SE­CRETS OF SU­PER KIDS

Young Parents (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

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 condence 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 prot 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 condence and the abil­ity to keep ask­ing why. Pro­ject work and sports are where they will learn such val­ues – “denitely 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 sacrices 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 difculty 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 difcult.

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 inuenced 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-stie 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 benets 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

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