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Finding Quiet Time

A Reflection on Learning Support at TTKC

By Viknesh Subramaniam and Lin Shiyun 


Tuesdays to Thursdays, in the twilit hours, 3Pumpkins’ Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC) undergoes a striking transformation from its usual raucous atmosphere. With a practiced efficiency, and perhaps some reluctance, befrienders and children transform the art studio by separating tables otherwise arranged for group activities and stowing art, music, and game materials. Other activities are wrapped up elsewhere in the kitchen, garden, and play areas. Children eagerly stream into the studio, beelining for their favourite adults and friends, and are soon poring over books or wrangling with their homework. Others slink away silently, choosing instead to unwind at the playground. A tranquillity envelops TTKC, replacing the usual boisterous bustle with a diligent calm during what the community calls Quiet Time


TTKC multi-purpose art studio transforms into a study environment during Quiet Time. 

TTKC started in 2019 with a play and arts-based approach to engage children aged 7 to 14 in Boon Lay Drive. Its foundational goal has been to develop a sense of belonging and self-esteem for children who experience poorer relations at home and in school. Alongside its core of visual and performing arts, TTKC’s programming has come to include activities like gardening, cooking, and an assortment of sports. Over time, TTKC’s close relationship with the community enabled the understanding of presenting needs – including finance, safety, health (physical and mental), education, delinquency – from the children’s perspective. This positioned TTKC to play an intermediary role between the children and their supporting network consisting of parents, schools, Comlink+, family service centres and other community agencies. As poor academic achievement remains one of the biggest challenges that inhibits a child’s self-esteem and well-being (Yang et. al, 2019), TTKC expanded its suite of programmes to support the children’s academic development. 

 

TTKC’s offering of academic support began organically with children approaching TTKC’s adults (full-time staff, paid facilitators, and volunteer befrienders) for help with their homework. During the COVID-19 epidemic, TTKC provided space and resources for home-based learning. In these early years, 3Pumpkins-TTKC founder, Lin Shiyun, observed a trend of children having inadequate opportunities for quiet activities, like reading, studying, or completing their homework. They lacked conducive environments and stable routines. In early 2022, Shiyun created the purposefully named Quiet Time to provide sorely needed structure, environment, and time. Quiet Time runs from 7pm to 8pm on Tuesdays to Thursdays, during which any child can make the choice to enter this learning environment to seek support in doing their schoolwork or engage in literacy activities. 

 

Participatory Action Research is embedded in TTKC’s approach to community development work. In a continuous spiral process of planning, taking action, observing, reflecting, and re-planning, Quiet Time has continued to evolve since its inception. To give direction to this evolution, TTKC has been contemplating a central question for Quiet Time: what roles the community can play in supporting children’s education. This paper is a reflection on our experiences of Quiet Time with the goal of identifying avenues to design a more comprehensive education support programme for the children. It shares the themes that arose from reflective conversations with Shiyun, four full-time staff who lead and facilitate Quiet Time, two frequently referenced children, as well as from personal field notes of participant and non-participant observations conducted by Viknesh Subramaniam, a volunteer befriender. 


Self Determination Theory 

 

In late 2023, TTKC adopted Ryan and Deci’s (2017) Self Determination Theory (SDT) as the guiding framework. SDT is a psychological theory of human behaviour and personality development. It posits that individuals have three basic psychological needs that are essential for well-being and motivation; autonomy (sense of control over one's actions), competency (sense of effectiveness in interactions with the environment), and relatedness (sense of connection with others).  


TTKC’s Mascots: autonomy, competency, and relatedness (left to right) as depicted by the children at TTKC.

 To achieve these needs, Ryan and Deci (2017) recommended that children should be provided autonomy support, structure, and involvement. Autonomy support involves offering meaningful choices, encouraging initiative, supporting voices, and explaining required behaviours. A structured environment aims to scaffold children’s development, focusing on skill mastery and feedback. Involvement entails adults investing time, attention, and resources to foster a supportive environment (Ryan and Deci, 2017, p. 326). SDT's emphasis on autonomy, competency, and relatedness closely aligns with TTKC's child-directed, scaffolded, and relational approach, and is thus befitting as a theoretical lens for reflecting on our experiences of Quiet Time. 


