In competitive Hong Kong, where kids are often over-scheduled with activities and lessons of all kinds, it’s important for parents to remember that freeplay is just as crucial to a child’s healthy development.
Having grown up in Hong Kong for most part of my life, I know how difficult it is for parents to help their children achieve a “traditional” form of academic success. In the past decade or so, the pressure on parents, as well as children, to be considered for or admitted to an academically renowned primary school in Hong Kong is becoming an increasingly concerning issue. Many schools now, have advanced their admission assessments to cover other aspects of the portfolios of young candidates in order to more effectively compare their potentials.
Many parents are led to believe that the inclusion of a variety of extra-curricular activities will provide a more competitive edge, improving the chances of securing success in their children’s forthcoming academic paths. The phenomenon has escalated to the point that enrolment in a wide variety of interest classes have become a “compulsory” component in building up an attractive admission application.
According it a survey conducted by The Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF in November last year, over 90% of parents have signed their kids up for extra-curricular activities in the hopes that these will “give their children a competitive edge, tap into their potentials and bring them more advantages beside academic success”. It was also reported that some primary school students attend 10 or more extra-curricular activities per week.
Another study that was conducted in 2012, at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, shows that despite the interviewees’ claims that “children’s interests” and the “physical fitness and health development” were the primary reasons for enrolment of extra-curricular classes, the majority chose to put their children into classes of a more “traditionally academic” nature such as languages. Only 24% of parents had enrolled their children in activities related to dance and music, which was followed by the meager 15% in activities related to physical fitness development. It seems that a significant number of parents share the misconstrued belief that certain “interests” are more important than others. In reality, parents need to recognize that each child is unique and has their independent interests and talents.
The survey conducted by UNICEF further shows worrying results. Taking away extra-curricular activities and electronic gaming, over 70% of school children reported that they only have less than one hour of free play each day, which may be because just about 40% of parents believe that play is not beneficial to a child’s growth and development. It seems that a significant number of parents shared the misconstrued belief that
Various studies in the past have shown that free play is crucial to a child’s development, one of which was mentioned in the UNICEF report, children who lack play suffers from more stress and can become more susceptible to depression and anxiety disorder. Moreover, not only does play time help children distress, playing with parents or siblings also encourages better familial relations and promote healthy communication between family members.
While I understand and empathise with parents in Hong Kong, who have to struggle to with giving the best opportunities in learning for their children, the studies that I have shown supports my belief that play time is an important contributor to a child’s healthy development, especially at such a young age. Looking back to my childhood years, I am grateful that my parents were able to provide me with a balance of school, interest classes and play, which is also something I have brought into my adulthood. Although there is no set standard that parents can appeal to, I believe that it is important for parents to listen to their children and learn about their needs. Play time can act as a “breathing space” for children in today’s demanding environment. Undoubtedly, it also contributes to a healthy and well-rounded in them. Rather than seeing extra-curricular classes as a “must”, treat them as a tool to help your kids to discover their likes and dislikes, as well as their talents. There is no shame in encouraging them to seek out their hobbies. In fact, this may even make an extra-curricular activity that brings joy to your children! Lastly, I strongly hold the belief in the idea of “life-long learning”. Don’t over-worry if your child doesn’t immediate warm up to a few interests introduced to them. As they grow up, they will find their own calling to actively seek out what really makes them happy.