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September 10, 2019

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Healthy, happy childhood is best education of all

The contrasts in my son’s behavior are beguiling. He started kindergarten last Monday.

It was pouring that morning, so I drove him there. My wife sat in the backseat, uttering a few words of encouragement to lift his spirits.

After pulling over and waving goodbye, I saw him walking through the kindergarten’s front gate, his little hand firmly clasped with his mother’s.

A sense of parental pride swelled. The child that I had known as a spoiled “little emperor” had grown up.

That evening, as we sat around the dinner table, I asked how he felt about his first day. How was kindergarten? Did you enjoy it? Did you make any friends there? To my amazement, the conversation was unusually cheerful, stripped of the “carrot-and-stick” tactics used to make him eat. As he tucked in, he answered our questions about what he had for snacks, whom he got to know and played with, and how the teacher seemed to adore him.

My thoughts temporarily flashed back to two months ago, when even the mere mention of sending him to the day care center would quickly bring tears to his eyes. His adaptability to a new communal life isn’t the most remarkable trait.

More noteworthy is his change in table manners. He can now use a spoon with ease, eat without talking, and doesn’t have to be coaxed to the table with blandishments or “bribes.”

In the past he toyed with the tableware, and was wont to perform antics that often resulted in a barrage of reprimands from his mother or me.

For me, this means the worst part of his upbringing may finally be over. Before turning three, he was a terror to us all — pampered, difficult, wilful and screaming whenever his whimsical demands were not met. He made a mess of his toys, throwing them all across the sitting room floor. A meal could last over half an hour, interspersed with antics.

Real test

Of course, one could say the real test for me as a parent has just begun. My son has a weak constitution, so much so that he was hospitalized for pneumonia three times last year.

For this reason, my wife and I were terrified to learn that a child’s first six months at kindergarten was often a period marked by heightened risks of cross-infection. We dreaded the days when we took him to the hospital late at night, only to be told we had to wait another five or six hours before it was our turn to consult a doctor.

However, the most grueling test may not be physical.

I often get asked the same questions: “Have you signed your son up to early-education?” This is met with a curt “No” from me. No English, no painting, no LEGO classes, no children’s coding programs. Nothing. I tried to sound polite and said these were too much for a three-year-old.

And even if I did want these programs, I would rather adopt a “do-it-yourself” approach. I can teach English while his mother could offer some piano lessons. As for LEGO classes, there still are pieces under our leather couch, so why bother?

Normally, my answer is met with a moment of embarrassing silence, as it confirmed the belief of my interlocutors that I either am an irresponsible father, or I don’t belong to the cohort of over-caffeinated, driven parents who want their children to outshine others from the get-go.

Sometimes my answer will even elicit a barely perceptible snort of derision. Make no mistake. When most young urban parents say they are busy on weekends, they can only be busy with one thing — sending their children to the next “hobby class” or cram session.

This has become a norm, as versatility is said to be a ticket to a sought-after private school. We did put our son through some form of early education, though, but that was mainly restricted to nightly reading of “The Analects” and “The Finest of Ancient Prose,” two classic works of ancient Chinese literature.

The point of it all was to instill in a child a passion for his native culture, which, in my view, should be deemed more important than the ability to point at apples, oranges or other fruits and speak out loud what they are in English.

So far he seems to relish the cadence of his mother’s reading of “The Analects” or poems from the Tang Dynasty. And he could somehow recite passages that I myself had difficulty memorizing. He had little idea what the texts meant, of course, but hearing him talk in his angelic voice is gratifying enough.

I hope he stays that way, leading a healthy life that is free from the onus of his parents’, or society’s, high expectations.


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