A.k.a., the enrichment opportunities, as they usually call it in the elementary schools. For middle school, though, they usually have more choices than elementary school. This is the Ladue Middle School current offerings. Note the Science Olympiad itself has 20+ subjects / events, and it’s mind boggling to say the least. Also note I was taught in the motto of “学会数理化，走遍天下都不怕“ (this is google translate: “Learn mathematics, physics and chemistry, travel the world without fear”, not perfect translation, but I think the readers got an idea 🙂
When I was a middle schooler
The after school activities reminded me something I did and liked when I was in middle school, we call it 兴趣小组。I recall a few groups, such as aerospace, computer (started at grade 7), physics (started at grade 7 as well). In theory we should have math competition too, but our counselor + math teacher is one of a kind, he essentially make the whole class (or most of us) do the math competition, at least at the first round. I had fun doing basic programming using computer similar to Apple II (we had one Apple II, then other similar computers). I also had great fun in my physics club field trip at then 宁波高专 or 宁波师范, note my teacher 姚仁汉 is one of a kind, and he passed away in recent year. I did okay in Math. At high school I continued the math competition, because my math teacher at my 1st year of high school really liked me, and encouraged me to do more. It got extended to the 2nd year, and I even did some math competition training in the summer between the 1st and 2nd year (I think it was again due to my then math teacher liked me and he made the recommendation, I vaguely recall his name is Chen Bing 陈斌 and here is one of his article), offered by another good math teacher. But I kinda wondered off after that, because I did not like the style of the math teacher for my 2nd and 3rd year. I think similar can be said for physics, the only difference I do have a lot respect for my physics teacher.
Back Serenity’s after school activities, she did a few easy ones (lower frequency for meet, or extra time to work on projects) last year, as this was her first year at middle school, we thought take the pace. Now this year we hope she can do more. I don’t necessarily want her to compete in the math competition, or for that matter, in the Science Olympiad. But I do hope she can get some of the exposure I can when I was in middle school: it really can be anything, and I do understand she does a lot music related activities (choir and percussion) outside of the school. I am trying to get her some STEM exposure.
One thing I noticed is because we are at a very good school in the state, with good reputation in the STEM area, that also raised the bar. In other words, she may not get opportunity to represent the school because the competition could be tense. I am not overly concerned on that. I think in this generation, the me generation or the iPhone generation, some of they probably don’t care much about competition anyway. And also, ultimately we are only compete against ourselves. Be the better of ourselves. Resist the temptation of binge watching Netflix, or doom scrolling TikTok, YouTube, twitter, facebook (put in your favorite social media stream there). As long as the kids are productive, and learn something everyday, as parents I feel good about. I don’t this is the time to be their lives’ highlights yet. They have long road ahead of them, life is a marathon, not a sprint, as the old saying goes.
On the flip side of all this technology advancement, I also saw a lot more opportunities that kids can learn. The Youtube video and google search are two very popular choices. And some curated content sites such as thekidshouldseethis, and Khan Academy are excellent choices too.
Signs your kids (or you) may have too many extra-curriculum activities
I recall years ago, when Serenity was still a toddler, or a preschooler. One Saturday morning, when we were at Thies farm Pumpkin Land at Maryland Heights, I got a call from my eye doctor office. It was about my wife’s and my annual eye exam. We totally forgot about it. Two things came out of it. One is I realized that we were probably overwhelmed by child raising and work. Although looking back at the time we only had one kid, and maybe work is taking too much effort and attention. Another thing is I realized that I need to put everything on google calendar with reminder. I think I was using Yahoo calendar then and I was not sure I put the eye doctor appt on electronic calendar (not to mention reminder).
Years later, over the summer, I heard a story from a mom that she gave a music director last minute notice about a schedule conflict for her kid, and the director was not happy. This made me thinking how much activates that I want Serenity / Sophia to have. Ideally no such conflict, or very few / rare 🙂
I realized over the years, I was probably over-zealous on Serenity and Sophia’s extra curriculum activities: this includes sports and things like math (extra math). Math is a very common headache, bottle neck for many kids and families here. I will need to set the right expectations, set priorities, regroup and so on. Serenity is actually doing fairly well on a few things she likes: choir, percussion, just to list a few. I don’t necessarily need to see her winning a chess championship, play the guard for the school basketball, or soccer team, or winning medals at the Science Olympiads to be even prouder dad (I am being sarcastic, self deprecating to myself). For that matter, I did not necessarily achieve all the above I just mentioned, when I was in middle school. Also I also recall one of my bosses once said, don’t try to be someone else, just be yourself (I have quite a few disagreements with him when I was working here, but this one stuck 🙂
On the other side of spectrum, my wife probably get ahead of herself on Serenity’s math. I think she wanted her do one of two things, both are hard. 1) Math acceleration, basically jump grade (跳级) on math; 2) Participate in math competition. I also speculate her emphasis on math and to some extent on science was probably due to her own lack of confidence on the two subjects. She chose 文科 (liberal arts) in high school, basically did simpler math, and did not do science (physics, chemistry and biology). Now she wanted her daughter to do the opposite. Sounds familiar? Yes, last I recall there are lots of Chinese American parents who did not go to ivory league colleges, wanted their kids to go when they grow up 🙂