When I began my journey as a father, I told myself, I must try to give my kids the best start in life and prepare them for the future. I am sure most parents have the same thought as me. However, interestingly, I am sure all of us, “first-time” parent, will start to think: “what is the right thing to do then?”
Well, just like most parents, my wife and I started my kids on books as soon as they hit the ground. We bought picture books when they are just babies, one-sentence book when they are toddler and slightly lengthy book when they are in kindergarten.
We also picked up flash cards to drill them, black and white cards, picture cards, dots cards etc all in the hope of wiring up their small but high potential brain.
My wife and I agreed to keep our kids away from too much television. We read too much of the down-side of television that we feel that can wait. We only selectively let them watch some educational VCDs or TV program. Some of our friends wonder how we can do it. A lot of kids are exposed to TV when their grandparents or parents watch them. Some parents even proudly told me that their children are learning Chinese from watching the Chinese serials every night.
Most educational psychologist believes that television will stifle kid’s creativity. They do not have to imagine or think. A simple way to prove that is comparing them to a story book. The kids will need to imagine the story in their heads through the words while they need not imagine at all when watching a TV program. In addition, we will also reduce the risk of them getting short-sighted. Of course, the argument is that TV may not be the main cause but if I could reduce one of them, wouldn’t that help them reduce the probability.
But, how are we able to “control” or reduce their urge or desire to watch? I believe in a few principles. One is providing alternatives and the other is to lead by example. Another way is to constant education.
We invest in lots of books, sports, toys, musical instruments in our home. That allows my kids to be able to occupy themselves fully whenever they are at home. Kids, by nature, love to learn and play, and are easily bored. So, unless they have alternatives, they will ask you to turn on that box. (of course, in some families, they simply do not have the box at all…which of course, takes this to another extreme and it involves a lot more sacrifice too from the parents.. not me though. 😉 )
My wife and I also hardly watch TV program; or at least not when the kids are awake. We choose to watch after we have tucked them into bed. Alternatively, we steal some time on and off and go to a cinema and watch a movie instead. The one program that I watch regularly though is the 30 mins of sports news.
I also try to take every opportunities to educate my kids of the potential risk of getting short-sighted if we watch too much of the TV program. I also told them that we should look far and rest their eyes for 5 mins after every 15 mins of TV or computer watching. I remember one incident whereby after watching some cartoon show for 15 mins, my daughter went disappeared in her grandma’s home. The grandparents were panicked and started to look around the house for her. Finally, they found her at the balcony looking out into the horizon. When they asked her what was she doing? She said that daddy always tell her to look far and rest her eye after watching any TV program. My continuous teaching and reminder must have worked! She was only 4 years old then.
Anyway, it looks like most of us are constantly trying to feed our kids with facts or knowledge either through books, TV or computer. But is that sufficient?
I happen to chance upon an article that talks about the challenges that we will face in 2020 and how we should prepare ourselves. As we are moving into knowledge economy, globalization and computerization will cause things to change fast, jobs to disappear and world become more complex. We are already experiencing that in Singapore. A lot of MNCs are moving their low-cost manufacturing out of Singapore and our government has started new initiatives to upgrade our whole workforce to do more “value-add” jobs. At the same time, we are also revamping our education system to ensure our next generation will be a more creative and entrepreneur group. They believe these are the skills that will ensure our success; if not our survival.
What I am sensing from our government is in sync with what I read from this article. It emphasizes that the old skills of memorizing, manual work, relying on just basic literacy and working in isolation are become redundant fast. In order for us to prepare for the future, we need to equip ourselves; or our children, with inventive thinking, digital-age literacy, effective communications and high-productive skill-sets.
One of these areas stood out for me – “inventive thinking”! That means, instead of just focusing on memorizing skills and focusing on “knowing” facts, we should look at how we should develop our children creativity and higher-order thinking skills. This just threw me off completely! Am I on the right track in trying to give the best to my kids and prepare them for the future by keep “feeding” them with fish? Shouldn’t I focus on teaching them how to “fish” – by teaching them how to imagine and come up with creative stories instead of just reading other’s stories? Shouldn’t I teach them how to solve problem and make decision instead of just keep telling them how to do this and do that – doing the “right” way?
