|A class at the iSchool Kindergarten in HCM City's District 3. iSchool is one of schools applying the Montessori method of early childhood education. — Photo mamnon.ischool.vn
by Chi Lan
HA NOI (VNS) — Nguyen Bich Trang had become inured to the derisive or pitying laughter that she heard sometimes when she was reading out aloud from a book to her two-month old boy.
"Everyone on my family thought I was doing something stupid. They kept asking how such a young baby could understand anything I told him," Trang recalled.
One day, though, the laughs faded away. People began noticing that Pony, as the baby was nicknamed, actually looked like he was paying attention to the story Trang was telling him.
"Pony even made some noises, as though he wanted to discuss the story with me," said Trang. "My family members found it strange that Pony would do that at such a young age."
Her boy's response motivated Trang, who is 24 years old, to persist with a nurturing approach totally different from what is usually followed in Viet Nam.
Just four months into the Early Childhood Education (ECE) method that she applied, Pony vindicated his mother's faith with his ability to do math, identify words and even dive into water.
The fact Pony could do all of these things while most babies that age are still struggling to turn over on to their stomach is not as amazing as it looks, Trang insists. She feels her boy is not special, that "any baby who follows early childhood education can do it."
Her belief is backed by increasing reports coming out about outstanding kids, like Do Nhat Nam, the translator of two science books at seven years, or a two-year-old boy nicknamed Joe who can already read and speak Vietnamese and English.
Nam's mother chose the Japanese education method in rearing him and little Joe's mother followed the American method introduced by Glenn Doman.
Both these methods fall under the ECE umbrella.
"Early childhood education is a special nurturing method for children that starts from when they are still fetuses to when they are six years old," said Professor Nguyen Vo Ky Anh, Head of the Institute for Potential Development.
"The first three years in particular is considered the ‘golden opportunity' for the babies to develop the right hemisphere of the brain, which is responsible for abstract capabilities including emotions and creativity. After three years, the brain's development will gradually lean towards the left brain hemisphere, or the intellectual part, and never gets back to the right one again."
It is hard to think that the mothers will turn away from a method that is expected to help their children comprehensively develop both parts of their brains, and there is increasing evidence that more and more parents are waking up to potential benefits of ECE.
ECE has spread to over 150 countries in the last 50 years. It officially arrived in Viet Nam with the introduction of Glenn Doman and the Chinese Zero Age methods about five years ago.
With over 1.2 million Vietnamese now googling for information on ECE, and more books on different ECE methods, including Jewish and Italian ones like Montessori, the new approach is on its way to bringing about a radical change in Vietnamese mothers' awareness of ways to educate their children.
Modern vs. Traditional
ECE aims to stimulate the children's body senses via particular methods, for example flashcards, to help with the babies' perception of the surrounding world, together with communication activities and physical exercises.
While the babies enjoy these "lessons" without even knowing that they are actually learning something, they trigger friction and even acrimony between "modern" mothers and "traditional" grandmothers.
About eight days after Bo Nong (nickname) was born, her 24-year-old mother Nguyen Quynh Trang let her lie face down as the Glenn Doman book instructed. Almost immediately she was scolded by her mother-in-law.
"I still cannot understand why Trang did that. The baby was so small that her chest bones could be hurt and she might have trouble breathing," said Ha Thi Hoi.
Trang was left with no choice but to sneakily exercise her daughter whenever her mother-in-law was out of sight. Bo Nong did raise her head up when she was two months old, about a month earlier than normal.
Quynh Trang's experience is not rare among young mothers opting for ECE methods to bring their kids up. The pressure on such mothers is huge as other family members, especially the grandmothers, resist and reject the new approach.
Pointing to one of her flashcard sets, Pony's mother Bich Trang said she'd got it from a mother who had to quit ECE due to heavy pressure from her family.
"I myself did not get much support from the family. But there is nothing else I can do. It might take five to seven years to see the outcome and convince my family, but until that moment, it is just me and my boy."
Not for everyone?
Apart from internal family strife, the cost of ECE methods is a factor that could inhibit some Vietnamese mothers from following them.
Glenn Doman, the most popular method in Viet Nam for babies from zero to three years old, can easily cost the parents an average of VND2 million ($96) for a set of teaching cards. With various kinds of flash cards including sets for newly born babies, pronunciation, mathematics, or of Vietnamese and English words, the total expense could tax the parents' ability to fund ECE. Some specifically tailored card sets that correspond to a child's age, capabilities and interests can cost VND3.5 million ($175).
In a country where the average monthly income is about VND2.5 million ($120), ECE may not be affordable for most people.
Pony's mother Bich Trang, however, insists that the system is not designed exclusively for kids with affluent parents.
She feels that mothers should follow ECE according to their financial capabilities. Those who cannot afford to go the whole way can select particular lessons or simply make the flash cards themselves by following directions in the books.
"Besides, it is wrong trying to make the babies learn everything we want them to learn. What the babies can do, not what they should do, is what matters," said Professor Ky Anh.
"My baby was already born a healthy kid and I am not trying to make him a genius with ECE. What I truly want is that Pony grows up well and matches his full potential," said Trang.
"Besides, I have to spend much more time with my boy for the exercises, and it draws me and Pony a lot closer. Tell me one thing to complain about that, please." — VNS