Just let them play, for rice sakes!

“Sit down Peter! Pick up your pencil and start writing! Nooooo, that’s a crayon! Use your pencil! I need this done by the end of the day! Woah now, Peter, exclamation is with a “c” and not a “k”.”

Peter just turned 4 years old. It makes me so sad to see these kids (KIDS!! BABIES!!!) being scolded if they can’t sit still, resist the toys and behave like high school teens. What am I saying? Not even 16 year olds can sit still for a full day of classes (mostly in a second language!).

I work at a wonderful English kindergarten and  I love it, but some days I feel so sorry for these kids. My youngest class is 2/3 years old and they already have to sit down and listen to the foreign teacher. They need to play!! When I was 4 years old, my biggest concern was getting the tent house not to fall down on my barbie family and their Lego lounge. At school, the challenge of the day was running fast enough to not be ‘it’ twice in a row. I only sat down for a real class in the year I turned 7 and only started formally learning a second language at school two years later. And would you believe it, I also got my university degree.

I have made it my challenge to let them have as much fun as I possibly can and try to sneak teaching English into it all. I try my best to give them as much freedom to creatively express themselves. Unfortunately, as a teacher, you have to adhere to the curriculum and make sure these kids are on track. After all, their parents are paying to see results and are anxious.

I guess the highly competitive job market in Korea makes parents very nervous for their children’s futures and so they try their best to do anything to prepare their kids for adulthood. However, that’s what everyone is doing, so the pressure just intensifies. I can imagine their thought process to sound a little like

“If all the other kids are learning English as a second language from the age of 3, my kid will have to start at 2 AND take piano, badminton and ballet classes as well in order to stand a chance when they grow up.”

I have even heard from one parent that she had English, Science and Korean tutors come to her house to tutor her daughter before she was even 1 year old. A baby!!!! This same mother told me (without even flinching) that she thought her daughter was stupid. When I asked why, she said that she tried everything and her daughter is not the best violin player in her age group and she still isn’t fluent in English at the age of 11 years old. She also told me that her daughter hates playing the violin, but that she will insist on lessons every single day of the week, except Sundays, until her daughter is 21 years old. Even if she sucks. No wonder she can’t speak English yet. I wonder if she even has enough free time to blink.

I have heard similar stories of “Teacher, I hate piano” and “Teacher, I don’t want to go to ballet class” many times as well.

I can’t help wondering. Do these parents measure their kid’s worth according to their achievements? Shouldn’t parents love their kids and encourage them no matter what? I guess the pressure to perform is just so high that everyone gets brainwashed by the constant race to nowhere. It’s like everyone is rushing toward this ‘green grass in the distance’, but on their way they miss out on all the ‘flowers along the road’.

Of course, this is not all parents and, of course, not all kids either.  Although this is the common phenomenon that I see most, I have also heard about kids who chose to go to the hagwons, even though their parents said they don’t have to. I had this wonderful student who came to English class, because he really just loved learning English. That gave me hope.

On the other hand, I must acknowledge the priviledge of being exposed to so many activities from such a young age. Whether it’s a good thing or not is an article for another day. The point I want to make it that I wish these kids had more opportunities to JUST BE KIDS! RUN FORREST!

However, I do realize the complexity of the situation and, quite frankly, I do not have a solution. I don’t even think the students always know what they are missing out on, because this is what everyone is used to. However, I do know that we can make a difference.

I think, we as foreign teachers, have a special opportunity to be the difference in these kids’ lives. While they’re running between ballet, piano, badminton, taekwondo and english classes, let’s be the cheerleaders along the way and encourage them to be exactly who they want to be. Let’s remind them to not take life too seriously and teach them about the importance of having fun as well. Let’s encourage that one kid who sucks at English, but creates brilliant art works and never gets enough credit to focus on their talent. They are often judged only by their achievements, so let’s look at their character too and just give them unconditional love and appreciation.

If Peter can’t spell “cat” to save his life, let’s help him, but also remember to clap when he draws them like a true little artist.





3 thoughts on “Just let them play, for rice sakes!

  1. “I guess the pressure to perform is just so high that everyone gets brainwashed by the constant race to nowhere. It’s like everyone is rushing toward this ‘green grass in the distance’, but on their way they miss out on all the ‘flowers along the road’.”

    -Een van die mees fundamentele probleme van die samelewing, the curse of survival of the fittest wat mense afgestomp maak vir die kleiner, eenvoudiger dinge in die lewe en ons blind maak vir belangriker goed wat reg voor ons oë is. Goeie stuk!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Presies. Almal dink die lewe le in die toekoms en dan wanneer ons hierdie “as ek net daar kan wees of dit kan doen” tipe idee van geluk bereik, dan soek ons weer iets anders en so gaan mens dan so soek-soek deur die lewe terwyl daar geluk in elke dag is wat mens miskyk. Die lewe is nou.


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