by Lucy Quek,
Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore
Whether children are 2 years old or 8 years old, it is important to appreciate them for who they are. Children are born curious and fun loving, with a huge capacity for learning. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm can be dampened or even extinguished by pressure from caring adults who impose upon them learning tasks deemed to be good for them. These learning tasks may not match the children’s current interests and abilities or the mode of delivery may be scripted and standardized for all children. When this happens, children who do not have additional support, be it at home or in school, will slowly begin to fall behind the rest of their classmates, and become demoralized as they increasingly feel inadequate and eventually develop low self-esteem and continue to fall short in standardized testing.
If I were to relive my childhood in the current fast-paced education environment of Singapore, I think I would feel miserable, especially if I did not receive additional support from home and school. The expectations for children when they enter formal education these days are extremely high. I only started to read and write at 7 years old and so would fail to meet expectations if I were to enter primary school today. But I do remember experiencing an enjoyable childhood. I enjoyed running into the neighbor’s compound to look under the bushes for the eggs that our pet hen had laid. I once thought it would be fun to squeeze an egg, and learned that it just crushed into a mess.
Today, listening to children’s conversations, I hear about a widening learning and capability gap between children who receive home support and those who do not. When Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where I work as a teacher-educator, was invited to provide support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in a newly opened Ministry of Education’s primary school (Westwood Primary School), I considered it a chance to set up a program to allow children to enjoy their childhood, even if it was for only a few hours a week.
The support program, called The Young Students’ (TYS) program, was founded by a past high-profile member of the government service, Mr. Tan Yong Soon. He had the vision to help level the playing field for children, starting at the lower primary school. For my organization, it was an opportunity to serve in the community. I cooperated with a small team of teacher-educators and student-teachers to help children realize their potential by strengthening their literacy and numerical foundation, developing their personal and interpersonal skills, inculcating good values, and broadening their knowledge of the world around them. The initial team of teacher-educators were trained early childhood educators and had worked with young children in preschools. They brought expertise in early childhood education knowledge and pedagogy and offered a very different way of engaging the children. Children were allowed to be children as learning was made fun. The aim was to instill a love for learning that would help alleviate these children’s lackluster motivation regarding education.
The once-a-week lessons started with circle time sharing, group reading, brainstorming, discussion, and affirmation. Hands-on activities, with a focus on teaching concepts, were delivered in the form of floor and table-top games. Learning with the whole body and mind was possible through arts and crafts and creative writing.
All that was happening may seem like child’s play. Yes, it was! But learning comes naturally when children play; the concepts they learn during such activity become deeply anchored in their minds and can be tapped into as the children grow up and are given opportunities to express themselves with their hands, heads, and hearts.
We need to celebrate childhood and return to such basic understandings of how children learn.