Making and Protecting Time and Space 

 

TTKC’s staff regularly described Quiet Time as a protected time and space that children can use independently or seek assistance from adults. It is a conscious effort to secure a regular time slot in children’s day because, as Shiyun observed, “the routine of a quiet time may not exist in many of the homes because the parents or caregivers are basically not at home, or they don't enforce that at home”. To fill this gap, TTKC has carved out an hour from its programming dedicated solely to providing the academic support of children’s choice. Though attendance was thin at the start, Quiet Time has become an embedded routine for children and adults alike, with its other regular and spontaneous activities naturally winding down by 7pm.  In 2024, out of 220 unique children engaged at TTKC in 2024, 57 participated in Quiet Time.


Quiet Time also continues TTKC’s work of place making, particularly, as Shiyun described, “building environments that do not exist, or environments that could make the existing environment better, to build a safer and happier place for the children”. Quiet Time thus aims to create conducive spaces for studying, reading, and learning that cater to the diverse learning styles of the community. The quiet structure of the environment is regulated by adults who actively set limits in a noncontrolling way (Ryan and Deci, 2017) by encouraging children to preserve a peaceful environment for each other. In this way, children are encouraged to develop an awareness of the appropriateness of their behaviour and given the autonomy to regulate themselves or to leave Quiet Time for a more congruous environment.  


While protecting a time and space for a quiet time might sound straightforward, defining Quiet Time has turned out to be the most challenging aspect of its implementation. Even up to this day, its form and boundaries are constantly negotiated between its stakeholders. Shiyun described how, in early 2023, “people started to chat and play games, then they would start asking me, ‘can play chess or not? Because chess is quiet’”. Similarly, a staff described the negotiation of Quiet Time’s form: “Even the team ourselves, in the third quarter of 2023, we were still negotiating about activities to do for Quiet Time, simply because there is this fear that we might not be able to engage the kids as much”.  

 

The children are also active in this negotiation process, picking the literacy resources and games they want to engage in. The typical literacy-related activities in TTKC looked more like spelling games, event planning, and writing shopping lists Experiencing a sense of control in these playful activities meant that children naturally gear towards these forms of engagement where autonomy is high. Quiet Time, on the other hand, reminds children of what they perceive to have very little control over – their academic achievements. Autonomy is extremely low. Shiyun explained that the children might have to be “coerced into this environment a little bit, then they discover it’s actually not so bad when they experience some success.” Getting children to attend Quiet Time thus at times looked like a bargaining scene, with diverse experimentations in motivating attendance. To accomplish this, TTKC has sought to better align itself to SDT, and to cleverly apprehend and use Competency and Relatedness as key bargaining chips. 



Staff and volunteers experimenting with quiet activities from homework support, reading, to engaging in science experiments.

Quiet Time Stories : Literacy Development 

 

Aadam  

 

Aadam, a 10-year-old boy, has been a familiar face at TTKC since he was just 6 years old. He initially resisted attempts to coax him to join Quiet Time. He defiantly described it as “boring” and explained that he came to TTKC to play with his friends. To encourage his involvement, Shiyun devised an experiment. She promised Aadam a reward of his choice if he completed reading 10 books. Over the following weeks, Aadam worked diligently with befrienders, progressing from comics to storybooks. His growing confidence was evidenced by his proud documentation of his accomplishments on a list displayed beside the bookshelf. Completing his reading list was a triumph celebrated by Aadam and the adults. Upon completing the list, Aadam requested for a pair of swimming googles.


Reading lists written by Aadam and his friend, which were displayed proudly on the library shelf.

However, after getting his reward, Aadam’s attendance immediately floundered, and he began displaying the same defiance when invited to read despite offer for another reward. Nevertheless, there were days where Aadam would initiate reading with specific adults. It has been observed that Aadam reads exclusively with male adults and demonstrates the same preference in other activities. There were days where he would greet Viknesh with an exuberant “Teacher! Can we read?”.  On one such night, as the shutters were being brought down, he asked “Can we read until they ask us to go home?”.  His attendance at Quiet Time continues to fluctuate, dependant equally on his varying interests, presence of his preferred befrienders, and his family circumstances. TTKC remains committed to holding this quiet space for whenever he chooses to be welcomed back in, while reflecting on the type of resources required for children like Aadam, who are most motivated by trusted relationships. 