It suddenly dawns upon me that I may be heading the wrong direction. After numerous discussions and deliberations with my wife, both of us finally agreed that this is the new direction we should go! We decided to break away from the current mass belief and stick to this new revelation of ours – to help them develop their creativity, problem solving and decision making skills.
But some friends question us by saying that well, why don’t we leave this to the education system or wait till when they are older, they will pick these skills up too. I refer them to another current early childhood research that says that brain cells are wired up to the maximum during the period of 3-7, when the neurons connections are expanding the fastest. Having faith in this new finding and also believe in the power of parental involvement, my wife and I decided that we should start immediately to help our kids develop these skills before they go into primary school. Anyway, it is only a span of 4-5 years of effort, hard work and sacrifice that we are talking about here. If we were right, we may bring much greater joy and happiness to my kids if they are well prepared and able to succeed in life.
This belief has prompted me to write this article to share with other like-minded parents of this new revelation; hopefully helping them too. In returns, I may also receive new ideas from other parents who share the same belief as us.
Let me start by sharing what we embarked on after our new revelation.
First thing we do is that instead of just trying to focus only on the basic literacy skills of “reading”, “writing” and “arithmetic”, we now try to expose them widely. By exposing them widely, this will feed the young mind curiosity and constantly challenging them to think beyond our daily routines and limited exposure. This will certainly has a great effect to help them develop the mindset of creativity. Luckily for us, we were glad to find a tool that will help us do that – a home-study program call FasTracKids. It not only exposes the kids widely in 12 areas, it also help them develop the other skills that we talk about earlier –problem solving, decision making, creativity, communications and thinking skills. The best part of all is that this program is designed over 20 years and is cater specially for this age-group 3-7.
Consistent encouragement and reminders is another method that we adopted. Nowadays, whenever we read to them or they read books, we constantly will ask them to question about what they read. For example if they are learning about dinosaur, we will ask them what questions they like to know more about them? We could show them a few examples like “how do you think they die?” “what do they eat?” “how to tell the difference between land and sea dinosaur when we look at their bones?” etc. With constant persistency and repetition on our part, it will slowly develop this curious mindset in them; which again, is one of the key ingredients of a great thinker. Of course, in the beginning, some reward scheme will certainly help them get off the ground. The constant telling them the fun and joy of doing this will ensure the long term impact.
Another approach we take is always trying to tell them the reason of every thing we do, for example, some of the daily routines, “why must you sleep early”, “why must you brush your teeth daily”, etc. Or sometimes when we are on the road, we ask them “why must we have traffic light?”, “why car wheels are round?” etc. I believe that by sharing with them more of the nature and man-made designs, which always have some reasons behind them, it will again feed their curious mind and make them sustain this inquisitive nature of them.
One other thing which we are now applying with them is that whenever they asked me a question, I usually ask them back: “what do you think?” I encourage them to make a guess; any wild guess (of course, don’t forget to compliment them on their attempt) before I provide them with the answer I know. Some times, when I do not know the answer, I told them that I am also making a wild guess. This demonstrates to them that it is ok to think and come up with your ideas. I often use this line to compliment them: “Dare to think!”
Another idea is to constantly challenge them to think of things around them – why do you think the trees are so tall only? How do you think people get from one place to another before some creative person invented the airplane? Or encourage them to come up with more than 1 answer “do you think this is the only answer? Daddy can think of one more ….”, “What if there is no…., what will be your answer then?”
Well, these are just some ideas that my wife and I have. I am sure there are other great ideas out there that you have. Please do share with us.
To conclude, I really believe that we, as parents, play a very important role during our kids early childhood development. This is not only the time when they learn the fastest but it is also the key period whereby some of their life attitudes and mindsets are molded. We certainly can play our part to help our kids develop this attitude and mindset of creative thinking – hopefully before they step into the formal education. Experts say that typically when the kids step into the formal education or primary school in our case, they are then taught to think 0 or 1, true or false, right or wrong, which will greatly hamper or suppress the naturally creativity in our children. Another phrase that we always hear is “being boxed in”! Kids’ mind are like a blank piece of paper but adults’ mind are just a square within that paper. So, let’s keep the box out of our kids’ mind and continuously try to enlarge that piece of paper.