From homework and hobbies to reading and drawing, parents play a crucial role in a child’s learning ability and overall development.
THROUGHOUT his childhood, graduate student Lau Chia Sheng had earned his collection of Gundam action figures and radio-controlled cars from his father as promised rewards for his stellar report cards.
“It is little wonder that I am working a lot on car engines these days. I have my dad to thank for instilling in me an interest in automobiles at an early age,” said the 27-year-old.
Lau said he could not have made it this far without the support of his parents who motivated him to work hard towards his goal of obtaining overseas scholarships.
GIFTED CHILD: Five-year-old Reese has a fascination for architecture and loves to play with Lego sets.
“When I was 11, my dad told me that I had to study hard to build a future for myself because he did not have a family business to pass on to me. His words were etched in my mind as I was growing up.
“From a young age, I realised that I could make my parents proud by excelling in my studies and getting a good job,” said Lau.
From homework and hobbies to reading and drawing, parents play a crucial role in a child’s learning ability and overall development
His childhood aspiration was realised when he subsequently received two scholarships.
The first was a Nanyang scholarship to study engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is currently wrapping up his PhD research in biodiesel technology at the University of Birmingham in Britain.
My dad praised us whenever we did well while my mum taught us at home instead of sending us to tuition classes. — CHIA SHENG
Lau recalled: “My dad used a rather gentle approach in encouraging my siblings and I to study. He praised us whenever we did well and I was always looking forward to presents from him.
“My mum was more intense in her methods of coaching us at home. Being a teacher herself, she had high expectations from us to get good grades at school.
“She was very hands-on and would teach us at home instead of sending us to tuition classes when we were in primary school.”
In hindsight, Lau said the motivation to work hard came with maturity.
“As I got older, I realised that I needed to study for myself and not just to please my parents. Also, I wanted to get scholarships so that I would not burden my parents with having to pay for my higher education,” said Lau, who is following in his father’s footsteps of pursuing a career in engineering.
The role of parents
The Programme for International Student Assessment test in 2009 showed a strong association between parental involvement and children’s engagement in reading-related activities in the first year of primary school and their reading ability at age 15, regardless of the family’s socio-economic background.
Data collected from 14 countries showed that students whose parents had read a book with their child “everyday or almost everyday” or “once or twice a week” during the first year of primary school, had markedly higher scores compared to those whose parents read to them only “once or twice a month” or “never or almost never”.
Educational and clinical psychologist Selina Ding Wai Eng believes that parents or primary care-givers have the greatest influence on a child’s academic performance.
She said: “Parents who place a strong emphasis on academic achievement will gear their children towards the same goal.
“Children are good imitators. Those who have parents spending time with them on their school work are inclined to be more focused on their studies.”
Pride and joy: Dahdi and Leha with their children during the recent awards ceremony.
She said there are many ways in which parents can help their children develop their full potential – from teaching them time management to getting the best tutors and exposing their children to various learning opportunities, such as taking part in contests.
The benefits of parents reading with their children are well-documented. At what age can children start learning to read?
It all depends on the child, said Ding. “The usual age is two plus to three but there is no exact age.
“Children of different ages have different abilities to learn different things. Those who have high verbal reasoning abilities can speak more fluently and read faster than their peers.”
Her advice to parents is to abide by their children’s intellectual capabilities, pace and interests, adding that the “tiger mother” style of parenting could have damaging effects on children.
Yale University law professor Amy Chua stirred up some controversy last year with her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which advocates a strict learning regime with no playdates, sleepovers or tolerance for any grade less than an A.
In a scene from the book, Chua threatened to burn her daughters’ soft toys if they did not practise the piano for up to six hours a day.
Artistic flair: Mother and daughter bond over beadwork jewellery.
Said Ding: “Parents should not impose their own unfulfilled wishes on their children, such as expecting them to excel in exams, getting a paper qualification and securing a professional job.
“What makes matters worse is when they impose punitive parenting if their children do not study according to the way they have planned.
“If children are forced to learn something that is beyond their own capabilities and interests, it will be stressful to them. As a result, their self-esteem will be dampened and they will feel anxious and depressed.”
Patience is key
Most children learn to spell the seven days of the week by adding the syllables “sun”, “mon”, “tues”... to the word “day”. Despite drilling this into her then six-year-old daughter Cassandra Yeoh Shu Wen, homemaker Ann Yap Beng Yan was frustrated that she still came home with zeroes in her spelling tests.
“Even her brother who was sitting in his high chair at that time could follow by reading the letters and words aloud but Cassandra just couldn’t learn to spell. We speak English at home so it was a bit hard to believe that my daughter had so much difficulty learning the language,” said Yap.
