Singaporean children are some of the world’s most over-scheduled. Even during the March school holidays, they’re probably not spared.
Bottle-thick glasses on their faces, they are shuttled from school to tuition to piano or ballet to swimming, golf, fencing training. Then they burn the midnight oil trying to complete homework from school before falling asleep for a few hours, only to wake up at the crack of dawn and repeat the whole cycle again.
Given how much kiasu parents invest in their kids, you would think everyone would grow up to be an overachiever who shines at the workplace. Instead, Singaporean employees have a reputation for being good at following instructions but flop when it comes to thinking out of the box, expressing themselves compellingly or communicating effectively.
Instead of enrolling their kids in more tuition sessions or baby genius classes during the March school holidays, Singaporean parents might want to consider the following 5 things that might actually benefit their children in the long run.
Best of all, they’re free!
Going on playdates
Many children in Singapore are taught to keep their heads down and study, and have less and less time for social interaction or play. The March holidays could be a good time to change that.
A lack of social skills can cause children to grow up to be adults who are hopeless at networking and have no idea how to start a conversation. In fact, a recent news report shed light on the fact that Singaporean hospitality workers have poor social skills and are unable to handle situations where they’re faced with different cultures or social complexity.
Poor social skills also foster a silo mentality which makes workers perform poorly when asked to collaborate with others or work as a team.
Just as a puppy needs to be socialised via exposure to other dogs and people, a child needs to be taught to interact with other human beings at an early age. Setting up playdates with other children is a great way to do this—my friends who used to play with their parents’ kids when they were toddlers seem to have better social skills than those whose first contact with other kids came only when they started going to school.
Once kids are of school-going age, they should be given some space to spend time with their friends in order to learn how to relate to other human beings who aren’t their parents, siblings or tutors. For older children, don’t refuse each time your kid asks to go for a sleepover or make him cancel all outings with his friends in favour of tuition.
Need more convincing? Read the findings from this NUS Study that limited vocabulary doesn’t make children less well-liked, but the lack of social skills does.
Volunteering as a family
While the corporate world is often thought of as a cut-throat bloodbath where only the most ruthless survive, empathy is a skill that can actually take you far in the workplace. Not only can empathy help an employee build alliances at the workplace, it’s also a huge motivator for people who are driven to excel by more than just the money. This leads to a better attitude and greater competence at work in the future for your child.
Empathy must be cultivated over time. It is certainly not built by spending 10 hours a day in tuition classes for the first 18 years of your life. If anything, an over-scheduled life removes the need to think and feel, and forces kids to operate on auto-pilot—a surefire way to grow up to become a zombie-like office worker.
Volunteering as a family is an effective way to teach your kids to build empathy for others, and also to experience a wider spectrum of emotions than just “exam stress”. Some options include volunteering with Its Raining Raincoats, food preparation for the Soup Kitchen at Willing Hearts, join the Red Cross Junior, or get busy packing food with The Food Bank Juniors Club.
As an added bonus, a day helping out at the Cat Welfare Society is cheaper than a trip to the zoo, while interacting with underprivileged children will most definitely stop the frequency with which your child begs for the PlayStation games. Win-win!
Visit farms to understand food sources
As the Chinese saying goes: “Think about the source when you drink water”. Visiting farms is a good way for children to get some sunshine and as well as an appreciation of how food ends up on their table.
There’s a whole list of farms in Singapore that are free to visit, such as Bollywood Veggies, Hay Dairies Goat Farm and Qian Hu Fish Farm. Visiting is free, but you can pay for guided farm tours. Don’t worry, they’re usually inexpensive, ranging from $3 to $30 per person.
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Younger children will delight at seeing and feeding farm animals, while older children may want to get hands-on and try their hand at planting their own vegetables. In a country where eating out is a norm, exposing your children to the various kinds of farm produce can set him or her up to embrace the simple pleasures of cooking and eating well.
Hopefully, the picky eater in your family will come to appreciate food more.
Explore art and do crafts
School holidays should be a time when children are encouraged to explore things outside of their curricular. For the more artistically inclined children, there are plenty of free activities that are offering activities completely free of charge.
The National Gallery is holding the Children’s Biennale with 9 free children-friendly art installations around the Gallery compounds. You’ll also find home DIY projects and activities that you can download from the official Children’s Biennale website to keep your little ones occupied while you’re working from home.
Let them get more sleep
As someone who’s struggled with delayed sleep phase disorder since forever, I have no doubt that it can be one of the biggest disruptors in a person’s life. Having this condition has contributed to my decision not to work in an office as a salaried employee, and also to erratic school attendance back in the day.
The deleterious effects of sleep deprivation are well-documented, and range from not being able to concentrate on complex tasks to lowered IQ and depression.
According to a news report this year, 4 in 10 lower primary students are sleep-deprived—yet only 8% of parents are aware of it.
Singaporean students start school relatively early, and school buses often arrive for kids at around 6am. So making your kid attend tuition until 9pm or packing his schedule so much he is forced to do his homework late at night can have very, very bad consequences.
Not only can it negatively affect your child’s performance at school, which in turn leads to poor grades (no use enrolling your kid in tuition classes if it means he can’t stay awake during actual school), it can also lead to behavioural problems and impaired ability to deal with stress. They tend to fall sick more too.
If your child is having difficulty sleeping at night, sleep therapy could be necessary if cutting down on screen-time at night and after-school tuition and activities isn’t working.
The sleep disorders unit at SGH has seen 20% more patients over the past three years, and their delayed sleep phase treatment has been credited with helping at least one distraught teenager stop falling asleep in class.
Have your kids spent time doing any of the above? Tell us in the comments!