While They Are Illiterate

Making, and sticking to, the decision to not vigorously enforce reading and spelling during our children’s preschool years are definitely not easy. We have sometimes been a little bit anxious for our eldest, who turned four this year and does not know how to read yet, and write, for that matter. We have often second guessed ourselves and our decision in regards to her preschool years education. And we have gone back and forth between wanting to take things easy and slowly until the age of seven when children’s brains are deemed ready for reading, and responding to the pressure of the modern extra-young age literacy (in this part of the world we are living).

We agree that the ability to read and write is a wonderful skill, in fact it is the skill unique to human which sees to our species’ super fast advancement. But how early should this powerful skill be mastered by our little ones, scientists and education policy makers haven’t seemed to come to the same conclusion.

As my husband and I addressed our concerns over our daughter’s illiteracy at the moment, we eventually decided to pursue literacy less by enforcing the alphabet and phonics lessons, and more by reading to and cultivating appetite for good reads in her. There are two things which we consider as basic and important as we assess our approach to teaching a child to read: the purpose for literacy and the method to achieve that purpose.

It is a sad thing to hear fellow parents lamenting their preschoolers’ increasing lack of playtime as they need to go for their phonics lessons or English and writing classes. It is all the more saddening when the reasons for that are “so as to not be left behind in the primary school level” and “to be able to understand the questions asked in homeworks and tests when they go to Primary One.” The privilege of enlightenment is becoming a kindergarteners’ race and a banal requirement for first grader education system.

We believe the purpose of literacy is to enable one to understand other’s thoughts (this includes knowledges from informations to opinions), to express one’s own thoughts, and ultimately as people of faith, to understand the Scripture as God’s revelation and to share the Truth with others. As for the method, we are not convinced that it is more useful to train a child to read at the age of four than at a later age, say of seven, when studies suggest that children’s brains are more ready for literacy training. In his own words, the author of Math for Little Ones Alexander K. Zvonkin wrote, “Premature instruction is no more beneficial than premature birth.”

While waiting for the neurons to establish their pathways, we believe we can prepare the child for a lifetime love for reading – good reading, that is. It can be done by establishing a culture of reading in the family, where the parents read themselves and read to the child regularly. And just as is the case with putting a child into the habit of healthy eating, we should also ‘feed’ the child with good and worthy reads. As the famous writer C.S. Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”

It is also beneficial to exercise a child’s memory, especially during the preschool years when it is at its strongest. Children are able to memorize stories read to them, word for word, and they do it quite effortlessly to our astonishment. Fill their memory banks then, with good books, poems and stories of excellent virtues, and with the sacred verses of the Scripture. The vast vocabularies, writing styles and the taste of literatures they have committed unto their memory will without a doubt bring them far when they can finally decode and compose strings of letters by themselves.

While the ability to read and write things down tend to excuse us from exercising our memory, we see this illiterate time window as an opportunity to train our daughter’s memory. Because she cannot read her story books, she memorizes them. Likewise, this time window affords us the control over what kind of reads is poured into the minds of our children and at the same time the opportunity to bond as we read to them. Few are things that a child cherishes more than to sit on her parent’s lap with a good book being read to her. We know it is one we will miss so dearly too, because soon she will be reading on her own.

Cherishing their illiterate moment.

Work Early

My late paternal grandma used to say, “Do not fear of having to work, fear when you have nothing for work, because then you will have nothing to eat.” She directed the admonition at me and my cousin sister as we were quietly grumbling at the sink full of dishes from our weekly big family dinner. My father seemed to inherit just the same philosophy, for every morning during school holidays, we would jump off our bed from his shouting from the shop downstairs.

“Get down here now! Time to work!” was his line which we hated so much. We would then be ordered around to write down the customers’ shopping lists, weigh the sugar or oil or coffee powder, carry packs of bee hoon and also bundle up a dozen bottled drinks into a neat 2-3-4-3 formation, among many other works common in a traditional ‘kedai kelontong’. Such a holiday spoiler.

But of course, now we will tell anyone what our senior generation ‘forced’ on us was the right and good thing. Even as kids, behind the murmurs and complaints, we knew it was for our good. And I shall not fail to mention about how good it felt to complete one customer’s shopping all by my own, or, my favorite, to bundle up bottled drinks all nice and tight! (It’s a skill that I’m proud of till today.)