Bunga 

 

Bunga, also 10 years old, struggled with literacy and was falling behind on her schoolwork. TTKC first discovered her fear of reading and writing when she was 9. Recognizing her difficulties, TTKC's staff sought guidance from her school's Head of Department for Learning Support who recommended that they begin with visual text, which is one of the components in the English examination. To increase her connection to reading, Shiyun printed posters shared by the People’s Association that promoted activities in the neighbourhood. These included invitations to classes, celebrations, and community events, such as movie nights, free haircuts, health consultations etc.  


Some examples of the posters Bunga read at the start of her literacy journey at Quiet Time.
Bunga and friends went from reading posters together to creating posters of their own. 

As Bunga engaged with these posters which provided her new information about her neighbourhood, she eagerly shared them with her friends, sparking their interest to attend Quiet Time to read posters together. Before long, the group ventured into creating their own posters. As Bunga's newfound competency grew, she eagerly embraced various literacy activities. She explored Google Maps, read a growing list of books, made event lists, and transcribed song lyrics. Like Aadam, Bunga too was offered a reward for reading 10 books initially. It was apparent that the prize meant little to her: she hardly noticed when she had completed 10 books, even forgetting her prize to return to her reading. Bunga was also open to learn with different adults.  

 

Independent study, however, continues to be a challenge for Bunga to find motivations in. She would constantly say that she did not have any work from school and on several occasions, Bunga would stray off to play with friends at the playground, TTKC had to work with her mother to ensure her regular involvement at Quiet Time. In 2024, TTKC learned from the school that Bunga was diagnosed with dyslexia and attends an intensive School-based Dyslexia Remediation (SDR) programme. This helped TTKC understand better what was hindering Bunga’s motivation to learn, and to reflect on the role that the community could play in supporting individuals like her.  


Quiet Time Stories – Numeracy Development and Exams Preparations

 

If learning English is met with resistance from the weaker students, then learning Mathematics is often met with complete avoidance. “I don’t want to do it, my math sucks” is a common refrain. Children with poorer grasp of numeracy quickly found themselves in situations where the mathematics curriculum has progressed far beyond their abilities. This often led to them associating feelings of embarrassment, disgust, and fear with the subject. In early 2024, it came to TTKC’s knowledge that passing mathematics at the foundation level was a stumbling block for some children to passing their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).  

 

Daksh  

 

Daksh is an 11-year-old child who consistently scored under five marks for his math assessments. While he did not struggle with reading, persistent upheavals in his family relations had compromised his ability to learn. Daksh was also notorious in the community for verbal disputes, fights, and other delinquent behaviours since he was a young child. However, with the formation of the Lion Dance Club, Daksh found a sense of belonging in TTKC and was ready to seek help from the community.  

 

Shiyun first invited Daksh to try Quiet Time by promising that he would only need to sit with her for 10 minutes. A stopwatch was used to clearly state the time limit. Within 10 minutes, Daksh learned to perform 2-digit subtraction which he had been unable to do with confidence before. This first taste of success encouraged Daksh to willingly return the next day for another 10-minute session. Shiyun and Daksh met three times a week, and the sessions soon extended organically to 30 minutes. The stopwatch was no longer required.  


Although Daksh was learning concepts two to three years behind his grade expectations, he was quick to pick up the skills. Shiyun also initiated communication with his schoolteacher to ensure that he was also learning concepts relevant to his current curriculum. Both the school and TTKC observed tremendous improvements in Daksh learning disposition. However, just two weeks before an important weighted assessment, another upheaval in his family relations disrupted his progress. Daksh scored 6 out of 30 for the test, doubling his previous score. TTKC continues to work with Daksh and his mother on appropriate interventions to address his other behavioural concerns while keeping to short but frequent Quiet Time sessions.


Daksh’s co-created Quiet Time file in which he keeps his work and TTKC’s adults document his development towards his goal of passing the PSLE and going to secondary school. 


Izzat 

 

13-year-old Izzat was one of the early users of Quiet Time and was open to receiving more individualised support. Although he was conscientious, it was quickly apparent that he had many difficulties grasping and remembering mathematical concepts. Personnels from Izzat’s school were less open to working with a community partner except on addressing his absenteeism. Similarly, it was difficult for TTKC to get a comprehensive understanding from Izzat’s multiple caregivers who resided in multiple homes.  


