Chipsy will do so in a few months. It is a milestone that I both look forward to with pride and eagerness but also one that I dread.
To me, my boy donning the primary school uniform and attending the 'big school' is symbolic. My baby is no longer a little carefree kid whose sole 'job' is to play. He shall now have bigger responsibilities which is as much about learning all there is to learn, as honing the skills that will help him be more independent and grow as a person.
I am all for a holistic and well-rounded education and all the talk about character building etc.. but if my kids have to spend so much time in school, I will not downplay the importance of academic achievement.
So my boys know I do expect their best effort. I do my part too, in my ongoing effort to instill in them the right learning attitude and readiness for work.
A recent Straits Times article highlighted how some parents, preschools and enrichment centres are preparing children for Primary 1. No doubt there will be some overly zealous parents who over-prepare their tots, but I also know parents who want to shelter their kids from all the crazy competitiveness for as long as possible and not rob them of their childhood which they deem should be filled with nothing stressful and too academically-focused. Two extremes. But I can understand. All parents want the best for their kids. The difference lies in what 'best' means to them.
Two issues came to mind as I read the article and pondered about Chipsy's readiness and what I am going to do with baby Olivia.
1. Definition of 'happy childhood'. Who says childhood must be filled with only the fun things and nothing stressful and challenging should be introduced (supposedly because this will hurt the self-esteem and self-confidence and there is a lifetime to do that...)? Yes, I have a lot to say to those who advocate 'let kids learn as little as they want because they are just kids... they have the rest of life ahead to learn/be stressed out.... '. Just because the grannies' and our generations spent our childhood watching TV, read comics and consumed uncontrolled amount of candies and chocolates, does not make that the 'gold standard' for childhood.
I like to think of childhood as a happy time filled with free expression, exploration and unstructured play. But it is also a time when the child discovers his passions and strengths as he celebrates early successes and identifies his weaknesses through the challenges and setbacks that he experiences, and to see himself undergo a transformation of growth and realizes that he can overcome his weaknesses. Through this realization, he shall derive the strength and develop the resilience that will see him through bigger setbacks in future.
2. Definition of what is 'too academic'. Again, this is so subjective and so much of it is up for trial and error. It helps, perhaps, when we have multiple kids since we can always test a 'standard' on the first kid and see if he thrives or flunks in school before adjusting the 'standard' for the younger ones. Haha. Just kidding. Just because I spent my kindergarten days drawing butterflies and learning just the 26 letters of the alphabet (seriously!) doesn't make this the benchmark to aim for. Time has changed. It is a different world now.
Parents have to decide how much learning is good enough for their kids. Kids are the innocent parties here. They will choose to take the path of least resistance and opt for whatever that provides the maximum pleasure and instant gratification. The kid who will opt for more work and less play is the outlier. Since we parents are the ones deciding the way our kids should spend their childhood (be it all work or all play or somewhere in between), we should be there with them to face the consequences too.
The transition from preschools to primary school curriculum will be tough for kids with a weak foundation. If they ended up as the minority in class who can't grasp what's taught whereas their classmates breeze through the syllabus, their self-esteem and self-confidence surely must take a beating. Whenever M tells me of a handful of his classmates who struggle at basic stuff, score 20/100 in tests and are constantly scolded by teachers, I feel sorry for these kids. Spending the rest of primary school years in tuition classes trying to catch-up with the rest of the cohort can hardly qualify as a great childhood anyway! And it is probably not their fault that their foundation is weak.Learning doesn't only begin when kids are in nursery or after they have mastered reading. Learning takes place every day of a child's life, starting from infancy. It doesn't have to involve flash cards and iPAD or DVDs. Laying the foundation for literacy can actually take place way before a child utters her first word, for as long as we believe more in babies' abilities to learn effortlessly.
A child's first two years is such a precious period. With Olivia, as I have done with the boys, my focus now is on pure input, with faith that the payback will materialize later.
Ages 3 to 4 is the time to reap the first part of the 'rewards'. If we lay the foundation right in the first two years, we will 'see' the results as early as the third and fourth years. Continuing with a minimum of an hour or two per week of structured, trans-disciplinary thematic learning activities and the child's language, literacy and thinking skills etc will surely surpass the average kid's, provided of course the coaching method is effective in delivering the learning objectives.
By the time the child is 4 or 5, if he has acquired good learning habits and work ethic, he will be ready for accelerated learning which is likely to be fueled by his own desires as he sets about to satisfy his insatiable quest for knowledge.
I believe in a consistent approach in building up a strong foundation during pre-school years, when the child is relatively free since preschools rarely hand out much homework, if there is any to begin with. Slow and steady, when the child is little. An hour or two a week away from play can hardly constitute a loss of childhood, and is certainly a worthy price to pay to ensure the child is well-prepared for big school (without the need to attend any cram school at Kindergarten 2). This is what I have been doing with Chip since he was 2 years old. So academically, he is definitely ready for big school, just as M was 2 years ago.
Now the fun has begun with my Olivia, who will turn 10 months tomorrow. Other than the pile of board books which she has come to love, my 'materials' have not made appearance yet. But very soon, my baby will be acquainted with the entire stash of 'materials' lovingly developed over the years and I am sure, like her brothers, she will develop a deep and satisfying love for them.