JULY 22 — Are parents getting lazy? We seem to be fobbing off our children to overpriced childminders with alarming regularity these days.
A news bite in The Standard on Friday made me sit up.
It was about children who were unable to participate in any summer activity this year because their parents could not afford the fees and transportation costs.
It is telling that this was a news item because of what it says about the reverse, that parents are all-too familiar with the subtle pressure to sign their children up for summer courses held during the two-month long school holidays.
The Alliance for Children Development Rights interviewed 208 families with 346 children aged between four and 17 years last month and learned that 60 per cent of families listed high course fees and mounting transportation costs as a deterrence.
Yet there are some families who are well off enough to afford three football sessions in a day per child (six out of 10 children in my son’s class did this), with a helper waiting on the sidelines to dole out water and snacks and a driver to ferry their children to and from classes.
It is sad to read that one has to pay to play. A game of football should take place in an open field, free of charge. Instead, we fork out $250 (RM100) for one hour’s use of an indoor pitch, the service of a coach with nine other children.
The reality is that grassy fields are not as common as we’d like to see, unlike in Malaysia where a residential area will have a playground and padang.
High-rise living and increasingly sterile conditions have led to small, tiled common areas where kicking a ball around is not allowed.
Parks are no better as signs are plastered everywhere reminding us that bicycles, scooters and even in-line skates are not allowed.
With both parents putting in long hours at work, often returning home after the child is in bed, it is easy to justify the spending as they see these classes as a way to stave boredom, help their child develop new skills and give the caregiver a breather.
Is this a rich man’s problem? Are we too caught up with trying to pad a kindergartener’s portfolio (necessary for the primary school application) with standout activities?
My husband seems to think so. Having never known a summer camp his entire school-going life, he believes he turned out just fine.
I argue that today’s situation has changed. We practically have to schedule an appointment for children to play, working around tuition and a host of after school activities. It’s not as simple as running over to a friend’s home to play after tea time.
A large expat population also means that our son’s regular playmates are away for the summer while another good friend has migrated. Ishan, now four-and-a-half, seems a little lonely.
The reasons above are why my husband and I signed our son up for a five-day football camp. What at first seemed like an extravagant expenditure (it still is!) has turned out to be money well-spent.
I have nothing but praise for the coach, a young man who worked his charm on the children aged between three and eight years. It was like having a super fun kindergarten teacher to run around and play ball with.
I saw where the money went — safe and well-designed fittings, padded walls, safety nets, artificial pitch, well-maintained equipment and child-friendly bathrooms. The coaching team gets my highest vote because they taught the older kids to look out for the younger, slower ones.
Seeing how much fun my son was having and how he is now able to dribble and pass the ball with the inside of his foot instead of his toe (I’m not sure why this bothers me) makes me happy. While we do kick the ball about occasionally, I don’t have the clout of a strapping role model when it comes to giving instructions.
To an extent, these summer camps are facets of life here. There are however, more affordable options if one is open to Cantonese as a medium of instruction.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department’s extensive list of affordably-priced activities available in almost every neighbourhood. Availability is subject to a balloting system.
One parent commented in an expat forum (the cost of summer programmes has been a subject of discussion) posted: “If you can afford it, why not? If you can’t your kid will be perfectly fine without it.”
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.