How many extra classes should your child be attending?

So a couple of weeks ago, I was at a mommy’s dinner with the moms of Fighter’s friends.  There happened to be another group of girls there, some of whom were also moms from the same school. #momlyfe (I know I know before I became a mom I think I won’t even know so many moms walk among us WTF)

Anyway I was talking to this one mom whom I’ve seen around school but never actually talked to properly.  She showed us a photo of her 5 year old daughter’s writing in Mandarin.  I don’t know anything about Mandarin but dude those characters were complicated.  At five, this little girl was writing long fluent sentences in beautiful characters, in Mandarin.

While at four, my son can barely write the word ‘flip’.


The mom went on to tell us that her daughter doesn’t have a rest day. O_O  Every day of the week (yep weekends included), she has a class or activity on, be it math tuition, English tuition, ballet, swimming, polo, or whatever. Some days she has more than one activity going on!

And this is totally common.  Talking to my mommy friends, I realize that nearly every single child Fighter’s age (4 or 5 years onwards) goes to lessons outside of school – Mandarin, Shichida, soccer, gymnastics, even got phonetics class wtf.  This ranges in frequency at least a few times a week, up to more than one class a day, daily.  From school, they fly home for lunch before running off for their next class.  Some end up eating their lunch in the car because there ain’t not enough time between school and their extra classes.  And these kids aren’t even in primary school yet. :O

My kid on the other hand.  I take him (and Penny) home from school and they have lunch.  After lunch he takes a bath, then he takes out his Lego, his building blocks, or he draws on his blackboard.  Or he plays with Play Doh.  More often now that Penny is older, they have a lot of conversations and pretend play.  They take turns playing doctor and patient, or policeman and bad guy, or they gang up to make me toy food which I have to pretend to eat enthusiastically wtf.  Sometimes if I don’t pack them up and take them to work with me, or plan play dates, they go outside to play with bubbles or I take them to the pool for a swim.  This goes on until dinner and bedtime.

That’s it.  No extracurricular activities.  I did start him on swimming class once a week but I was thinking of more for survival chances if he happens to fall into a mining pool or something wtf.

My kid does nothing but play all day.  He can’t write, he can barely draw, he’s still illiterate, he can’t even balance on one foot WTF.  Although he can strike up conversations with strangers, debate with me and point out flaws in my argument wtf.  In comparison, his peers are making elaborate pictures on paper, playing soccer, swimming like fishes, and reading Peter and Jane.  They are so advanced it’s crazy.

Fighter’s self portrait wtf.

So my questions are these, people.

I don’t believe there’s any one right or wrong way to parenting.  But am I too free with my parenting?  Should I be doing for my child to make sure he advances, if not on par with his high achieving peers, but at least not so falls too far behind?  I think my parenting style has always been slightly hippy – I believe in not pressuring kids when they’re so young especially, and letting them grow at their own pace.  But am I too chill until they’re not growing at all?  By not pressuring them, am I not pushing them to develop grit?

My second question was – and I actually posed this to the mom I talked to – how do you even find the time for all these extra classes!?  She confirmed my suspicion – that she spent most of her days in the car, ferrying around her kids from class to class.  But she has the privilege of being a full time SAHM. What about those of us who are working?  How to juggle? And do I want to spend the remainder of my free time (and my kid’s free time) rushing from class to class?

And thirdly, what about play?  I believe so strongly in free play for kids that it’s nearly my religion wtf.  Data shows that play helps children with socialization (which is actually my top priority but not the only one la), conflict resolution, creativity and a whole bunch of other good stuff.  Shouldn’t 4-5 year olds (who are still by definition, toddlers) be playing in all their free time?  Or am I being too extreme – that it’s okay to get them into organized activities and lessons even at 4? (I’m not talking about one or two classes a week ah, talking about at least several times a week.)

Fighter and his beloved Lego.

I don’t have any answers.  But I’m opening up a forum to hear your thoughts!  Leave a comment!


Comments (22)

  • Hello! I’m 29 this year, and I rmb my mom used to hire tutors to our home (cos she was working full time and didn’t have the luxury to ferry me arnd) – piano lessons, English, bahasa and Chinese tutors. I don’t rmb feeling super pressured though, I actually enjoyed learning extra languages! My mom made sure that my tutors didn’t give me homework – they just came to my house, talked/read/played with me and taught me how to write. My mom believes that extracurricular activities are very important, but i shouldn’t feel pressured while learning after sch hours. I am a single child, so I was more than happy to have ppl play with me and not doing homework/preparing for exams lolol.

    Since she can’t ferry me arnd to play dates, she organized play dates for me at our home and our maid will look after us while mom is working at the office.