I guess, it’s the same feeling when I managed to tidy up my toys cabinet, whip up a meal, or complete a project. It matters not whether it’s in my childhood, my professional years, or my current stay-at-home moments. The joy of doing meaningful work and the rewarding satisfaction are universal.

To quote Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, the knowledge and experience of doing, making or fixing things with our hands not only affords us joys but also is essential to our well-being, to our flourishing. I can testify that one of my husband’s most joyful expressions is obviously seen when he is baking bread. Those who know him know how flat his default poker face is.

So, we are doing the same thing to our own children, and we start early; insisting that they dispose of their used diapers to the bin, make their beds and tidy up toys, help out with vegetables rinsing and cutting, help make the pizza, et cetera. Yes, the kids don’t always like it or do as told. Yes, we are hearing murmurs, protests and whines, and will still do for quite many years. But there are times when the littlest will clap having tossed her used diaper into the bin, and when the eldest will say with pride “Daddy, that veggies you are eating, I cut them this morning.”

That’s what it’s all about, passing down the gift of joy and satisfaction of doing meaningful work, and being useful and helpful in tangible ways to others around, as early as possible. As my father used to say very often, “If you don’t learn to work in your youth, what good will you be in your adulthood?”

What a Butterfly Boasts In

It is now midnight, I am watching an Autumn Leaf caterpillar in the midst of pupating itself as I write this in my notebook. Maybe it’s the coffee. My husband and kids were already sound asleep and I left my phone in the bedroom. I do not have any picture or video taken of the process so attached here is a video I took from the YouTube.

As I watch the caterpillar attaching itself to a stem; twitching, squeezing and shrinking itself into almost one third its original size some four hours ago, I cannot help but to contemplate on the meaning of its life.

What is the purpose of this little creature’s life? To be a beautiful butterfly. And then what? Be a bird’s prey, or die some 30 days after?

Ah, if only it could talk, the caterpillar would have protested! Why the hassle, why the painful process? For such a pathetic purpose, that cannot be!

But thanks be to GOD, as one watches the caterpillar’s journey from one ugly, creepy thing; molting itself into a pupa, and to finally emerging as a splendid butterfly, one cannot only learn about the life cycle of a biology subject, or contemplate on life’s meaning, without also raising to his lips praises to the magnificent GOD, the Creator of this little caterpillar, and of all living beings.

In fact, it is impossible for one to observe the Nature, and not be awed by its beauty, order and wisdom. And as one stands in awe of the wonder of all these, it is impossible not to acknowledge its Creator and lift up proper praises due Him.

No, I say so not because of an overly religious sentiment. Instead, it is the most making sense response. Just as one should naturally credit the artist behind a masterpiece, and applaud the composer behind a moving music, acknowledging the existence of a brilliant Mastermind behind the very existence of this caterpillar, and give Him glory for the awe-inspiring handiwork that the final beautiful butterfly is, is only the most natural, honest and logical thing to do.

The glorifying of GOD, and His enjoyment – which He graciously shares with man. This, is the purpose of the butterfly-caterpillar’s life. This, is what its gorgeous wings boast of.

Let man observe and take heed, in all their splendor let they give glory to their Maker, to whom all honor, praise and adoration are due. Lest they boast in their foolish arrogance, and end up a prey to worldly vanity and die after a meaningless life of 70 or 80 years.

The caterpillar is still twitching and contracting, but I am done with my notes. So I am turning in, both of us have our own lives to fulfill tomorrow.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Children and Nature

“This bunny loves me, I love it too.”

In general, the urban kids of our days learn what they know about animals from books and videos, in a classroom setting. Which is good. But we could be leaving out the fundamentals when much of the spotlight is on biological facts and environmental issues only.

Such knowledge, when introduced too early without a meaningful bonding between the children and the nature, may instead become an overwhelming burden to the little ones. Suddenly, nature is about deforestation, about damages, about endangered animals, about stopping animals cruelty.

