Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lazy parent or vindicated?

My son's headmaster drew parents' attention to this report in the Daily Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/29/nclasses29.xml

The gist of it is that middle-class parents who try to give their children a headstart by filling their children's days with all sorts of 'enhancement' activities (French, dance, piano, violin, swimming, computer, etc) might be stunting their children's development. Children need to develop at their own pace. Filling their days with structured activities does not always guarantee desirable results.

Tee-hee! I thought, rubbing my hands together (mentally). Vindicated once again.

In Singapore for our first holiday since son's arrival I was trying to get books in Chinese to get him started on a second language. A former professor said, 'Books? Who reads books these days? Get him CD-ROMs. Teach him how to use a computer.'

It echoed friends' and neighbours' comments that I should invest in software and a children's keyboard that goes over a standard computer keyboard to help my son learn numbers and colours. My reply to friends and this professor was the same: I prefer to sit son on my knees and teach him those basics. (And besides my son had already mastered the colours and 1 to 10 with coloured wooden blocks, but I didn't want to say this to my well-meaning friends.)

Teach him to use a computer? My belief is using a computer to this generation of children is like using a telephone. They learn through 'modelling', just as boys in some cultures learn to hunt or fish for a living. They learn to do what their fathers and mothers do. There is no need to sit my son in front of a computer to explain 'CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse'. The computer is part of his habitus and he would soon learn how to use it.

Which was exactly what happened. My son watched husband and I use the computer. He asked questions. We supplied the answers. He observed over weeks. One day he asked to try using the computer. We let him. Mouse - click on left button. And away he went.

He couldn't read very well then, but he discovered an e-card site and kept going back to it (on 'Favourites') so that he could click on a card and watch the animation. Soon he had learned how to navigate around the various children's sites he had asked us to bookmark for him. Scroll down a list of 'Favourites' to find a certain site? No problems.

My son thrives on structured activities. He is a creature of habit to a great extent. Even at a few weeks old when we had friends over for dinner, I nursed him at the dining table instead of my usual chair. That night he could not get to sleep. As he grew however, he also learned to use his unstructured time profitably. Construction toys and marble runs can keep him busy for hours. And now he could read for hours on end if we let him.

Unstructured time also means he has to learn to make choices and live with the consequences.

As for tennis, football, piano, etc, and even Chinese, we go on the principle that he learns best when he is ready and happy to learn. So we speak some Chinese, or French or Latin (which I am trying to learn, occasionally) when he shows interest and learning remains fun (especially when Mummy makes mistakes too). We let him play on the piano, guitar, violin, etc, when he wants to play and he tries to get sensible sounds out of those instruments. But we don't push. We don't expect him to pass his Grade Eight exams before he turns ten.

Maybe he won't be a good musician at all. It does not matter. Maybe his spoken French will never be fluent. But so what? He won't ever win at Wimbledon. O! we are devastated -- not!

But we sincerely hope and pray that son will be happy, and he would be able to look back at his childhood and say to his own children, he enjoyed growing up with Mummy and Daddy around him. He is now keen to go on to university if only to take part in University Challenge. If he decides NOT to go to university at all, I am not going to force him. (Husband has different ideas.)

He is probably going to be more useful to society if he became a really good hairdresser, as far as I am concerned. It is his life, he has to live it. My only desire is that he lives it to the glory of God. Then everything else will fall into place.

Back to Organic-Ally.

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