    I think that panned out well for me so far lolol.

  • Hi Audrey,

    reading your this post makes me think about what I’m gonna do with my 18month-old daughter too. Many peers her age has already gotten into playgroup classes while I’m bringing her out everyday without fail.

    I used to believe learning is very important because my parents told me so. But after I have a daughter myself, I think learning is part of growing up. And I don’t want to force her to do what she doesn’t want to do especially in school. I used to be forced to chose my degree majors and I was dying tried to catch up my disinterest. One more thing I realised is that once a child is getting into school, they will not have the time to play as much as when they are still young. So I have decided to just let her play as much as she likes before she will be too occupied with school works.
    No right and wrong for sure.

  • Hi Audrey,

    i am not a mother but i personally felt the pressure n extreme tiredness as a kid to juggle so much activities in a day. perhaps u can consider to send your kids for some core classes such as language n sports so that he is not too far behind?

  • Haha I did before! My personality type is ENFP!

  • It’s nice to expose the kids to different skills in an early age. But once they have mastered all this skills (for their age group), won’t they feel bored in class? I mean they have learned these stuff in their extra classes before they enter school and when these are taught in school, in a class, as a lesson, wouldn’t they feel bored because they know these things already? Yes, as teachers, we have differentiated learning in class but there’s not much a teacher can give every single lesson to keep up / keep these “advanced” kids busy.

    And I agree, play group/school or playtime at home after school in the morning, is the best because kids can learn how to socialize, build their character and deal with real-life situations instead of solving problems on worksheets and later not knowing how to deal with a peer who accidentally push them or take their pencils yadayada…

  • Hi Audrey, let me ask you a question. Who do you find more attractive?

    Person A: Very knowledgeable (geek) and educated but lacks common sense and the basic but necessary skills required in daily life (eg. changing light bulbs, cleaning, cooking, fixing a lose pipe, etc).

    Person B: Decently educated, knowledgeable about things outside the books (eg. above-mentioned skills), street smart and understands common sense in life.

    For me, I prefer Person B. Knowledge and experiences gained from everyday life, in my opinion, lasts a life time and that’s what make people attractive because they have the experiences in life. I always love listening to my parents share about their kampung days stories. My parents ain’t highly educated. My dad didn’t complete his primary school and my mum completed ‘O’ levels. It is not that knowledge from books they teach us in life, but rather the values and moral of being a human. And I realize these values/moral become forsaken to people as they work towards fame and wealth. To me simplicity is the best but hardest thing anyone can achieve in life. While children are still young, why not let them understand, appreciate and remember the happiness of simplicity. Survival skills must be equipped! I would prefer to nurture a kid who is able to survive on an abandoned island with natural resources than a kid who cannot live without external help or the aid of technology.

    PS: I am single and not yet a mother. 🙂

  • Hi Audrey,

    My eldest daughter joined ballet when she’s 2.5 yo and now at 6 she has attended clay class, sempoa, music class, mandarin though I’d say nothing extreme because 1) I’ve seen worse 2) the frequency is mild ( once a week) 3) Most importantly I think she is coping well and enjoying it.

    I think it’s important that for every extra class that we enroll our kids, there is a “lesson” other than academic values. For ballet, it’s because she was very shy and I thought she could use a new social setting while also flexing her muscles ( win-win). Similarly, I think other classes such as clay and music class are viewed more like a playful lesson rather than stressful. That’s why I think Mandarin and Sempoa is a nice balance as she grows because she is learning to pile on responsibilities while reaping the academic benefits. So far it’s working well.

    In my opinion, you should approach it wisely per kid. So what works for Fighter may not always work for Penny ( my second girl is such a lazy bum, she does nothing now she’s almost 4 lol. Well, there’s a penmanship class but seriously who does that?). Swimming is a good intro for the kids and you may want to slowly evaluate what their strengths and talents are, then find an extra class that can accommodate them well.

    Lastly don’t pressure yourself but when the time comes, maybe make a bit of a sacrifice and no choice you have to drive them around haish ( the worst part!). I myself am a working mom so my husband and inlaws got the brunt of it but oh well, all for the kids right? haha. Good luck!