Communications opened finally when Izzat was involved a few complex theft incidents. TTKC found out that Izzat had been diagnosed with cognitive challenges by the school when he was Primary 2 and had been recommended to receive occupational therapy and assessment to other cognitive challenges. Unfortunately, his family was unable to follow up with the recommendation due to costs involved. Due to his thefts, Izzat did not attend TTKC in 2023. In late 2023, TTKC found that that Izzat did not pass his PSLE due to his failure to achieve the passing grade of 30 out of 100 for Foundation Mathematics.  


Shiyun reached out to Izzat in 2024 to invite him back to TTKC to use Quiet Time to achieve his goal to pass PSLE. A quick diagnostic test was given to find out the numeracy concepts that he continues to struggle with, such as units of measurements, angles, and fractions. Shiyun then paired up with Viknesh to help Izzat achieve his needed competencies, meeting two to three times a week. While the beginning stages required frequent prompting for Izzat to attend Quiet Time, after three months, he is beginning to develop into a more independent learner. He now attends the sessions regularly, brings in his own study materials, and seeks help from different adults. Beyond journeying with him on the sprint towards completing the exams, TTKC also seeks other interventions that would deliver appropriate support to Izzat's unique challenges.


What motivates the children?  

 

Quiet Time’s embeddedness as a routine is made possible by the bedrock of relationships between children and adults that are essential to TTKC’s place making. Underscoring the importance of relationship building, a staff explained that “in order for the academic support to work, I think it needs to have the right people, but it's tricky because with tuition teachers you cannot get the relational part”. This emphasis on relationship building and involvement is vital for TTKC and Quiet Time as the feeling of being cared for and connected to others fosters intrinsic motivation (Ryan and Deci, 2017). We have found that trust in an adult gives children the confidence to try new experiences and face daunting challenges. In the case of Quiet Time, they are encouraged to attempt literacy and numeracy activities they might otherwise resist because of prior negative experiences. Peer influence also featured as a strong motivating factor. However, this sometimes became a distraction as the children ended up doing what they enjoyed most at TTKC: playing with friends. 


Competency stood out as the key factor in sustaining motivation and developing independent learners. By experiencing small successes through a scaffolded process, children’s literacy and numeracy abilities and self-esteem developed over time. This was observed consistently in the cases recounted. However, hindering factors to attaining competency can be complex, including learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia and ADHD. Family and trauma-induced factors added on to the complexity. Building competency for these children required close examinations of their learning needs and collaborations with professionals. 

 

Our experience with children ranging from age 7 to 14 also tells us that motivation changes with age. Below the age of 10, children usually did not make a conscious choice to be engaged in Quiet Time, especially when they are not exposed to such environments at home.  Extrinsic factors such as a stable environment and parental support need to be present to help the children shape their choices. However, as the children matured from 11 years old, the availability of a supportive academic environment became more appreciated. These older children acquired more autonomy to become independent learners especially in anticipation of crossing the PSLE hurdle. 


Challenges of Quiet Time 

 

Competing Spaces 

 

One major challenge in TTKC’s creation of a quiet environment has been doing it within the art studio which has a layout equivalent to an old 3-room HDB flat. Operating from its humble beginning as a ground-up initiative, TTKC always strives to stretch its resources to serve multi purposes. The art studio primarily functions as a maker space, with its quadrants already allocated to a performance stage, a wardrobe area, visual arts displays and a tabletop creation space.  

 

Standing in the centre of this dynamic visual and performance arts space is TTKC’s humble library, its narrow shelves holding a diverse, but organised, collection. The library’s vital importance is stressed by studies such as Pace et al. (2017), who highlighted the paucity of learning and literacy materials in low-income homes and communities, and the limited exposure to language and cognitive stimulation that these children get. TTKC’s varied collection of literacy materials include early readers, comic books, textbooks, assessment books, and files of stories describing TTKC’s various adventures. The children also use iPads to access the National Library Board’s vast catalogue. However, embedded in the exuberance of art materials and the adjacent outdoor playground, the library paled in comparison as a “fun” resource. Distractions were always present in the environment to pull the children away from Quiet Time.  


TTKC’s library with a sample of fiction and non-fiction books, early readers, comic books, assessment books, and literacy games

 


The wide age range that TTKC engages, between age of 7 to 14, also poses challenges to Quiet Time as the children’s education and learning requirement are drastically different. With the younger children most engaged in reading aloud, they need spaces that allow for interactive learning experiences. On the other hand, the older children need quieter, distraction-free zones to concentrate on independent and tutored study. Balancing these conflicting needs within a limited space has been demanding. 

