After University I spent a year teaching English in Taiwan. It was a private English school and classes were from 17:00 – 21:00. These kids came to English classes after spending most of their day at school and other extra murals. I even had a class of 2 -3 year olds. They could barely speak Mandarin but they were there to learn English. They basically just ate Oreo’s and cried the whole time. After classes I’d usually walk over to the night market for dinner and the parks would be filled with teenagers playing basket ball or huddled in groups chatting because this was basically the only down time they had, at night, just before bed time.
Now for them this is normal, but for me it was not. I just wanted to scream “let them be little” while shoving an overtired 2 year old English ‘learner’ out the door.
Even though South Africans are more laid back when it comes to raising our kids and very much value playtime, I have definitely noticed a bit of a shift. Parents are becoming more competitive, pushing their kids towards milestones long before they are ready. Even I fell into this trap at first.
Instead of enjoying my little one I was counting milestones and comparing him to other kids. We all know kids develop at their own pace; they have their own personalities and talents and strong points, so why are we choosing to ignore this? Why are we rushing off to therapists and specialist before giving our little one the time they deserve to figure it out on their own?
In March I was telling my husband about how basically all Ben’s classmates walked from the car to class on their own carrying their little backpack, but Ben still clung to me like a monkey wanting me to carry him. Should we be worried, is this an issue? I talked to another mom and she said she just one day flat out refused to carry her little one in. There were a few tears but now he’s happy to walk on his own. I’m a bit of a push over and always try avoid tears, so I decided to give it more time. Two weeks later he got out of the car, asked for his bag and walked all the way to class on his own. I was the proudest mom at school that day, and Ben looked pretty chuffed himself.
Off course there are limits to this. We don’t want 5 year olds in diapers only being able to count to 5 but do we really need 1 year olds that can count to 10. Do we really need to drill the alphabet into a 2 year old when all they want to do is climb a tree and ride their push bike? We are so focused on turning our toddlers into little stepford kids with all their fancy educational toys that we forget about the good old blanket fort and cardboard box turned racecar. When last have you met a little kid with an imaginary friend? We need more little one’s wearing a snorkelling mask to the shops or running around in a super hero outfit and less 2 year olds going on 20.
Jonas Harrysson a school teacher recently posted the following on Facebook “I’ve met many parents who are soooo proud that their kids can read and count before starting preschool. Well, I hate to break it to you, but reading and counting, they’ll learn to do soon enough. Teach them instead to play, to be a good friend, and to share” Amen to that.