For the love of enrichment classes

Parents living in Singapore are spoilt  for choice – when it comes to enrichment classes that is. There is enrichment of the arty type, musical type, dance type, performance type, sporty type, language…the list goes on.

Recently, a question popped into mind: Does my child actually need enrichment classes to grow and develop well? 

Now, let me say on the onset that I’m not against enrichment classes. When Vera turned two, I remember having a conversation with the hubby on what classes to go for. Because we chose a mainstream childcare centre that was close to our home, it did not offer much by way of enrichment classes. No gym, no specialty art, no…you know what I mean. So the kiasu Singaporean in me wondered if my daughter was going to “lose out” in any way in the future. (It’s not something I like to acknowledge, but if you poke around my heart deep enough, the fear is there.)

Well, it’s been 14 months since then. Vera has since moved from the childcare centre to a kindergarten, as we wanted brother and sister to spend more time together – you know doing stuff like perfecting the art of snatching toys from each other without mummy yelling and removing the said toys at once.

Ahem.

My point is…Vera is developing well and is like any normal girl her age, without any external classes except for kindy. But can I really conclude that enrichment classes don’t matter that much?

I guess it boils down to personal choice and individual situations. For us, we are blessed to have the grannies around to play with the kids, while mum and dad are away making hay while the sun shines. Now that I’m home two extra weekdays a week, we get to spend time exploring new places, doing simple art and learning activities, reading, singing songs… (Vera enjoys putting on little song / dance items to entertain us too.)

Come weekends, we get to spend extended periods playing, running about at the playground, meeting up with friends, and doing some craft or artwork. I guess, by the grace of God, we haven’t run out of activity ideas for the kids. Yet. (And if one day we really do, there’s always the trip to the playground that will save the day, right?)

But I digress. If you’re considering enrichment classes, maybe it’s good to start with some basic questions:

– What will truly enrich my child’s life? Is it something that I can’t fully provide for at home?

– What is my child inclined to? Does s/he display a gifting in certain areas or preferences for particular types of activities?

– What is his/her learning style? Is the enrichment provider’s teaching style a good match for my child? 

– What are your priorities/goals as a family? eg. For us we’ve identified that the sibling relationship and just being able to play together is foremost right now.

In a social context where usually both parents have formal employment outside the home, enrichment classes can play a supplementary role, and ‘enrich’ the child’s learning experience. Employed effectively, they can encourage and build your child up in an area of gifting, or even in an area of perceived lack (for example, in the Chinese language).

But choose wisely, as time and resources are limited.

So…we’ve chosen to space out enrichment classes for Vera. Now that she’s turned three, we are planning to embark on art workshops (for the first time) during the June holidays. So far we’ve been having fun with simple art activities at home, so I think it would be great to expose her to some art lessons.

Further down the road, we might do a performance related one as well, since Vera loves performing so much. Next year, we might also think about swimming and/or music lessons.

Every parent wants the best for their children. And I see it as my privilege to be able to learn alongside them, encourage them to try new things, and to water their thirst for learning and exploration.

At the same time, my ideal is to be able to do more home-learning activities with them. Some days I may feel inadequate and tight on time, but still every effort should be worth it.

But what do you think? What enrichment classes have you considered for your child? 

Check out this article for home-learning tips and ideas:

Lessons from Brain Rules for Baby: How to raise a smart and happy baby from zero to five

In Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Baby from Zero to Five, John Medina reviews lots of research (brain as well as psychology) and uses these to back some practical ideas on how to raise smart and happy kids.

brain rules

First, what does he mean by ‘smart’? Actually, a whole lot more than we would think. He identifies 7 main ingredients that make up intelligence — starting with the basics of memory and improvisation, followed by the desire to explore, self-control, creativity, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

So what are the main ingredients required to nurture a happy, smart child?

Well, safety and security comes first, and related to this, a happy and loving home. Medina writes that the brain’s first priority is survival — which is why babies need to feel safe, and form secure attachments to their parents or care-givers.

What happens when this is missing? According to studies, babies in emotionally unstable homes have been found to be less able to positively respond to new stimuli, calm themselves, and recover from stress. In other words, learning is encumbered.

Stress is another key factor. Stress within the family (the kind that persists over a prolonged period) does not help to create the safe environment that children need in order to thrive. Stress placed on the child can also be toxic.

What really caught my interest is the topic of empathy. Medina advises parents to practise empathy in the home. (Better still, make it a way of life.) He cites research showing that where empathy is frequently used by couples, marriages thrive, and it has the same positive effect on kids. But what does empathy look like, and how do we develop an “empathy reflex”?

Em-pa-thy [noun] : The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Imagine this, your two-year-old is bugging you for a cookie when the cookie jar is empty. Employing empathy would mean that you first acknowledge his desire (or emotion), perhaps by saying something like this: “You want a cookie, don’t you? And you’re feeling grouchy because the cookie jar is empty. How I wish I could run to the supermarket right now and get you a nice big cookie.”

It may sound a little weird, but it is proven. Medina states that “Empathy reflexes and the coaching strategies that surround them are the only behaviors known consistently to defuse intense emotional situations over the short term — and reduce their frequency over the long term.”

And what about the sticky topic of discipline? When it comes to discipline, most of us know that we need to first establish a clear set of rules in the home. And then what? Well, Medina advises that these rules need to be reasonable, and enforced swiftly, consistently, and with warmth — which basically means that your child needs to feel emotionally safe, not threatened (remember, safety and security come first).

Most importantly, the rules have to be explained. When we explain why a particular rule exists, and the consequences of not abiding by it, compliance rates soar. (So don’t just leave it at “Because I said so”.)

He also came up with a handy acronym to help us remember his tips on discipline:

F – firm

I – immediate

R – reliable (or consistent)

S – safe

T – tolerant (or patient)

Honestly, the book is jam-packed with so much interesting stuff that it was a challenge to digest everything. So I was truly thankful when Medina helps to wrap everything up into one sentence:

“Be willing to enter into your child’s world on a regular basis and to empathize with what your child is feeling.”

Sounds simple…but probably a lot harder to do regularly. I’d like to end with a video of John Medina talking about one of the 12 brain rules: Exploration. (If you’re hard-pressed for time, please fast forward to 2:10 for a poignant moment.)

The greatest brain rule of all is something I cannot prove or characterise but I believe in with all my heart…It is the importance of curiosity. – John Medina

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