  • Hi Audrey,

    I have a 5yo girl and a 5mos old baby and a FTWM with no helper at home. And yes i know moms that has their pre-school kids scheduled packed with extra classes daily and even on weekends as well. I did too struggle with the thought that my 5yo girl only attends kindy for the 1st half of the day and the rest of the time are spent doing exactly what fighter and penny is doing at my mil place with her cousins. IMO is that i would like to enrol my girl to classes or activities that she actually enjoy and have an interest in rather than just filling up time in their daily routine. I’m cool with play classes those involving dance, music and such… but if we are talking about academic extra classes i think she’s a bit too young for that. I’m pretty sure when she hits primary school, especially she will be in chinese medium school, she will be basically pretty tied up with classes and extra curriculum classes then and tuitions! so my take is that let her enjoy the remaining of her pre-school days before the real deal begins.

    Adding on to that is basically as a FTWM, transportation is an issue as i wont be able to ferry her to and fro 🙁

  • Hi Audrey

    I have two children and I have been through that preschool rat race and now the primary school amazing race. ==”
    I do acknowledge preparing your child well enough for primary school is important.

    However now if I am to go bAck to that preschool time, I would pulled my children out of formal schools, focus on let them Exploring life.

    probably just send them to mandrain enrichment. Rest of time we would just explore life thru everyday activities.

  • Hi Audrey!

    Would like to share with you the point of view from a child’s perspective (aka me) hahah! For me, I do have few extra curricular classes since I was in primary 1 (abacus and piano) and both were actually requested by me because I was interested in learning them. While I was just a normal student in primary school, maybe the top 20 in class, I started to feel the difference in my learning ability as compared to my peers when I entered secondary school. Thanks to abacus, I was able to pick up new mathematics concept fast. Besides, learning piano trained me to have high expectations on my performance. Thus it sort of developed my grit to persevere until achieving the goal that I set for myself. Of course, all the extra classes are useful to me because I simply enjoy learning them! I love to mingle with my classmates in abacus class (we were always talking in class while doing our homework given) and I have a very good relationship with my piano teacher too. In fact, I never attend any form of academic tuition class until primary 6 and I can’t remember myself revising for any school exams (but I can remember I was constantly doing abacus homework/practicing piano) and I only started revising for UPSR 2 months before the exam dates. So I have a pretty happy childhood I guess? I do have plenty of time playing at home/with my neighbor and I’m very grateful because my parents never forced me to pick up something that I don’t have interest in.

    In university (I’m in year 3 right now), I can observe a big difference between peers who had developed any form of special skills since young vs someone who have no special talents other than being just academic inclined. Some of my friends are active in dance club because they had a ballet/dance background; some of my friends (including me) can even make some pocket money with the skills they have (like teaching piano); some are the captains of school sports team; of course, some of my friends also participated in some community services or other activities. However, there is this group of people who did not know what to do during their free time (some just play computer games 24/7 throughout the entire holiday instead of getting a part time job/intern). What I noticed is they often spent their childhood learning nothing other than tuition/classes that don’t interest them, which caused them to get addicted to computer games (as the only way to relieve stress, according to them) *I’m not against playing computer games, in fact me myself also had spent some time on these games but spending 24/7 on games is just way too much while there are so much more to do in life.

    So in short (:tldr) I believe it’s important to give the kids the freedom to explore what interests them since young (maybe like singing/dancing/drawing/music) and from there dive into their interests and make the best out of it. Don’t just learn them for fun and quit after few weeks of lessons, but make something out of it (training their interpersonal skills/learn to set realistic expectations on themselves/be proficient in the skill and make that their source of income in the future). I’m extremely thankful to have encouraging parents who supported me mentally and financially to have this blissful childhood and I believe Fighter and Penny would feel the same in the future too! 🙂

  • Hi Audrey, been a silent reader since forever but this is a topic close to my heart so thought I’d share my thoughts. I think there are alot of activities these days that are more about fun learning and helping our kids discover their interest. Such as creative art, hip hop dance class, cooking classes. It’s no less fun than free play, but also enriching. Recently our friends’ 5 year old kids went for a short coding class as part of a multi activity camp and to the surprise of their parents, they themselves marked that as their favourite activity in camp! I think ultimately it’s for us as parents to be able to distinguish whether our kids love it, when it turns into pressurizing (but also distinguish that from laziness / lack of perseverence). And the instructors play a huge role though – the right ones should be able to inculcate values more than skills.

    When our kids enter primary/secondary school, academics inevitably become the focus. At that time there will be even less of a chance for them to try out these enrichment activities.

    Ultimately I believe that in this uncertain world, the main skills our kids should have is adaptability, perseverance and resilience. That can come from home, school or enrichment classes, it doesn’t matter!

