Monday, 27 January 2014

Let Kids Be Kids

Children who have more time to play and sleep will learn better
I've written about this before -- toddlers barely out of their diapers are already attending school. And now parents are even looking for tutors for their 15-month-old babies.

Finally a retired teacher and now private tutor has come out with a book on how children should be educated.

Canadian Pat Kozyra's book is called Tips and Tidbits for Parents and Teachers and much of her advice is common sense... but perhaps for Hong Kong is too hard to swallow.

First of all she says children with too many scheduled activities can lead to a "chronic lack of sleep" and attention disorders. "This amount of regular good sleep is so important for a child but this doesn't seem to happen in Hong Kong," says Kozyra.

"I'm also observing more pupils with physical tics now than ever before. [Such tics] can be a sign of too much stress. Are we forcing these children to learn too much too fast? And what's happening to play?"

Kozyra came to Hong Kong in 2001 and taught at two international schools until she retired last June. In her book she says there are developmental benefits of children playing with simple toys such as balls.

However, she sees parents who want her to practice conversation with toddlers as young as 15 months old, while some children told her they had to take as many as 12 to 15 tutorials a week.

She hints part of the problem is good schools raising the bar higher for children to get in, and it's resulted in expecting children to read fluently at a young age when in other parts of the world they are not able to read at all. She cited Finland where children do not start reading until they are seven years old and also develop into the best readers in the world.

Another tip for parents is the importance of reading -- and this cannot be tutored, only be encouraged by the parents' initiative. Kozyra suggested parents should spend "quality time" with their children by reading to them.

"I often hear experts say you shouldn't stop reading to your children until they're in university. You can laugh at it but this is what the experts say. Most children just love to hear mummy or daddy read," she said.

One other important issue about parenting is the amount of time children in Hong Kong spend with domestic helpers. This is why, Kozyra says, it is critical to incorporate maids into the children's upbringing. Parents should have good communication with their domestic helpers and ask them to report the children's bad behaviour instead of ignoring it or blaming the maid for bringing it up.

"Note that your own attitude toward your helper will be reflected in your children," she said. She has seen children hitting, kicking and spitting at the helpers; part of the problem is that the domestic helpers spoil the children so that they won't upset their employers.

Kozyra's last point is an interesting observation, and very true. Some people in Hong Kong don't realize how their treatment of others, particularly domestic helpers, impacts their children.

And in light of the recent cases of Indonesian maids being treated less than human, one wonders how the children in those families treat others inside and outside the home.

In any event we hope Kozyra's warnings to parents to let their children have more playtime and rest will be heeded. The last thing Hong Kong needs are the next generation to hate learning and have nervous breakdowns by the age of 12.

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