Children first need a love for the nature before they can shoulder these responsibilities. It’s true that children are naturally inclined towards the nature, but it’s also an instinct that needs nurturing. And in a setting where regular interaction with nature is not a granted thing, it falls on our shoulders as parents, teachers; the educators, to intentionally expose the children to the nature and nurture their love for it.

Responsible stewardship towards the nature starts with a genuine love for it. And love for the nature comes only through knowing it. As the Indonesians say, “Tak kenal maka tak sayang.” We cannot love what we do not know. And we cannot know what we do not see, or hear, or sense.

(Picture was taken at Cibalung Happy Land, Bogor, Indonesia, an agrotourism site offering a vast range of good old days farming experiences and other nature related activities, at very affordable rates. In this picture was “fun with rabbits” activity, priced at IDR20,000 with rabbit feeding available at IDR5,000.)

We See the Present Clearly But God Sees the First and Last

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong once noted that God’s brilliant wisdom is manifested in His creation. I think it is a claim that begets the loudest “Amen” from two groups of people: the scientists and the parents. The latter being the group that I am in.

One should not be overwhelmed by the challenges that parenthood brings without at the same time being awed by the revelation of God’s nature. In entrusting infants and little children to adult humans, God is showing more of Himself.

The above line which I use as the title of this post, is taken from the song “Trust His Heart” by Babbie Mason. As I sang this song during the worship last Sunday, this particular line caught my heart. And my mind immediately went to my own kids, a 4 year-old and a 21 month-old. That was just the perfect line to describe what our relationship is like.

Young children are people with underdeveloped brains. The reason to why our toddlers stuff the whole bag of cookies into their tiny mouths at unbelievable speed, and why our preschoolers keep asking when we tell them “WAIT,” is this: they have a prefrontal cortexes that are barely developed. Which means, they have little (if any) ability to ponder the future, or to put it simply, they are always living in the present, in the forever right now.

Do not expect these little ones to appreciate the fact that the broccoli we set before them now will send them into the right track of healthy eating lifestyle in the future, or that the scary jabs we now put them through will protect them from catastrophic illnesses for years to come, or that the disciplines we insist on them presently will mould them into responsible and civilized adults.

It makes no sense, because biologically they can only see the present. But it makes full sense, because we see what they can not see. So we keep telling them, “Trust Mommy, Mommy knows best.”

God, as a Father Himself, has designed parenthood to display His own relationship with His children. We see the present clearly but He sees the first and the last. So when we can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.


Children Are Struggling Sinners Too

02 April 2017

Through the past week, we have had discipline issue with the 4 year old which has been escalating rapidly. At the peak of my frustration and hers today, she screamed,

“I want to obey but I still cannot obey even though I want to obey! Why?”

This, I did not expect. She had accurately pointed out that her core problem is sin, and only then did it truly dawn on me, it is not a problem that even the best parenting or discipline can fix.

Later on we talked about Jesus, His atonement of sin and the true liberation from such sin-crippled disability which He, and He alone can give. And we prayed together for help to obey God Himself, in which I added, even more fervently than ever:

Lord, have mercy on this daughter of mine. Have mercy on us, O Lord!

Kana Is Four

This is the thought that should be uppermost on your mind in all that you do for your children. In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, “How will this affect their souls?” – J. C. Ryle

She was feverish from viral infection the week before her second birthday. On her third, she struggled to down anything through her throat in the peak of her HFMD symptoms. And she had just recovered from a really bad food poisoning two weeks prior to turning four today. The Lord spared us her first birthday.

Blessed birthday! Every year to celebrate is blessed indeed!

For somewhere past the labour ward and that first cry, we are just so bound to take life and growth for granted. We forget that with birth, comes also the journey to grave. That the first beat of that tiny heart has also begun counting down to its stopping. Everyday we unknowingly sedate ourselves – “My child will live tomorrow still,” so unconscious we can hardly tell it’s a myth.

So suffering comes knocking some sense. Lest we be merry without being wary. The little soul has started for the eternity, blessed or damned. We cannot afford to be negligent.

Another year, O sovereign Lord,
With faith and prayers, love and rod
We shall fill the jar with water still
Until wine it be in Thy perfect will

Kana’s 4th birthday,
31 March 2017