  • Thank you for your lovely posts! I do enjoy reading your posts so much 🙂 I grew up having lots of enrichment/tuition class and I absolutely hated them. The only ones that I wanted to go for were ballet but my parents never allowed me to. Now that I am a mom to a 19 month old boy, I want him to enjoy his childhood and I will only send him to lessons that he requests for. As part of life skills we do bring him swimming but he’s a little young to fully uds the instructions for now. I did think of sending him to maybe taekwando lessons to build up his discipline and focus but that would happen earliest at 3 years old? Previously I enrolled him for gym classes and after awhile it felt like a chore going for the lessons, and I don’t see him enjoying it much either so we stopped. As a whole I feel the whole family is happier when we go out for excursions to the park/somewhere more nature-based so this is smth we will continue for LT! Otherwise he just plays with his toys at home, watch cartoons or ride his scooter around lol. BTW, if you were a guy I would have married you cause my hub is a ENFP too! haha.

  • I won’t pretend to be an expect la I am a 23 year old still at university. But I’m gonna try to offer my view from the outside, can’t hurt to have more viewpoints to consider right?

    Children today are expected to do so much from such a young age – of course cognitive and social development is important but I honestly think a well rounded, emotionally adjusted child will go just as far as a child who can speak portugese and do calculus at 7. Different routes await these two types of kids, but one will have the capabilities to handle hurdles far better than the other; if you can be practical, calm and kind in the face of adversity, you can do anything.

    Fighter is 4, but he’s so loving. He will grow up to help people across the street and ponder solutions to big questions facing our planet and society. School will give him tools to find answers, and you and Tim will give him the emotional support that he’ll need when he grows older and starts to identify his passions. If that isn’t a well rounded child, what is?

  • Childhood is not a race to see how quickly Fighter can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for him. Earlier is not better. Let Fighter enjoy his childhood.

  • Hi Audrey, my short answer is, you shouldn’t feel bad AT ALL for not sending your kids for classes outside of school at such a young age. In fact, I feel really bad for the kids who have to do that! I barely attended tuitions my whole life, and I’ve only taken drawing and music lessons, out of my OWN INTEREST. And I have not lagged behind in any way in terms of academics. And this is not to say that I was born smart or anything. My mum instilled important values and virtues since young which sticked with me since. She taught me how to study from young, and I learnt to become independent from there. We both didn’t believe in tuitions. FYI, she had a full time job running her own business. She only sent me for music lessons because she and my kindergarten teachers felt that I was passionate about music at a young age. So really, it is not important to send your kids for 101 extra curricular activities; it is important to nurture and support them in their interests, talent and passion. Hopefully you’ll find what’s Fighter’s and Penny’s soon! 🙂

  • I do not agree with any of these extra classes at such a young age. It is the prime childhood time when they make memories not just for themselves but for you that one day you can go “hey do you know when you were 4 years old blablablabla” those kind of memories. Do not let them miss out on their childhood. Am not a mother yet but that is how my sister does it. Her daughter does not go for such activities etc but has a normal childhood – toys, tv, no ipads, reading story books, using her imagination. She is 8 years old now, and she has excellent writing skills, she has gotten several merit certificates for writing lovely essays, and all just from her fun time at home putting her imagination to use.

    A brain is like a sponge, it can only absorb that much. And attention span for kids are much lesser than us adults. Getting them to go for classes at such a young age may just stress them out. They will have the opportunity to go for tuition classes once they start proper schooling (Primary 1 onwards) and it takes parental skills to guide them and help them with their homeworks and all. I will never agree in stripping kids off their childhood. Our parents never did that to us.. so why should we do that to ours? We had all the free time to play with our neighbourhood friends or siblings and just have fun good times. So why should we send our kids for enrichment classes etc just for the sake of a competitive society?

    I would rather kids get the opportunity to socialize with other kids and get used to making friends, rather than socializing with tutors in classes that limits their social circle. They need the exposure and if there are parents out there worrying about the ‘right exposure’, just keep a watchful eye and limit their gadget uses. Monitor their online activities. Just be careful.

    Just my thoughts.. 🙂

  • My kid turns 4 a month ago, and she hasn’t even attend any preschool. She spends her days disturbing me ( I’m a SAHM ) or play on her own. She can barely write or draw but insisted to write our orders on the order chit. I really beh tahan liao and now only got the thought to go find a school to kick her to next year, so that I may enjoy few hours of peace, and she get to release some energy at school… Hmmm, what do you think ? Coz lately I felt I’m being too lax as well.

  • Dear Audrey,
    i think for the hormone therapy, you meant that the injections start at puberty (around 10-12) till 18+ of age right? It shouldn’t be now till 18+ ? This is similiar to another ladies’ comment above, that she started at puberty age. Please check this again with your doctor :). My mother in law is a healthcare researcher in the US so she was abit surprised when i related your story to her. All the best to Jude, am sure he will turn out to be a fine young man irregardless ! <3

  • Hi Audrey,

    Thank you for writing this post and bringing up this subject. I am a 26 year old who went through 6 years of torment of chinese primary school and I am now suffering from the consequences.

