I want to play football

I met a woman who is in a dilemma.

His son is now studying in a private high school in California. He went through 8 years in a very competitive public school in China, where sports time was always occupied by the study of other subjects. The situation hasn’t  been changed from my generation to today’s teenagers. Sports in school mean the morning broadcast physical exercise, which lasts ten minutes with more than ten minutes for lining up to go to the playground and to go back to the classroom. In the written curriculum agenda for every week, there is place for sports. However, the math teacher or the literacy teacher will always tell you that we are late for the main courses and the exams are coming, which result in the cancellation of the sports time. Children are supposed to dedicate their free time to exercise, which is never realistic because they are overwhelmed with homework and additional trainings.

So this son, like many others, wanted to leave such a school setting. This mom, like many others, tried all to ensure a better future for her child. Money is not the problem, neither time and energy. She was a wonderful woman, diligent, smart and determined.

Now his son is very happy because he can play football! He enjoys it in school and after school. He made efforts to enroll in the school’s representative team and travels around to have friendly match. He loves school although his English is not yet fluent. He is happy.

Nevertheless, the woman is not totally satisfied with this situation because this high school is not one of the best in California. If her son continues his study there, he would have less opportunities to go to a famous university such as UCLA. To ensure the enrollment to a top university, she must push his son to go to another private high shool which is better ranked. Besides, she is certain that her son, like many other Chinese children, will achieve better academic performance if she pushes more.

“But, it’s highly possible that in that school I would not be enrolled in the football team!” His son is reluctant. He is right. The woman told me that in other private schools, football is more popular and the opportunities for being a member fo school team is limited.

“I cannot decide. All I do is for his good. Short-term or long-term? Happiness for today or Success for tomorrow.” sighed she.

“But why do you want to send him to a top university?” asked I.

She was surprised because my question is non sense. Who don’t expect his or her child to go to Harvard?

We stopped our talk. I have no reason to convince her, and yet I hesitate with my answer.


Love notes

The new school year started and Claire was excited to discover her new class and become one of the Super Stars. Ms Terry, her new teacher, had cut hundreds of heart-formed notes in summer, using various kinds of papers. It would be a terrific idea: Every day, each child brings one heart note written by his parent and Ms Terry has a fixed time to read them all before exhibiting them on the classroom wall.

I quickly embraced this idea although as many parents, I wondered what to write on these notes today or two weeks later. At the Open House Evening, parents were amazed by so many colorful love notes perching on the yellow wall like small butterflies. “So much love !” “So beautiful!”We were curious to reread our own notes and to discover others. Definitely, all kids love this daily activity: reading love notes from parents.

For those new students, who has begun their school life but still have stress in being separated from parents, the love note is a bridge, a connection and an encouragement. I imagine that the little girl must feel better with a little heart in hand when her mom says Goodbye. The moment of sharing everyone’s love note would also be fun, since kinds are proud of being loved and curious towards others’ stories.

I’m right. Claire loves this idea so much! She even draws some nice things between the lines of our message. One day, she told me that her love note had made all class laugh, because I was praising her of washing her underwear by herself. I didn’t mean to make things funny, but I do prefer detailed praise. “Have a good day! Love You !” This was the first note I wrote, as other parents did. Our kids would never feel bored by this kind of daily platitude, but I was unsatisfied with the repetition the day later. I begun to write down some concrete praises and even tried to share some wisdom, although I wasn’t sure she could understand all.

One morning, she insisted to wear a long dress to be a princess, while I disagreed because she would have gym class in the morning. A 4 year-old girl can easily get capricious and stubborn. “I can still do gym in dress.” she was mad at breakfast.I picked up the heart note and wrote:”My dear princess Claire, what ever you wear, you are so beautiful! You can shine by dressing up or at the gym class.” She left with the love note, which I expected would revive our dialogue.

