A local daycare has revealed some interesting differences between the Chinese and Western perspectives on teaching children. Jaden, my three-year-old son, just started at a new daycare and has quite enjoyed it.
Activities and games are mostly focused on the children conforming to what the adults want, such as following the adults’ directions in constructing a dinosaur made of Lego. In a Chinese daycare, the teacher shows them what to do—and they follow. These activities are structured to make all children reflect the same behavior.
Western education, which is modeled from the Montessori method (hands-on learning), tends to be the exact opposite. For example, rather than being shown how to make a dinosaur out of Lego, they will be given a pile of bricks and told to make whatever they like. Or rather than doing an activity based on adults’ step-by-step instructions, the children get to choose what they’re interested in, and the adults are simply there to offer any assistance and encourage them.
I see strengths and weaknesses in both systems. For one, Jaden enjoys learning how to build a dinosaur out of Lego bricks, but then he wants to use that knowledge on his own to improve his creations. Although I believe it’s good for children to listen to their parents, it’s also equally important for them to develop a sense of self and learn decision-making. To be fairly honest, children can’t always learn effectively if they are being forced to do what someone else wants. Sometimes, they should follow their parents’ or teachers’ lead… Other times, the parents and teachers should follow the children’s lead.
My husband, John, tells me about one of his experiences in China. He was watching a performance by a group of young Chinese children. The children dressed in the same outfits, performed the same choreography, and wore identical makeup.
However, there was one little boy who dared to be different. His dance moves were unique and he relished every minute in the spotlight. John took a picture of him and laughed, and a Chinese friend chided him. He explained to John that the parents of that child would feel embarrassed and ashamed, especially since their child acted in such an out-of-order manner.
John’s reaction was precisely the opposite. If his child acted like that, he would be proud that everyone would remember his child’s performance. Instead of scolding his child for rejecting the standard choreography, he would give him a big hug. For myself, I have to admit that I may feel somewhat embarrassed and I certainly wouldn’t praise my child for their behavior.
I know that I want Jaden to be successful, and there are specific things I want him to learn. On the other hand, I’ve had the opportunity to see his personality flourish and bloom. I see the huge smile on his face every time he masters a new skill, and he rushes to show it to me. I don’t think the Chinese way is wrong or the Western way is right. It’s more a question of finding the balance between the two.