Enrichment or not to, that is the question 

If you are wondering what I am referring to in my topic, it’s enrichment/supplementary classes for kids, like speech and drama, languages, arts, or even reading, etc. In Singapore, it’s quite the norm to send kids for enrichment lessons, starting at the pre-school level. Most parents focus on language development for preschoolers, and we are no different. Buddy has been attending Berries Chinese enrichment class for more than a year.

Due to various factors, including the use of English as the main language for communication, mandarin is relegated to the sideline for many Singaporean Chinese. Though most can still speak it (albeit not as fluent as those from China), very few are able to write well. To be honest, the fault doesn’t lie with us because the opportunity of writing in Chinese is almost non-existence. (And my Husband will attest that there is no logic to the Chinese characters, especially for the simplified version.) 

You can say that most Chinese parents are in no position to teach their own kids the language. So we have a strange situation here whereby almost every Chinese kids have to go for either enrichment class or tuition for their Mother tongue. It has even come to a point when Mandarin is the bane of many parents and kids, because it is a required subject until junior college (senior high). Anyway, for now, it is not the bane of Buddy and I (my husband excluded), and I think Buddy will continue to accept his Mother tongue as long as I continue to use it with him. Currently this is the only enrichment lesson he is having. 

My husband is now thinking of adding Mathematics next year, and I have some reservations about it because I want Buddy to have a happy childhood, instead of one where he spends time at enrichment classes. My husband insists that he is not being a helicopter parent, since the plan is to add on only a Maths class.  He has always emphasized the importance of building a strong foundation early, so that Buddy doesn’t struggle later in school. This involves developing the skill to think or reason, to enable buddy  to understand math concepts instead of memorising formulae. In fact, it goes to the extend of knowing how to derive the formulae. 

I argued for the importance of play for kids, especially at such young age. He countered that there is a time for play and a time for work. Just like there cannot be work all the time, there cannot be all play as well. And work is a way to ease buddy into the discipline of delayed gratification. When he puts in the work first to build the foundation, he will be rewarded with the time to play. This will be more apparent in formal school when he has developed the ability to grasp concepts quicker.

I asked around friends with young kids if they put them through enrichment lessons. Though it’s a small sample size, most children only went for the language class. Only one did go through Maths enrichment but not for very long. The consensus is that language development is more important at preschool age than Maths. And I also found out that many kids start Maths tuition when they are at primary school, particularly at certain levels when the curriculum gets tough. 

My husband disagrees that languages should be a priority over Maths at the preschool level. The other day, he went to a bookstore and bought a primary 6 Maths assessment book to check out the type of questions that students face. As suspected, he found that some have a heuristic bent to them, and he believes that these are the differentiating questions. They are not solved by memorising methods or formulae, and instead through logical thinking. 

My husband is convinced that the goal of the PSLE (primary school leaving exam) is to test kids on their mathematical reasoning. When buddy learns how to solve heuristic problems at an early age, it will become second nature to him. Whereas the notion of starting the development this skill at the primary school level is a little late because there is the time pressure of handling four subjects then, and this makes it tempting to resort to memorising. Sure, taking shortcut by memorising the formulae or methodology can get you quite far initially, but when eventually the kid faces with the situation or environment of having to figure things out quickly, the shortcoming is exposed. Besides, thinking is a rather difficult skill to develop, and requires a lot of effort and time.

“Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was very young, and the same for Joseph Schooling. He didn’t start learning swimming only when he was in primary school! It’s the same for mathematical reasoning skill. It has to start from kindergarten when the kid has the time to develop it and able to stay ahead when he goes to primary school.” So said my husband. He also feels that sending kids to tuition when they hit a brick wall in his or her study is being reactive. He hopes that if buddy has to attend tuition, it’s because he is going to a masterclass to have an edge. 

I guess my husband does have a point, though I hope that buddy would only have to attend at most 2 classes a week. I want to plan the lessons for him in such a way that he does have sufficient time to play and enjoy. So now, we have to evaluate the different Maths enrichment classes. 


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