Thursday, August 25, 2011

'Mum, can you buy me ... ' It's a question our children aren't ever allowed to ask me, when we're at the store

One day, while shopping at Ang Mo Kio Hub, I heard a child scream loudly for a packet of sweets. He threw a tantrum when he was refused. To save herself from further embarrassment, his mum gave in.

That incident reminded me of the Marshmallow Study done in the '60s. A group of four-year-olds was offered one marshmallow but told that, if they could wait for 15 to 20 minutes, they could have two. The theory was that those children who could wait had the ability to delay gratification and control impulse. It was observed that those children who could do so did well in school and in life 20 years later.

Many of us who are now parents grew up in the '60s and '70s when we did not enjoy many material comforts. In my family, we would eat chicken and meat only during festive seasons. I remember going to Chinatown once a year to buy a dress for Chinese New Year. A birthday would warrant an egg and, if times were good, a plate of noodles.

In our eagerness to give the best to our children, often we tend to give them what we would want or had missed out on. We would not blink an eye spending S$300 on a themed birthday party, for instance. And providing music or ballet lessons is not enough now; we have to have deportment lessons or equestrian lessons too. I have seen children as young as nine with their own personal iPhone.

We have a policy in our household. Our children are not allowed to ask us to buy anything for them when we are shopping at the supermarket or department store. They are not allowed to buy anything that has been mass advertised, and we would never buy them any branded merchandise.

We feel that, as long as our children are provided with a basic nutritious meal, there is no need to eat fast food. A simple pair of jeans that can be bought from the neighbourhood shop is sufficient, without the need to pay five times the price for a branded label affixed.

They were taught from young to distinguish between needs and wants. We would never give in to what they want no matter how loud their protest but we would not spare a dime to provide for their needs.

Here is the million-dollar question: Are we parents able to distinguish between what our children need and what they want?

We have a few simple guidelines. Firstly, some wants are created by advertisers, and children with impressionable minds can be hooked by slick presentations. If we give in to their demands, our children will grow up believing that, if they make enough noise, they will get what they want; and they will believe that what is advertised is always good.

Secondly, we are very clear on what our children need in life. They need to establish a good relationship with their parents, communicate with their family members and friends and bond with the community. Thus, we would never buy communication devices that would allow them to play games at the dinner table. We have seen some children who are preoccupied with their iPhone at parties - it deprives them of the chance to socialise and they become insular.

Finally, we always remind ourselves that we parents are in control. A firm "no" often silences our children when they throw tantrums. The greatest disservice we can do to our children is to give in to their whims - we would be helping to develop children who are ill-disciplined and spoiled.

M Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled discusses the elements of discipline, which include the ability to delay gratification. As long as Maslow's basic physiological and safety needs are satisfied, we should focus on helping our children to grow into mature, loving human beings who can contribute to society, not little emperors who would terrorise it.

Every year, during the Hungry Ghost Festival, my husband will suffer from asthma attack. This could be due to the burning of paper offerings.

Yet we do not ask the Community Mediation Centre to mediate and ask our neighbour to stop this practice. We understand the need for our fellow citizens to express their religious practices.

Instead, my husband tries to stay indoors as often as possible and increases his medication dosage. Nevertheless, he would be incapacitated sometimes and would need a couple of days of rest.

Therefore, I am concerned when a family who have relocated to Singapore have requested that their neighbour stop cooking curry. They had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell.

"Can you please do something? Can you don't cook curry? Can you don't eat curry?" they implored.

Maybe it is timely for us to remember that just as we are given freedom to express our culture and religious customs, we have to co-exist in our common space, such as the air we breathe.

It would be difficult to insist on the fragrances and smells that one will encounter. At best, we can decrease the space allowed for smoking, which has been proven to affect health.

Some would consider Singapore a melting pot of cultures, where different spices and flavours simmer together to form a great, delicious Singapore curry.

In fact, curry can be found in the cuisines of the four main races of Singapore, from Devil's Curry cooked by Eurasians during Christmas season to the ubiquitous curry chicken cooked by the Chinese to the "sayur lodeh" cooked by Malays.

The basic Indian style of cooking is to use a variety of spices such as turmeric, coriander and cumin as a base for a stew. From vegetable to mutton, eggs to jackfruit, we can make a curry out of any food.

Yes, the use of these spices will release an aroma that some people will need time to get used to, but I am sure that Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans will be able to acclimatise and accommodate the smell.

I feel strongly that it is inappropriate to ask the local family to only cook curry when the neighbour is not at home. It is equivalent to asking my neighbour not to burn paper offerings when my husband is home, which is a ridiculous request.

