how her daughter will cope in such a fiercely competitive
school environment, and whether her self-esteem will be
affected if she doesn’t trump on all her tests. “It makes my
heart palpitate,” she says.
Summer can provide a perfect opportunity to sample a
slower schedule, where children benefit from a break in
routine and from unstructured time. Come term-time, Julie
can pinpoint students who have had such a break. “They
come back looking refreshed and ready to learn,” she says.
Board games, hiking or trying a new sport as a family
are great ways to spend time together. Inside, initiate a
family scrapbook project or spend time reading. Outside,
go to the beach and dig ditches, or go for a swim. Family
time doesn’t always have to be parent-led. Fill a table with
clay or paints and let kids come up with their own projects
you can observe or muck in and get your hands dirty.
Or, try setting older kids a challenge to make dinner for
everyone once a week. Assist when they need it, but stay in
the background once in a while, too.
Setting up a basket or box with props like a crown,
pirate’s hat, or sword, or items from favourite movies or
books, can prompt imaginative role play, while just sitting
together reading books allows little ones to value quiet time.
For mum-of-three Christine Smith-Mann, the holidays
are all about letting go of schedules and enjoying some
well-earned freedom. As a working parent, she makes sure
she schedules in regular together-time. On Fridays, the
family bunkers down for bingo and pizza, and she puts
eating out with them into her diary next to her meetings.
She fights to keep these habits as term-time takes
off and the family schedule fills up. Her eldest, now in
secondary school, is required to take part in three school-
based activities, and her other two have several outside
interests. Striving for balance, she has even created a
chill-out zone” for her kids in her office. “I genuinely hate
it when, after a mid-term break, they have to go back to
school. I love having them home with me and we schedule
at least one movie night at home a week,” she says.
Family psychologist Scarlett Mattoli says this kind
of committed scheduling offers kids a vital framework.
Children learn to value themselves as being important
in their parents’ lives and develop a sense of self-esteem,”
says Scarlett. “The amount of time spent is not nearly
as important as the satisfaction gained from the time.
Children need to know that they matter, and that their
parents will do what it takes to make sure they know it.”
There’s no need to cull all activities. Well-chosen
classes challenge students to stretch and move beyond their
limits, says Scarlett. But all kids are different. Some thrive
with many activities, and some do better with one or two.
Parents need to look at their child and ask themselves,
What child have I got?’” says Scarlett, before signing them
up for a new class.
Playgroup founder Cara Ng’s primary-aged son took
up violin, football, painting and tae kwon do when they
were offered in his first year at school. This year he’ll
return to football but will drop the others. Cara is tailoring
his options to activities he enjoys, and says she doesn’t feel
the same pressure faced by many mums.
But then, as a tutor, she’s worked with over-scheduled
students. “I had one five-year-old student who, in addition
to kindergarten, was taking 13 different classes every week.
I swore that my kids would not be subjected to that, and
that we would find a happy medium.”
A few weeks’ respite from the frenetic pace of Hong
Kong family life might make this summer one to remember
and you might even find that it inspires you to keep your
autumn calendar a little more clutter-free.
Children need to
know that they
matter, and that
their parents will
do what it takes
to make sure they
know it.