As a child I learned how to play the piano. My parents kindly agreed to my request, so I started at 7 years old. I had 3 different piano teachers and I enjoyed my piano lessons immensely. I took the Grade 3 and 4 examinations and learned the value of hard work, while fighting my fear of official assessment. While I continued to love music, I made a decision to stop official lessons when I reached secondary 3. The piano stayed at home for a few more years, being my sturdy companion, before it was eventually sold to another family with a young child starting on her music journey.
Despite the arguments that we had over the piano (it wasn't cheap, clearly) and my neglect of the piano in the months before it was sold, my mother shared with me that she agreed to my request because she felt, in her words, it was important that I had a hobby. She had no idea what I would come to love, but she knew that her children needed something to spend time fruitfully on. So she let my sibling and I go for art lessons and music lessons. She bought us books whenever we could afford them, or she carted home preloved books from our older cousins. I did not think much of these actions as a child. I simply enjoyed the opportunities to experiment and grow organically.
Now as an adult and a parent, I see the value of letting our children learn different things, formally or informally. Our older daughter needed lots of help with managing her emotions, so we found art became a useful outlet for the storm going on mentally. The younger daughter found that art allowed her to express herself. She bemoaned how she could not draw and frustration mounted. It has been much easier as they use art forms to speak to us, to vent their frustrations, to air their grievances, to tell jokes, to show the day's events, etc.
Dear children, learn art because a picture paints a thousand words.
Dear children, learn music because a climb in the octave matches the swelling of emotions.
Dear children, learn dance because the quick footwork represents your happiness.
Dear children, learn a sport because you will learn a lot about the way our human bodies work.
Dear children, learn anything you'd like to learn. Don't worry about whether you are talented. You don't have to be talented to learn something.
Sometimes in Singapore, talent is a bad word, especially if it comes with the word enrichment. It's often tied to controversial debates about Direct School Admission, elitism, social class, and poor mental health for kids. But if we return to the real reason for engaging our children in these activities, it is to help them find a friend for life.
My good friend is music. When I am stressed, I look for it. I sing, I play, I listen. I learn to appreciate what it means to be loud (forte) or really soft (pianissimo). I make links between music and stories that tell me "Her life was a minor key". I don't have a distinction in ABRSM Grade 8, but it doesn't negate my love for music.
Dear children, learn to live life well. If you discover a talent, hold it dear to you. Let what you learn help you understand life and its wonders.
Happy Teachers Day to all our teachers, teaching in all capacities and designations. Thank you for helping our children appreciate life in various ways.