At the kindergarten, the teachers noticed that Cassandra was constantly lagging behind her peers as she could not read and write properly.
Her parents became deeply concerned and sent her for medical tests to rule out any underlying physical condition.
Cassandra was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia.
“As parents, we have to be very patient and understanding with children who have learning difficulties,” said Yap.
Fortunately, Yap had become a full-time homemaker since her children were toddlers, so she was able to devote her full attention to Cassandra.
“At times, parents may get discouraged when teaching their children, but they must not give up easily,” said Yap.
She added that it is important for parents to build a rapport with their children’s teachers.
When the school term begins and Cassandra enters a new class, Yap would make appointments to meet with her teachers and talk to them about her daughter’s condition.
“I explain to the teachers my daughter’s problem so that they would be more understanding when she is slow in catching up in class.”
She said Cassandra dreaded going to school during her primary school years. The exam-oriented system robbed her of her confidence and she shied away from others for fear of being asked about her exam results.
Yap added: “Although Cassandra may not be the best student in school, she showed a natural flair for arts and design at an early age.
“Since she is very good with her hands, whenever she made a beautiful piece of handicraft, we would praise her to build up her confidence.
“And whenever the family goes shopping for home decor, we would ask for her opinion to make her feel important and appreciated.”
Cassandra has since blossomed into a confident 16-year-old who takes part in elocution contests.
With patience and a lot of coaching from her parents, she was able to overcome dyslexia and score seven A’s in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination last year.
English tutor Florence Wong first became aware of the artistic talent in her son Reese Matthew Kam when he drew from memory a picture of Mr Fredrickson’s house from the Pixar animation Up at age three-and-a-half.
“Very few children know how to draw with perspective at that age. It was evident from the detailed visual perception in his drawings that my son is a gifted child,” said Wong.
Reese is a self-taught artist with his gallery of pen and ink drawings on famous buildings around the world proudly displayed on the walls of his study room.
Asked why there is a missing “e” in the Times Square sign on the famous New York City landmark that he drew, the precocious five-year-old replied that the sign was displayed on a moving screen.
Reese has not attended any drawing classes as his parents believe that children below the age of six should not be enrolled in art lessons.
Instead, he was given reams and reams of A3 paper, along with lots of colour pencils, crayons and colour ink pens.
“A lot of art schools have programmes to teach children to draw certain shapes and patterns. You can see that the artwork produced by the children in these art schools look like they come from a factory line.
“When adults instil their own brand of creativity on children, they will not discover their own style,” said Wong.
Seeing that their son is clever beyond his years, Wong and her husband have been careful to draw up a plan to help him reach his full potential.
“We invest heavily in books because my son is a fast reader. He enjoys our reading time together when we read books on science, the environment, history and fiction,” said Wong.
The family also watches documentaries regularly and the boy’s favourites are shows on buildings and architecture.
The key factor in bringing up achievers is for parents to spend time with their children, said Wong.
“No matter how clever the child, the input from parents is very important at the end of the day, because schools can only do so much in providing academic input.”
Wong said the trend in sending children to multiple enrichment classes is worrying as children get bogged down by their packed schedules.
“We now hear of children referring to ballet and swimming classes as ‘tuition’ when these are supposed to be fun activities. Also, parents should not expect others to do the job of educating their children,” she added.
Instead of spending thousands to enrol their children in enrichment classes, Wong said parents can achieve more if they spend more time in educational activities with their children.
Dahdi Kooh and his wife Leha Pakpot, who won the Orang Asli Excellent Parents Award recently, are shining examples of the fact that wealth has nothing to do with bringing up well-balanced, well-taught children.
The couple, both in their 60s, are enjoying the fruits of their labour, now that their eight children are successful in their respective careers.
Five of their children went to university, and some of them are working – as a police officer, teacher, lecturer, entrepreneur and doctor.
“Even though I am not highly educated as I only completed Year Three in school while my wife is illiterate, we always emphasised the importance of education because we wanted our children to have a better life,” said Dahdi.
Leha said her children grew up listening to her nagging at them to study.
“I don’t know how to read and write but that did not stop me from checking on my children’s homework when they came home from school. I always told them to study first before they were allowed to go out to play,” said Leha.
The couple’s eldest daughter, Nur Asiyah Aso Abdullah, said her parents constantly reminded her and her siblings that education would enable them to avoid a life of hardship.
“My mother used to walk us to the bus stop where we waited for the bus to go to school. ‘Study, study, study’ were the words that rang in our ears throughout the 1.6km walk from our house to the bus stop,” said Nur Asiyah.By Kang Soon Chen email@example.com Source: The STAR Online Home Education Sunday June 3, 2012