Encouraging our young to be independent can start with a simple task – tying their own shoelaces, says Mr Dennis Yap, Principal of Punggol Cove Primary.
At one cohort camp, I saw a P5 boy who had just finished a water activity, but was standing around with his shoes in hand. His classmates were already moving off to the next task, but Kyle* looked lost.
I checked to see if he was injured – he wasn’t – and asked him why he wasn’t joining his friends. I found out Kyle didn’t know how to tie his shoelaces. He explained that back home, a helper would always tie his shoelaces.
I helped Kyle with his laces so he could move on.
When I spoke to the camp instructors, they weren’t surprised. They had come across Sec 3 students who didn’t know how to tie their shoelaces! These children were used to simply slipping on shoes that had been pre-tied.
At the end of the camp, I spoke to Kyle’s parents. I explained that tying shoelaces is something we, as adults, take for granted. However, for children, it’s an opportunity for them to be independent – one of many important life skills.
I’ve also met students who refuse to use the camp bathrooms because they are afraid of insects such as cockroaches – and would rather relieve themselves behind a tree.
So, before taking our students for an outdoor camp, we would encourage parents to prepare the child – nothing elaborate needed, simply by going for a picnic outdoors at, say, East Coast Park. Then, get the child to use the public washrooms.
Really, public toilets are very clean nowadays. But you’ll be surprised how some children can be so used to the nice bathroom at home that they refuse to relieve themselves in any other bathroom.
I’m happy to say that by the end of every camp, students tend to return to school braver and more confident than before.
Parents who were once over-protective – perhaps due to their own fears or a lack of information, end up feeling proud of their children!
Of course, we help by keeping them updated. When parents stay engaged and in open conversation with the school, it gives them confidence to let go, which helps the child to be independent
This is important even when there are problems such as the child feeling too shy to make friends.
It happens. For them, recess can be the most stressful time of the day. So, when my teachers see a lonely student, they would walk with the child and encourage them to be brave and approach the group they would like to play with. These are teachable moments.
During recess, we loan out sports equipment such as balls and Frisbees for students to use. There’s only one catch: they must use these as a group. The strong desire to play encourages children to make friends and be more inclusive.
And at the end of the loan, we’ll remind the children to demonstrate these values outside of school.
Mr Dennis Yap is the principal of Punggol Cove Primary School, after serving as principal of Opera Estate Primary School and as vice-principal at Zhenghua Secondary.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.