When we welcome guests to our homes for a meal, it is only polite to accept graciously what is offered on our table. If a guest finds the food offensive, the acceptable etiquette is to decline tasting the food, not demand that the host stop cooking it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A home schooled's child reflection

My eldest son Angus was able to go to an "elite school" St Michael's School (now known as St Joseph's Junior) as his father was an old boy of that school. So we need not have to volunteer for 40 hours like Zoe Tay or pay a large some of money to contribute to the school building fund. Yet when Angus completed Primary 5, we made the painful decision to pull him out of St Michael's. His father observed that the school was giving him tons of worksheet and homework just so that he was prepared for the PSLE the following year.
I remembered he was given a list of 500 hundreds word to know and spell before going to Primary 1. Since he could not remember all these words and spell them, he was branded slow and had to go for Learning Support for English class. Of course he did not managed to pass a single Chinese Test since Primary 1.
We decided to home school him together with his two sisters. But first we have to de-schooled him. Trianed him to stop doing home work and wait for instructions from his teachers. It took us a year.
From the time he was 13 years old to 15 years, he was allowed to explore and do what he wanted. He decided to focus on GO, a mind game that is more challenging then chess. He spent his weekend sparing with GO master from China and his command of the Chinese language improved. He obtained a 2nd Dan for GO.
He was allowed to explore music by learning to playing the piano and guitar himself. Only when he was sixteen did we asked him to start to prepare for his O level. Because of his strong command of the English language, he was able to do a subject without even knowing what it was about and have never attempted the question. He did well to go to the Poly and graduated top 5% of his cohort. This while doing his A level by himself.
I wrote this note because I am worried that many parents made the wrong assumption that once their child is in a good school, they can abdicate their role as parents and leaves everything to the school and the army of tuition teachers. It does not matter which school a child is enrolled in as long as the parents are responsible and play thier part.
As for Angus I will allow his own words to speak for him. This is an extract from an essay that he has written to apply for a higher institution of learning.
As a child, I was home schooled all the way up to my polytechnic days. My father had a strict policy that no teacher be give me in aid of my studies. Having a strong belief in self directed learning, he never forced me to study more than I wanted to. I had an extremely carefree and amazing childhood; exploring avenues which would never have been otherwise open to me, had I enlisted into in a normal school.
Resulting as of this unique approach to what an ‘education’ is, I developed an independent and natural thirst for knowledge. A thirst developed not just to know, but to understand.
Too many a time we find ourselves regurgitating theories with big names and phrases giving the semblances of understanding.
Many a time, you’ll find me asking simple questions which sound childish, but if we always have to hide behind the embellishments of our language then we’d never be able to have a conversation with much substance.
After all, as an art student, creativity and the question of what art actually is, is already an extremely complex question. An education to me has always been about having breath and a depth in knowledge of the subject.
I have to admit that at times I do get carried away when I am on to something or involved in a project. Passion is very much a part of me and I can go days on end working on a project without knowing until I fall ill.
Fortunately, the days in the army serving as an officer, has really forced me to see things from a more practical and less idealistic point of view. While I still am able to view a concept for its full glory and what it could be, I am also capable of executing it in a practical manner.
Two of my passions which I have taken very seriously throughout the course of my life are Music and Chess. To be more precise, I perform the classical guitar and play competitive Wei Qi. A couple of very different activities which require two very different unique skill sets.
Having studied music and performing at venues like the Sub Station and Arts House has enabled me to develop a senses of thinking with emotions. If you don't feel what you are playing then it is almost guaranteed that the music one plays will be technical and expressionless. Over the years, exploring the various genres of music has allowed me to harvest and control certain emotions.
On the other hand, I spent a great deal of my childhood engrossed in the art to Wei Qi. Developing a rigid structure of organisation and a sense of logical thinking. Wei Qi is a mental sport where each move is compounded by the moves before. A sport where not having a plan is a sure way to defeat. Calculating every point every step of the game to secure victory can be an extremely painstaking but rewarding process.
Going into the arts industry, these are two very relevant skills to possess. Having the raw passion and drive is the first step to creating that spark of creativity required for ever work of art. However, being able to control that rage of emotions produced as a by product is even more important to actually achieving a work of substance. Ensuring that an artist keeps a certain professional distance from his own works is vital in the sale of his ideas.
I have a great interest ideas and concepts. From whichever field it may come from, an idea has never failed to capture my imagination. And being in a town like this would enable me to explore and connect across various disciplines. At the same time having the control over the thoughts that come my may play a crucial role in the development of a creative piece, it ensures that imaginations don't degrade into mere daydreams.

We would not recommand that you homeschool your child unless you are willing to give up the Television and and ensure that you do not allow your child to play any computer games. (PSP, FB games, Lan game etc)
But then again most children who are enrolled in Primary 1 this year will be watching T.V. and play computer games. Hmmm.. Food for thought? Much ado about nothing?