As a youth, I loved taking tests, specifically the adrenaline of pouring my answers onto the page, the thrill of a ticking clock and the exhilaration of a great score. I was completely self-driven and quite successful academically. My parents, contrary to the stereotype of Chinese parents, never checked my homework and rarely looked at my report cards. They even harassed me to work less and get more sleep.
When I was a relatively new mom, I wondered if it was better to push and hover over my children or to let them be masters of their own academic journey. I reached three conclusions.
1) Be more pushy with the relaxed child and more relaxed with the eager child.
I have one child who manages her own work and wants that perfect score. I now play the role of my parents, asking her to rest more. In contrast, I have another child who is much more easygoing. He views any score above zero as an achievement. For this child, we push and hover more.
2) Be explicit about expectations and rewards.
At our house, we reward academic achievement – a quarter for each A when they were younger and now a dollar for each A. We go out to dinner and celebrate great report cards too. We tell our kids that everyone has a job and their job is to learn, pay attention and try their best. I half-jokingly tell them that we gave them names which start with the letter “A” as a daily reminder that they are supposed to get “A”s in school.
Rewards do not have to be extravagant. My daughter started to practice her trumpet more once her teacher started to offer one piece of chocolate for practicing more than 60 minutes per week. At my summer enrichment programs, we pass out little certificates whenever students showed positive behavior or results and they use these certificates to claim prizes from the treasure chest.
3) Be entertaining - push learning through fun and games.
I’m probably more pushy than relaxed by nature but I disguise my pushiness in fun and games. When my kids were younger, I would turn into a game show host whenever we had a longer car trip. I would ask them questions from BrainQuest, make up math questions and go through their spelling words. We play many educational games at home like chess, Apples to Apples, Othello, Monopoly, Life, Sequence, Chutes and Ladders, etc. I have a similar philosophy when I develop my educational programs; I have to make the subjects fun and interactive to stimulate the students to learn.
My husband has the best analogy on raising children. He says it’s like flying a kite. In order to keep the kite (the child) soaring higher and higher, you have to continually pull (push) and let go (relax).