My two kids – Emma (4) and Eliel (2) have their week packed with activities, which makes this stay-at-home-mom, ironically, never at home. Emma, being the older of the two and overachieving firstborn, goes to the bulk of the classes (8 at last count), while the toddler does 3 classes (and only because most classes for preschoolers require them to be at least 3 years old). It’s a real challenge, managing their class schedules, ferrying them around and making sure there is time for meals (or snack-time) as well as working around school-time (for the daughter) and nap-times (for the younger one).
But am I driving (not literally, as I don’t drive) the kids too hard with all these activities even before they turn 5?
I’ve constantly asked myself this question even as I go from one class to the next. When I speak to fellow mummies and they find out that the kids are going for that many classes, there is often a gasp and a look of shock.
But no, at the end of the day, I don’t think it is too much. And here is why:
1. The kids chose the classes/activities
When they were younger, we would attend trial classes and decide for them whether they would like it and if the class is a good fit. We stuck to the basics: music, gym, playgroups, and they were usually parent-accompanied. As they got older, they had more say in what they wanted to do and learn. So we would let them do a trial class and if it was something they enjoyed, we will then sign them up for formal classes. For us, it is never about putting them in a class just for the sake of learning a skill or gaining knowledge. They need to have the interest for it, and want to go about learning it. If in time, they decide that it is not something they enjoy, we can always drop the class, but not before really trying it out seriously for some time. Persistence and determination should also be values they pick up in this process.
2. It is the best age for exploration
Once a child is able to understand and take instruction, it is the best time for them to pick up new languages, skills, but more importantly, soft skills like learning to wait, taking turns, teamwork, figuring out boundaries and managing interactions with teachers and peers. The child (as well as us parents) are also learning more about his own personality and quirks, finding out what works for them and what doesn’t, and learning how to manage their emotions. Being in different classes sets them up in different social settings, with different groups of friends and teachers. These all work towards their social and cognitive development.
3. Time is of the essence
If not now, then when? To me, the ages between 3 to 6 is the best time to get kids started on different activities, to learn a new sport or pick up a musical instrument or two. Their brains are like sponges, able to absorb so much more than we can imagine. It won’t be long before they have to attend formal school, where schoolwork and co-curriculum activities would take up a bulk of their time. Finding spare time to do something the child is interested in would be so much harder. That is, if the child has had the opportunity to figure out if what he likes and have an inclination for – music, the arts, a sport, or even languages. The best time to explore is when they are still carefree pre-schoolers.
4. It’s all about balance and moderation
8 classes a week for a 4-year-old may seem excessive, but if you break it down, it’s actually very manageable. That is because most of her classes run for between 20 to 45 minutes. We decided early on that we would let the kids attend half-day pre-school in the morning, but leave their afternoons free for other activities. We also make sure that there is enough time for rest and free play. There is no point in tiring a child out by packing his day with classes. Not only is his ability to learn and absorb diminished, it is also harder to manage a restless and cranky pre-schooler. It is a misconception that kids who attend many classes do not have time for free play. Both my children engage in at least 30 minutes of free play everyday, and some days more. We also made it a point to keep two days free of classes – one on a weekday and one on a weekend. This allows them (and me) to take a break from the classes or arrange playdates with friends, or to spend some quality time as a family.
5. Learning is never a bad thing.
One of the things we wish to inculcate in our children is to always look forward to learning, to be inquisitive and enjoy the process of picking up new skills and knowledge. One can never finish learning everything, and as the Chinese saying goes, “It is never too old/late to learn.” (活到老学到老). Even as a parent, I am learning from the things they do in their classes. Personally, I also find that the home can be a distraction from active learning – the TV, toys and bed are just some examples. Being out and about allows them to expend their energies, which is always helpful for an exhausted mum.
About Calvina Dawn Lee:
Calvina is a mother of two, well, three if you include her beagle, Louis. She has been travelling with her kids from when they were as young as 2-months-old, and believes that the gift of travel and exploration is one of the best experience parents could give to their children.