:: So what does Primary School readiness mean?
From a holistic standpoint, there are of course many facets which include social-emotional readiness and skills. While most of the parents that I have met are concerned about academic readiness, there are some who do look beyond that and value skills and traits such as collaboration/teamwork, independence, resilience, etc.
But academic readiness is almost always at the top of their minds when it comes to these parents who will be enrolling their children into the local primary school system. They worry if their kids can cope with the rigorous local primary school system, if the foundation laid is enough for their children and if they should send their children for extra classes - i.e. enrichment classes / after school care programme.
Incidentally, I recently had a chat with an "ang mo" colleague and being in the education industry, it is not uncommon for us to delve into the latest trends, hot buzzwords, our kids, classes, etc. He was quite shocked to learn that Dumpling attends quite a number of classes and even ended his views with "does she even get a chance to play?"
That's pretty strong words and comment for someone who does not know my kid I'd say. LOL! The kiddo fortunately/unfortunately (depending on which "camp" you are in), likes activities and to keep herself busy. This was evident even when she was in Primary 1 and 2; where she'd spent her unstructured time in the afternoon doing what she likes which primarily would either be crafting, reading or doing some online learning stuff.
Being an only child, she has learnt to channel her energy into what amuses her in the afternoon until I am back from work where we will do some activities which she likes such as science and card games. For as long as I can remember, the kiddo has always been the one who asked me for classes (all except Swimming and Chinese class I must add) and feeding her voracious appetite for whatever she's keen on. From writing workshops to ice skating, and from STEM to Chinese Speech and Drama, with God's grace we have been blessed to have been able to support her interests.
:: So are enrichment classes a bad thing? And are we doing the wrong thing if we were to sign our children up for classes? I'd say no.
It really depends on your family dynamics, objectives and your child's personality and interest. I truly dislike sweeping statements like "oh, why are we doing this to the children" or "why can't we let them enjoy their childhood". Why is it that "classes" are perceived as always bad? True, there are KS parents whose objectives are to pepper their kids' schedules daily with classes but there are also other families with different dynamics and concerns.
Take for instance a mum that I know who has a child from her first marriage. As it was an inter-racial marriage, her daughter took Mandarin as my girlfriend thought that she would be able to assist her daughter in it. Though she had the best intentions, as environment and circumstance play an important part, the support was not as strong as intended. Her child's standard started dropping from Primary 2 to an alarming low in Primary 3 before she started failing in Primary 4. All that while, my friend was still adamant about not sending her child for tuition classes because she does not wish to give her child any pressure and wants her child to enjoy school. When she eventually agreed to employ a tutor, the tutor shared openly that the gap by then is really quite big and they have a lot of work for they have a lot of catching up to do; resulting in further pressure. The child has also displayed resistance to the language by then as it is just "too hard" for her.
To me "letting my child enjoy school / her childhood" also means supporting her interests and empowering her with the skills / concepts / knowledge to succeed at her tasks. As human beings, we often are spurred on and motivated to do more and to do better, with each taste of success. Similarly, for children, if he/she were to struggle with a subject and does not have access to the help / support which he / she may need, the child would most likely lose interest and motivation. It then becomes a vicious cycle of doing badly because of disinterest and a lack of knowledge and confidence.
(Dumpling with her cousins attending a STEM workshop)
So doing the right thing for the child will mean different thing to different families because of dynamics. For some, like my girlfriend's experience shared above, that help is necessary since the environment does not provide the Chinese exposure for her child. Now, for my case, Dumpling has been asking for classes out of interest as she wanted to learn a bit more than what the school teachers are able to teach, within the hours in school. Though she has CCA before her enrichment class, she still looks very much forward to them and I can see it in the effort she takes when applying new techniques learnt during the enrichment classes, to her homework.
It is a delicate balance of providing support versus maintaining / encouraging interest. Personally, I feel that when assistance is needed, it is better to start earlier than later, so that the gaps to be bridged are smaller and before the child has shown resistance to that subject. Different centres also have different pedagogical approaches and there likely will be some who are able to engage your child in an enjoyable manner whilst building up the level of competence. Good luck!