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How many enrichment programmes does a child need?

This week has not been a particularly good week for me. I started with a sore throat and fever on Sunday and by Wed, I had mucus discharge coming out from my left eye, a bad sore throat, cough, ear ache It was time to see the family doctor, Dr A.  Diagnoses – conjunctivitis! – never gotten it before in my life and it’s a horrible thing to have!

Being a mother herself, she gave me cough tablets that were easy to take on the run during the day and then we got started on chatting about our kids. She was asking which school Bea got into for her Primary 1 and I told her that we were quite happy that she had gotten into CHIJ Queen of Peace in Upper Bukit Timah. We had done our research and felt that this school has good teachers that would be able to give her an all rounded education. Besides, I was a convent girl myself in Penang and I feel that  a single gender school would be more conducive for studying.

Dr A was sharing about how hung up parents and children nowadays are on cramming as much enrichment programmes as possible into a child’s weekly activity. Tennis, ballet, horse riding, gymnastics, art, fencing, abacus, piano, violin,  chinese, maths, english and even brain enrichment… It’s a whole array of enrichment programmes available – the only limitation is time and money (because they don’t come cheap).  So we commiserated that it was a fine balance to strike between helping to enrich your child and burning the child out.

 

Pace your child and yourself

The thing that parents have to keep in mind is that the child might be studying for the next 18-20 years.

N1-K2 : 4 Years

Primary 1 to Primary 6: 6 Years

Secondary 1 to Secondary 4: 5 years

A levels: 2 years

Degree: 4-6 years

Masters: 2 years

So like any coach, you don’t want your athlete to peak at the wrong time, neither do you want a burn out at Secondary 5, A levels or Degree level.  But your athlete must perform well enough to get through the academic test points. And add the fact that you want a happy athlete and one who is willing to push herself on her own accord and not  because you are standing there with a whip in your hand, wow, that just made your job 100 times harder.

Let the child decide

To give you the background to her music education, hubby and me actually bought a upright baby grand piano in anticipation of her playing it! We said, worst case scenario, we can both play it ourselves if she doesn’t take to it. Lo and behold, she tells us she wants to learn the violin. We drop numerous suggestions to learn the piano, but she is firm on the violin. Hoping to wear her down (Ha! Ha! Ha!), I waited for Bea to ask for violin lessons for a year before I agreed.  On hindsight, I think it was a wise decision because practicing an instrument is actually not much fun on some days but you just have to do it. So when she moans and groans too much about practicing, I will ask her:

“Did I ask you to take up violin?”

“Noooo”

“You really want to learn to play right? Then you have to practice because it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes you don’t sound good, but its okay, as long as you practice.”

Ballet was another thing she wanted to try. So far, she has been consistent with it. In fact, I was alright if she just wanted to continue without taking any exams, but surprisingly, she want to go for the extra classes next year so that she can take the Grade 1 exams.

She wanted to have Art lessons, so this year we added one evening of art. It’s something relaxing and enjoyable.  Bea actually made the decision to cut down on Art to make way for the extra Ballet classes. For me, it was a positive way of engaging her to be an active participant of her own learning. I don’t want her to expect her parents to decide and arrange everything for her because I believe that if she is an active participant of her own learning, there is more vested interest emotionally to learn well and be responsible for the outcome.

Strategize the entry point

The only enrichment we signed her up for without her asking is Chinese enrichment and swimming.

We started Chinese when she was 4 because neither parents are good at it and we don’t speak Mandarin at home. Keep in mind that  the window of opportunity for language is peak between 3 to 6 years old. So we choose Berries because at the earlier levels it was very play base and she loved going for the lessons. Hubby says she has surpassed his mastery, so now when they do homework, he is actually learning with her too.

We also try to incorporate our own enrichment too, we watch some Chinese TV programmes  like those food programmes or our latest which just ended was the one with Chua En Lai and Gurmit Singh learning Mandarin in various scenarios which makes the language come alive. We are quite conscious of the danger in an English speaking family that the child can be put off by Mandarin so we do make an extra effort to embrace the language.

 

Distance is important

Travelling to and fro classes is tiring for both the parent and child. Doing it repeatedly week after week will take it’s toll. So whenever possible go for the shortest distance possible.

As I mentioned, we started her on swimming at 4 years old to get her water safe. Since I am not aiming for her to become the next  Joseph Schooling, I just wanted to find a lesson that would be the least hassle to get to. This meant the condo pool lessons would be good enough.

Ballet – also another enrichment that I felt, the nearer the better with no teacher preference.

Art was also another lesson where I felt that those provided by the Community Centres would be adequate. So off to the nearest community centre we went.

However, for Chinese, we felt that the first impressions by teachers were important, we found a Berries franchise highly recommended that was not near our home but near her kindergarten.

Violin was also another enrichment that we felt  it was important to get the teacher right from the start because wrong posture and fingering can be hard to undo later on. It’s quite a distance to get there but hopefully she will get a good start and we can switch to a teacher who just lives upstairs! 

 

Know what you want at the end of the day

I believe the base line for all mothers is that we all want our children to be happy. The difference between mothers is what we perceive as making our children happy.  These are statements we have to ask ourselves:

If my child becomes a doctor/actuarist/lawyer, she would be happy or  I would be happy?

If my child becomes a painter/dancer/clerical staff, she would be happy or I would be happy?

At what point in our education system did it all boil down to determining what you become “something” at the end of it all? All the studying is to become something that society see as valuable? How about just becoming happy?

Doctor A said, ” You know I have children coming in with their parents and they can’t tell me how they are feeling.”

And I was thinking, well, some kids are shy…

And she continues, “These are 15 , 16 year olds. They just sit there and look at their mothers. You know why, because these mothers have been telling them what to do, how to do it all their lives. These women are smart, articulate and their children are just cowed by them”

And I sit there thinking, “OMG… I have to keep this mind, don’t want Bea to end up this way!”

And then we started on the other end of the spectrum, children who get so sick of being pushed to the max that they just shut their parents out.  Children who are such great tennis players or superb pianists but have lost their childhood in the process. They look back and all they remember is the hours of drill and practice. So it all boils down to each family’s parenting philosophy – what do you want at the end of it all? A well adjusted happy individual or champion (in something) at all costs? And also a reality check on your own ambitions for your child – is she mentally and emotionally capable of producing what you want? If she is, well good for you! If she isn’t, then it was be better to moderate your own expectations. Dr A solemnly said, “You know, sometimes when a child is broken in spirit, they don’t heal back the same way.”

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