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Free-play Versus Formal Playgroups: Which is better for the holistic development of your child?

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As we all know, there is immense pressure in Hong Kong to send babies out for various activity classes even before they can walk. From then on, the pressure just mounts till they get placed in a primary school. One wonders if children at such tender ages really require formal instruction. Shouldn’t nurturing care at home or time at the playground be enough to spark your child’s intellect at this age?

Are you a new parent in Hong Kong? While the expat lifestyle and convenience offered by the city is addictive, the hidden pressures of parental life in Hong Kong can be daunting.

I moved to Hong Kong two years ago as a stay-at-home-mum to my then 18-month-old daughter. Being a parent in Hong Kong definitely has its perks but it also brings with it pressures and stresses that are unique to Hong Kong. When my husband and myself were contemplating the move we did take into account the highly competitive and commercial world of early education in Hong Kong, but coming from where we were, it was not new to us. After due research, we decided that the best thing to do was to take things one step at a time. Once our daughter was admitted in a playgroup of our choice we were satisfied, at least for the time being.

Parents today, more than ever, are constantly faced with the real or perceived notion of an opportunity cost. With every decision you make for your little ones you wonder if it is the right one and hope that they are not missing out on anything in the bargain. Without a doubt, one of the most important decisions we make for our children is the kind of education we give them. We all want to choose the correct educational system that will help them blossom and grow into well-rounded human beings.

In Hong Kong, education starts pretty early. There are a host of classes available for babies for the enhancement of their early childhood development. Most of these classes promise to make sure babies reach their milestones on time, hone their motor and sensory skills and teach them to be sociable with their peers. Whatever your parenting style, you will at some point wonder if your child is losing out if they are not attending these kind of classes, if they aren’t already. While by no means will these classes harm your child in anyway, the question is how essential are these kind of classes really? Needless to state, these classes come at a whopping cost. Early education here is a BIG business.


Dr. Quratulain Zaidi, mother of two and noted Clinical Psychologist specialising in areas of family, parenting and educational assessments, says that when we are faced with parental dilemmas it is important to separate our own needs from that of the child’s. Every child and family is different and however much we would like it, children don’t come with an instruction manual. As long as your child is growing in a positive nurturing environment they will be fine.

Developmentally they will not be impacted if they are not enrolled in a formal playgroup before the age of 3. Social development takes place all the time: for example, at the playground, through informal play dates and most importantly through you. Ironically, even in a playgroup class especially for very young children the play is essentially free, but scheduled into time slots. Dr. Zaidi advises the key is to work towards finding the right balance based on your values as a parent for your child, independent of societal and peer pressure that can easily creep into our lives here in Hong Kong.

The bottom line is that while it is great to be able to attend these classes with your little ones, as it gives you a chance to meet other parents and create a little social circle, it should be done sans the pressure and for the FUN of it. You can be rest assured that with or without that gym class your child will learn to roll over and crawl when he has to!

Main image and image #2 sourced via Shutterstock

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