Singapore has an enormous amount of enrichment classes aimed at children as young as 6 months. How on earth does a parent decide between science and speech and drama, karate and baking and ballet, Mandarin and music appreciation? This is a huge business and the choices are enough to blow anyone’s mind!
There are two main types of extra classes. Firstly there are enrichment classes, which enrich your child’s learning experiences. These classes extend your child’s learning beyond what is generally offered within the school system. Secondly, there are tuition classes, which support the learning in school and focus on the school subjects and curriculum style.
You know your child best, you know their strengths and interests as well as your own expectations and the opportunities for learning you can provide. Your knowledge of your child should always be the basis from which you make a decision about which classes he or she may enjoy. It is through spending time together and carefully observing your child that you will see the areas he or she enjoys or may have a talent in. Using classes to get to know what your child likes can be rather hit or miss. Of course, it is wonderful to expose your child to a wide range of activities, but this can easily be done, especially with pre-school children, by planning a number of fun activities together.
With very young children any enrichment programme should focus on language skills, social skills and confidence building. These skills are acquired when the child is actively involved in engaging activities. To keep young children engaged, activities need to change about every 15 minutes as it is very hard to hold their attention for much longer. Young children also learn the rhythm and pace of a language through music so an environment where there is lots of singing is vital. This is especially true if you are introducing a second language, for example, Mandarin.
Chiltern house Thomson is a good example of a preschool that provides preschoolers with the adequate language skills using speech and drama in their enrichment classes.
For young children (6 months to 2 1/2 years) classes will usually always involve physical activities, music, snack, free play and storytelling. To choose the class you think you would like, make sure you visit the centre and look carefully to see how happy everyone seems to be, teachers, children and parents. You also want to make sure it is very clean and well cared for environment.
Once children reach the age of 3 and can come to programmes independently, the choice is enormous! Where do you even start?
I think you must be clear about what you think is important. It is terribly easy to get caught up competing with everyone else and before you know it you are spending your afternoons and weekends rushing from one structured class to the next. Don’t forget they will soon enough spend their adult working life doing that! This is their precious childhood and no one is going to protect that but you. For me what is important is that my children have time to play with their friends, have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, a sport and are able to manage their school work. When they were a little bit younger they also did swimming lessons because we spend a lot of time outdoors and enjoy beaches, snorkelling and pools.
I also felt that learning Mandarin was important, but my son soon began to really dread his Mandarin lessons. He didn’t enjoy learning a new language and one so different from English was hard for him. His talents are not in languages. He now does French at school and I have accepted he is unlikely to ever be fluent in Mandarin. He is a talented drummer and enjoys his soccer games! My daughter, on the other hand, enjoys Mandarin and studies it both at school and during the school holiday when she does week long Mandarin Programmes which involve a number of cultural arts. This she thoroughly enjoys.
I was recently asked if there is a case when enrichment classes are counterproductive. The answer is when the child is not enjoying them. Or if the child is spending so much time in structured activities that they do not have the opportunity for some quiet downtime. Often children who are rushed from one programme to the next are unable to make their own decisions and cannot entertain themselves. It is important that a child develops the ability to spend time with themselves and feel comfortable with their own ideas and thoughts.
When a child can feel confident sharing ideas, asking questions, expressing their thoughts and exploring their imagination they develop a belief in their own abilities and feel valued. This comes from rich and varied experiences and opportunities, and enrichment classes can offer that. But what is important is a balance between feeding your child’s innate desire to explore, learn and succeed and packing in as many classes as is humanly possible. As your child’s parent, finding that balance is what you must do.
Several great ways for parents to develop a well-adjusted, well-rounded individual who is confident in his/her abilities
- Laugh often ― point out the funny side of an issue, see the humour in life.
- Give him some responsibility
- Be consistent, both in your praise and in your expectations
- Enjoy new experiences together, whether it is new food, adventures like horseback riding, snorkelling, parasailing…. Do it together.
- Share your values from a young age, importance of kindness, fairness, sharing, etc. Talk about why these things are important.
- Celebrate success and discuss failure. It is ok to not succeed, look at what you can learn and either try again or move on to a new challenge.
Q: I don’t want to be a kiasu parent but at the same time, I don’t want to hold my child back if she has a special ability, what is the best approach?
A: If your child has a special talent or ability it is important you provide the opportunities for your child to reach their full potential. However, it is important to always remember that a balanced childhood is the most important thing. A special talent should be something that can bring your child joy and pride; this must be the aim of any enrichment or lessons to stretch that ability.
Q: Thanks to their privileged lifestyle, I notice a lot of kids are becoming so self-assured, they sound very cocky when they talk, as if they know a lot. I’m not sure if it’s the company they keep or TV. How do I ensure that my child doesn’t become a cocky, smart aleck?
A: Teaching your child important values and manners should ensure they don’t come across as rude or impertinent even if they are confident and self-assured. Children will pick up what they see others do, whether it is on TV or even from friends and neighbours but as parents you are your child’s number one role model and should reinforce the good manners and respect you expect them to have when talking to others.
Q How can I know whether my child is benefitting from his enrichment classes?
A: The first question is does he seem to be enjoying his classes? For all children, especially young children this is vital. The second question is does he seem to be improving on this subject? If your child is taking extra Mandarin classes, is he more likely to speak in Mandarin and are you seeing him having a greater understanding of the language? If your child is enjoying the class, making progress and feeling successful, then he is benefitting from that session.
Q: Every week my child kicks up a big fuss about going to class but once it is over he says he has enjoyed himself. We go through this every week, what can I do?
A: Persevere! Sometimes children will take longer to settle into a once a week class as it is harder to make friends and feel a part of the group given the short period of time they are together. The important thing is when he comes out of the class he has enjoyed it. There is also learning in the fact that you have committed to series of classes and you need to see that through.
Q: So many of my friends have their children in a number of enrichment classes which are all academic. Will my child be at a disadvantage if I don’t keep up?
A: Enrichment classes are to ‘enrich’ their learning. Often it is to enable your child to spend more time on their areas of interest or talents than the school is able to do. For some children that may be music, drama or art, for others, it may be sport or science. If your child is struggling academically in certain areas it might be an idea to send him or her to a class that will help them keep up and feel more confident in that area. I believe enrichment classes should be to ensure your child is given a well-rounded education, keeping in mind that the school system focuses on academic achievement and the assessment of those achievements. Many children will gain an advantage by also being educated in areas not covered by the core curriculum areas taught in school.
Your child will only be at a disadvantage if they feel they cannot keep up with their friends and feel a pressure to do so. You are in a position to either make them feel confident in their own abilities or feel inadequate when compared to children who may do better than them in certain areas.
M&B Help for You
List of resources (books and websites) where parents bone up on how best to go about developing a well-rounded kid, maximise his/her abilities.
Books available from Amazon
Your Child’s Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them by Jennifer Fox M.Ed
Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice by Howard Gardner
In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences by Thomas Armstrong
Young Children’s Talent Education and It’s Method by Shinichi Suzuki and Kyoto Selden
Bringing Out the Giftedness in Your Child: Nurturing Every Child’s Unique Strengths, Talent and Potential by Rita Stafford Dunn
Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for the Young Child by Kathy Martin and David Messing