Ms Terry was generous, assuring us that it was OK to forget the love note. Teachers will check and make everyone have one. Even our morning schedule is not tight, sometimes, I wrote the note in a hurry.  So I suggested to share the mission with Claire’s daddy, who accepted it with pleasure. The first time, he wrote down some commonplace before adding several drawings to make the note more charming. The second time, he passed 15 minutes on it without catching an idea.

“Write some details. Describe one situation. Imagine one activity…” I was just suggesting.

Suddenly, so many joyful pictures hopped out and Daddy wrote:”It was so fun to play the ballon with you!” “Even when I was angry, I still love you!””You are so cooperative !””There is no fire, I will protect you.” He could even finished one week’s notes.

Writing love notes can be a routine, but if you put some love in it, it can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes, I copied several beautiful phrase that we read together at bed time. Sometimes, I reminded Claire of her baby stories. Sometimes, I just asked a funny question. Every time I was working on that small love note, even it took me only one minute, I felt so concentrated, so happy and so hopeful, as if my day was lightened up, as if we all could begin a meaningful and joyful day with enough energy.

Be assertive but not tough

One of the biggest difference between a Chinese classroom and an American classroom is the presence of discipline. Before coming to US, Claire had been in preschool for one and half years, which meant she was well “trained”. The first thing Chinese kids should learn at school is to sit still, with hands on the knees and eyes staring at the teacher.

One can easily imagine how noisy Claire found her new preschool. It’s a good thing to give kids freedom and respect their comfort. We were all cheered for such a lovable social climate. But for Claire, class organization was messy and confusing. She definitely was the most obedient girl at school, but sometimes didn’t know what to do in free time.

Two months later, she got much more used to the new rhythm of school life. Just one things bothered her: how to deal with those disobedient kids. When somebody did something wrong, she usually stood up and stopped him, even it was non of her business. Sometimes, she became very angry and even shouted, like a tough supervisor.

Claire’s main teacher used the word “assertive” to describe her, which made us bewildered. In China, teachers and parents loves those children who help to discipline the class. They are bossing around and gain the respect from most of the classmates. In general,the praise and the punishment are all very serious.

When Claire came home and told us how she stooped a boy from jumping into the line or grabbing others’ toys, we were reluctant to praise her, which made her confused. In stead, her daddy asked her to be nice to everyone and not to interrupt others. “You are a girl! Don’t be the boss! Make friends with everyone!” we tried to calm her down, while she still couldn’t bear others’ bad behaviors.

“She is brave!”, commented her main teacher, “which is good, especially in America.””But we don’t want her to be tough, even hated by others!” I admitted to be always over worried, “Yet, for a girl, isn’t it rude, if she takes everything seriously and tries to correct them?”

Later, we happened to discover a lot of picture books of school bullying. Our astonishment was big. Apparently, children in China are over protected. I naively thought that school was the perfect place to live together, with peace and happiness.

We began to hear Claire imitate one of her classmate who always says” I don’t care”. We were shocked by the sentence”I will shoot you” . Kids really repeat everything.  “Stop talking these junk words!” we scolded her. But when she had stopped other to say these words, we didn’t show any excitement. Sometimes, she came back home with tears and told me not to invite someone to her birthday party, although her birthday was far away. I never tried to confirm her judgments, believing that children at her age seldom know exactly what is hurting others. However, we are not proud of Claire’s boldness and continued to tell her to be nice and generous. “Don’t be the boss! Don’t quarrel! Teachers will judge!”

“It’s awesome to stop bad behaviors.” Having heard our concern, some friends supported Claire. We know it’s politically correct, but as parents, we would not like our  kid to be the hero. Are we wright?

Keep busy in summer

It was the first time that Claire refused to go to school. She got up  with a stuffy nose and complained about her tummy ache. “O.K.,” we said. She stayed home and enjoyed playing with me. We tried all games that I could imagine : puppet show, painting, writing, Lego, pretending, Playdough… I was exhausted.

The next day, she turned out better but remained reluctant to attend school. Her dad sent me a message: “You daughter refused to get off the car in the parking, so I took her to my office.” It was a wonderful day for Claire but a terrible one for her daddy. “I had no time to work!” sighed he.

