Cautious nod to enrichment class

SINGAPORE - I had previously held out on extra classes for seven-year-old Jason, flatly refusing to send him to any lessons outside of school, never mind that other parents thought it strange that he didn't have any "enrichment".

But I relented when he pleaded for taekwondo lessons last year since it's a form of exercise.

Early this year, he asked if he could take art lessons. I agreed since he has always been doodling at home and I, unfortunately, have little ability to guide him.

Then he recently said yes to my casual question asking if he would like piano lessons too.

So lo and behold, he has gone from a very manageable one extra class a week to a likely three lessons weekly (piano lessons are not confirmed yet).

And these are only the non-academic lessons. What about the academic ones that have crossed my mind, like Chinese enrichment?

After he attended a trial piano lesson last week, it suddenly hit me: Am I becoming the Tiger Mum I said I would never be? Is he overdoing activities before he even starts to take part in co-curricular activities in school?

There are several reasons for my change of heart about enrichment lessons: The ones he is taking are non-academic so far, none are forced upon him and I think they are better than time spent watching TV or playing computer games.

But the bottom line is he seems to enjoy the classes.

Some Sundays, he gets up on the wrong side of bed and whines about this and that, all the way to his taekwondo class. But magically, he emerges from class a different boy, always perspiring, with a big grin and a hearty appetite.

Whether it is the endorphins released or pent-up energy he needed to work off, or the fact that he feels refreshed after his class, I'm not sure.

Whatever it is they do inside there, it seems to work.

The same goes for art lessons, from which he emerges excited and proud of a drawing or a clay object and can't wait to tell us how he did it.

He looks forward to the class, counting down the days to Saturday.

It is as if he feels a sense of achievement.

Compare this to his behaviour after, say, a game on an iPad. His typical reaction when told that his screen time is up: "What can I do? There's nothing to do, I'm so bored."

It is as if nothing else in real life can compare to the adrenaline rush he gets from the screen.

But even though he is happy attending the classes, I can't help but wonder if I should be sending him for them at all.

There are studies which show that too many structured classes for children inhibit their creativity.

Being rushed from one class to the next, children do not have the space and time to get bored.

Dr Teresa Belton, a senior researcher at the University of East Anglia's School of Education and Lifelong Learning, said in an interview earlier this year that children need to be bored so that they can develop their creativity.

"Children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining... or just observing the world around them."

Unstructured free time is also when they can discover their own interests or create their own games.

Indeed, Jason has come up with his own games when left on his own. I have tried to encourage him by regaling him with stories of the stuff my sister and I used to get up to when we were young.

For instance, we would create our own dance concert, complete with chairs as props and blankets as costumes, and charge our parents 50 cents to watch us perform.

While free time is well and good, one might argue structured classes have benefits too. I suppose the ideal would be to have a balance of both.

Then again, what works for one kid might not work for the next.

Shannon, at 31/2 years old, is content to spend time alone with us while she waves her korkor on to his classes.

Just so she doesn't feel left out, I checked if she would like to attend classes like her elder brother.

"Taekwondo?" I asked.

"I don't want," she said, frowning.

"Music lessons?" I continued.

"No," she shook her head.

"Ballet?" I offered.

"I just want to play at home with mummy," she answered with a dimpled grin.

Actually, that's my favourite kind of enrichment too, and it's free.

janeng@sph.com.sg


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