Monday, October 26, 2015

Exam prep, the 8 year old version.

It's the twins' first exams and it's bringing into very sharp focus the difference between the boy and the girl.

Girl- She wants everything planned and sorted out. She wants to know exactly what she has to do each day.
Boy- He stares, jaw on the ground, at the practice timetable that I set up for the both of them and has no idea how to make head or tail.

Actual practice: 
Girl- She takes it seriously. She does every paper neatly and she wants it graded and she wants it scored. She checks off what she has done.
Boy- He sees it as time away from his Lego and his Harry Potter books. He sees it as an interruption and he needs to get back to the important things as soon as possible. That means, careless mistakes, messy work and haphazard answers. He rips off the Post It and crushes it up. I suspect the ripping and crushing is symbolic as well as literal.

Girl- The exams are something meant to be feared. So she practices and practices. But she still fears to the point that she bursts into tears. When poked and prodded, she admits that she fears failing.
Boy- There's no sense of urgency. The exams are treated as an annoyance that need to be dispensed with as soon as possible. He tolerates the work we set him because he knows it's his passport to free time and TV time on the weekend. His stress doesn't come from the work but the thought of what he might be missing as he does his work.

The Exam Schedule.
Though the exams aren't over yet, these are my takeaways.

1. I get why people send their children to tuition. Trying to get through the twins' work and corrections  makes me want to run away to the office and hide there till the exams are over. I want someone else to do it.

2. But there's something to be said about going at it by myself. I know how long their attention spans are, I know where their weaknesses and strengths lie and I get a bit of insight into how their very bizarre brain functions.

3. The blood pressure skyrockets equally, whether it stems from the lackadaisical attitude or the uber anxious one. They make me worry in different ways.

4. It's definitely much more stressful to have my own children take exams, despite the fact that the twins' exam are no big deal and my work kids' exams are national exams.

So how have I been coping and how have I helped the twins to cope with mommy being replaced by a stern taskmistress?

1. There has to be mandated play time. It gets counter-productive, despite the fact that holidays and weekends seem the best time to force them to do more work, free of school homework and whatnot. But at some point, it stops working. We'd go out, either in the morning to the park or to lunch with friends or to swim dates in the evening. Wherever possible, we would break the monotony. It ensured that everyone, myself included, kept our sanity intact.

2. Work has to be done in short periods of time and the amount of work has to be realistic. My mother, who was way ahead of her time, believed that keeping a child seated for too long was just not healthy and I grew up being reminded of that. We took breaks at the hour mark and I declared ihandstand/ Potter breaks as well as scooter races up and down the corridor.

3. Keeping the goals short-termed. Long-term goals are abstract to the twins. They cannot fathom that they are working hard now for a 'better future' or whatever. They cannot even fathom how their actions now will impact something next year. Furthermore, if the goal is too complicated then they give up. They're realistic. They know they can't get to it, so why try? We've done them in baby steps.
a. Finish this paper and you get ten minutes out on the corridor.
b. Finish by lunch and we'll go out in the afternoon.
c. Complete all your tasks and you get to pick what you want to do after.

4.  Keeping to the schedule.
It is very tempting to ply the twins with more work once they are done, especially when they are all bright-eyed and chirpy after. But the reason why they cooperate when it comes to doing what they needed to do is the knowledge that when they are done, that's it. If I keep slipping them more work, I am not keeping to my end of the bargain and there wouldn't be any incentive for them to finish up because they would just get 'punished' with more work. That would just be plain sneaky.

5. Managing the stress.
Managing my stress sometimes meant ceding the revision to Packrat. It would do no one any good to have a screaming and crazy parent.

Managing Evan's stress (his stress comes from not being able to do what he wants) means using the 'sandwich' method. First, commend his effort on something he's already done well (i.e. handwriting, evidence of checking, attempt at employing something we taught him before). Second, highlight the problem of the moment "Look at where you were careless!". Third, assure him that we aren't angry with him even if he just got a earful. Point out that it's what he did rather than what him personally that we had taken issue with. We also encourage him to try to see beyond what he feels is a 'gulag' existence right now. He cheers up at the prospect of no more work in exactly a week's time.

Managing Jordan's stress means using the sandwich method with different ingredients. First, acknowledge her fears (failing is scary and failing is bad). Second, ask her what we can do to help her not fail ( she needs to come up with this herself i.e. help her with spelling or run through her multiplication tables with her). Third, explain to her that there is nothing wrong with failure, if it actually does occur, because then she'll know what she needs to pay more attention to. That too, is rapidly followed up with the exhortations that our affection and love for them is not grade or achievement dependent.

We don't know how the twins will do in the exams but it is an experience for them, needing to work for something and having it long drawn. But how they do doesn't matter, what they take away does.   When a blood vessel in my head is threatening to blow, I am comforted by the knowledge that in the larger scheme of things, no one really cares about how they did in Primary 2. These achievement milestones are artificial. And that thought, among others, helps assuage the blood vessel and prevents me from losing my remaining marbles.


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