The third day, she cried when we pushed her into the car. “No school, no school!” shouted she, as if we were so mean to her.

Almost everyone loves summer, which should be a playful and relaxing period. But I recently realized that kids would not agree with it. They may become very excited to go to the beach, even dream the Disneyland. But most of  the time, they think it’s boring. “it’s boring!” Claire commented on her school day, which surprised me.

Compared with various activities they took in the school year, summer is indeed boring. Her preschool is open to children whose parents need to work.However, most of their teachers take vacations and rotate for the day care. There are several activities, e.g. water play and crafts, but kids spend more time by themselves. At the preschool age, they are easy to be bored without being organized.

“But we paid a lot money for school,” Claire’s dad wanted to be serious, “School is fun and you should keep learning.” To a 4 year-old, reasoning is useless. All she thinks is playing joyfully. All she needs is not time to wonder, nor to stay with her swing, but time to discover new things.

At home, she asked me to be her teacher, who is on vacation now. We repeated the routine school day she had before summer camp : sing a morning song, story time, playing outside, snack time, gym time, art time, games, lunch, dance, writing, counting, etc. “Can we have a valentine’s day in this week? ” me asked she.

“Summer Camp is boring,” asserted she,”it’s silly.” We are disappointed with this situation, wondering if other camps would be a more interesting adventure. I searched information but most of thematic camps are offered to older children and last only for two weeks. We are already lucky to have a preschool which offers flexible hours.

As grownups, we allow ourselves to be lazy and slow in summer. Being busy is so tiring all the year around. We deserve a period with empty head. But kids works another way. They enjoy being busy all the time.

“You should go to school, be good, and then we can go Disneyland.” Sadly, we began to use the last strategy to cheer her up in the morning. Maybe it’s time to have vacation, to change, to satisfy her curiosity.

I heard a lot about “summer slide” for children. In China, summer is a very busy period for kids, especially in big cities. They need to attend different summer schools for maths, English and all kinds of art skill. If they stay at home with TV, they lose not only knowledge but also the studying habit and their curiosity  of learning. School can hopefully keep them busy, while the busy TV at home can only make them inactive.

What to learn?

One of my friends will come and stay in US for one year, as visiting scholar in a well-known university. He asked me to help him to find a free preschool for his 3-year-old boy. His wife and his newborn daughter will come together.

We all regretted that preschool was not free in America. Having passed nearly 8 years in Germany, this friend complained about the high tuition here. In Germany as in France, free or affordable education is one of the most attractive social benefits.

There are some tuition free preschools. However, I suggested him to accept the reality. Although I didn’t know much about the city where he will stay, I noticed that the tuition waiver was for families with financial problems. My friend’s family is not belong to that category.

Having realized the difficulty to cut down the tuition, he began to consider not sending his boy to school. But in my opinion, this choice will make his wife exhausted. On the other hand, his boy will be bored at home.

“After all, children don’t learn much in preschool,” replied my friend.

I was really astonished at these words.

He has been well educated and had stayed long time in Europe. Like most of young professors, he is not satisfied with Chinese traditional education. But when it comes to his son, he holds the same idea as those whom he criticized. They all believe that school education should make obvious achievements in a child’s life. By saying “nothing to learn”, my friend refereed to the excessive freedom. He thought that things should be learned were writing, counting or other testable knowledge or skills.

But for me, Children learn a lot in school, all kinds of skills. They learn to play with others, deal with their small social problems.They have challenges in all kinds of fields. But for many parents, if their child doesn’t repeat or report what he has learned, thy will think automatically that kids in preschool were just killing time. If one day the child returns with the ability to count from one to ten, parents will probably be thrilled and very thankful to teachers.

What a pity if my friend doesn’t appreciate those wasted hours. I suggested him to take time. It’s not too late to make decision when they arrive. “Children in foreign country are too free. They just play,” we heard a lot of this kind of comments in China. It’s true but sometimes it doesn’t mean that children learn nothing here.