 

Differing Pedagogies and Skills Gap 

 

A major challenge experienced by the adults is the need to align their own diverse pedagogies with the culture of Quiet Time. Many of the adults were drawn to volunteer or work with TTKC because of its child-directed and arts-based approach to engaging children in diverse learning opportunities. Focused mostly on the socioemotional well-being and development of the children, their preferred styles of engagement and activities do not always match those of Quiet Time. Unfortunately, this misalignment has led to some befrienders asking to be scheduled on days without Quiet Time so that they could play and talk with the children more freely.  


Even adults dedicated to providing academic support often expressed doubt in their self-efficacy – their beliefs in their ability to effectively teach the children (Bandura, 1977). Most of the staff and befrienders come from artistic and social work backgrounds, with few having received training in teaching. A staff expressed, aptly, “I have never taught, I have only ever been taught”. This lack of experience with formal education means that we “don’t know the syllabus, don’t know the way to approach the paper, the current exam strategies, and definitely don’t know the grading system”.  


Uncertainty About Learning Needs 

 

The adults often expressed a lack of information and expertise to meet the learning needs of the children.  A staff shared that “one thing I definitely don’t know is their current academic levels or competency levels”. Adults have highlighted the need for tracking and sharing of individual children’s progress to aid their scaffolding efforts. Furthermore, as in Bunga and Izzat’s examples, special learning needs are not always detected early nor followed-up with. Such cases needed to be treated as case work, where a more comprehensive assessment must be made with the families, schools, and other community organisations to deliver the right interventions. 

 

Evolution 

 

These challenges point to our central guiding question, one that prompted Shiyun to begin Quiet Time: "what roles the community can play in supporting children’s education?". Like all its participatory practices, TTKC’s work continue to evolve through a process of planning, action, observation, reflection and re-planning. At present, Quiet Time is experimenting with a 3-tiered structure based on children’s needs and motivations as understood with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943);  


 

  1. General Intervention: a social learning environment in the art studio catering to child-directed homework assistance offered to any who request it, and a general ‘quiet’ environment in the community kitchen for younger children who enjoy reading aloud with interactive activities.

  2. Targeted Intervention: Programmes for Primary 5 and 6 students facing difficulties with foundational literacy and numeracy concepts and who have expressed academic goals, such as passing their upcoming PSLE. 

  3. Individualised Intervention: 1-1 sessions for children who have been identified as having learning difficulties, with case work management to better assess and support their learning needs. 


This structure has allowed the children and adults to find quiet activities that fit their abilities and preferred ways of learning. Meanwhile, TTKC core team has started to look into relevant training for the adults while actively engaging professionals in the education sector to better understand how the system has been supporting educational needs. As an organic practice to meet the children what they are, TTKC is poised to meet its identified challenges, with yet another round of innovation in finding the right mixture to support autonomy and build competencies, undergirded by its close relationship with the children and community.  


The multi-purpose art studio continues to be a space where children are encouraged to bring in their school work autonomously and seek support.

 

Meanwhile, the community kitchen is utilised to engage younger children who enjoy reading and chatting together.
3Pumpkins staff attending EtonHouse Community Fund's "Teacher Everywhere" training session to better understand how to empower volunteers.


References 


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191 


Maslow, Abraham H. (1943). "A theory of human motivation". Psychological Review. 50(4), 370–396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0054346


Pace, A., Luo, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2017). Identifying Pathways Between Socioeconomic Status and Language Development. Annual Review of Linguistics, 3(1), 285–308. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011516-034226 


Reeve, J. (2006). Teachers as Facilitators: What Autonomy-Supportive Teachers Do and Why Their Students Benefit. The Elementary School Journal, 106, 225-236. https://doi.org/10.1086/501484 


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. The Guilford Press. 


Yang, Q., Tian, L., Huebner, E. S., & Zhu, X. (2019). Relations Among Academic Achievement, Self-Esteem, and Subjective Well-Being in School Among Elementary School Students: A Longitudinal Mediation Model. School Psychology, 34(3), 328–340. https://doi.org/10.1037/spq0000292 



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