swelling subsided, I made arrangements to visit them. My friend’s nephew was also there so both of them played together. When the kids got restless, I followed my friends mother-in-law for a stroll to the nearby reservoir.

There, I told her that I stopped working full-time and am now physically around Elise 24/7. Recently retired after having worked as a nurse for more than 30 years, she emphasized the importance of a woman needing to earn her own money. “Men respect women who earn their own money, even a little. It gives you a voice”. I agree with that actually, because having to depend on another person entirely for finances makes you a bit vulnerable and dependent. She also shared with me her child-rearing tactics, claiming that she never needed to use a cane.

“I understand that your maternal instincts are strong, especially when she’s still young. However, she’ll need you lesser when she starts school full-time and you may find it challenging to get re-employed with a gap. Moreover, working outside makes you creative which helps in educating her”. 

It’s been about 2 months. Weekday mornings used to be immensely rushed. I had to prepare lunch for her, get ready for work, latch her and express out some milk for her all in an hour. Commuting to work took an hour. Including travel time, I was away from Elise for at least 10 hours. Now that I have the luxury of spending the entire day with her, I get to bring her for impromptu meetups with her baby friends.

On the housewife front, I’m still getting nagged at by my husband for not doing the laundry properly or keeping the house clean enough. He’s the one who picks up stray hair strands, sets a timer for the laundry so he can “save water” and vacuums the floor. What kind of chores am I doing at home? Cooking, washing the dishes, dumping the clothes in the machine on “Quick” mode (“You didn’t use softener right? There’s no fragrance!”) and haphazardly draping them onto the laundry line (“NO! Look at those crumpled clothes! You need to fling the water off the clothes before you hang them up! 야! 뺄래를 탁탁 털어야지!”). His best line is “너 근대에 한번 갔다와야돼” or “You need to go to the army”.

We should really hire a part-time helper.

For 2017, I should make some plans for my personal growth as well.

  1. Appearance
    Restart my skincare routine in order to prevent myself from morphing into a frumpy, unkempt housewife. There’s obviously nothing wrong in prioritising family. It’s just that I am still holding onto a glimmer of hope that I can still look presentable years down the road and not stare in the mirror feeling crappy about myself.
  2. Studies
    Brush up on my Korean, pick up a new language, learn new skills. 2016 was a stagnant year in terms of learning.
  3. Career
    Or lack of. I know a number of capable supermoms who have started and grown their business whilst maintaining their family. How do they do it?!

Meanwhile, I’m just going to enjoy whatever time I have as a housewife.

Here’s Elise and Matty at the Botanic Gardens – one of our impromptu playdates where we brought the babies to a water park without towels or spare clothes. Thankfully, the babies were air-dried quickly due to the toasty air. We managed to get them to hold hands! Hehehehe.

Elise spent Christmas Eve with Snorlax at a close friend’s house.

On Boxing Day, we met new friends. We joined a group of Singapore-based wives with Korean boyfriends and spouses. The location of the meetup had an amazing view of the CBD. We exchanged presents, the kids chased each other around and my husband finally got to enjoy some beers and pour out his sorrows to people who get him.

The men created their own chat group too. Now he can feel like he belongs~. My husband was extremely reluctant to accompany us at first. He was already all dressed up, sitting in front of the computer and asking “Do I really have to go? Why don’t you go alone with Elise?”. He ended up enjoying himself tremendously. See? You may be right, but your wife is never wrong.

At the bus stop near our house, a little girl came over to tickle Elise’s chin out of nowhere. Superstarrrrr. This was the day we went to the hospital for her check-up. We saw Dr Ganga again and he stressed on the importance of genetic testing, especially if we are intending to expand our family. This test is not covered by insurance and costs approximately S$3,500 because the specimen and blood samples have to be flown to Canada. Genetic testing for Retinoblastoma will show if it is an inherited condition (if it is, the risk of siblings developing Retinoblastoma is much higher). Dr Ganga asked us to crowdfund if necessary, but I don’t feel comfortable sticking my hand out to ask for money from strangers.

From the articles we’ve read online, it doesn’t seem likely that it will recur. Retinoblastoma metastasis generally occurs within the 1st year of diagnosis. 15% of unilateral retinoblastoma cases develop tumours in the other eye. A good thing is that her optic nerve was cancer free and recurrences usually occur with tumours which touch the optic nerve. Is this money worth spending? I’m really not sure. My father suggested that the hospital should use her case as research and pay for the genetic testing since Retinoblastoma is so rare in Singapore.

On the 25th, Elise will undergo another Examination Under Anasthesia (EUA). It’ll be the third time since November that she’ll be under GA. I’ve read about decreased intelligence in children who have underwent GA compared to those who have not undergone anasthesia. 🙁 I’ve asked the doctors but GA is their preferred method as they will also be creating a mold for her prosthetic eye and they don’t want to risk her waking up during the procedure. 🙁 This won’t be the last EUA as Elise will need to be under surveillance to monitor for recurrence.

Dr Ganga mentioned adjuvant/preventive chemotherapy (chemotherapy that is done after surgery to eliminate cancer which may not have been physically excised) that I am not keen on. It’s like a repeat of my cancer situation where the physical tumour was removed with surgery and adjuvant chemotherapy was declined. Let’s just hope that it is truly gone and doesn’t metastasize elsewhere years later.

In other news, look who had her very first professional haircut! I’ve only snipped her fringe twice with blunt scissors. My husband booked an appointment for all of us with Edward, his new friend, who happened to work at Dusol Beauty. I used to frequent the salon years ago. Edward was incredulous that I didn’t recognise him because he worked there longer than my hairstylist.

My head feels much lighter. The last haircut was months ago at a dodgy $4.90 place. Being pampered with a shampoo and head massage sure was heavenly. We had mall vouchers so the total cost was very affordable!

Getting her to stay still was a challenge.

I am Elise, hear me roar! Straight bangs to look like a little boy. We all had new haircuts for the new year. 🙂