SECRETS OF SUPER KIDS
Two are champs at unusual sports, one is a classical opera singer and yet another is a TEDx speaker. What drives them and their parents?
He says his change in parenting style came about when, at the age of six, Dylan began asking existential questions, such as where he came from, and what happened after death.
Rather than tell his son he was too young to be asking such questions, Calvin said: “I don’t know, but let’s talk about it.”
Having discussions with his children encourages them to ask questions. And rather than have his kids present him with a problem, he would rather they think of possible solutions on their own. “It helps train them in critical thinking,” he says.
It certainly boosted Dylan’s condence in public speaking– enough to deliver two TEDx talks. The rst one came about when Calvin was asked to give a talk about the future of urban farming, but he asked his son to do it, with a script they both worked on.
His second talk, on their book titled The Big Red Dot, had people coming up to him afterwards and praising him for being an inspiration.
The Secondary 3 student at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) says he is still nervous about public speaking. But the way to overcome stage fright is to “believe in what you say, and say what you believe”, he says. LEARNING FROM LIFE Admitting that his grades are “just pass”, what makes him more excited are the Kickstarter projects that he and his father work on. Their rst, a Grow It Yourself Stick, is a plastic device that uses physics to ensure that plants get the right amount of watering they need.
They needed $20,000 for its production but, in the end, raised $37,000. The prot is being used to fund a second project, which will allow plants to be grown vertically.
Calvin wants his kids to develop values, such as adaptability, creativity, resilience, self condence and the ability to keep asking why. Project work and sports are where they will learn such values – “denitely not from tuition centres or textbooks”, he says. Calvin adds that he won’t rule out taking his kids out of the current education system.
“(Doing) sports teaches the kids how to deal with failure,” he says. “I want them to see failure as a journey to success and not doom. There is no stigma around failure.”
He admits his parenting techniques may be too radical for other parents. Even his mother, a former school teacher, initially had her doubts.
“But she understands that times have changed. She can see the difference between Dylan and myself at 14. The question is, which one of us is better prepared for the new future? My mother agrees it’s Dylan, rather than me.” While his classmates think nothing of devouring a McDonald’s nasi lemak burger, 14-year-old Corey Koh can only watch.
It’s just one of the many sacrices he has to make as a classical opera singer who has performed in Carnegie Hall and Suntory Hall, as well as won numerous international music competitions.
So he needs to protect his voice by avoiding oily and spicy food, not shouting, and visiting his laryngologist regularly to check on his vocal cords.
His father is Chye Koh, a senior counsel in an American multinational corporation, who says that unlike parents who seem to have the art and science of parenting down pat, his style is best described as “trial and error”.
What he and wife Filona Hang, a full-time-mum, have done is spare no expense in supporting their only child’s musical pursuits. The prodigy sings uently in Latin, Italian, German, French, English and Mandarin.
He started formal voice lessons at six, and trains under famed Korean soprano Jeong Ae Ree, whose hourlong lessons cost his parents “hundreds of dollars” each time, says Filona. “When you are serious about music, you need to learn from the masters,” she adds.
In addition to fees, there are other incidentals such as ight tickets and accommodation when Corey trains overseas, such as at the Manhattan School of Music.
Filona quips that thankfully, Corey’s “musical instrument” is free, so they save on that.
GUIDE, NOT MOULD
Corey’s rst stage performance
was at the age of two. His family was living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and little Corey sang a Tagore song in Bengali for the Bangladesh Tourism Board.
“My parents told me I wasn’t interested in toys, but was more fascinated with musical instruments,” says Corey.
When he has time between school, homework, Chinese tuition, singing lessons and performances, he plays many instruments, including three types of guitar, the oboe and the guqin. All in a purpose-built soundproofed room at home.
While the Kohs allow Corey to pursue his passion, they do not let school take a backseat. Corey, who is among the top 10 in his class, is limited to participating in overseas performances and competitions during the school holidays.
“As parents, the one thing we want is for him to be happy with his life,” Filona says. “Our duty is to guide him, but not mould him into the person we think he should be.”
On how to raise a super-achiever child, she recommends nding an interest that the child likes. “With interest, the child can go a long way.”
Corey says music will always be his passion, but hasn't decided if he will make it his career. His other interests include history, military tactics and politics.
“Music and politics have been my interest since young,” he says. “Perhaps, some day, I can be an ambassador of peace and goodwill, and bring my style of classical singing to poorer parts of the world.” Alicia Tan believes that how far her kids can go depends on “whether they have the passion, spirit and ability to eventually take the driver’s seat”, she says.
She and her husband, Jonas Chua, who have their own business, constantly remind themselves not to be led by their own dreams, but to merely support their children as they navigate the inevitable pitfalls and distractions along the way.
“It is their road ahead and we just want to share their journey,” she says.
Her daughters, Annette, 12, and Amelia, 10, are on the national development team for short track speed skating.
Amelia’s foray into speed skating was born out of her own interest and passion, her mum explains. “Amelia has always had difculty focusing on anything for long periods but, in short track, she is amazingly focused and quietly sets targets for herself.”
Her sports prowess isn’t quite duplicated in school, however. The Primary 5 student at Methodist Girls' School concedes that her grades have dropped dramatically since last year.
“I love school but I nd schoolwork tough as I don’t really understand some things,” says Amelia, who enjoys maths and science, but nds English difcult.
It is a different story, however, when she is on the skating rink. She started out taking gure skating lessons, but became fascinated with speed skating after watching the Sochi Winter Olympics on TV.
“I like the speed, racing off the start line, cornering and overtaking,” she says. “Short track is very unpredictable and super exciting.”
Her mother was against it at rst as it looked dangerous, but eventually relented. Last year, Amelia won gold in two races at the Tri-Series SEA Short Track Speed Skating Cup. Earlier this year, she won two silvers at the MapleZ SEA Short Track Speed Skating competition.
Even when she loses, Amelia doesn’t cry, but thinks over what she should have done differently.
FOCUS ON THE HIGHS
Alicia and her husband are inuenced by their own parents. His late father was very strict, so he is similarly the disciplinarian at home. She is rmer with her daughters than her parents were with her, but she takes the supportnot-stie approach as well.
“With Amelia especially, we realise that there are just some things we cannot push,” Alicia says.
“While there are lows in her academic performance, there are also highs and we celebrate her personal bests in school work and in short track.”
Having taken part in national and regional competitions, Amelia wants to compete at an international level. “We will support her as much as we can,” Alicia says.
She scales back on her daughter’s training before major school exams, but doesn’t stop them, as Amelia benets from being on her feet rather than studying all day.
However, she is against her daughter skipping school for any overseas competitions held during the school term.
“She has to wait till she is in secondary school and has a better grasp of personal responsibility and discipline before we let her.”
COREY KOH 14, CLASSICAL OPERA SINGER
AMELIA CHUA 10, SPEED SKATER