    Let me tell you my story.

    I started going to chinese kindergarden when I was 5 years old. I still remember thou is quite fun and remembering going school trips every other week. When I turn 7, my parents decided to enrol me to this chinese school. I still remember I needed to take an entry exam to enter this school. I was only 7 year old and this was in 1997.

    All was fun and games until I turn 9 years old. I ‘ve been place in 2nd last class the whole of 6 years in this chinese primary school. I remember needing to memories the whole of newspaper article for weekly oral test. Then there is weekly written test and what not. Pretty much my whole entire existence in that school I can remember is memorising something to prepare for the “big Exams”

    All of these up till I was 12. I can tell you I have no life at all.

    Here’s how’s my schedule is.

    Everyday, I wake up at 6, have breakfast. Before even the sun is rise, I’m already in my school, rushing to finish my homeworks. Then I have a break at 10 am and continue lesson to 12.30/12.45pm. Have lunch and continue my class until 4pm. (apparently afternoon class in this school is optional because it is singapore level syllabus but most parents put their children in it anyway.)

    After school finish, I have to continue for extra classes because teachers/parent make me think I am stupid/not good enough. That is from 4.30 to 6pm. Then my mother will come pick me up, go home have dinner and continue another extra class from 7 to 9 pm. Sometimes, school have extra classes on saturday. Even tuition on some Sunday.

    Everyday, there is unfinished homework because is endless homeworks from school and tuition classes. Stress of being afraid of being cane and punish. On top of that, I get mentally abused by my own mother and some teachers from school.

    Up till early this year, I started reading books. fiction and non-fictions (My parents never buy me books other than school/work books) and only started to realise that I am not stupid. I think because of the competitiveness in school and my result is always not good in school, in a subtle way, not directly, teachers/parent make me believe I am not good enough and too stupid to do anything great.

    I also realise, for what I’ve been through, I am not going to school to learn. It felt like I am going to school to be prepared to learn to handle extreme stress for later in life. Basically to be a modern slave. I do not remember anything I learn from school but I do remember the stress and unpleasantness of it.

    I also felt that, because of this school, I have no time to think about anything else. There is no creative thinking, no place for discovering what my strong skills are. I was a robot.

    At that time, since is wrong to question authorities, because if I do, I get punish or cane so with all these stress and home abuse, I guess in a way is a blessing in disguise to not able to think for myself or I would not be writing this today.

    So here I am not, 19 years later, suffering the consequences of all of this and needed to seek help.

    This is my story, from the point of view of a former primary chinese school student. My childhood is pretty much ruin.

  • We have two boys 7 and 3 that are as different as night and day. One is socially adept, he can make friends with almost anyone and the other is an introvert and excelled academically. Children develop at their own pace and learn best through play I believe. Robotics is in our future no doubt, and in that future the skills and abilities needed to survive and be successful will not be the 101910 skills you learn in some enrichment class but the ability to connect and think creatively. These things are not cultivated in a classroom setting necessarily. More often, they are cultivated doing the things you are doing with your children right now. The pressure to succeed is so high in Asian culture, but that same culture does not breed hope and often times feels stifling and oppressive. Everyone must find their own path to success, you’re doing just fine and I trust your choices are going to be just as awesome for your own kiddos.

  • Aud, this is late but I didn’t see this stuff when I skimmed the comments:
    Your parenting sounds like what’s been coined as “Dolphin parenting”. It’s basically a style that is focused on the child making their own choices, but still under rules. It isn’t permissive, it’s more about developing the child’s self-reliance. It’s almost the opposite of Tiger parenting.
    Shimi Kang is the author of the book that defined dolphin parenting. She was raised playing Legos and having tons of free time. She went on to graduate from Harvard, and became an authority on parenting. Her most persuasive arguement againt loading up a child’s schedule is that kids don’t learn soft skills from classes. They learn math, and French, and basically how to be replaceable by a computer. When kids make their own choices, they get more opportunities to think outside the box and learn self-direction.
    [I had more to say, but getting too long] I’ll just add that my niece was raised with a Tiger mom. She attends an Ivy League, but she’s very depressed and makes bad life choices.

  • Don’t compare your kids to others. There are factors too you need to consider such as your own child’s developmental level. But if you want to develop grit, train them. I personally think free play is important which is exactly what they do in preschools. I don’t believe in overbooking kids but I believe it’s good to teach them
    While they are young.

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