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Throwback: Nurture With Love - A Talent Education Philosophy (20 June 2014)

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Originally published on I Love Children:

It was Year 2013 when Coco started school at 1.5 years old – barely months after she learnt how to walk. Back in 1983, I started school at the grand old age of 4.

Sure, it’s only playgroup when they start at 18 months – they just play, sing, listen to stories, and dabble in art and craft. And it’s just for 4 hours every morning.

Or so we thought. At the parent-teacher’s conference last month, Coco’s teacher cheerfully reported that Coco was progressing nicely in her 2nd year in playgroup (yaaaay!) and added, “You may want to consider starting her on full day school next year. There’s more curriculum to cover when they go to nursery.”

WHAAAT. We were gobsmacked. Curriculum…? For 3 year-olds? I’m just glad (and hugely relieved) that she enjoys going to school, and the company of her teachers and friends.

Or maybe we shouldn’t have been that surprised. After all, Coco already has weekly home assignments to deliver every Friday (it’s termed as parent-child bonding…) Since she’s all of 2 years old, it usually ends up being her mother’s homework instead (which I secretly enjoy doing.)

That’s just school.

Now, moving on to the topic of enrichment classes. There’s a whole range of options out there for tiny tots: swimming, flashcard programmes, gym sessions, art & craft, language… How is a poor confused parent to know which to choose?

When I first perused the plethora of offerings from various schools and centres, I was telling myself, “I want the girls to learn the piano”, “It’s important that they know how to swim as early as possible”, “Everybody’s kid is getting a headstart in Chinese”, “Flashcard-ing will help them learn to read faster” and so on.

Until I realised that I was getting it all wrong – by focusing on results and achievements, and not on education and development. There are so many programmes that promise a lot in terms of grooming a child academically and physically. But a child is more than just a brain in a body. Is there such a thing as education for the heart and the spirit?

That was when I came across Shin’ichi Suzuki’s philosophy of talent education.

The concept of grooming talent from birth may make me come across as a tiger mum bent on forcing her kids to excel. Far from that, talent education starts with recognising the simple fact that every child has potential, and that it is up to the parent to ignite and nurture that potential through fostering – not rote teaching nor relentless drilling. ‘Talent’ simply means mastery of a certain action – to the level that it becomes an ability that is desired by others.

Talent education is education directed towards life. It is about creating, developing and training ability – not about attaining results.

We have been faithfully attending the Suzuki early childhood education programme for a year now. At the beginning, I used to wonder what was the point in teaching songs and nursery rhymes week after week. Then, I realised that the objective wasn’t for the girls to simply learn the rhymes. Using music as the vehicle, they were being educated and developed in all aspects of life – attentiveness, focus, and awareness of and respect for others. Through a structured environment that quietly guides them, the girls learn to wait their turns; acknowledge other students’ presence; and celebrate each person’s achievements.

I observe seemingly small but significant new abilities being acquired every week. Claire, at 1 year, knows how to be still and wait to be called for her turn on the instruments. She gently returns items to the teacher when her turn is over – not throws them. Coco is generous with her praise – complimenting her classmate on a pretty necklace or outfit. Last week, she noticed and brought to the teacher’s attention that one of the littler students had not had a turn on the drum – and gently guided the smaller girl to the front for her turn.

All these little actions may come across as easy and ordinary, and not much of a big deal. Yet, we often observe adults jumping queues, shoving others, littering, and choosing to complain and criticise instead of celebrating and complimenting.

We didn’t expressly teach them these desirable habits. These abilities were fostered, not taught. It’s like planting a seed and tending to the seedling as it establishes a firm foundation through its roots. On its own, given the right conditions, it will grow upright, healthy and strong.

I’ve read ‘Nurtured By Love’ by Dr Suzuki many times over. It is only after a year of talent education that I finally ‘get’ his philosophy that education is not taught in schools, but rather through close guidance and fostering on the homefront. While teachers play a role in helping children acquire knowledge, parents have the ability to help them acquire and nurture outstanding abilities in any field – often referred to as ‘talent’.

Suzuki’s concept of talent education goes far beyond music education. It is a parenting philosophy – based on the simple concept of nurturing with love.

I’d like to end by sharing this short home video taken after the girls were treated to a ‘live’ cello and piano performance by an older (all of 5 years old) student and their teacher. Coco was inspired perform for an audience “just like Jiejie Kayli” while I was instructed to accompany her as “Teacher Yvette”. That in turn sparked the desire in Claire to emulate her older sister at ‘playing’ the saxophone.

Coco & Allegro: A Performance

It is precisely this innate wish to acquire new desirable abilities that will inspire children to develop the talent that they aspire to have – be it in music, art, science or any other chosen field.

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